Judge Joel Pearce has discovered the secret of turning writing into free anime DVDs.
Humankind cannot gain anything without giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal worth is lost. That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one, and only, truth.
The third volume of Fullmetal Alchemist is here, and proves to be more cross-genre fun. More Robin Hood than Frankenstein now, this is a series that proves it has the legs for two full series of adventure with the two brothers Elrick.
This volume finds Edward traveling on missions as a State Alchemist, Alphonse in tow. They quickly learn that the most challenging part of working for the state won't be the actual missions: the people of the Youswell coal mines hate State Alchemists. Edward is able to prove that he is different, though, and rumors begin to travel that a new Alchemist has arrived, one that will act as a champion to the people. But is Edward subverting the authority of his superiors, or just playing into their hands? His further travels lead the brothers to a popular tourist town, where a thief has been using alchemy to ply her trade. They then journey to Xenotime, a dried up mining town that is trying to create a philosopher's stone in order to carry on. The brothers need to investigate when they discover that impostors have already arrived.
Fullmetal Alchemist draws a lot from the myth of alchemy, which has served the series well thus far. The search for the philosopher's stone has become synonymous with the ultimate goal of alchemy itself: the impossibility of transmuting lead into gold. The philosopher's stone is a pipe dream, an impossible artifact that would shatter the laws of nature and put ultimate power into the hands of one man. Edward and Alphonses' quest for redemption seems, at this stage of the series, to be an impossibility. There are a number of fake philosopher stones, but they don't bring the brothers any closer to the real stone.
When Fullmetal Alchemist imported the mythology of alchemy from Medieval Europe, something else came along for the ride. The notion of sacrifice is at the core of the series, and it certainly has a European flair. Here, there is no sense of honor or duty. In order to gain power in this world, something critical must be sacrificed. In essence, the brothers sold their souls for the power they now wield, and they regret ever having started down that path. This will be a long and painful journey.
Fortunately for us, the two brothers have very exciting adventures along the way. Now that the characters and story has been established, the creators have settled into a nice rhythm, building further knowledge of alchemy and the Elrick brothers through their various adventures. This stage of Edward's journey has become even more complex morally, because he is trying to do good within a questionable organization. In these adventures, he needs to question why he is looking for the philosopher's stone, and consider whether or not his quest is worth the sacrifices he is going to have to make. The potential power of alchemy is also coming into focus, which is both good and bad. In the last episode on this disc, some very large scale transmutations were cast. If this is what young alchemists are capable of, I can only imagine what more powerful characters will be able to do. This is good because battles towards the end of the series ought to be massive. It's bad because the power of alchemy is already starting to get out of hand. The sacrifice needed for transmuting can be material, rather than personal, so even the largest combat spells can be cast without any real loss. It goes against the larger theme of the series.
Overall, though, this is great, well thought out adventure at its best. It has deep, meaningful themes as well as a slick, attractive style.
The transfer is every bit as strong this time around, with a clean picture and strong sound, whether you choose Japanese or English dialogue. The Japanese voice work is stronger, though I listened to almost half in English this time. The loose translation creates a lighter, funnier feel for the series, but it works almost as well. There are few extras on the disc (unless you include the forced trailer at the beginning). There are some character stats, as well as a small art section. There is a serviceable booklet in the case, though, which contains more art and background information.
Fans of the first few volumes will find plenty more to like in this third installment. Fullmetal Alchemist has really hit its stride, and continues to be a treat for a wide range of anime fans. If you haven't yet checked out the series, it's well worth it.
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