Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2

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When I was given the chance to review the first Collector’s Edition of 
Fullmetal Alchemist I was overjoyed (you can find my first review here). I really love this series and so it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I am also reviewing the second Collector’s Edition. Has the second half lived up to my memories of this beloved anime?

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 2 starts off with Episode 28 of the 51 episode series and sees Ed and Al reunited with their old alchemy teacher, Izumi. Having discovered the sin that the two committed as children in trying to bring a human back to life, she decides to place them on Yock Island where the two once learned an important lesson while training under her. A scary teacher and being left on a deserted island for a month is the least of the boys’ worries, however, as they’re also being hunted by a group of Homunculi…

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This half of the series is also where things become more complicated with the military and we finally get an idea of what has been going on. When Colonel Roy Mustang and his group of followers are relocated from their remote station to the main central branch of the state headquarters, Mustang starts investigating the odd goings-on that have been taking place. While these story developments are important for Ed and Al as well, I truly believe that what I enjoyed most of the first 15 episodes of this set was the focus on the military.

It has to be said that Roy Mustang has always been one of my favourite characters in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. He’s not quite my top favourite (that position belongs to Edward) but there is something special about him, and as the story progresses, he starts to become more human. And as his character develops, he becomes infinitely more likeable.

fma-set-2-3The same can be said for those that work under Mustang, especially Hawkeye, as they become a lot more important than just side characters. They’re not quite “main cast” but they do get a lot of focus, and that really helped me engage with the military storyline where I otherwise might not have done. In fact, the only one who lacks in development during these episodes is Major Armstrong. However, Armstrong was given a lot of development during the first half of the series and remains an awesome character, so I’m not sure that lacking some development here really matters.

Military cast aside, it’s nice to see that Ed and Al are still learning and growing throughout the course of their adventures. At this point we’ve already seen them go through many a hardship, and this set of episodes certainly has a lot more in store, but despite this, they continue to stand up and keep moving on. It’s a quality that I admire in the two brothers. I also enjoy their relationship and how it isn’t perfect. The two don’t always get along despite how much they love one another. They fight, run away, but eventually come back and are all the stronger for it.

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The animation for this final stretch of episodes continued to be handled by Studio BONES, and towards the end of the series they truly began to outdo themselves for the time period the anime was produced in. Although the series isn’t in widescreen, because it was produced before the transition to HD, it’s still very well animated and could even stand against some of today’s series quite well. BONES have a good sense of how to animate action scenes smoothly, and considering how many there are in Fullmetal Alchemist that was definitely an important quality for the studio to have! As you may expect, this means that the action generally flows well throughout the show and the final episode is simply terrific to watch from an animation point of view.

Fullmetal Alchemist’s music continued to be handled by Michiru Oshima and overall the soundtrack makes a greater impact in this second half of the series. The score never once overpowers the action on-screen, instead amplifying it to a height that it might not have otherwise reached. It’s easy to see why she’s regarded as such a legendary composer, judging by the work on offer here. Across this portion of the series there are three different opening and ending themes, although one set of OP/ED themes kicked in during Part 1’s set of episodes. While I won’t mention them all, my favourites are the final opening, “Rewrite” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation (whom you’ll probably have heard of before because they have provided numerous anime openings, including many themes for Naruto as well as the opening for Tatami Galaxy), and last ending, “I Will” by Sowelu.

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The English voice actors continue to offer simply outstanding work for the series and the English dub remains my favourite. I spoke a great deal about the voice actors for Ed and Al in my previous review, so I thought I’d take the time to sing the praises of Travis Willingham (Free in
Soul Eater, Takashi Morinozuka in Ouran High School Host Club), who plays Mustang. It probably goes without saying that Mustang is a character who is not good at showing his emotions and Willingham voices that type of personality very well, but when Mustang begins to crack, Willingham makes the explosive transition remarkably well.

This second set once again comes to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and includes Episodes 28 through to 51 in both English and Japanese across three Blu-ray discs. Extras include clean opening and ending videos and a scattering of trailers. There are seven art cards included as well, depicting some of the key characters featured in this set of episodes.

Overall, after rewatching the whole series, I can safely say that Fullmetal Alchemist is still my all-time favourite anime. I also think that, without a doubt, it’s one of the best anime with mass market appeal to come out of Japan in the last decade. Hopefully with this release many more people will be introduced to Fullmetal Alchemist and become anime fans through it, but even if they don’t, I’ll still be just as in love with this series as I was the day I first started on this journey through Japanese media.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist Collector's Edition Part 2
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Action, Drama
Studio: BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2003
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 600 minutes

Score: 10/10

Fullmetal Alchemist Collector’s Edition Part 1

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I think it goes without saying that the original 
Fullmetal Alchemist anime is an important series for the anime industry. It paved the way for a whole new generation of people to stumble into Japanese media, and the series is still well renowned to this day. It’s also a very special series for me on a personal level as it’s one of the very first anime I ever watched – and a solid part of the reason that I decided to watch more. After all these years, does the series still live up to what I remember?

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is based around brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are in search of the mysterious Philosopher’s Stone that Ed hopes will allow them to change their bodies back to normal. Edward has a prosthetic arm and leg made from automail (a sort of robotic metal substitute for limbs), while his brother Alphonse lost his whole body (his soul is now tied to a suit of armour) after the two tried to perform a forbidden act of alchemy: bringing a human back to life. Some time after that day Edward became a State Alchemist, and now he and Alphonse travel the world working for the military while seeking a way to restore what they have lost.

The first two episodes focus on introducing Ed and Al while also painting a picture of what this world is like. Anyone working for the military is considered a dog of the state and hated for it. This is largely down to a war that happened a few years before the beginning of Ed and Al’s present day story. The war and the people’s hatred toward the military comes into play later in Fullmetal Alchemist but after the introductory episodes, the series jumps back to the past to tell the story of how Ed became a State Alchemist. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it also shows us why the brothers performed such forbidden alchemy to get themselves into this state.

fma_4The rules of alchemy in this world are fairly straightforward. In order to perform alchemy, you must first draw a Transmutation Circle and provide something of equal value to what you’re trying to create, which is in accordance with the Law of Equivalent Exchange. The only things that an alchemist is forbidden from creating are gold or humans, and anyone who tries succumbs to a fate similar to that of our young protagonists. Ed and Al believe deeply in the idea of equivalent exchange.

The brothers’ devotion to the Law of Equivalent Exchange is one thing that’s always stuck with me since originally watching the series. At heart, Fullmetal Alchemist is your typical shonen series filled with impressive battles and powerful characters, but it also has a very important story to tell about loss, growing up, and the hardships of the world. The plot pushes Ed and Al into dangerous situations, situations that question their beliefs and (at times) childish views of the world. Doing so paves the way for Fullmetal Alchemist to really impress the viewer. It toys with ideas that no other series had explored at the time, and that few have since. It’s truly remarkable in its storytelling and really connects with me on so many levels. With this set I’ve only watched the first 27 episodes of the series but already I’m completely immersed in this world once again.

fma_5One of the notable elements of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime is that much of it was anime original content, because at the time of its airing the manga series was not yet complete. In saying that, a lot of the episodes in this first set do follow the manga quite closely, but already it’s easy to see (if you’ve read the source or watched Brotherhood) where it differs. Usually being anime original would be a bad thing – not many studios have the ability to truly carve out their own stories in a world they’re adapting – but studio BONES do a wonderful job with Fullmetal Alchemist. They do such a good job that I actually prefer the 2003 anime to the manga and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series (although I still liked both quite a bit). It never feels disjointed or like it’s missing anything and, from what I remember, the story that BONES create for the second half is just wonderful.

On the subject of BONES, I have to point out how good the animation on offer looks. This is not an anime that was created in HD but despite that the show looks very sharp on Blu-ray. The world is full of the usual BONES style that many of us have come to know and love, and the characters make similar comedic reactions to those found in their most recent adaption, Bungo Stray Dogs. Fullmetal Alchemist just screams that it’s a BONES series and, admittedly, it is the series that made me fall in love with this studio and the way they create anime.

fma_9The soundtrack has been handled by Michiru Oshima, who has brought something really wonderful to the series. She has also worked on Snow White with the Red Hair, Blast of Tempest and provided some arrangements for the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess video game. With scores full of violins, pianos, and the odd guitar piece, Fullmetal Alchemist has something for everyone and it always blends nicely with the action on-screen. My favourite track is one titled “Brothers” and there are a few different versions of it used throughout the series, but the most memorable is a version played just on the violin. It’s a thought-provoking and truly emotional piece of music. During the 27 episodes on this set there are three opening themes and three ending themes on offer, and while I won’t name them all my favourite opening is the second OP titled “Ready Steady Go!” by L’arc~en~Ciel. The better ending is the first ED named “Inerasable Sin” by Nana Kitade.

Where voice actors are concerned, I actually find myself with a completely different opinion to my usual reviews. For Fullmetal Alchemist my favourite track is the English dub, and despite having attempted to watch the series numerous times in Japanese, my opinion hasn’t changed. To me, the series is just better dubbed. From watching the Japanese version again for the purpose of this review I can say that there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, but I found myself quickly flipping back to the dub and ultimately I just don’t think the Japanese track works as well as the English dub does.

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For the dub, Edward is voiced by Vic Mignogna (Matt Ishida in 
Digimon Tri, Rin Matsuoka in Free!, and Zero Kiryu in Vampire Knight), who manages to put a great deal of emotion into Edward’s character. Sometimes his pitch comes off as a bit sharp, but for a young kid like Ed this works in favour of the role. Alphonse is voiced by Aaron Dismuke (Yasuchika Haninozuka in Ouran High School Host Club, Lucifer in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!) and, quite impressively, he played the role at the age of 12. Allowing a young boy to play the role of a young male character is a rarity and something that also works in Fullmetal Alchemist’s favour, because it makes the performance feel much more realistic.

This Collector’s Edition has been brought to the UK thanks to Anime Limited and marks the first time that the series has been released here on Blu-ray. It includes 27 episodes both subbed and dubbed across three Blu-ray discs and features clean openings and endings. The Collector’s Edition also comes packed with seven art cards.

Overall the first half of Fullmetal Alchemist has proven to be everything I remember. It’s a fun shonen series that also packs a lot of emotional punch and reliving these first 27 episodes all over again has been a true joy. It still remains one of my favourite series from BONES and one of my favourite series of all time. Fullmetal Alchemist is a true wonder of animation and something that everyone should take the chance to check out.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist Collector's Edition Part 1
Publisher: Anime Limited
Genre: Shonen, Adventure, Action, Drama
Studio: Studio BONES
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2003
Format: Blu-Ray
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 675 minutes

Score: 9/10

Anime Limited announce Escaflowne Ultimate Edition details & more at MCM Manchester 2016

This weekend saw the arrival of MCM Manchester Comic Con. While Manga Animatsu made their own announcements through social media and various Amazon UK leaks, Anime Limited’s president Andrew Partridge provided a panel for the Saturday event with a couple new announcements and details to share with everyone.

Ouran High School Host Club

Starting with the new additions to the catalogue, we have Ouran High School Host Club which will once again come back in print for the UK. Manga UK once released this series on DVD but has since gone out of print due to the Funimation deal expiring (same also happened with a couple other titles like Baccano!, Claymore and Eden of the East; all of which Anime Limited have licensed for Blu-ray). Ouran High School Host Club is currently scheduled for release this November as a Collector’s Edition with both the English dub and Japanese audio with English subtitles. You can check out the show for legal streaming over on FunimationNow.

Pigtails

The other new announcements are a bunch of Production I.G. shorts. The main one in particular that was focused the most was the 2015 film Pigtails (Mitsuami no Kamisama), based on the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The film is directed by Itazu Yoshimi who was also Chief Animation Director for Miss Hokusai (another Production I.G. title and Anime Limited license). In addition to Pigtails, Andrew Partridge announced they are planning to release a collection of Production I.G. shorts in one set. These include the Mind Game and Ping Pong director Masaaki Yuasa’s successful kickstarter title Kick Heart, the Anime Mirai shorts (so far it seems to be Tansuwarashi and Wasurenagumo), as well as Oval x Over which has yet to be shown outside Japan. No release date details as of late but Andrew is working on including some of these for Scotland Loves Anime 2016.

In terms of new details on existing Anime Limited products, Andrew Partridge has unveiled the final product for the long-awaited release for The Vision of Escaflowne Ultimate Edition.

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The Ultimate Edition will include the complete series and the movie on Blu-ray. The TV series was known to feature extended footage for the earlier episodes but thanks to the support of Justin Sevakis they have created an authoring that will allow fans to watch the series with both broadcast style for the Bandai Entertainment English dub and the original for the Japanese audio and Funimation’s new English dub. That way fans of the old dub and those who want the new footage can experience both without any issues. The on-disc extras share the same as Funimation’s upcoming release with Textless Opening & Endings, Music Videos, Video Game Cutscenes, Club Escaflowne Interviews as well as Trailers, Anime Expo 2000 and a special program for the Escaflowne Movie.

The Ultimate Edition exclusives include a 144 page artbook (compared to Funimation’s 40 page hardcover version), 3 soundtrack CDs from composer Yoko Kanno (who also worked on Cowboy Bebop and Terror in Resonance) and 3 Collector’s Edition style sets with digipacks to hold the discs; one for the TV series, one for the movie and another for the CDs. The suggested retail price will be £149.99 with an early bird deal for £90 until the end of August exclusively over on Shop All the Anime. The release date is currently slated for December 2016. You can pre-order the set over on Shop All the Anime. The TV series is also available to stream for free on Viewster in Japanese with English subtitles.

During the rest of the panel Andrew Partridge discussed about how Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 was quite the effort to work on for its Ultimate Edition release, citing Square Enix being pretty difficult to work with and the fact that 60% of the stock has been sold through pre-orders already (remember this release is 970 units only currently at £149.99 and soon to be higher near its release). Andrew noted that the artbook included with the Ultimate Edition is “the biggest we’ve ever done”.

Andrew also talked about trying to include the soundtrack CD for Death Parade‘s upcoming Ultimate Edition release. He notes that it may or may not happen depending on licensing approvals. And Prison School may end up being given the Funimation UK treatment if there’s no assets to make a collector’s edition release but at the moment they are currently awaiting the materials to see what they can do. And finally they pointed out that ADV titles are pretty difficult to acquire.