English Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanning the first 16 episodes, this new 4 disc edition features the first epic instalment of one of the most significant titles in the past 10 years of anime. The acclaimed animated adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's alchemy adventure manga has excellent production values, courtesy of Bones - the studio holding such classics to their credit as Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, Ouran High School Host Club and Soul Eater.
Set in a world reminiscent of pastoral Europe of the early-mid 20th century, Fullmetal Alchemist presents a precarious state of human imbalance, beset by chaos and corruption. As society stands poised on the precipice of change, rural life clashes catastrophically with the industrial and the unrest burns between the military state and the people. The almighty schemes of the state are underpinned by intrigue, concealing connections to darker schemes and alchemical abominations.
The story follows the path of the Elric siblings, Edward and Alphonse, two alchemists who restlessly seek the Philosopher's Stone in hope of reclaiming the pieces of their shattered lives.
After attempting to resurrect their mother's lifeless body, the young brothers learn the cost of abusing fundamental alchemical law and the principal of "equivalent exchange". The practice of human transmutation is forbidden and their trespass costs them dearly, stripping away both flesh and innocence, as their childhood is immersed in a baptism of fire.
As the story traces their trials and travels through time as the boys search for the stone, an artefact of legend that is said to be imbued with sublime power and restorative properties.
Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those wonder works, widely publicised and internationally sensationalised. It was a franchise pushed to the fore by a fleet of major corporate backers ranging from Square Enix to Sony. Taking the anime world by storm in a massive operation of multimedia and merchandising does not necessarily guarantee greatness in a series itself. Fullmetal Alchemist, on the other, hand lives up to legend remarkably well an explosion of elements conjured from a formidable fusion of horror, psychological drama, comedy and adventure.
While conceptually profound and often harrowing, the series manages to create a watching experience that is remarkably well balanced. For all the abject endurances the Elric brothers face, their adventures are charming, exciting and are lifted by an abundance of humour.
Bringing the story to life is an extensive cast of characters, all of which are fiercely individual, diverse and totally vivacious.
Edward, the elder brother is an alchemist of the state duty bound to the military, a position he adopts to gain access to the greater secrets he seeks. The title of Fullmetal Alchemist, by which he is officially known is not without its irony, for Edward possesses a principally human body of flesh and bone, optimised by metallic prosthetics, unlike the younger brother Alphonse. Al, who by comparison is a gentle soul, is a young boy whose spirit is incongruously bound to a hefty suit of armour. This imposing vessel stands empty but moves with the life and will milder Alphonse (who often uses its cavernous interior to foster lost kittens). Travelling as a duo, therefore, creates the crux of confusion, for Edward, who is young and... shall we say... rather diminutive in stature (and highly sensitive about the fact) is often overlooked as people turn to Al as the obvious embodiment of a Fullmetal Alchemist. Ed is affronted and rage ensures, regularly.
On their adventures, Ed and Al encounter a world of unrelenting opponents that rise from corruption within realms of power, to the war torn survivors of genocide. Murderers and madmen are entwined with the shadowy forces at work behind the scenes, beckoning the boys yet deeper into the darkness. Hailing the first wave of lower level adversaries in the set are sexy phantom thieves, impostors, train hijackers providing plenty of amusement.
Secondary characters storm in to support the brothers and shape their experience of a scattered world as they lead transient lives.
Regular appearances from their hometown are cute childhood friend Winry and her Granny Pinako, a pair with personalities that pack a punch as potent as the automail prosthetics they engineer for Edward.
Their military adventures are flanked by comrades such as the enigmatic Roy Mustang - a flame wielding ladies man, devoted daddy and family man soldier Maes Hughes and the sharp-shot no nonsense Riza Hawkeye, Roy's right-hand woman. The set also sees the introduction of the sparkling Major Armstrong (one man who lives up to his lineage and title with gusto).
The narrative timeline slips from past to present, piquing interest, raising questions to always keep you guessing and eager for more.
The set boasts two outstanding voice casts with the delights of dual languages and hosts an array of extras, including music videos and production art.
For one neat and tidy introductory package, the set is an exceptional box of tricks. I make no hesitation in recommending this title and for anime fans in general and to old time devotees, who will know that the complexity and richness of the adventure easily accommodates secondary viewings.