To anyone who has not yet seen the series, Fullmetal Alchemist, I strongly suggest not reading this review; as a continuation of the series' plot, any discussions of the movie will inevitably contain major spoilers.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a masterpiece which set the new benchmark for any anime in the fantasy genre; for that reason, I had many expectations of FMA: Conqueror of Shamballa and many ideas about the directions the story would take. Given such numerous predictions, I still didn't bank on the movie being a shambolic disappointment. While the central plot is superficially interesting, the real pitfall is that, instead of tying up some relevant loose ends, the movie actually unravels some more.
I remember FMA partly for its creativity and energy; however, with Ed stuck in the real world, I can't help feeling that these elements have largely been lost. Sure, Conqueror of Shamballa's the Nazi-era setting looks very convincing, and all of the details point to painstaking research; furthermore, the themes of prejudice and scientific responsibility from the series carry over well into the movie. However, watching Ed solving most of his problems using conventional means and generally just walking around powerlessly just robs the movie of so much dynamism.
Unfortunately, the plot developments don't compensate for this drab setting; constructed entirely from the frayed ends of the series and rather disjointed historical elements, Conqueror of Shamballa barely manages to form a coherent story. Add to that the rather shallow explanation of events and the story ends up being only vaguely interesting. I'd argue that the American dub is slightly less confusing to watch; however, in being clearer, this version also makes some of the contrivances more obvious. The final nail in the coffin is simply this: Conqueror of Shamballa prefers to throw up new questions rather than answering old ones. The effect was such that, when the credits started rolling, I thought it was some kind of horrible joke. While the militant expectations of fans should never determine an artistic piece, the fact that they are dismissed point-blank ultimately diminishes the movie's impact.
Conqueror of Shamballa's animation was certainly at the top if its game when it was first released; even better, I can't see it ageing anytime soon due to the high quality of the visuals. The backgrounds are as detailed as I've ever seen them; each world has a distinct concept which sets a different tone depending on where the events are taking place. In fact, it was so effective that every time the story abandoned Al's vibrant universe and cut to Ed's depressed inter-war Germany, I couldn't help but lose interest.
In addition, everything seems masterfully tailored for the big screen; specifically the Homunculus fight towards the end is breathtaking, with its daring camera angles and breakneck pacing.
Surprisingly, the American dub is not bad at all - in fact, it's very good; I especially like Eckhart's performance, which is wonderfully devious. Ed's voice actor might actually be the weakest link in the chain; he tends to veer periodically from monotone quietness to excited shouting with no subtle medium in between. As for the Japanese voice actors, they are just as excellent as they were in the series, and they perform superbly with what is occasionally a cryptic script.
While the OP is acceptable, I feel it could have been far more exciting; it sounds more like the opening of a romantic drama than the start of a potentially mind-blowing, action-packed movie. The rest of the score is comprised of classical instrumentals from the series, which help create excellent nostalgic atmospheres.
All of the important characters from the series have a small role or simply make a cameo appearance; although strictly ceremonial, it's still fun to watch some of the old favourites reincarnated as WWII characters. As for Edward and Alphonse Elric, they make for strong enough leads; my only problem with them is that, abandoned to either side of the Gate, their personalities become pale shades of themselves:
For one, Ed without alchemy is like Bond without his custom-made gadgets; it's unfortunate, but his personality depends so much upon him being able to kick some arse. Sure, he remains clever and courageous even without his powers, but he also loses a lot of his heroic edge and gets a little miserable to watch sometimes. Similarly, Al has always been the one to take instruction from his brother; thus, watching him trying to resolve things by himself is just weird. Without Ed to interact with, he displays little to no humour, which is precisely the trait for which he was so memorable.
Notable new characters include Chairman Dietlinde Eckhart who naturally wants to conquer Shamballa for glory and power and every other reason Nazis typically do things. Relentlessly one-dimensional, her only entertainment value lies in playing the hammed-up villain with gusto. Finally, although completely passive and uninteresting to watch in her own right, Noah the gypsy girl plays a role which feeds effortlessly into the theme of prejudice.
Needless to say, this is a poor performance from the creators of FMA; instead of providing an entertaining conclusion worthy of the original series, Conqueror of Shamballa poses new questions and ultimately leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Still, the fact remains that Conqueror of Shamballa is the sequel to one of the most popular anime of all time; trying to fend people off would be nothing but a waste of my breath. I simply recommend that, in light of the terrible disappointment it brings, fans approach it with low expectations.
Edward Elric disobeyed the laws of conservation by committing a taboo in alchemy, and for that his body and soul are no longer a part of his world. The parallel world where Ed now exists is a place where science replaces alchemy. After two years of studying, Ed plans to find a way to use science and once again defy destiny to reunite with his brother Alphonse. Meanwhile, Al is left without memory of his journey with Ed, but is determined to once again master alchemy and retrieve his brother from The Gate. But are these goals even obtainable without leaving a path of destruction and chaos in their wake?
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