By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“All is of one, and one is in all.”
So says an alchemist — a fancy term for magician — at the beginning of “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos,” the second feature derived from the popular Japanese manga and TV anime “Fullmetal Alchemist.” Over the course of the film, its characters struggle to put broken worlds and broken bodies right. But the forces of magic often overwhelm their honest efforts.
The two major characters, Edward “Ed” Elric and his brother Alphonse “Al” Elric, know very well the dangers of commanding magic. The characters are voiced by Romi Pak and Rie Kugimaya in the Japanese print (the Grand Illusion Theatre also offers an English-language dub, see details below).
Edward Elric has a boldness and an attitude out of proportion to his small size. He sports a mechanical arm and leg on one side, due to a tragically failed attempt at “Human Transmutation,” an effort to bring the brothers’ deceased mother back to life.
This transmutation cost Alphonse his entire body. Edward, at great sacrifice to himself, barely managed to salvage Al’s spirit, which Edward preserved inside a suit of armor. So Alphonse stands more than six feet tall, but he speaks in a little boy’s voice reverberating inside the armor. His metal jaw never moves — which does at least save the expense of animating it to match his speech — and an apron-like loincloth for some strange reason around his waist, is his only clothing.
As depicted in the manga and anime, the brothers wander their world. The story is based loosely on the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. They always seek the powerful magic that will allow themselves to get their normal bodies back, but peril and adventure keep getting in the way.
All the above is well-known to followers of the “Fullmetal Alchemist” franchise. The “Milos” movie, though, boldly adds new characters and new settings.
We meet a young woman named Julia Chrichton (Maaya Sakamoto), who has a mysterious, violence-ridden past. As the plot unfolds, Julia becomes caught up in a secret society of rebels, hoping to restore their lost empire. Edward and Al, naturally, follow along, only to find that the rebels have mixed feelings about outsiders.
Directed by Kazuya Murata with character designs and animation direction from Kenichi Konishi, the movie opens with an explosion of fireworks, echoed visually throughout with flying sparks and drifting bits of brightness that might be burning paper. The contrast between the dark backgrounds and the bright moving shapes forms a distinctive signature.
Considerations of loyalty and sacrifice also make the film interesting. Over and over, characters vow to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, to bring dreams to life. But their choices aren’t always carefully considered, and the Elric brothers, who have already learned that some dreams aren’t worth manifesting, try to keep cooler heads.
A movie-sized budget allows for some fancy 3D effects, particularly an elaborate shot running several minutes without a cutaway over the end credits. But the colorful, unpredictable Edward and Al make the film worth watching. Will they ever make themselves whole? Will they find some other way to be fulfilled? Tune in and find out … (end)
“Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos” plays Jan. 20-26 at the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 N.E. 50th Street in Seattle’s University District. The English-language print plays at 6:30 p.m. each night. The Japanese-language print, with English subtitles, plays every night at 8:45 p.m., plus 4:15 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For prices and showtimes, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.