Monday, January 16, 2012

Feature Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist—The Sacred Star of Milos

Lead into gold is small potatoes. Alchemists young and old practice a far more Faustian version of their craft in Kazuya Murata’s Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (trailer here), the second full length feature set in the popular anime universe, which opens this Friday in New York.

For the uninitiated: A risky rite intended to resurrect their late mother cost alchemist Edward Elric an arm and leg. It cost his brother Alphonse his entire body. With Al’s soul imprinted on a Doctor Doom like suit of armor and Edward spruced up with some Skywalker prosthetics, the two lads became more judicious in their alchemy. Appointed official State Alchemists of Amestris, the Elrics have a license to snoop. For fans this is all ancient history.

Sacred’s story kicks off with a mysterious prison break. Previously unbeknownst to the authorities, the fugitive is an alchemist, who quietly served over four years of five year sentence, but then suddenly up and left. The Elrics track him to Table City, a fortress-like metropolis currently under Amestris control within the militaristic Creta state. Table City is surrounding by a deep canyon, known as “The Valley,” where Creta banished the people of Milos, the original city occupants during their brief possession of the city. While they no longer control Table City, they still oppress the descendants of Milos. That includes Julia Crichton, a young alchemist involved in the resistance, whose long lost brother evidently just broke out of an Amestris jail.

Set between the cracks of the anime series, Sacred’s world resembles a steampunk Flash Gordon. Indeed, the architecture of Table City and the network of canyons and elevated train tracks surrounding it are cool looking, particularly by series anime standards. The winged Black Bat freedom fighters are also reminiscent of Prince Vultan’s Hawkmen, giving it further retro appeal for first time viewers.

Depicting a fight for freedom and the destructive lure of absolute power, Sacred addresses some worthy themes. It also gives the prodigal brother trope a bit of a twist. Of course, since it is anime, the responsibility of saving Milos naturally falls to three thirteen year-olds, more or less. However, the often immature and rather loud fan-favorite protagonist Edward Elric must be an acquired taste.

Aside from a fairly standard standoff featuring alchemists hurling the usual energy bolts at each other, Sacred is a satisfying, largely self-contained anime feature. For fans, it reveals another hidden corner of a richly detailed world. For newcomers, it is a lot like 1930’s space serials, with steam engines. A respectable anime fix for genre fans, Sacred opens this Friday (1/20) in New York at the Cinema Village.