Live action anime adaptations have a checkered past to say the least. Whilst there are some legitimately good adaptations (The Rurouni Kenshin trilogy being the gold standard), there are far more flops than hits for sure.
Enter Fullmetal Alchemist. A Netflix original picture based on the beloved franchise, which is considered by many to be one of the best anime series of all time, Netflix certainly had big shoes to fill.
Did they succeed? Well, kinda.
Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) is a victim of its own ambition. Whilst the costumes may be spot on to the characters, and certain scenes are replicated almost perfectly from the anime, it tries so hard to be a copy of the anime that it fails to feel like a fully fleshed out film.
The plot loosely follows the events of the beginning of the FMA anime, until it has to turn into something completely different to attempt to give an actual ending to a 2 hour movie. These sorts of half measures are everywhere in Fullmetal Alchemist. This is a hard movie to recommend to fans or newcomers to the series; there are many little nitpicks that will bother long time fans of the series, but on the other hand it feels like the film almost requires you to have prior knowledge of the characters, as so much background information and character motivation is left by the wayside.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the series, the plot is a bare bones action story, full of characters that feel like there is so much more to them under the surface that you are being denied seeing. The ending is a pretty generic “good guys versus hordes of easily killable enemies” finale that anyone who has sat through an Avengers movie will find more boring than interesting.
To its credit, the special effects in this film are outstanding. Unlike most Japanese effects, it lacks that “janky” feeling that keeps them from holding up to the Hollywood standard we take for granted – especially in the case of Alphonse, the main character’s armor clad brother. Alphonse looks and moves amazingly, and lots of effort was clearly put into making him look as authentic as possible.
The actor playing Edward, Ryosuke Yamada, is a Japanese pop singer with no real acting experience, and it shows that he’s in over his head. Never fully committing to one emotion, whether it be happiness, sadness, or anger, instead he just feels like a blank slate most of the time.
The standout performance is easily Ryuta Sato as Maes Hughes. He captures the affable lovableness of the character from the show very well and delivers the majority of the emotion and heart of the piece. Everyone else either performs admirably enough, or barely enough to make an impact.
Fullmetal Alchemist could have been a great movie. Instead we have an average, run of the mill action movie that is brimming with potential, but never pulls it off. FMA tries too much to stick to its source material, without compromising enough to deliver a satisfying 2 hour movie. A sequel is hinted at after the credits, and let’s hope this crew gets another crack at this property. There is just enough going right that, if they realize the problems made here, their second outing could be something worthwhile.
As for right now though, Fullmetal Alchemist is a complete half measure, satisfying neither fans of the series or newcomers, despite some great visuals. 2 stars.
Fullmetal Alchemist is streaming on Netflix at time of publishing.