Fullmetal Alchemist: When Manga Became Movie

by - 3:00 PM

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Warning: this post contains spoilers for both the manga series and the live action movie. Please close this tab if you still want to discover this story by yourself, without me spoiling anything. Don't forget to come back once you're done catching up on the franchise though!

July 17th is a very special day for me. Not only is it my birthday and do I get to post the cliche "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22" tweet this year, it also marks my 8th anniversary as a Fullmetal Alchemist fangirl. I grew up, graduated high school, went to college and quit college, all while reading the manga. When I finally finished the series last year, I wrote a blog post about every amazing little detail and I still talk about the franchise regularly. No one was surprised to see me turn into an overexcited mess when I heard there was going to be a live action movie adaptation. I literally counted down the days till the Japanese release date, then waited until someone would let me know how and where to watch a subtitled version. A few weeks ago that finally happened: Netflix announced they'd added Fullmetal Alchemist. Of course I watched it. And now I have things to say about it. A lot of things. So brace yourselves, it's going to be a long post.

A long time ago, I fell in love with the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric. These brothers try to resurrect their dead mother in an alchemical ritual, which goes horribly wrong. Ed loses an arm and a leg, Al becomes nothing more than a soul bound to a suit of armor. They set off on a quest to find the Philosopher's Stone, that will help them get their original bodies back. Along the way, they're confronted with homunculi named after the Seven Deadly Sins, corrupt army officials and the consequences of civil war and racial cleansing. This story in itself is so interesting and intricate enough to serve as an amazing movie plot. Because of that, the plot was the last thing I worried about when the live action movie was announced. It was the way things would look that worried me way more. The characters, the alchemy and most of all: Alphonse's armor.

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I honestly expected Al to look awfully fake, but his animation was on point. I couldn't have wished for anything more. The movements were realistic, as well as the overall look of the armor. The same went for the creatures attacking Ed at the start of the movie. The alchemical rituals, however, could look better. As long as it's stones and concrete flying around, or steel being transmutated, it all looks fine, but bigger things like the resurrection ritual looked awful. Maybe that's just because of the effect design, but it looked horribly fake and a little amateurish. I personally could look past this, because I know I'm terribly spoiled with Hollywood CGI. I heard that these effects were actually really good for Japanese standards, so they didn't make or break the movie. It was the characters and plot that did.

After all that's been said about the whitewashed movie adaptations of Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, I think a lot of people were happy to see a completely Japanese cast and crew working on Fullmetal Alchemist. I personally don't care much for an actor's skin color when it comes to manga adaptations, as long as the actor captures the spirit of the character they're portraying. And it's never a bad thing when they look very similar. The latter wasn't always the case. Don't get me wrong, casting made some great decisions. Maes Hughes looked uncannily similar to his manga counterpart, Roy Mustang was a great choice, and even though the internet disagrees with me, I think Gluttony looked as much as the manga character as humanly possible. But for every good casting decision, there was also a bad one. Lust looked really old to me, Shou Tucker was only recognizable because of his glasses and Hawkeye's actress couldn't carry the weight of such a strong character. But the worst by far was Winry Rockbell.

The first problem I had with Winry was that she broke the consistency. In the manga, both Ed and Winry are blond. In the movie, Ed is blond and Winry isn't. What's the logic in that? Either make both characters blond or give them both black hair. This little inconsistency ticked me off from the moment I saw the trailer. Of course something as little as hair color isn't enough to write an entire character off, but things did not get better in the movie. Winry wasn't Winry. Not enough drooling over automail, not as strong a female character as in the manga and she hit Ed and Al with a wrench a grand total of one time. Nothing that made Winry Winry was in the movie. And let's not talk about the overacting and anime mannerisms that just look ridiculous when displayed by a real human.

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Winry wasn't the only character that wasn't quite who she was supposed to be. Like I said before, Hawkeye was a shadow of her manga self. Envy, my namesake and favorite villain, was so boring that I only remember him because of his awful hair. But hey, at least he made it into the movie, unlike Greed, Sloth, Wrath and Pride. Those are just a few of the characters that didn't make it into the big screen. The list of missing characters could be a blog post of its own. Some of the most notable absences were those of Major Armstrong, Scar (yes, even Scar!) and my personal favorite: Barry the Chopper. Great work, guys.

Now I've already done a whole lot of complaining and I haven't even discussed the plot yet. Can you feel my pain? I'm serious, I need a quick break to eat some cookies and recharge before I tackle the monstrosity that is the Fullmetal Alchemist movie plot.

Okay, I'm not sure I can do this, but let's go. Remember when I said I thought the movie had an amazing plot for the taking thanks to the manga? I really did, but for some reason the people behind this adaptation decided to leave some key elements, just like some key characters, completely out of it. And that caused a whole lot of problems.
In the movie, Ed and Al are searching for the Philosopher's Stone for the same reason as in the manga. So far so good. They don't travel around as much though: most of the movie takes place in East City, a small part is set in Reole. Scenes in both locations were shot in similar-looking places in Italy, and because of this and the lack of travel scenes, it feels like the entire thing takes place in only one location. I feel like I'm already getting sidetracked here...

The movie tries to stay true to the plot of the manga, resulting in unnecessary info dumps about alchemy and homunculi right at the start of the movie, but also a lot of iconic scenes. The chimera scene is there, Mustang and Lust do their thing and some stills from the movie are literally manga pages brought to life.

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Those scenes were nice and enjoyable as a fan of the franchise, but the haphazard way everything is connected overshadows these positive snippets. The military and the Ishbalan civil war were major factors in the source material. They give characters an extra dimension, they provide motivation, they're the pillars of this story in my opinion. For some reason these factors were nowhere to be found in the movie. With Scar and King Bradley missing, the Ishbalan civil war and the military were not properly represented, meaning that other characters had to fill the gaps. This led to Shou Tucker having a huge role, but being nothing more than an evil scientist with no reason d'être. There's also the movie-only character called General Hakuro, who is just evil and wants more power, I guess?
So we get a story about Ed, homunculi and the military wanting the Philosopher's Stone, though the villains have no real motives or history without the Ishbalan civil war, and characters like Mustang becoming two-dimensional. I didn't understand why Tucker was evil and in the end, Hakuro just wanted the Stone to create an army of homunculi dolls. Because he likes that idea. Or something like that. It never becomes clear.
Hughes and Ed do the things they did in the manga, and they do have a reason behind their actions. I didn't mention Al because he's barely on screen - probably because he was too expensive to animate into every scene. So were Hughes and Ed able to save the entire plot? Definitely not. The movie tried to be a more compact version of the manga, but ended up cutting out the most important parts. We were left with a whole lot of pointless stuff.

I hated this empty shell of a plot. Characters need motivation, reasons for acting the way they do. There's almost none of that in this movie, which paled in comparison to the manga. I understand you can't put every plotline and character from 27 volumes into a 2-hour movie. But with the amount of information being poured out over the audience in those short hours, only to see an open ending so a sequel could be made, I wish they'd kept more manga elements and set the story up more carefully. Now we didn't get to see Scar, Barry the Chopper, Izumi Curtis and many more. We didn't see the position of the military in the country's society, we didn't see villains with a good raison d'être. And for what? To see a rushed, decapitated shadow of the original plot come to full fruition. Which leaves me with the question: what the hell do they want to show us in a hypothetical sequel?

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The people behind this movie tried to make it interesting and accessible for people who are unfamiliar with the franchise, but ended up making a product that's so rushed and full of not-so-logical plot progressions that only existing fans will be able to keep up with the story. The pace is ridiculously high, key elements are missing and as a result, it's really hard to build a connection with the characters on your screen. The CGI wasn't always the best and some characters could have been cast better. But it's this weird, rushed things of a plot that made me dislike the live action Fullmetal Alchemist movie. Let's stop complaining about Hollywood ruining anime/manga adaptations, because the Japanese don't do it too well either. But maybe things will get better if the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise is continued on the big screen.

But I'll never forgive them for cutting out Barry the Chopper.

x Envy

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