Studio Bones has done it again... Sigh. See, them "doing it again" is kind of a bad thing. They make shows with great production values and great storytelling capabilities and their series always have incredible beginnings, but they often fall short of pure awesomeness in the last leg of the race (see Scrapped Princess and Wolf's Rain for prime examples). This is very much true for their newest show, Fullmetal Alchemist. Goddammit!! And FMA had such potential... Such glorious potential too. Well, let's see what they did wrong, shall we?
Well actually, let's see what they did right first. They took a manga that had a pretty interesting idea, and latently interesting characters, and gave it new life. Honestly, the first half of Fullmetal Alchemist the TV series is muuuuuuuuuuuch better than the manga chapters that it follows. Scenes are fleshed out more, characters are given more depth and more screen time (with Maes Hughes becoming a cult fave thanks solely to his anime personality and portrayal), and alchemy is used a LOT more often. More more more. But by around episode 27 or so, the anime went in a completely different direction than the original manga was going in. The TV crew then had to make up their own reasons for who/what the bad guys were, what their purpose was, and the logic behind the use of alchemy and the "Gate" from which this pseudo-science seemed to draw its power from... Even without knowing the eventual manga's wherefores behind these things it became quite obvious that Studio Bones hadn't really thought their reasons through all that well. At about episode 44-45, plot holes big enough for Al in his armored form to walk through began to emerge... And then the whole basis of the show's plot was just conjured up and dropped in the viewers' laps in the second to last half-hour. The TV series' idea about what that Gate was supposed to be was really kind of stupid. Especially when compared to the manga's version. But I digress. A lot. Let's jump back to the plot, shall we?
Fullmetal Alchemist is all about two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who try to use the science of alchemy to revive their dead momma. Unfortunately there is a reason why it is forbidden to attempt to bring people back from beyond the grave with the practice of "transmutation" and "equal trade"... There's nothing you can equally trade a human soul for. So, in their botched misjudgment the boys find that they are missing important body parts and that their supposedly resurrected "mother" is just a heap of quivering flesh and organs. Deeeeeeeescusting! But what's worse is that Ed is missing his left leg and Al is missing his whole body. Well, so I guess Al is just plain missing. So Ed, being the genius alchemist that he is (and with the help of "the truth" that he just saw in the Gate), fuses his little brother's fading soul to a suit of armor, which then costs the elder brother his right arm. After that harrowing experience, and after a couple of automail attachments (automail being metal limbs that attach to the nervous system and allow movement like regular arms and legs), Ed is as good as new, and he and Al (still fused to the empty armor) go out on their own to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone. With this Stone it is said that equal trade is no longer necessary in order to get the alchemy mojo to work, and therefore, hopefully, both brothers will then be able to get their full bodies back.
That's just a veeery quick and rough abridgement of the early early part of the story. No real spoilers there (I'll get to those later). It's a very interesting set up, and the world that FMA is set in is pretty cool too. It's like Middle Europe in the early 1900s, with some Arabia thrown in for good measure. The feel of the show (i.e. the distant past with some super-science woven in) is pretty unique and the characters fit very well into it... Well, until Fullmetal Archer shows up, but once again I'll get to that in a bit. The pace of FMA is well plotted too. Things move along smoothly and it never feels either rushed or deliberately slowed down. We journey along with Ed and Al as they join the military (well, Ed does as Al would never pass the urine test), travel the world meeting interesting new friends and enemies while searching for the Philosopher's Stone, and hang out with Colonel Mustang, Scar and the cutest, bubbliest blonde who ever knew how to work a torque wrench, Winry Rockbell. In short, it's just a really fun adventure yarn... Until the very end. Man, I just don't understand how Bones can constantly fup up the endings to such great series. I still think they could have done a much better job with their explanation of the immortal homunculus and just what the gate was all about than what they eventually settled for. In case you couldn't tell, I'm about to hit SPOILER UBER MODE.
Spoiler Uber Mode (I swear to God that I'm going to ruin the WHOLE plot here... Consider yourself thoroughly warned.):
Right about when the Elric brothers meet their old alchemy/martial arts sensei, Izumi, the story goes off on a wildly new course from where the original manga writer intended it to go. Now, I'm usually against the anime staff writing their own ending to other people's works (for a prime example of this see Rurouni Kenshin.... Super Christian Knights my ass!), but I was fairly interested in how the FMA TV staff was going to conclude things, especially when we found out that the homunculi (the soulless immortal humans named after the seven deadly sins who seemed to be dogging our heroes a lot by this point in the story) were actually failed human resurrections... This meant big things for both the brothers and their teacher, all of whom had tried to raise a dead loved one at one point in the past. I was intrigued. The addition of Sloth as Ed and Al's mother, and Wrath as Izumi's son really got me into the story. By this point in the manga narrative though, the plot had gone in a completely different direction. The homunculi weren't resurrected humans, they were but humans created with a Philosopher's Stone as their nuclei. And their "sin names" actually meant something. The Fuehrer is Wrath in the comic for example, and he is most definitely wrathful. Lust is more lustful and Greed is definitely more greedy. And there's more Roy Mustang and Riza (Lisa?) Hawkeye, that's always a plus. Oh, and Barry the Chopper and a bunch of martial artists from a far Eastern country soon become major players in the manga, but that's not my point. Wait, no, maybe it is.
My point is that currently the FMA manga is actually starting to gel and make sense. The reasons for everything happening are a lot clearer and they don't get all fuzzy and contradictory... Which was a major problem for the anime near the end of its run. At the end of the series, rules that governed the homunculi are forgotten, remembered and then discarded for the sake of a bad plotline (think Lust and her reaction to her remains and compare that to Greed and Pride. That's just sloppy writing). And as for the ability to actually DO alchemy, the anime guys seemed to have forgotten that it's a person's soul that can call forth the power to do it. That explains how Al can still do it without a flesh and bone body. But that doesn't explain how Wrath can do it with just Ed's arm (as it is stated over and over again very clearly so that even mental fucktards can understand "Homunculi can't perform alchemy"). Did they think any of this shit through?!
The big bad enemy of the anime isn't even in the manga, and the reasons for this bad guy doing things don't really add up. Also, there were some great missed opportunities that the writers could have used said character for instead (namely they could have said that the big bad was the one who killed Ed and Al's mom... but they didn't). I mean, fuck, I was telling my three year-old nephew about the plot of FMA and near the end he stopped me and said, "Uncle Rossman, that bad lady who once fucked Hohenheim, she killed Ed and Al's mommy, didn't she?" Even a child thought that a plot point like that would have added shitloads more depth and development to a lacking finale.
Another stupid anime mess-up is the fact that the face that Envy shows to Ed (his supposed true face) in their showdown is basically that of a young Hohenheim, when timeline-wise the Hohenheim that we know didn't have that body when Wrath was originally born... Seriously, what the fuck?! A little continuity goes a long way. Oh, and another big complaint is that neither Ed nor Al defeated any of the bad guys themselves!!! Well, maybe Sloth, but the rest either got away, killed eachother, or were killed by lesser characters. And there were sooooo many loose ends by the final credit roll. Are they seriously just waiting for the movie to finish it all up? Lame! I call halfsies-bullshit on crappy commercial thinking like that. Bullshit for getting all Eva-like philosophical at the end; Bullshit for Lust's lame exit; And bullshit for copping out of some of the major plot points that the writers seemed to have forgotten about. Seriously, Eva got away with finishing its story up in a movie because it didn't leave even a quarter of the plot hanging that FMA did. There's no way the Fullmetal movie can handle it all. Jeez, now I'm complaining about something that isn't even completed yet. Anyway, the lamest shit that the FMA anime pulled was the whole Fullmetal Archer subplot.... That went absolutely NOWHERE. There was no point at all to that except to make people laugh at the stupidness of the whole situation. The inclusion of Fullmetal Archer, and his subsequent pathetic use and termination, was just reeeeediculose, as Balki would say.
And finally, let's not disremember the HUUUUGE buildup that the anime was leading up to in regards to an all-out war between Amestris (the country where all the events happen in) and all of its neighbors due to Fuehrer Bradley's menacing intentions. This was a major plot point that was built up over the course of ten episodes to the point where it became something of a powder keg with a two-inch fuse. The situation was really tense, death and destruction were about to reign supreme, and then... Then nothing. The plot point just disappeared. The soldiers who were left on the frontline (some being fairly big players in the course of the show) just got off easy as everything was simply forgotten. It's messy writing like this that I ultimately cannot forgive.
Ooooooh! One last thing (I promise)! How in the HELL could the place "beyond the gate" be considered more "technically advanced" than the FMA world just because they have prop planes and blimps?! The FMA world has trains and cars too, plus automail and Fullmetal Archer. What the fucking hell?!? And LONDON?!?! Holy fuckadoodles is that the gayest shit I've ever heard. Why didn't they just say "the other side of the gate is Satan's undouched twat"? That would have been slightly less lame.
END OF THE MAJOR SPOILERS. It's safe to come out now.
I do call anti-bullshit though for a fun time for at least half of the series. But I do wish that they followed the original manga storyline a bit more. Was that random enough for you?
So let me just restate: Characters, good; Setting and set-up, good; First half of the show, very good; Second half of the show, not so good; Finale, red-headed-stepchild-beating bad. I don't think I want to check out Bones' other shows that are still on the air or just starting production anymore (I am soooo worried about Mars Daybreak now). They've fumbled the ball on the 2 yard line way too many times to be forgiven. A pox on thee, Studio Bones! May thee never fuxor up a "could be great" ending ever again, lest ye be shackled with many a venereal disease from the next schoolgirl hooker you taketh as your by-the-hour lover. Bastards!!
I... I am flabbergasted! I simply had no conceivable idea that one could perform such incredible acts of science with just a chalk drawn circle! Amazing! Simply amazing!
I was able to conduct my first "alchemy" experiment yesterday, thanks in part to the Rossman and his new fangled Full of Metal Alchemist art program that he generously showed me. I understood the basic idea of alchemy and the "equal trade" of sorts that the show speaks of, but then I had to do a little more research of my own.
See, in our world, on the other side of the gate, it's a little harder to control the forces of alchemy. Say, for example, one wanted some radioactive heavy water in order to mutate some lung fish into walking and talking vampire Pisces who would do my bidding and help me stop the evil mole men once and for all. If one wanted such a material in this world, one could not just draw a circle and/or clap one's hands to produce it. Instead, I've found, one must produce other materials first. Say you're after that heavy water I just mentioned, first you would have to have the following raw materials: A print-out of a Google search for the closest uranium depot or nuclear power plant; a machine gun; a homicidal robot to act as a bullet-proof shield; 3 concussion grenades and 6 shrapnel grenades; and a blonde, shoulder length wig along with a sexy red sequinned cocktail dress. And maybe some size 11 matching pumps.
See, alchemy in this world is a lot tougher than in that cartoon's world. Plus my legs are killing me from those damn stiletto heels. But that's "equal trade" for you. At least those mole men will stop rummaging through my garbage soon and die a horrible and screaming, vampirey fishy death. Hurray for science!
Ooooookay, so I get what this show was supposed to be about, but one thing still bothers the heck out of me: Why did they completely cut my idol, Winry, out of the whole plot in the end? I swear that they were building her up to be the one to save the world or something in the final episode... And did Ed really love Rose? I thought that he and Winry would get married and have half-metal kids or something. What a shame.
My brother, the Rossman, tells me that the comic book of the show is very different, and that Winry seems to be getting set up for some pretty big things in the future. Why couldn't the cartoon people just follow that plot? The second half of this series is all messed up. The first half is fun, but the second is just all wrong. I may not watch too much Japanimation, but I know good storytelling, and Full Alchemist is not that. Good stories should have good endings. If the ending is bad, the whole show is bad. If the beginning is bad, but then gets better and better and builds to an exciting and fulfilling finale, then I count the show as good. This is not one of those kinds of shows.
Watching this Japanimation was kind of like watching two cute doggies getting "frisky" with eachother. At first you're like, "Aaaawe. Look, they're playing. How cute." Then they get a little rough and you're like, "Oh no, now they're fighting! Bad dogs!" But then you realize what's going on and you're like, "Eeeeeeeewe! Oh, yuck! Naughty doggies! Stop! Stop right now! Oh man, now I have to clean the carpet..." That's the best description for what watching Alchemist is like.