FThe moment of truth has arrived! The live-action adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s Full Metal Alchemist has officially arrived on Netflix for streaming.
Like many live-action anime adaptations before it Full Metal Alchemist was already being subjected to scrutiny by those who are fans of the art form since many of them were controversial or not up to standard. The recent adaptations of Tokyo Ghoul, Death Note, and Attack on Titan were largely met with mixed to negative reactions for a myriad of reasons. Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in The Shell was another example of this as it was well-publicized that it was a critical and commercial failure amidst scandals dealing with racism and white-washing that stemmed from Scarlett Johansson assuming the lead role. Of course, this is not always 100% the case whenever we want to discuss the concept of adapting an anime into a live-action format. There are instances in which they can be successful but they are few and far between. Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike seemingly has a firm grip on the genre and has been able to perform wonders with otherwise challenging productions like Phoenix Wright, Terra Formers, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure into enjoyable viewing experiences. This can just make things a little more difficult and nerve-wracking for those who are avid anime viewers and fans of Full Metal Alchemist such as myself since it means that the film has to sail on some choppy seas, figuratively speaking. There is no guarantee it will meet the qualitative standards set by their animated counterparts and they most often do not. In the case of Fumihiko Sori’s Full Metal Alchemist I found myself generally satisfied with the cast, practical effects mixed with CGI, the writing, and it’s ability to stay mostly faithful to the manga with some expected liberties.
For those who are not exactly informed Full Metal Alchemist is the story of the two Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, two prodigies on the hunt for the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. It’s a tragic narrative from the get-go but doesn’t shy away from having heartfelt moments and some comedy. The series succeeds in its efforts to captivate the audience, but this bizarre amalgamation of faux-science, magic, civil war, mystery, and action somehow comes together, just like…alchemy. Alchemy does not exactly work the way we think it does in this universe. It is given a lot of leeway, but one area in which there are a number of restrictions is when it comes to the topic of resurrection. Life and death aren’t things that you trifle with, yet Ed and Al persist and try to bring back their recently deceased mother. It’s a disastrous decision that only ends in tragedy with Alphonse losing his entire body. After this, Ed then sacrifices a literal arm and a leg in order to bind Al’s soul to a suit of armor and at least allow him the ability to move and speak. You can tell that this type of story would be challenging for Sori to fit the whole 60-episode series into a 2 hour time frame. This caused Sori to be more practical in his approach towards the series by focusing solely on the tragic first arc of the series with characters like the infamous Shou and Nina Tucker. It may be one arc but Sori does effectively touch on all of the bases to establish the world that the Elrics live in. At times, it felt like way more than 2 hours was being covered here which is fine considering how that is one of the biggest problems with a lot of other live-action adaptations. They gloss over a lot of important details that define the characters or the world that the viewer gets plunged into which makes digesting it and understanding it harder than it needs to be.
One of the things that I think a lot of people will appreciate like I did as someone who was vehemently opposed to last year’s Ghost in The Shell is that the cast is all Japanese. It may not be a big deal for some people but as someone that believes in accuracy and giving Asians their due in the film industry when they’re underrepresented it is for me. However, their race is not the sole reason why this cast worked so well for me. A lot of the cast really captured the personalities of their animated counterparts to a perfect T and were a joy to watch on screen. The role of Edward is presumed by Ryosuke Yamada, whose casting was apparently met with some negative reception in Japan which I do not fully understand. Yamada captured the youthful, chipper, yet tormented nature that Edward has throughout the series. A lot of younger viewers will identify with his struggles, even if they may have never gone through what he goes through. One of the most emotional scenes in the series where Yamada really sells his performance is his reaction to Nina Tucker being turned into a chimera. It is a raw scene, where you can’t help but believe you are the one punching Shou instead of Edward and blame yourselves for being unable to save Nina from her fate. It tackles the death of Maes Hughes with that same type of emotional gravitas or weight. When the film started to head in the direction of his murder it started to turn into somewhat of an emotional throwback to when I watched the 2009 series since Hughes was one of my favorite characters. He was such a warm, entertaining, welcoming, and childlike character who always entertained the Elrics or the audience whenever he got the chance to. Characteristics like this make you realize that he was going to be an amazing father had he not been murdered which is something that Ryuta Sato delivers on whenever he would appear in the film as Hughes.
You can tell throughout this experience that Sori is someone who does appreciate the medium of Japanese anime and providing viewers with likeable characters. It is to be noted that Sori is no stranger to adapting anime as he was the director Ping Pong which was also based on a manga which is the film that caused him to be tapped to tackle an arguably difficult project such as this one. However, the series does have some minor bumps in the road as far as pacing goes but it’s not overly jarring to the point you’ll find yourself removed from the experience. Some of the pacing issues stem from Sori attempting to translate and condense a magical, sprawling, and action packed world into a coherent 2 hour time frame. Of course, I feel that he mostly did a sound job of this compared to the choppy mess that was Adam Wingard’s Death Note, which I do think we’re better off not talking about.
However, there are still moments in the series where you can still see that Sori had some struggles in making this film function that sort of confused me. It is visible that he utilized a few select characters, which may cause fans to scratch their head at certain characters being omitted from the story. Key characters like King Bradley and Scar are omitted with Bradley only being referred to through dialogue as the “Fuhrer.” Even I was wondering why they did not make any physical appearance despite them influencing the brothers throughout the series. Again, I do find these decisions understandable to an extent since there was some presumably sound decision-making behind it but not enough to warrant omissions such as these. It would have perhaps been beneficial to maybe extend the last 14 minutes of the film to somehow incorporate them in the plot besides just being throw-aways in dialogue.
Overall, I would definitely give Full Metal Alchemist a chance if you have yet to watch it. There’s a lot of heart, emotion, and effort put towards this film that the cast makes work even despite questionable but not egregiously poor writing. By the end of the film the audience will be potentially moved by this tale and find themselves wanting a few more films set in this beautiful world just so they can see if the Elrics get a happy ending, if nothing else. We can only hope that sequel gets greenlit fairly soon after that enigmatic after-credits scene that I do not think anyone should miss.
Fumihiko Sori’s Full Metal Alchemist is an enjoyable and ambitious outing in a curious genre of live-action anime adaptations that compels a lot of emotion from it’s audience despite minor hiccups and omissions that can be ironed out through a couple of sequels. The film is carried by an enthusiastic cast that make it all that much easier for Netflix and Sori to sell this tragic yet fun story to us. As a fan of Full Metal Alchemist I do not think anyone will be 100% dissatisfied with the movie once it’s all said and done. Having said that it is safe to say that this film is a solid 7.5 out 10.