Netflix’s Fullmetal Alchemist: a Spoiler-Free Review

Adapting any work into a movie has its challenges. That’s especially true for anime, which can have dozens or even hundreds of episodes filled with large casts, long storylines, and supernatural elements that need money to adapt to screen. Pulling this off well is unbelievably hard and is usually done terribly, which is why live-action anime movies have bad wraps. That is why I’m proud to say that this movie is the best live-action anime adaptation I have ever seen.

This movie, like the anime, is set in the early 1900’s in the fictional European country of Armestris. In this world, alchemy is a science that humans can use to perform magical feats as long as they follow the Laws of Equivalent Exchange. When the Elric brothers, Ed and Al, break these laws as children in trying to resurrect their dead mother, they pay dearly. Ed loses an arm and a leg which he has to replace with automail prosthetics and Al loses his entire body and is only able to stay on earth because Ed seals his soul to a suit of armor. To get their bodies back, the boys go searching for the legendary philosopher’s stone, that can grant any wish. The film follows them years later as adolescents who are still searching for the mystical philosopher’s stone while serving their country’s corrupt military government. Meanwhile, evil artificial humans called the homunculi are working in the shadows with plans of their own.

As a “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime fan who has not seen “Brotherhood,” I liked this movie. It succeeds where most live-action anime adaptations fail.

For one thing, the movie looks almost exactly like the anime. The movie was filmed in Italy, and I honestly don’t think they could have made any better choice for location. Italy’s ancient cities and lush countryside match Armestris perfectly. The costumes and hair were adapted well, too. The clothing matches the anime beautifully, and while the hair still looks weird in live-action, it is styled as well as I think it could have been. It’s hard to explain, but it looks natural even if it looks strange.

For another thing, the special effects are fantastic. I was not expecting to see effects this good. When alchemy is done, it looks like it’s actually happening. When you see the homunculi use their powers, you believe it’s happening. When you see CGI creatures, you believe they’re there. That’s a strange thing to comment on, but you don’t know how many crappy anime adaptations I’ve seen with laughable effects (two in their entirety but clips of many more). These effects make me feel like I’m watching the anime. It’s glorious.

Then finally, the acting is great. Most of these actors are spot-on with reasonable modifications made for live-action, for instance, Ed’s reactions are less over-the-top in comparison to the anime when someone mocks his height, etc. Everyone did a good job and acted as well as they possibly could, except maybe for the kids, more specifically the younger version of the Elrics, who arguably underacted at times.

Any other problems people have come from the how the actors were directed more than their actual skill, which brings me to my next point.

While this movie is a good adaptation, it still dropped the ball with a few points, and unfortunately, these points are crucial to what make the series work.

One of the biggest problems can be seen in Al. As one of the main protagonists of the manga and both anime, he is a very important character who receives about as much development as Ed does. But in this movie, Al is hardly given any screen time or depth and that is a huge problem since he’s such an important character to the series. This movie reduces him to a motivation for Ed instead of letting him have any character of his own.

A similar problem can be seen in Roy Mustang, Ed’s playfully antagonistic superior and sometimes mentor. In this film, Mustang is given the determination to achieve and change the system for the better but at the cost of the sarcasm and playful goofiness that makes him enjoyable, which is fitting metaphor for the film’s larger problem.

Arguably, the film’s biggest problem is that there’s very little fun. This movie goes over some of the series’ most important formative events in the lives of the Elric brothers, but because of how dark the series is, these events are highly traumatic. In the manga and anime, these events are spread apart from each other and are padded with plenty of comedy, giving the audience time to breathe and an opportunity to connect to the characters before the traumatic events happen. But in this movie, the dark events come one after another at such a pace that it’ll give the fans who see them coming worse PTSD than Ed.

Now, these parts aren’t badly acted or badly executed. There are simply too many of them at once and they take up so much of the movie that there’s no time left for the comedy or important character development that makes the series as great as it is.

In conclusion, I still don’t think of “Fullmetal Alchemist” as a bad live-action anime adaptation. I think it is only decent instead of great. If there is a sequel, they could correct these problems, but for fans, I still recommend it.

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