ENGLISH DD 5.1 / 2.0 & JAPANESE DD 2.0

  RELEASE DATE:   09/18/2007
  REVIEW DATE:   10/17/2007

As children, brothers Edward and Alphonse used the clandestine science of Alchemy to try the unthinkable: resurrect their dead mother. They failed, unleashing an alchemic reaction that ripped their bodies apart.

Four years later, Ed and Al are combing the country for a rumored stone that could amplify their alchemy and bring their bodies back to normal. And it appears they may have found it – in a strangely prosperous desert village.

Contains the first half of season one, episodes one to sixteen on four discs.

Based on the internationally popular manga by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist gave birth to the smash hit TV series which is now for the first time in North America being collected in splendid box sets.

This first set of episodes reveals the tragedy that spawned their terrible burden of fate for the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. The Elric brothers forage ahead in a search, seemingly endless, for the Philosopher’s Stone in order to try to heal at least part of what they have wrought upon themselves when they tried to use alchemy as children to resurrect their dead mother. But the ultimate law of alchemy is that of equal returns. Equivalent Exchange: something of equal value must be lost for that which is gained. Ed lost nearly half his body which is now replaced by mechanical limbs, and his young innocent brother Al lost his entire physical form, his soul now kept safe within a giant metal suit of armor. Together they roam lands, searching, hoping for an end to their torment and a return to normal lives. But the lives of alchemists are never normal, and to everything there is a price, even hope.

One of the most popular fantasy series ever in anime, FMA tells the dramatic epic story of Ed and Al Elric and does so with a sincerity and depth few fantasy series have been able to capture. Their pain is raw and palpable and as their journey takes them from one mystery after another, it becomes alarmingly clear that alchemy can save lives, but is often misused to bring about such terrible sorrows that it’s hard to imagine any soul could bear them. Ed and Al however do and their perseverance in the face of such extreme hardship makes for a gripping series.

The adventures and mysteries they encounter in the first quarter of the series are numerous and flesh out the world they are in and what alchemy is all about. They first come upon a false prophet trying to use his skills to enact the very same type of alchemy that Al and Ed suffered from all those years ago. They try to avert disaster but the wayward man’s zealous followers will do anything to bring back the dead they so dearly miss.  On their search, the brothers meet Majhal, an alchemist tied to their father and who will show Ed and Al the terrible fate of those who allow their grief to succumb to madness. They then apply as State Alchemists, hoping that this will help in their search of the Stone. In Central City, undergo alchemy Exam. But even there, Al and Ed discover the horrors of alchemy. In fact one of the most sorrowful and traumatic episodes in this first half of the freshman season is the one dealing with the chimera. It shows above and beyond any other episode, the greed, corruption, true horror, and heart rending grief alchemy can cause.

There are a number of tense and serious episodes. After the trauma of the chimera arc, Ed then must try to stop a serial killer just as Ed and Al’s childhood friend, Winry, also arrives at Central City and she might be the killer’s next victim. Winry’s appearance gives the show a much needed uplifting addition. Her enthusiasm for anything and everything mechanical and sheer enthusiasm is a welcome change from the dire episodes preceding her arrival. Sadly it doesn’t last long. Soon Ed is given his first official assignment, to inspect the mines at a quiet town. But the tedious job hides cloaked motives.

A lighter adventure happens when in the City of Water, Ed is charged with stopping a beautiful cat burglar. But it’s only a slight breather until the show hits hard matter when the Elric brothers go to a town where imposters are posing as them. This two part arc shows a town developing artificial Philosopher’s Stones by using the strange Red Water. The true secret behind the stones is one that will shock Ed and Al to their cores.

 A little levity is injected at the start of the fourth volume when Al tries to save a kitten and Ed engages in an alchemist duel with Mustang for an interesting battle with very interesting conditions. It all leads to Ed and Al on their first steps to the truth behind the terrible Ishbal Massacre and the truth behind the stone they seek so fervently. It also leads them straight into the path of Scar, a tortured man who thinks it’s his duty to his dead brother to kill all State alchemists. It unveils Mustang’s painful past and unforgettable atrocities that haunt the present and darken the future. A violent confrontation between Ed and Scar occurs, leaving both Ed and Al severely injured. On their way back to their hometown they end up separated and comedy ensues. However the entirety of this first quarter of the anime series lures the viewer with compelling mysteries. First is that of the secret behind the Philosopher’s Stone. As the Elric brothers get closer to the truth, will they be able to handle what they uncover? Also secreted throughout the episodes are the appearances of a mysterious woman with long black hair and a keen interest in Edward. Just who is he? And more importantly – what is she exactly? By the end of the sixteenth episode, it’s also clear that not all is well within the State Army. Factions within it have a plan, but their ends seem ominous.

It is one of the top fantasy anime ever. From the length of the above description, it is obviously a condensed and layered show, but it does so with an ease to the storytelling that never bogs down the viewer, but rather enraptures them. It immerses the viewer in an astonishing world, one where alchemy rather than industrial technology, revolutionized civilization. The world therefore is an interesting mix of early nineteenth century looks mixed with a more fantasy  based European 18th century feel and design, depending all on the city and the people represented.  The animation in design is interesting, in action proves arresting. The use of alchemy and the way it is shown is thrilling. It has all the marks of creative fantasy giving added weight by the sheer drama of the story telling.

This holds an impressive array of bonus features, more so than even full series DVD sets. DVD extra features include production art galleries, clean opening and ending animation, FUNimation trailers, original Japanese commercials, and character profiles. It also has L’Arc-en-Ciel music video “READY STEADY GO!”, Tofu Records commercial ads for L’Arc-en-Ciel, Square Enix commercial, and a bonus addition of the full first episode of Spiral the anime in the extras section of volume four.

The box set is stunning. It has a glossy hard slip case with great art work. Within are two different things. First is a fold out that holds the disc. This is in shining gold foil on the inside with the discs coolly detailed with alchemist symbols while the outside of the box holds glossy splash art of Ed fighting Roy Mustang, and another image of Ed and Al together. The other box within the slip case is a silver foil box with an alchemist mark that holds the first four Fullmetal Alchemist Guidebooks for the series. Each book is about twenty pages each, done with hard card page stock and in full color. Inside are commentaries by Seiji Mizushima (Director), Masahiko Minami (Producer), Yoshiyuki Ito (Character Designer), and Seiji Takeda (Executive Producer, Planning). The books also hold a look at the settings, the story, and the characters in the anime with accompanying full color images from the anime as well as design art and black and white sketches, the books also include episode summaries. 

Fullmetal Alchemist is the anime you can’t afford to miss. It’s an epic saga of gripping characters and circumstances in the lush and imaginative world of alchemy.

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