My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Snapshot: An exciting return visit to see the characters that we’ve grown to love, but ultimately it doesn’t add much to the overriding continuity.
(Minor) spoilers ahead!
Last night I enjoyed the English dub version of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos with a packed theater of enthusiastic FMA fans. It was obvious that everyone was happy to see their old friends Ed and Al Elric along with Winry, Col. Mustang, Lt. Hawkeye, and especially Maj. Armstrong. As a stand-alone movie, the events take place somewhere in the middle of the FMA: Brotherhood continuity. The movie is structured so that you don’t need to know anything much about the background of the characters (what little background that is needed is provided through expository dialog–more on that in a moment). There are no mentions of any plot points from the TV series, which is why I place it nearer the beginning of the storyline than than the end. Characters such as Scar, Führer Bradley, Van Hohenheim, etc., are completely absent.
When a powerful alchemist named Ashleigh Crichton escapes from the Central City prison, the Elrics track him to Table City in the western holy land of Creta. They hope he can lead them to a possible unknown form of alchemy that can help them in their quest to regain their bodies. They stop the alchemist from kidnapping his sister Julia, who is part of a dissident faction in the slums of Milos trying to regain control of the holy land that they were forced out of by the Cretans. Table City is aptly named, because it sits on top of a mesa and its waste is dumped on the heads of the Milosian people who live at the bottom of the valley surrounding the mesa.
It turns out that Julia is searching for what the Elrics recognize as the description of a Philosopher’s Stone so she can use it to help the Milosians retake Table City. Complicating things are some nasty wolf chimeras and a mysterious masked man, as well as Ashleigh. There are a few other new characters, too, that flesh out this complicated story.
The animation is top-notch. The visuals of the holy land are stunning. The action is fast and furious, well staged, and smoothly rendered. The music is excellent and the dubbing is quite good (were the lip movements redrawn for English, I wonder?). The dialog has the same mixture of seriousness and humor that we’ve come to expect from the series. All of the voice talent from the series reprise their roles.
One place the movie could have been improved was the dialog. It may have been an artifact of the translation and dubbing, but I suspect it was present in the original script. There were a number of instances where “Exposition Man” took agonizing time explaining the obvious or unnecessary. I can understand that the producers wanted to be as inclusive as possible, but realistically, how many non-FMA fans will see this movie?
Another area the movie could have improved was its complexity. Even at 110 minutes, there just seemed like too much was crammed in. There were also layers and layers of plot twists that could have been streamlined, I think.
The story is a thinly veiled allegory of the Israel/Palestine conflict, with Creta standing in for Israel, Milos standing in for Palestine, and Amestris standing in for the U.S. As such, it had the potential to send a very powerful message, something the best science fiction offers. I think it somewhat missed the mark, however, by trying to shoehorn the story into the established FMA continuity. What was powerful was seeing the conflict from the oppressed viewpoint.
Despite some of the drawbacks I’ve mentioned, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is must-viewing for FMA fans. This is an intricate look into another culture that upholds FMA’s rightful place as one of the top anime adventures of all time. Although the movie doesn’t add to the established continuity, it does add interesting new characters and is a satisfying visit with old friends. Even non-FMA should enjoy this movie. Let’s hope that more exploits of Ed and Al and the gang will come our way!