Director Fumihiko Sori enters the Gate of Truth and shows us that transforming animation to live action can be just as horrific and dangerous as human transmutation.
“How long are you going to be miserable?”
I slept on Fullmetal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa’s truly excellent supernatural shonen series, for far too long, having only seen the Brotherhood adaptation this year. The series, for anyone who doesn’t know by now, is about two teenage brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two state-certified alchemists working with the military. At a young age the boys lost their mother and attempted to use alchemy to bring her back, despite knowing that it is both incredibly taboo and impossible to perform human transmutation. The procedure cost Alphonse his body – forcing his elder brother to desperately bond his soul to a suit of armour – and Edward to lose an arm and a leg. The boys are trying to locate a philosopher’s stone in order to get their bodies back, but are hampered by many enemies – most notable are the seemingly immortal artificial humans known as homunculi, whose seem to have ties to the military and the conflicts that have shaped their country. Fullmetal Alchemist 2017 is sort of like that, except almost none of it works on any level.
It will likely not surprise you in the slightest to know that, like seemingly so many live action anime adaptations, Fullmetal Alchemist feels less like a real adaptation of the series and more like a high-budget amateur production featuring decent cosplayers doing their best to not look extremely stupid. And failing miserably, of course. I’ll talk briefly for anyone who isn’t familiar with the source material, before going into more specific stuff: if you aren’t aware of the plot elements going in, nothing in this film is going to make much sense. Every single story beat is rushed, and in order to keep things moving, the filmmakers opted to have characters explain everything in single-sentence exposition.
The movie races through the Elric brothers’ origins at breakneck speed, and while they do give us all the necessary information by means of awkward dialogue scenes, none of it feels weighty at all. Trisha Elric is impressed by her boys’ alchemical abilities, she then immediately dies, the boys try to bring her back and Alphonse is killed all within the first five minutes. Then it cuts to an in media res action scene against Father Cornello in Reole (Liore?) – a generic fight that could have been against any alchemist – and none of it is given the time it needed to establish what any of it means. Brotherhood, the second adaptation of the anime, was criticised a bit during its early episodes for rushing through some of the arcs that had been previously animated in the 2003 series, but at least they were given the dignity of three acts.
It might not have been so bad if the rest was any good, but outside of some source-accurate costumes (which look way too much like costumes and wigs for any disbelief to be fully suspended) it’s hard to recommend anything in this feature. None of the characters really act like their counterparts, nor are they given any new personalities to replace them. Alphonse and Edward have almost no chemistry (mostly due to the fact that poor Ryosuke Yamada has to act alongside a CGI brother who isn’t in most of the scenes probably because animating armour is expensive), Winry has been reduced to the most banal type of bubbly female sidekick, and Shou Tucker has been promoted to primary villain and in the process loses all of what made him remotely interesting or tragic.
The only person to come out relatively unscathed is Maes Hughes. His development is still lacking to the point that the film renders of the saddest anime deaths of all time dull, but compared to what everyone else had, his plot felt like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The script did little to help the cast, and acting in an anime film is tricky. Both the director and the actors have to balance keeping the flavour of the original performance while also doing enough to make the character realistic. Swing too far in one direction and the character you’re playing will feel lifeless and uninteresting. Too far in the other direction and you’ll get what we see here and in movies like Saiki K (boy 2017 was a bad year for manga adaptations, huh), with manic and unrealistic performances ripped straight out of an anime convention. That they couldn’t even bring back Rie Kugimiya to voice Alphonse, a role she’s been absolutely nailing for almost twenty years, speaks volumes about what’s wrong with the movie.
I wanted to watch and criticise Fullmetal Alchemist on its own terms. I really did. But if you watch it with no knowledge of the series beforehand it won’t make any sense, and if you do then all the film manages is to spit in the face of the themes, arcs and personalities presented in the original. It’s a lose-lose situation. The filmmaking is awful (and I expected more from the director of one of my favourite sports films), and the editing is bafflingly loaded with odd pauses between shots of characters as if none of the actors were actually on set together half the time. It’s the worst kind of adaptation: the one that only bothers to resemble its source on the outside, and chooses to ignore any sense of depth or complexity. I hate to make the comparison, but much like our boy Alphonse Elric Fullmetal Alchemist lacks any body, and is merely a shell of what it could be.
Verdict: Fullmetal Alchemist proves that sometimes you need more than a blood rune to transmute a soul.
Overall entertainment: 2/10
Source material accuracy: 3/10
CGI: Somewhat decent, all things considered
Halcrow/Hakuro: Could have just been King Bradley, really
Jun Kunimura: Excellently cast, entirely wasted
Maria Ross: Why was she in this?
Best acting: Honestly, I should have watched this with the English dub. At least they brought back Vic Mignogna’s iconic performance, and Caitlin Glass as Winry.
Fullmetal Alchemist (2017)
Also known as: 鋼の錬金術師
Director: Fumihiko Sori
Writers: Hiromu Arakawa (manga), Fumihiko Sori, Takeshi Miyamoto (screenplay)
Ryosuke Yamada – Edward Elric
Atomu Mizuishi – Alphonse Elric
Tsubasa Honda – Winry Rockbell
Dean Fujioka – Roy Mustang
Misako Renbutsu – Riza Hawkeye
Ryuta Sato – Maes Hughes
Fumiyo Kohinata – General Hakuro
Jun Kunimura – Tim Marcoh
Kanata Hongo – Envy
Yasuko Matsuyuki – Lust
Shinji Uchiyama – Gluttony
Yo Oizumi – Shou Tucker
Kaoru Hirata – Trisha Elric
Natsuki Harada – Gracia Hughes
Natsuna Watanabe – Maria Ross