Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

I just came back from watching Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos in the theater and it was enjoyable experience to be able to watch this movie with a crowd. I arrived at the theater 25 minutes late, but I easily caught up to what I was going on since the movie slowed down about 3-4 times to lay down the exposition and backstory they came up with just for this movie. Script-wise, the movie was mostly what you would expect from a yearly shonen movie from franchises like Naruto, One Piece or Bleach. There’s a new character introduced, they focus a lot on that character, but not enough on the characters you’ve actually grown to care about (in this case, Roy Mustang, who’s underrepresented in the film). But, while they lay down the plot a bit thick, the story they bring here does at least tie into the themes that you see in the other FMA works– racial conflicts between nations (Daryl Surat said it was the best anime analogy for the Israel/Palestine conflict ever and that’s appropriate to say) and military intervention with a shady ulterior motive. It doesn’t necessarily build upon any storyline in the movie, but nobody really expected it to. I would highly recommend watching this movie with a group of people. Hopefully they are as receptive and into the movie as the crowd I was with, as they really responded positively to the movie and that made the experience better.

You know what also made this movie better? There’s about 100% less jokes about Ed’s height. So assuming they didn’t have 10 of them in the first 25 minutes, this movie is pretty solid in that regard too.

The biggest draw going into the movie for me was the animation work that was being done. You could instantly tell they went in a different direction from the rest of the series just by looking at the poster. The aforementioned crowd enthusiasm in the theater I went to was a bit surprising to me, as all I saw online was vitriolic hatred towards the style they decided to use for this movie. I imagine there will still be a significant portion of the fanbase who will not like this movie simply because of the animation. However, I have to tip my hat to the people at BONES, Aniplex, and whomever else on the production committe that was bold enough to go forward with a movie that totally overhauled the visuals from what was established in the previous anime productions of FMA.

The trailers for the movie showed the animation being pretty loose and the animators being carefree about the amount of detail they put into the drawings, focusing more on having more dynamic movement and exciting sequences to watch– and that’s what you get. The loose drawings are only really prevalent in the action scenes, though. I imagine that while the movie was being put together, the director and co. realized that audiences would be more forgiving of this kind of approach during actions scenes than if they use it throughout the movie.  In the calm scenes, the movie is more restrained, but you still see the “off-model” shots in the background characters here and there. Kenichi Konishi’s designs are pleasant to look at and they, in large part, help carry the film’s visuals when everything is not moving at lighting speed. The character acting isn’t particularly fantastic in these slow scenes, as they did not have the production time to put the time and effort into it, but it is more than adequate enough given the circumstances.

The designs in the scenes of the village under Table City had a similar style to Miyazaki’s early work in Nausicaa and Castle in the Sky. This comes out in both the simplicity in  the character designs of the villagers, color selection in the clothing, and backgrounds. This again ties into the alternate European setting that the original FMA storyline takes place in. The color designer, Fumiko Numahata, worked previously on the color designs from Tales from Earthsea and Howl’s Moving Castle, so you can see where the Ghibli influence in the movie came from.

Yoshimichi Kameda Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood MAD

(I try to describe who animated what from hereon out, so I do reveal a bit of the movie. In other word’s minor spoiler alert).
I’m glad that director Kazuya Murata got involved in this movie as by storyboarding the entire movie you can see the kind of interesting action ideas he had. There’s a lava sequence in the climax of the film that is pretty impressive. There’s also probably the best shot I’ve ever seen of somebody spilling their blood (it’s rather disturbing to watch) and a pretty grotesque decapitation sequence.  These scenes obviously left me with some vivid images that I walked away from the movie remembering, so I’d be interested in seeing what he would do with a different story but with this same caliber of staff and more production time.

The star of this movie when it comes to the key animators involved is Yoshimichi Kameda, whose work in this movie literally let me with my jaw open. Kameda made a name for himself on the FMA: Brotherhood series, so it’s only natural that he would have played a significant role in the next FMA project that was announced. Here, he handles the fight in the cave with chimera, the sword fight at the top of the tower, and the last fight involving Ed.

Shizue Kaneko animates the flashback involving the siblings and their earrings. Production I.G animator Yasunori Miyazawa is here as well and he animates the previously mentioned grandiose sequence at the end involving lava, among some other effects work earlier in the movie. The lava sequence is slightly reminiscent of his work on Dead Leaves and Shoka (without the crazy panning from side to side), so I knew the work was familiar while I was watching it unfold.

Satoru Utsunomiya worked on this movie after not having anime for 2 years (confession: looks like I missed his part since I was paying my food bill). But Shingo Yamashita, Hiroshi Shimizu, and Kenichi Kutsuna’s, whose parts come after Utsunomiya’s part, were let loose in a fight sequence in an underground cave. This sequences stands out a lot so you won’t have trouble picking it out, but the sequence is what you would expect from Yamashita and Kutsuna in particular. It’s rather remarkable that it stands out even in a movie that already has plenty of loose animation sequences. There’s a certain kind of animation that you comes to expect from these two gifs animators (you might call it unrefined when it comes to their draftsmanship), but that’s part of their appeal. You still get to see the raw emotion that they try to get across in their work, even when they’re not showing you particularly great drawings to look at when you compare their work to other animators. I imagine that’s why they continue to get hired even considering the backlash some fans have had when seeing their work– their peers in the industry get what they’re doing trying to do.

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