REVIEW: 鋼の錬金術師 嘆きの丘(ミロス)の聖なる星 [Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos] [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 110 minutes | Release Date: May 2nd, 2011 (Japan)
Studio: Aniplex / FUNimation Entertainment
Director(s): Kazuya Murata
Writer(s): Yûichi Shinbo / Hiromu Arakawa (manga)

“The myths of the Milosian people are stained in blood”

Anime truly is a breed of its own and a genre not to be trifled with by the weak at heart. Just take the popular saga of “Fullmetal Alchemist” and the amount of work created from Hiromu Arakawa‘s world. Spawning two separate television series adapted from the same original manga, both incarnations were also graced with a film to accompany their parallel journeys of the brothers Elric—Edward and Alphonse. Whereas Conqueror of Shamballa trailed the original run as a wrap up, the newest film, 鋼の錬金術師 嘆きの丘(ミロス)の聖なる星 [Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos], takes place inside the canon of “Brotherhood” before the siblings end their trek to reclaim their bodies. So, suffice it to say, jumping in at the end may not have been the best thing in the world for me to do.

With some light research, however, I was able to ground my knowledge in enough history to ready for what would be a smorgasbord of action, adventure, and magical sorcery at the hands of its alternate reality’s fiercest beings, the Alchemists. A stylized universe based on the European Industrial Revolution with specific interest in Germany as the foundation for its country of Amestris, its most scientifically inclined are able to wield the power of creation much like a Green Lantern can. This ability to synthesize at will is feared in the hands of villains while revered within control of the state and like any gift allowing control over the impossible, its dark side forever holds potential for hubris. The Elrics aren’t spared as they fall prey to the God-like power attempting to reanimate their deceased mother through the forbidden art of Human Transmutation; losing their forms in the process.

We meet them as they’re looking to find the mythic Philosopher’s Stone of immortality to help recover their bodies just as a jailbreak is performed in Amestris. Alphonse (Rie Kugimiya)—his soul embedded to a suit of armor—and Edward (Romi Pak)—an advanced prosthetic arm and leg made from automail keeping him whole to serve with the State Military—are enlisted to assist Colonel Mustang (Shinichirô Miki) in search of the surprisingly powerful alchemist Melvin Voyager (Toshiyuki Morikawa) who escaped with only two months left in a five-year sentence. Yûichi Shinbo‘s script leads them away from their home country into the border land of Creta and its fortified circular island surrounded by an abyss of canyon called Table City. Thrust into the unknown, their welcome is none too pleasant as they find themselves in the middle of a clash between military police, Milosian Black Bat combatants, and a wolf Chimera out for blood.

Yes, this is the type of craziness you should expect throughout what some may construed as a convoluted mess if unaccustomed to the ambitious storytelling generally possessed by anime. We discover the ancient history of this odd piece of land and the three nations laying claim—the esoteric “Holy Land” moniker the most obvious allusion of many to the borders of Israel and Palestine. Once known as Milos, the mythic land of promise and home of the legendary Stars of Fresh Blood, becomes ravaged by the Cretans when they learn of the power hidden beneath its earth. Invading with force in a genocide ending with the enslavement of a complete population, the Cretans lay waste to the ground surrounding Mt. Poros. Shortly after the Amestrians look to expand their border and eventually butt up against the rock cliff leaving the Milosian people stranded in the valley below, stuck between two unsteady foes.

The Sacred Star of Milos therefore becomes more about these oppressed people looking to free themselves from tyranny than the Elrics’ quest to become whole. Their stories overlap as the similarities of the Philosopher’s Stone and Stars of Milos give pause, but the fight ensuing is about reclaiming a birthright and eventually saving the universe from annihilation at the hands of Truth—I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. So, we meet a young illegal immigrant alchemist named Julia (Maaya Sakamoto), learn of her family’s place in the Cretan and Milosian annals of history, and learn our unknown escapee Melvin’s true identity along with the role he plays in the fire and brimstone to follow. Details from an opening prologue come back into focus and secret reveals abound as good guys turn bad and good again in a schizophrenic frenzy that works in its absolute absurdity.

But while the story itself can get confounding—especially for newcomers—I found myself captivated by the dark subject matter cutting through its lighter fantasy. The issue of false deities comes up and mortality is mentioned as life’s greatest gift. Power is wrought through genocide and the blood of an entire nation is literally spilled for salvation as words usually spoken for colorful flourish are used quite literally once the climactic fight begins. Death is not a stranger, so heed the PG-13 rating and revel in the story’s ability to unfold its surreal orchestration seriously. It shrouds its chaotically gorgeous aesthetic in the caves of an underground city and lets kinetic mastery loose with intricately designed characters melding flesh and metal together in a archaically futuristic, post-apocalyptic way.

The art direction combines with a plot that makes more sense than initially expected to give us a fun, adrenaline rush of activity devoid of the limitations of physics as its strikingly potent handle on the imagination excels. With electric pulses and telepathic rock walls and ice spears landing direct hits on opponents only to see them fight back after dodging the visual assault unscathed, you’ll feel as though you’re watching a Squaresoft role-playing game onscreen. And although you’re probably better off knowing the franchise before diving into this newest installment, there’s more than enough for the casual anime fan to enjoy. Let the world wash over you by accepting the unacceptable because the laws of reality don’t apply and frankly we all need some animated escapes to not be branded Disney.

[1] Edward Elric & Alphonse Elric (c) Hiromu Arakawa/HAGAREN THE MOVIE 2011. Licensed by FUNimation(R) Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Julia Crichton (c) Hiromu Arakawa/HAGAREN THE MOVIE 2011. Licensed by FUNimation(R) Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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