Hiromu ArakawaTakehiro MurozonoFullmetal AlchemistShun Oguri
Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa
Also known as: Gekijouban Hagane no Renkinjutsushi - Shanbara wo Yuku Mono
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Original creator: Hiromu Arakawa
Actor: Rie Kugimiya, Romi Park, Hidekatsu Shibata, Kazuko Katou, Kenji Utsumi, Masane Tsukayama, Megumi Toyoguchi, Michiko Neya, Miyuu Sawai, Rikiya Koyama, Shun Oguri, Toru Ohkawa, Houko Kuwashima, Keiji Fujiwara, Kotono Mitsuishi, Masao Harada, Masashi Ebara, Mayumi Yamaguchi, Mitsuki Saiga, Miyoko Asou, Nana Mizuki, Naomi Wakabayashi, Seiji Sasaki, Shoko Tsuda, Takehiro Murozono, Tetsu Shiratori, Tomoyuki Shimura, Unshou Ishizuka, Yasuhiro Takato, Yasunori Matsumoto
Keywords: Fullmetal Alchemist, anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 105 minutes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=4176
Website category: Anime late 00s
Review date: 21 March 2016
Hagane no Renkinjutsu
It's the film sequel to the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime series, which was a loose adaptation of (a) the first seven books of Hiromu Arakawa's manga and (b) a bunch of other stuff they made up. Thus, to state the obvious... SPOILERS! This review contains mega-spoilers for the TV series. If you don't want to know anything that happens in the finale of that much-loved show, stop reading now!
Short review: it's not as good as the TV series. It contains some interesting ideas, but it's crushing them into an action movie storyline that's not particularly satisfying. It doesn't even feel very Fullmetal Alchemist-y.
Okay, spoilers.
Al is still in the parallel Fullmetal Alchemist world of Amestris, Ishval, etc. His brother Ed, though, is in the real world. He went through the gate. He's in Germany in 1923. Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler are working with the Thule Society to contact the mythical world of Shamballa (as per Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu tradition)... oh, and also to conduct the Munich Beer Hall Putsch.
This is rather well done, actually. The historical detail is admirable. The artwork is based on contemporary Munich photos, the firearms are almost all period-authentic and so on. There's racism and bigotry, even from people you'd expect to be good guys, and there are references to Weimar Republic hyperinflation. Real people are in this film, largely as they were in real life. Fritz Lang shows up (albeit with a much less cooler face, although there's a reason for that) and the details of his life are accurate.
Even the colour palette is different. The real world has lots of brown, grey and sepia. The Fullmetal Alchemist world is brighter and livelier.
Anyway, Ed's trying to get back with Al... but, oddly, he's found him. It's just not the right Al. These are parallel universes, so Ed's living with a parallel Alphonse who's a rocket inventor and doesn't believe his stories of magic and alchemy. We also meet parallel versions of other characters, not all of them still alive in the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. There's a gypsy girl, Noah, who's supposedly meant to be Rose, although I missed that.
Meanwhile Al's trying to get back with Ed. They're both trying to open the gate. In short, they're trying to use alchemy to bring back someone they've lost, which is exactly the mistake that started it all when as children they tried to resurrect their late mother.
There are also interesting parallels in the use of 1920s Germany. Fullmetal Alchemist's Amestris was a country that fought a war of extermination on the orders of their Fuhrer, wiping out a race of dark-skinned people (the Ishvalans). It's not hard to see the thematic resonances, especially when you get the real-world equivalents of Fullmetal Alchemist characters being Jews or gypsies. Some people have lost their country, but others have lost their world. This film doesn't like Nazis, but it's still bringing us pretty close to Nazi sympathisers and other fellow travellers, with more than one otherwise good character assisting in the Nazis's technology race.
That's good material. However it hasn't made for much of a story.
Ed doesn't really do very much. Al doesn't really do very much either, but in both worlds and in two or three versions of him. Colonel Mustang gets a sort of story arc, but it's been cut down to the bone and it needed fleshing out to earn its full weight. Other old friends show up (e.g. Winry, Wrath, etc.), again not always doing very much. The problem is that we have a rich, interesting cast that's not being particularly well served by a "Nazis invade an alternate reality" plot. Big climactic battle. Nazis. Biplanes. This could have been great as the finale of a full anime series, but in this feature film hasn't been given enough room to breathe properly.
Similarly there's some moderately moving self-sacrifice that's not bad, but in each case is from a character who's already despaired and/or isn't particularly interested in staying alive in the first place. Other characters have died offscreen before the film even began.
There are also some dubious plot points. Ed isn't even scratched when he jumps out of a plane in flight with no parachute and no superpowers. Character X turns out to be mortally ill so that he can die at a dramatically convenient moment. The villain's a bit "eh?".
The art's good, though. It's movie-quality without being so unlike the TV series that it jars. (Some films do that.) This is the good stuff. My only objection was to the CGI elements (walking suits of armour, biplanes), which are making absolutely no effort to hide what they are. The armour's too wriggly, for instance.
I get the impression that this movie is unpopular with fans largely due to its ending. The TV series had a messy and ambiguous (but mind-blowing) finale that struck me as sequel-hunting. Envy escapes! Parallel universe musical doors! This movie, though, has a deliberately bittersweet conclusion that admittedly isn't ambiguous, but is instead shutting the door on some expected happy endings. What's more, though, it doesn't feel like Fullmetal Alchemist. If you were expecting a grand finale to the TV series, what you'll get instead is an often drab-looking historical that's mostly set in 1920s Germany with no superpowers, plus a big dimension-jumping fight at the end. Apart from anything else, I'd expected them to do more with Envy.
It's not a bad film, though. It's watchable. I like the comedy hot air balloon and the killed kid. I particularly liked the monstrous homunculi, rivalling Hiromu Arakawa's creations while giving us something completely different. I think the film's quite interesting to think about, with all of its thematic parallels with the original series. I don't really have strong opinions on it, one way or the other.