Netflix Original Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of two brothers on a quest to retrieve the philosophers stone, a source of power that will allow older brother Ed to fulfil his promise of returning his younger brother’s body. This much-beloved story has been brought to the big screen by director Fumihiko Sori, and stars Ryôsuke Yamada, Atom Mizuishi and Tsubasa Honda.
Straight off the bat, it must be said that Fumihiko Sori has done it; directed a manga adaptation that works. Netflix Original Fullmetal Alchemist may not be the most coherent film by far, but redemption comes in the form of meticulous atmosphere and charming character. No longer are we greeted with the train wreck combinations of poor acting, questionable production design and confusing narrative. I feel a crucial step has been taken in the right direction, steering away from the biggest disappointment of recent years, Attack on Titan. I could seriously talk all day about how much films like Attack on Titan and The Last Airbender ended many people’s confidence in anime adaptations, but, we are here to discuss the film that could change that.
Fullmetal Alchemist was originally a manga created by female author Hiromu Arakawa, picked up by Square Enix magazine. Following its debut, Fullmetal Alchemist journeyed from strength to strength. The story resonated with millions and soon took shape in the form of animes, video games, complimentary books and now, of course, a film. The original manga, released in 2001, has since sold over 70 million copies worldwide; a grand example of the following Fullmetal Alchemist truly has. This being said, how does Fullmetal Alchemist the film match up to the material we have come to know and love?
Now Netflix has added Fullmetal Alchemist to its repertoire, having already had the Fullmetal Alchemist anime series and it’s more faithful adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. This move to the Netflix collection surely signifies a note of success; following its release Fullmetal Alchemist was received extremely positively in Japan, and for good reason.
To begin, Fullmetal Alchemist offers fans a truly indulgent experience, one that nods constantly to the original source material. Even those who have only seen the anime series and not the manga will identify similarities between shots that bring nothing but nostalgia to its followers. Fumihiko Sori demonstrates a clear passion for the original work by respecting and faithfully imitating iconic scenes. Fumihiko’s dedication to this film is ever present with remarkable costuming and beautiful scenery that feels atmospherically similar to the Fullmetal Alchemist anime. Remarkable parts of Italy act as the backdrop for this film and it is a perfect landscape to act as the fictional world where alchemy is the norm.
Moving on, as much as I wish that Fullmetal Alchemist was perfect in every way, it doesn’t come without faults. Before we discuss the negatives, a short synopsis to the very bare minimum of the plot (all happens in the first five minutes). The two brothers, Ed (Ryôsuke Yamada) and Al (Atom Mizuishi), an inseparable pair, are bound on a mission to find the philosophers stone in hopes of returning their bodies to their former glory. Both brothers are talented alchemists who work together to pull off the forbidden act of human transmutation in the hopes of resurrecting their dead mother. Alchemy is the act of transforming one thing into another but only if it is of the same worth, for example, a human is made up of many elements that, theoretically, could be sourced, put together and used to create another human. Although the science is sound, the boys miscalculate as they could not account for the worth of a human soul. This error in judgement leads to a splice in dimensions, causing Ed to lose his leg and Al, his younger brother, to lose his entire body. Ed sacrifices his arm in a trade through the same gateway for his brother’s soul to be attached to a suit of armour nearby.
Ryôsuke Yamada is cast as the older brother Ed, a hard-headed boy who is only dedicated to the cause of helping his brother get his body back, as Ed feels solely responsible for what happened to Al. Yamada, unfortunately, doesn’t exactly deliver the same expected heaviness as his anime counterpart, with only one scene really addressing the shame that Ed feels. In the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, Ed’s guilt is such a main theme that it certainly feels amiss in Fullmetal Alchemist and as a result the film loses some of its necessary emotional resonance.
This being said, Yamada’s version of Ed is charming for sure, but a little too well put together. For example, the character Ed is notorious for losing his temper; Yamada’s version of Ed hardly has a hair out of place even at his most agitated. This to me makes Ed feel too pristine, lending to an unrelatable character that falls flat a little too often. In spite of this, Yamada still offers a sweet and often funny interpretation that still holds some of the attributes we have come to love for Ed.
Another one of Fullmetal Alchemist’s downfalls comes in the form, or lack of form should I say, of the narrative. Far too often the film is let down by incoherent and muddled sequences. Fumihiko Sori did well to fit the entire narrative into just over two hours, but not without sacrifice. This adaptation suffers from missing plot points and confused storytelling. Even more evident are many missing characters. Fans of the series will be dissatisfied to find some of their favourites and key characters didn’t make it into the big screen version and yet so many secondary characters did. Although essential to make cuts, it feels as though the writers were just adding interactions for the sake of ticking off a list of familiar faces, rather than for the need to drive the story forward.
I can’t go without mentioning the CGI effects used in Fullmetal Alchemist. Fumihiko Sori claims some of the techniques used are a first in Japanese film. The techniques pay off in places and not so much in others, for example, a weapon created from the floor or a cage materialising from the sky looks pretty stunning. Yet, one of the protagonists suffers the most: Al, the younger brother that now sports the suit of armour as a body. Al is well loved for his monumental size and dramatic fighting techniques, yet in Fullmetal Alchemist it is evident that he has been restricted by infant CGI execution. This lack of movement is compromised with not so subtle and far too frequent close-up shots of Al, in a hope to disguise the fact that he doesn’t actually do that much.
Overall as a fan of the anime, I would absolutely recommend you watch Fullmetal Alchemist. Albeit the film comes with faults, but these are insignificant when it comes to spotting the clever similarities and recognising the nods to the original source material. Light-hearted and entertaining are two words I would use to advocate Fullmetal Alchemist, a watch for any fan and hopefully an open door to the world of alchemy for newcomers.