FullMetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
Sometimes, there's no greater problem than success. FullMetal Alchemist was a wildly successful manga that spawned not one but two anime series well liked across the globe. Ed and Al are among the most sympathetic heroes to come out of the illustrated world of Japan -- my wife, with only a passing acquaintance with the series (or much of any anime), was always concerned that they'd get their bodies back. Whereas the first anime series left many unresolved threads, the second series (FMA: Brotherhood) gave us a definitive ending to the Elric Brothers saga. So what do you do when your story has an unchangeable beginning and a superb closing?
You gotta mess around with the middle.
Anime has been doing this for decades. It's become a formula -- take the lead characters out of their central quest on a side adventure while explaining the very basics of the story to entice new viewers. Introduce new players who don't affect anything going on with the lead storyline, and wrap it up in such a way that those new folks won't be missed later. Let our heroes learn something about themselves, but not something so important as to screw around with continuity. This usually happens with a mega-franchise like DragonBall Z or One Piece while the show is still running to make more money from fans. You can jump into these series virtually anywhere in their runs, so why not the movies too? But on rare instances, a shorter series that's not only done airing but cannot continue forward with a sequel series (ala Cowboy Bebop) will generate a mid-point movie based on fan demand.
FullMetal Alchemist follows this formula very well with The Sacred Star of Milos. Set after the boys have discovered the truth about the Philosopher's Stone but while still on their travels as state alchemists, Ed and Al get involved with tracking down a mysterious stranger who's made a curious jailbreak only weeks before his parole. After getting embroiled in a couple alchemic battles not only with him but with a wolf-like chimera, they wind up in the valley of Milos.
A dumping ground between two nations that have a tenuous peace, Milos suffers while those above the valley scheme and plot. Ed and Al meet the beautiful Julia, a young girl whose parents were alchemists. She's determined to learn their secrets and save her adopted homeland by using the legendary Sacred Star of Milos. Only problem is, the boys know its true origins...and the moralistic Julia may have to abandon her innocence if she is to use it in her fight for Milos' independence.
Realistically, FMA: Milos is about the best film you could make with this blueprint. The visuals are sharp and colorful as always, and the action sequences are impressive. While there's a "cartoony" aspect to FMA's visuals that keep them from looking as good as other shows that have made it to the silver screen, you can't ask for much more and it still be FullMetal Alchemist.
The film has moments that are great, particularly a train battle where more and more participants keep showing up in the fight. (I had Baccano! flashbacks, actually...) It was fun to see the two brothers in action again, and I daresay that anyone who got invested in their journeys through either of the anime series or the manga won't mind the return to this world. I also appreciated that the film, true to its origins, deliberates with genuine moral dilemmas. It makes you ask, "What would I do in a similar situation?" Not enough anime reflect on the ambiguous ethical situations their characters face, and I'm glad they did so here.
The unfortunate thing is that FMA: Milos is unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. In the series, if you missed an episode, you might miss a lynchpin. If you don't see Milos, you might miss out on a little excitement, but that's all. We learn nothing more about the boys we didn't know before. The cameos are pointless. The movie is essentially a harmless diversion. That's what most movies are, right? But because we know that all the people we really care about will make it through the film unscathed, it's missing the urgency it might otherwise carry. It's a fault of the format, but a very real one. And if you've seen other movies of this type, you won't be surprised at what happens to the new characters, either.
Nevertheless, if you're a fan of FMA, there's no reason not to see it, either. Currently streaming on Hulu and Netflix and popular enough that my local library even has a copy, it's easy to see without an outlay of cash. It's a thorough-going popcorn flick great for a slow Saturday afternoon. The predictability of the proceedings and the unimportance of the outcomes to the overarching world of FullMetal Alchemist bring my grade down lower than you might expect. However, don't let me dissuade you if you just want to see some old friends in one final adventure.
FullMetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos -- graphic violence, language -- B+