Fullmetal Alchemist is arguably MVM's biggest release of the year so far, and one of our most wanted titles of 2005, so it's good to see that it lives up to the hype.
The story revolves around Alphonse and Edward Elric, two brothers who learn the mysterious arts of alchemy from books and notes left by their father. Their father was a famous alchemist and they seem to have inherited his skill, however, when their idyllic existence is shattered by their mother's sudden death, they attempt to use alchemy to resurrect her. Human resurrection is strongly forbidden because of the alchemical law of equal returns, which states that you can only create something using an object of equal value, so when Al and Ed attempt to revive their mother's soul it costs them dearly. Following this disastrous experiment Ed is left with a mechanical arm and leg to replace the limbs he lost, whereas Al has become nothing more than a soul inside a suit of armour following the loss of his entire body. Learning from their mistakes to become registered State Alchemists, Ed and Al scour the land for the Philosopher's Stone, a powerful item that will hopefully allow them to restore their bodies.
It is unusual to find an anime series that has such a clear goal specified near enough from the outset, but it must be said that Fullmetal Alchemist is not quite the usual anime series. On the surface it seems to be everything you would expect from a young-teen orientated series - it has young heroes, plenty of action, flashy effects, some comic moments and is highly entertaining - but look beyond this and you will find some very dark themes and real depth.
What is odd is that for quite a modern series the art and animation is not quite as good as some of its contemporaries, with the characters in particular lacking the computer-aided sharpness you've come to expect. However, what it lacks in the basics it makes up for with flashy effects for the alchemical powers, a superb story and great characterisation. Ed and Al are superb characters, perfectly played to evoke their tortured past yet still retaining some innocence - Al in particular strikes an intriguing contradiction between his hulking armoured appearance and disarming kindness - but it is the story which makes this disc great. It starts by showing a glimpse of their failed experiment before leaping into the future and following them to a town which is able to exist in a desert because of the miracles of a powerful priest. It is obvious to the Elrics that the priests 'miracles' are created by alchemy, and that he is duping the people into worshipping him, but if they defeat him as they are supposed to do then they will take away the only thing that keeps the town alive. Following this intriguing ethical dilemma the story shifts back and follows the Elric brothers' route into alchemy and explains their past in more depth, going via their resurrection attempt and on to their journey to become State Alchemists.
To be honest I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD. As mentioned the animation may not be as stunning as you expect, but it matters not. It's good solid entertainment with some superb action set pieces which succeeds in being thoughtful, is not afraid to use drama and horror (the results of the Elrics' failed resurrection attempt are pretty disturbing to say the least) and has heroes that are less than perfect. Some people may find the darker aspects of the series a bit of a turn off, or some of the alchemical powers a bit ludicrous, but despite some cheesy moments I found myself hooked from the word go. The series masterfully balances its dramatic and comedic aspects and from the evidence of this disc Fullmetal Alchemist is going to be every bit as good as it is reputed to be. If you want an entertaining action series that makes you think then you can't do much better than this.
More extras than usual for a MVM release, this time round we are treated textless opening and closing sequences, original Japanese commercials, character profiles and two image galleries. Not Bad.