Review for Fullmetal Alchemist - Ultimate Edition (Limited to 1000 Copies)
Yes, I’m going to review something that you can no longer buy (Actually... I thought you couldn’t buy it, but at the time of writing it is in stock at Amazon!). That’s just the way my backlog grows these days. I wasn’t going to miss out on the Ultimate Edition of Full Metal Alchemist (the first go at adapting Hiromu Arakawa’s manga to anime), and I had it pre-ordered. I had the epic construction by release date, and it’s taken me over two and half years to get around to watching it. That’s nothing! I have DVDs that I have never watched that I have upgraded to Blu-rays that I am yet to watch. I’m going to have to be entombed in a pyramid with all my worldly possessions so I can finish watching them in the afterlife. Then I’ll re-watch them in the after-after-life. As long as no one tries to bring me back to life, as that never ends well, as you’ll learn in Fullmetal Alchemist.
All 51 episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist were originally released in the UK on 13 DVD volumes. MVM released the first 8 volumes of the series from 2005, and when they lost the Funimation distribution deal, Revelation released the rest in 2007. Revelation also then re-released the series in four Collector’s editions, as well as subsequently releasing the Conqueror of Shamballa feature film spin-off. 2016 saw All the Anime bring out the show on Blu-ray, thanks to Funimation’s release in the US, and they gave us the option of this Ultimate Edition, or two Collector’s Editions which Stuart McLean has already reviewed for this site.
Alchemy is the art of the transmutation of matter by means of an incantation, a mystical circle, or sheer willpower alone. For centuries charlatans and the deluded pursued the creation of gold by alchemical means but to no avail. But in Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy is a realised science. Set in an alternative world during the early years of the twentieth century, the transmutation of elements is indeed a reality, and the state regards such talent highly indeed. Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two precocious alchemists who are on a quest. The young brothers had attempted the unspeakable, resurrecting their mother. But the Law Of Equivalent Exchange cannot be flouted; only objects of equal mass can be transmuted, and the dead cannot be brought back to life. The attempt failed disastrously. Now, Alphonse is a disembodied spirit bound to a suit of animated armour, while Edward has replaced his leg and arm with metal automail, but it’s his prodigious facility with alchemy that has earned him the name, Fullmetal Alchemist. Now they search for a means to restore their bodies.
1. He Who Would Challenge The Sun
2. Body Of The Sanctioned
4. Transmutation Of Love
5. Dash! Automail
6. The State Alchemist Certification Examination
7. Night of The Chimera’s Cry
8. The Philosopher’s Stone
9. The Dog Of The Military’s Silver Watch
10. The Phantom Thief Psiren
11. Earth of Gravel, Part 1
12. Earth of Gravel, Part 2
13. Flame vs. Fullmetal
14. The Right Hand Of Destruction
15. The Ishbal Massacre
16. That Which Is Lost
17. House Of The Waiting Family
18. Marcoh’s Notes
19. Behind What is Behind the Truths
20. Soul Of The Guardian
21. Red Glow
22. Created People
23. Fullmetal Heart
24. Bonding Of Memories
25. Farewell Ceremonies
26. Her Reasons
28. All Is One, One Is All
29. The Undefiled Child
30. Attack on the Southern Command Centre
32. Dante of the Deep Woods
33. Al Taken Prisoner
34. The Theory Of Avarice
35. Reunion Of Fools
36. The Sinner Within
37. The Flame Alchemist, The Bachelor Lieutenant, and the Mystery of Warehouse 13
38. With The River’s Flow
39. Secret Of Ishbal
40. The Scar
41. Holy Mother
42. His Name Is Unknown
43. The Stray Dog
44. Hohenheim Of Light
45. Rotted Heart
46. Human Transformation
47. Sealing The Homunculus
49. The Other Side Of The Gate
51. Laws and Promises
Fullmetal Alchemist gets a 4:3 pillarboxed 1080p transfer on these discs. Given the nature of the original show, you won’t be surprised that what we have here is an upscale of an SD source. It’s a good upscale though, with little done to make it look faux-HD as some shows are wont to do. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent, and there is zero visible compression. You don’t have to worry about mosquito noise or pixellation when the action on screen gets hectic, and the smooth 24 frames per second playback actually improves the animation just a tad. There is some light banding, but then again this is Funimation sticking to 9 episodes per disc, not Aniplex who’d probably shell out for a 4 episode per disc collection, then charge you through the nose for it.
You get a choice of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese with translated subtitles and signs locked during playback (The DVDs also came with HOH subtitles for the English audio track, and it’s odd that given that the script and timing exists, they weren’t an option on this set). I chose the original language track for preference, and the Japanese track is indeed clear and dynamic enough for a stereo track. Full Metal Alchemist also has some stunning music, most noticeably in the opening and closing themes. The English dub is something I just spot-checked, and while the main character voices are pretty good, the same cannot be said for the voices of the incidental characters. The surround is pretty good, with a fair bit of ambience and it reflects the action well.
You actually get a sculpture containing your collection, and early purchasers also got a unique certificate allocating their ‘alchemist’ name. I’m the Silver Bullet Alchemist if you’re wondering. The sculpture is a rendition of the Gate, the alchemical edifice that appears when an alchemist transgresses the laws of alchemy, offering them a glimpse of The Truth in exchange for a sacrifice. The resin sculpture is gorgeous to look at, hefty in weight, and certainly a talking point (and of use as a night stand). It’s built in two halves and holds together with magnets, and inside is hollow enough to hold the two halves of the series, chipboard slipcases that contain the discs, and the 15 artcards that you get with the set. If you recall the sleeve art from the original DVD release in the UK, that artwork is replicated on 13 of the artcards. The Blu-rays are held in two digipacks inside the cases, three discs to each pack, and you get some more artwork as well.
The discs present their contents with animated menus, and each disc has a marathon play mode if you want to binge-watch the episodes without the credit sequences and previews.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Space Dandy Season 2. Disc 2 has a trailer for Noragami. Disc 3 autoplays with a trailer for Selector Infected Wixoss.
Interestingly we get audio commentaries on disc 3 as well, one on episode 19 with Mike McFarland (ADR Director and voice of Havoc), Vic Mignogna (Ed), and Aaron Dismuke (Al), as well as one on episode 25, with Mike McFarland, Sonny Strait (Maes Hughes), and Travis Willingham (Roy Mustang). Note that the original UK DVD release of the show didn’t have these commentaries.
Disc 4 kicks off with a trailer for Fairy Tail. Disc 5 has a trailer 009 Re:Cyborg. Disc 6’s trailer is for Blazblue: Alter Memory
It’s also on disc 6 that you’ll find the majority of this collection’s extra features, most of them familiar if you collected the DVDs
The Transmutation of a Phenomenon: An Inside Look lasts 31:24, and has the US cast and crew interviewed about the show.
The episode 51 Commentary features Mike McFarland and Colleen Clinkenbeard.
You only get 17 seconds worth of Japanese Commercials for the show. There are plenty more available on those old DVDs.
The L’Arc En Ciel music video for “Ready Steady Go” is all present and correct.
Mostly new for this release is the Ura Hagane: Comedic Previews, all 50 of them running to a total of 29:30. There were a handful of these hidden away in an Easter Egg on DVD volume 9, but we get the whole set here.
Speaking of DVD Easter Eggs, there were a couple of comedic anti-piracy warnings on the earlier volumes that are missed out on this release.
You get the four textless openings and the four textless closings, but you don’t get the textless endings for episodes 7 and 51.
The US trailer for the Blu-ray is here, as well as other Funimation trailers for Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Inari Kon Kon, Soul Eater Not!, Ping Pong The Animation, Tokyo Ravens, Nobunagun, Hyperdimension Neptunia, and Darker Than Black.
What haven’t been brought over from the DVDs are the Production Art Galleries, but if you did buy this Ultimate Edition, the 254 page Artbook will more than make up for that omission.
It’s a lush hardcover book, some 29x26cm. It’s split into 4 sections, 62 pages on Characters, 64 pages on Settings, 18 pages on Art in Progress, and the rest devoted to the Art Gallery. The Characters get some text bios (note the spoilers and the odd typo), but the rest is pure imagery.
I love Fullmetal Alchemist! Beautiful artwork, great characters, and an epic, grand story; if I had any space left in my house, it would be the one manga that I would buy to own. I love Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the faithful adaptation of that manga, bringing Hiromu Arakawa’s fantastic world to life, making that rich imagination tangible, and I certainly have room for that show on my shelves, where the manga may not fit. But the ultimate truth is that I love this original Fullmetal Alchemist anime series even more. That’s despite it catching up to the (at the time) in progress manga, even with filler episodes, and then requiring the anime creators to come up with something original for its second half. Because I think they did an even better job.
Brotherhood got big pretty quickly, bringing in Alkahestry, and a whole bunch of characters from the East, as well as from Briggs in the North. The common elements of story between the two series were rushed over in Brotherhood, taking 12 episodes to tell what this series manages in 24, and its pace was relentless even after that. It became grand, epic, operatic, and delivered a world-spanning ending. If there is one thing that I do prefer about Brotherhood is that it actually has an ending. The one in the first series is open-ended anticipating the first movie, and that movie too leaves you hoping for more.
This Fullmetal Alchemist series is smaller, more intimate in scope. Both series establish early on that they are about the Elric brothers searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, in an effort to reclaim their lost and broken bodies. This first series sticks with that story arc all the way through. It remains about Ed and Al’s journey, and no matter what they learn, who they encounter along the way, that remains at the heart of the story. The smaller scope also makes for better use of the characters. Certainly Winry and Scieska get the kind of development here that they don’t in Brotherhood, while even the most disposable of filler episodes (Phantom Thief Psiren) offer more insight into the characters.
What I love most about this series is the tragic, heart-rending direction it takes its story. I don’t know why it is, as both presentations are nigh on identical, but Shou Tucker’s story as presented here in Night of the Chimera’s Cry breaks my heart in way that it doesn’t in Brotherhood, while Tucker doesn’t exit the stage at that point. He remains part of the story to the end, becoming a tragic, deluded monster. Of course the ultimate tragedy, what this show does so well, and in my opinion better than the manga and Brotherhood, is in the origins of the homunculi. In this version, they are the direct consequence of sin, of hubris, of alchemists playing god with life. Not only are Ed and Al physically punished for their futile attempt to bring back their mother, they have to suffer the emotional consequence of that act as well.
There are also no villains in this Fullmetal Alchemist. All that transpires is down to human feelings and desires, particularly the desire for immortality. The show somehow manages to find something to empathise with even in the darkest of characters, the most malign of actors. I wouldn’t shed a tear for a homunculus in Brotherhood, but here...
So my love for this Fullmetal Alchemist is unequivocal. I don’t love the word ‘Ultimate’ though, especially when followed by ‘Edition’. That always tends to challenge me to find what is missing. The original Fullmetal Alchemist series came with a set of four OVAs; not very good to be sure, but also not here. Also missing is the Conqueror of Shamballa movie, which is a direct sequel to this story. I would have loved soundtrack CDs for Michiru Oshima’s score (something else I prefer about this series), and also missing are the staff interviews that came with the US DVDs and Blu-rays, and which Revelation also released in the UK with their four DVD collections. So not as Ultimate as it could have been. I managed to get the set on discount, probably less than what I would have paid for 13 DVD volumes of the same, but its RRP is more Ultimate than the collection itself. But then I look at that “Gate” on my shelf, and all is forgiven. It is one for the most fervent of collectors though, and you can still buy the series without the accoutrements, cheaper, nice and compact, and just as brilliant a show.