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Full Metal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror Of Shamballa

01/12/2009. Contributed by Ewan Angus

Buy Full Metal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror Of Shamballa in the USA - or Buy Full Metal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror Of Shamballa in the UK

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Region2 DVD: pub: Revelation Films. FUN72216. 1 DVD 100 minute film plus extras. Price: £15.99 (UK).

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Two years ago, on a nonsensical whim I decided I would like to try an anime series. It was a bit out of the blue, I'd watched the heart wrenchingly beautiful 'Spirited Away', the childishly perfect 'My Neighbour Totoro' and the secret steampunk adventure, 'Howls Moving Castle', all Studio Ghibli. Now although these three films instantly became my most watched films of 2007, I had no idea what anime was.

So whilst I explored this seemingly secret and hidden area of my local HMV I came across 'Full Metal Alchemist'. I can't tell you why I chose this one, just that I did.

Took it home, secluded myself and watched it.
Now in the most non-clichéd way possible, I must say I was instantly mesmerized.
This was not what I had expected.

Two years later and 'Full Metal Alchemist (which will now be referred to as FMA to save me typing it out every time) has become something of a labour of love for me.
It's a programme that has defied all protocol and expectations to cement itself as one of the best TV shows I have watched. Yes, I'd put it up there with 'The X-Files', which I will say in an unashamedly geeky way. It pushes itself well beyond most animes and in this sense is rivalled only by 'Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex'.

Spanning 51 episodes and a two hour long movie finale FMA is a work of storytelling genius that deals with themes such as grief, family, humour and, overall, the human condition.

Based on the manga but with a diverging plot half-way through, the series FMA follows the two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, through their turbulent childhood and subsequent adventures, FMA hones the idea that what drives us and makes us human can have serious repercussions when challenged by inhuman practices and desires. It deals strongly with emotion and how much of a hold our hearts can have over our heads. At times, it's poetic brilliance borders selfless romanticism and unflinchingly sticks its neck above the parapets in order for the story to progress, making it an impassioned viewing experience. The effortless switch between violence and humour, dark undertones to side splitting scenes makes it a show that spends time rewarding its viewers. Something that the finale movie 'Conqueror Of Shamballa' ultimately does extremely well.

As the series progresses we learn more of the Brothers Elric plight. Following abandonment by their father and the death of their mother, the boys attempt to resurrect her through alchemy, this world's most advanced science, mixing scientific theory with magic. The attempt at the resurrection goes disastrously wrong and Ed ends up losing his leg and arm whilst Al loses his entire body, his soul is then 'attached' to a suit of armour. In order to revive their mother and regain their bodies, they are mislead by the series antagonists, the homunculus, into believing the way to do this is to find the fabled philosopher's stone.

By three disks in the characters have become absolutely believable, their goals and merits clear to see. The beauty of the plot and the tear duct wrenching goodbyes fill the story to the brim with absolute honesty. It's a tale of loss and gain, equivalent exchange.

The movie itself is a culmination of the 51 episodes and within it attempts to deal with the countless plot devices and storylines from throughout the series.

At the end of the last episode, following a climatic battle, a good few important deaths, grievous injuries and several hundred hellish twists, Ed finds himself shunted to another reality and Al regains his body only to lose his memory of all the events that transpired during the series.

Unfortunately for Ed, it's our own reality he ends up in. Stuck in a 1930s Nazi Germany bubbling with anti-Semitic sentiment and stranded without his alchemy, his brother or anything remotely familiar he sets about getting back to his own reality. Of course, since he can't use alchemy he has to use our equivalent, science.

Partnered with alternate reality counter-parts of his friends, family and enemies, Ed finds himself tackling the mysterious and wholeheartedly sinister Thule Society. An occult group aligned with the Nazis who plan on taking over Ed's world to give to the Fuhrer.

Of course, as this is an alternate reality, all is not as it seems. Those who look like his closest confidants in his own world are racist, selfish and warped in this one whereas those he fought against for the majority of the series are trustworthy and heroic. This twist gives the movie an unexpected edge and drives the plot through the confusion Ed feels to be aligned with one certain character. The 'big bad guy' from the series counterpart becomes one of Ed's closest allies and turns out to be a Science Fiction homage so blatant it made me arch my eyebrows in respect, our reality's very own Fritz Lang. The same German film-maker who fled Nazi persecution and went on to direct 'Metropolis', arguably one of the first and most influential Science Fiction films.

The animation for the movie is flawless, something completely expected from the Bones Studio, who also created 'Darker Than Black' and 'Ouran High School Host Club'.
Building to an end that no one really wanted to happen but secretly expected, 'Conqueror Of Shamballa' really ensured that 'Full Metal Alchemist' went out with an alchemic bang. Keeping with the show's ability to pull on the heartstrings, this movie stayed true to its goals and themes ending in a way that is brilliant, satisfying, intriguing and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Ewan Angus

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