Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror of Shambala Review

CoS Ed reaching

Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shambala is possibly the only movie sequel to an anime TV series that truly does the original show justice, without stepping on its toes or making retroactive changes that effect the story the series originally told. It retains all of the original series’ wit, mystery, action and is emotionally wrapped up in a story that, while not as morally open ended as the original run of Fullmetal Alchemist, still managed to make for a tense, well paced and brilliantly acted story regardless of whether you prefer dubbed or subbed anime.

Set after the events of Fullmetal Alchemist (the original series rather than Brotherhood), we follow the story of Edward Elric, stranded in our version of Earth during World War II. Due to science in our world being fundamentally routed in our version of science rather than alchemy, he’s unable to create a gate to travel back to his own world or to his brother, leaving him stranded in Nazi Germany. Edward seeks solace in people around him who appear to be alternate universe versions of people he knew in his own world, most notably Alfons Heiderich, who bears a striking resemblance to his brother Al.

Despite being unable to use alchemy, Ed is as determined as ever to achieve a life with his brother where they both have their natural bodies back and in the film this initially takes the form of attempting to research space travel in the hope that it will provide a way to return him home. Ed ends up running into a group who are also aiming to open the gate between worlds, in order that they can bring forth an army strong enough to take over both worlds leaving Ed with a tough set of choices regarding trying to stop a group who may ultimately be his only way home to his brother.

What works in the story is that it doesn’t rely on the emotional hook and moral choices of the series to give it easy emotional weight, but instead makes the difficult decision to set up an entirely new premise on which to build tension and somehow manages to build the stakes up incredibly quickly without it feeling like it’s artificial tension. The film feels very purposeful in the story it tells and manages to provide a level of closure that the series wasn’t able to do as well with its open ending. It doesn’t negate the original series’ ending, but it does give you in essence an expanded ending that adds some clarity to the situation, in much the same way the Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3 did for me.

The choice to set the film predominantly in our own alchemy-less world, during the time of a well known real world event, also helped to give it some much needed grounding and a strong centre to rely on. By lowering the importance of Ed’s more supernatural abilities in our world, it made his struggle in the film more relatable than it might have been, and adds a sense of constraint to a character who toward the end of the series had reached near unstoppable status. It’s a convenient way to not only bring him back down to a level where enemies could pose a threat to him, but made his struggles something much more tangible than if this had not been set in such a well known period of history.

Much like the original series, both the dub and sub of Conqueror of Shambala are of a spectacular quality. From the brilliantly witty dialogue to Vic Mignogna’s stunningly emotive performance as Ed, the film’s vocal work never misses a beat for even a moment.

The visuals are much the same style as those of the original series, with some occasional bits of CGI work thrown in. The CGI is never intrusive and only ever serves to highlight moments that need it. The fight scenes are generally longer than those in the series, with less talking punctuating them and Ed’s lack of alchemy certainly makes for some unique fight scenes that we’d have never seen in the series.

As a Fullmetal Alchemist fan it’s a struggle to find much to complain about. Sure it could have asked some more difficult moral questions, but given the TV show’s running length it’s not surprising that they didn’t have time to deal with issues on the same scale. With that said, the more personally driven narrative really works well and slots in very naturally as an extension for those of you looking to get that one last FMA fix.

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