Anime Review: Full Metal Alchemist – Conqueror of Shamballa

Written by Richard Brown

On paper, the developers of this movie seem to have been asking for trouble. Following the TV series would be tough for anyone, but setting it in a parallel world? With Nazi’s seeking supernatural power? Talk about tempting fate. Did disaster strike? Read on to find out.

 The cast, note the dead guy in the upper left

The Basic Plot

Its been several years since the end of the series, and the Elric brothers remain separated, on different sides of the black gate. Alphonse has been returned to human form, but with a big chunk of his memory missing, and Edward is trapped in our world. Or more specifically, 1920’s Germany, living with a young rocket enthusiast who is nigh identical to younger brother. As poverty and bigotry takes holds of the nation, a chance encounter with a gipsy woman called Noa puts Edward in conflict with a group of locals. The Thule Society is urgently seeking the land of Shamballa, a mythical realm of power.  Of course, this is Edward’s home, and their attempts soon bring both worlds into conflict.

Sliders Meets Steampunk

At first, Conqueror of Shamballa is a fine sequel to unusually fine TV series, with a frankly beautiful opening sequence. While Nazis with an interest in the occult are a bad cliché, as is the whole parallel worlds business, the movie deftly avoids the obvious pitfalls (such as the goose step or bearded doppelgangers).  Sadly, the quality of the movie starts to dip in the scenes based in Edward’s home world increase in frequency. The movie never quite overcomes the fate of all movies sequels to TV series; a lack of accessibility to new fans due to the history involved, and ton of characters that are there to appease existing fans, rather than to add anything meaningful to the experience. The reunion scene between Edward and Alphonse is an unfortunate victim of this, as what is a truly heart warming scene is spoiled by a suspicious number of coincidences.  I wasn’t impressed by the obvious set up for another sequel either, which takes up time in an already overfull script. The movie is perhaps a little too indulgent towards its pre-existing fans, who in turn may be a little annoyed by certain off-screen developments. Does this make the movie actually bad? No, it’s just sub par in comparison to the series.

However, the positives still outweigh the negatives. Ed’s experiences in Germany show the same frankness and maturity had earned the series praise, being reminiscent of the Ishabal arc. The Germans are portrayed with varying degrees of historical accuracy, but no real stereotyping, and one of the better moments is the point where Ed realises exactly who the local Nazis are. The dramatic theme of the movie is how people work to escape or leave a mark on the world, and it’s explored in several ways. From Edward’s very literal desire to return to the place he once knew, Noa’s wish to flee her stigma as a gipsy, and the behaviour of both versions of Alphonse, the movie tries hard to answer difficult questions in a compressed running time. From a technical standpoint, the movie is very polished, with excellent animation and a solid soundtrack. The movie also manages to something which the series never quite managed, large scale action sequences and does them well. The battle for the city of Central is especially well-executed. Long term fans will find much to amuse, and there’s still action for new viewers to enjoy.

Conclusion

The Conqueror of Shamballa is Full Metal Alchemist on a bad day, its undeniable. But, even on a bad day, FMA is still highly entertaining. Beautifully done, solid written, and full of great characters, its well worth your time. However, both those new to the franchise and those dedicated to it may be disappointed, though for entirely different reasons.

7/10

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