Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (Hagane No Renkinjutsushi: Mirosu No Seinaru Hosh)
Director – Kazuya Murata, Screenplay – Yuichi Shinbo, Based on the Manga by Hiromu Arakawa, Photography – Yoshiyuki Takei, Music – Taro Iwashiro, Art Direction – Kazuo Ogura & Tomoaki Okada. Production Company – Shochiku/Aniplex/Bones/Dentsu/TBS.
Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are both the victims of an attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their mother that went wrong. This has left Edward with his arm transformed into automail, part-metal, part-flesh, and Alphonse’s soul transferred into a suit of armour. On the streets of Amestris, they encounter Melvin Voyager, a criminal escaped from jail who reveals he is another alchemist as he uses powerful magic against them in a fight. The brothers pursue Voyager’s trail to the neighbouring Table City where he seems preoccupied with Julia Crichton. Their arrival into Table City throws them into the fight between factions of werewolves and the Black Bat terrorists from the city of Cleta across the other side of the canyon. Their pursuit of Voyager takes them down into the valley at the bottom of the canyon where they encounter the survivors of the city of Milos. Voyager is revealed to be Julia’s long lost brother Ashley. The two hold between them the secret to the whereabouts of the Star of Blood, the Philosopher’s Stone sought by multiple sides that can create powerful alchemical magic but requires the sacrifice of human blood in order to tap its power.
Fullmetal Alchemist started life as a manga, created by female artist Hiromu Arakawa in Monthly Shonen Ganga magazine in 2001. It finished publishing in 2010 in a saga that fills twenty-seven published volumes. The story follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric and their search for the Philosopher’s Stone, which would allow them to regain the use of their bodies – Edward having lost his arm and Alphonse had his soul transferred into a suit of armour during their forbidden attempts to use alchemy to resurrect their mother. The brothers were employed as State Alchemists and encountered many foes throughout the saga. The series gained life after being translated into the anime Fullmetal Alchemist (2003-4) by the animation company Bones, which lasted for 52 episodes, a follow-up series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-10) and this film, as well as a live-action film subsequent to this with Fullmetal Alchemist (2017). The series was a hit and spawned numerous spinoffs, including a series of young adult novels, videogames and a previous film Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa (2005). Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is set during the events of the second series and was given a cinematic release in some parts.
I was not previously familiar with the Fullmetal Alchemist series, which placed me at a disadvantage in watching the film. The Sacred Star of Milos is certainly made for the fans of the series and makes no concessions to anybody outside of that in terms of explaining who the characters are and anything about the alternate world we are in. The film has undeniable potential and the characters are interesting – I liked the basic concept of the automail and the character of Alphonse whose soul has been transferred into a suit of armour. Not to mention that the two brothers are named Elric, which surely indicates that the creators have been reading their fantasy and have namedropped Michael Moorcock’s most famous character Elric of Melnibone (who should surely be due a film adaptation any day now).
I also ended up disappointed with The Sacred Star of Milos as it seemed not hugely different to the usual cliches of anime. For one, I had a problem with the film’s basic concept. Traditionally, alchemy is a pseudo-science that was a precursor to modern chemistry where various philosophers experimented in an effort to transform base metals into gold and find the secret of immortality. In the film however, alchemy appears as no more than an all-purpose magic that allows characters to do the regular anime standards of exchanging power blasts and creating vast forms out of thin air, none of which was ever associated with traditional alchemy.
The Sacred Star of Milos feels like a film awkwardly caught between being a cinematic feature and a spinoff from the tv series. On one hand, the characters remain drawn in the same limited they were on tv, while on the other the animators are constantly leaping in with the epic-sized anime and spectacles of mass destruction that the bigger budget allows them. What we end up with is a film that stretches to the colossal-sized, yet features characters running around that look as though they have barely gotten out of grade school. It feels like a film caught between trying to be two mismatching things.
The quality of the animation is okay but has certainly been bettered by other anime of recent. The run of power blasts and so forth is okay but there is the overriding feeling that one has seen it all before. There is one good action scene as the brothers arrive in Table City, which begins on a train with the outlandish image of it being attacked by people in flying black bat costumes and a man in a suit who abruptly transforms into a werewolf – something that immediately makes you wonder what is going on – and ends with a chase and fight across the roof of the train and up around the struts of the city walls, with Edward manifesting flows of ice and Alphonse trying to save Julia in one hand as they fall off a cliff. The film does eventually reach an impressively sized climax with the various characters trying to fight off a flow of lava and save the three cities.