The live-action adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist finally is available for streaming on Netflix for fans in the West, and now they have been able to see what all the fuss in Japan was all about.
Fans were definitely wary of the adaptation as anime properties often end up with lackluster film live-action film projects, and with as involved as Hiromu Arakawa's original series is, fans were doubly as worried to see what the film version of their favorite series would land on the quality spectrum.
So how does the live-action film compare to the original series? Taking some of the series' biggest moments, shuffling them around, and funneling it through a less than two and a half hour package, the film does make some missteps but manages to adapt some of the series' biggest moments.
Read on to find out how.
Fullmetal Alchemist was was first created by Hiromu Arakawa for Square Enix's Monthly Shonen Gangan Magazine in 2001. The story follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who learn alchemy in order to bring back their deceased mother. After a terrible miscalculation, however, the two brothers pay a terrible price with Alphonse even losing his body and linking his soul to a suit of armor.
As the two boys search for an alchemy that will restore their bodies to their original forms, they join the military and deal with a whole host of new political, ethical, and moral issues.
Netflix's live-action film follows the two Elric brothers some time after Edward becomes a fully licensed alchemist by the state military. Following stories about the Philosopher's Stone, Edward and his brother Al still search of the way to create one and restore their bodies to normal.
Edward, who is missing an arm and a leg, and Al, who's just a soul bound to a suit of armor, then meet various members of the military and slowly learn about its dark secrets and what really makes a Philosopher's stone. Then Ed has to come to grips with whether or not the cost of a life outweighs another.
The opening scene of the original manga and first anime series feature Ed and Al's origin story. After their mother passes, they try and break one of the steadfast rules of alchemy and bring her back from the dead. Thinking they've got the proper ingredients to alchemy together their mother, the two make a major mistake that comes at a cost to both of their bodies.
Luckily, the Netflix film does this very thing but cuts out any mentions of their father, from which they learned alchemy from in the original series. The film doesn't also give much time to the two brothers' relationship with their mother, so her eventual death and their alchemy mistake comes at a rapid pace and doesn't quite nail the grief the two felt in the original series.
But while the film doesn't quite nail the pacing of the introduction, at least it looks fantastic. The intro scene, for example, is just as twisted as the original series. Both boys are wrapped within a typhoon, and the remnants of their failed alchemy is just as gruesome.
While some costumes and visuals don't translate completely well to live-action, the film does nail one of the most important aspects of the series, how Alphonse looks. Substituting a real life suit of armor for a CG one, Alphonse fits well in live-action. Though he can't be as expressive as he was drawn in the original series, his more emotional beats do land in live-action thanks to the cold realness of his design and subdued dialogue.
It's probably the best CG of any live-action anime adaptation Japan has released yet.
Although not every member of the military in the series appears in the live-action film, which is definitely felt by fans of the Armstrong family, the ones that do appear are done. Dean Fujioka and Misako Renbutsu are well cast as Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye respectively, but the real standout is Ryuta Sato as Major Hughes.
While the military feels like a non-entity, as the repercussions of their actions are really felt until the end, Sato is a wonderful Hughes. He's just as refreshing to the film as he is in the series (though the film removes his famous daughter) and his eventual fate is shared in the live-action film as well. Though it admittedly loses its impact due to lack of screen time and the lack of time for Hughes to sink in as a character.
But it's an effort the film didn't have to make to adapt.
A major inclusion to the film are some of the series' main antagonists, the Homunculi named after the seven deadly sins. The film includes Lust, Gluttony, and Envy, and much of their actions are taken in the background as they are in the original series.
Like the original series, Lust and Envy get the most attention here but Lust unfortunately goes without most of her character development. It makes her eventual fate lose impact as she does not get to confront Edward and Al as much as she does in the original series.
Though fans of the original series know the homunculi don't play a major antagonist role until later in the series, it is a shame to see Lust and Colonel Mustang's final confrontation in the film without any of the emotional context that comes with their private conversations in the original series.
Warning Major Spoilers for Fullmetal Alchemist!
Of course, the live-action film also adapts the series' darkest moment. In the anime and manga series, there's a state alchemist named Shou Tucker who has a young daughter named Nina and a dog named Alexander. He's famous in the military for experimenting with talking chimeras and is stressed that his latest evaluation is coming up and he doesn't have anything to present.
Later, he shows Edward a new chimera he's created. This one can talk, and when Edward introduces himself to it, it says "Play with me Edward!" Suddenly, Edward realizes that Tucker had transmuted his daughter and pet dog into a chimera, and has even done the same to his wife in the past.
In the film, this happens in exactly the same fashion and is just as much of a bummer as it is in the original series. The film's great looking CG helps emphasized how disfigured the new chimera is, and thus hits that much harder when it's not an animated or drawing of a person becoming a monster.
Warning! Major Spoilers For Fullmetal Alchemist!
The live-action adaptation adapts many major moments from the series. Along with the aforementioned Ed and Al trying to bring their mother back, Nina and Alexander's terrible chimera fate, Hughes' death, and Mustang torching Lust multiple times, the series also adapts Edward and Alphonse's fight where Al thinks he's a fake, the events of Lab 5, as well as the ghoulish white alchemy beasts that attack the military.
But as mentioned, the film might have tackled too many big moments from the series in an effort to do a just adaptation for the series. Because it feels it needs to cover a lot in just under two and a half hours, a lot of these moments don't feel as weighted as they do in the manga series. Naturally, this would be the case but the effort to adapt as much and as closely as possible sacrificed the emotional weight of many scenes.
Warning! Major Spoilers For The Fullmetal Alchemist Film!
The live-action film comes to close in an original fashion. Taking cues from different places in the manga, the film has Shou Tucker leading the final events of Lab 5. When Edward discovers that human sacrifice is necessary for a Philosopher's stone, Tucker reappears to argue that he an Ed are the same, but he is killed by Lust (rather than by Scar as he is in the original series).
Then General Hakuro activates a machine in Lab 5 and releases an army of white, soulless alchemy beasts. When Mustang kills Lust, he pulls her Philosopher's Stone out of her chest rather than destroying it. Then he offers it to Ed (rather than Ling Yao) to restore he and Al's bodies. When he enters the Gate once more, he sees Alphonse's frail body.
This pulls a lot of different elements from the original series, and while it will never have the emotional through line granted by the extra time for development in the original series, the film's ending does have its intended effect of establish Edward as a good person who won't stoop to the lowest of the low in order to gain what he wants. And that's the basic message of the original series.