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Monday, May 7, 2012

Fullmetal Alchemist: Reflections: Uh, FUNi, You Missed One

The reviews are coming back, and this entire month will have a theme: Obscure Entries in Popular Anime. Not every popular, or at least well-known, anime has these, but every now and an entry in a popular series is ignored, forgotten, or simply not talked about as much as the other entries. These obscure entries are generally extra material, hence why they aren't talked about, but to start this month off I'm going to go with the sole obscure entry in one of my favorite anime of all time: Fullmetal Alchemist.


The original FMA, which aired from October 2003 to October 2004 in Japan, lasting 51 episodes & then airing in North America on [adult swim] from November 2004 to March 2006, is one of "those" titles: A "gateway anime" that more than likely brought in a good few new fans to the medium. As for myself, I had seen anime on TV previously knowing that it was anime (G Gundam & Rurouni Kenshin) & I had already watched anime via official DVD before FMA (Arc the Lad...  Which I should review, shouldn't I?), but FMA was the first anime I ever watched via fansubs, so I could argue that it was my "gateway" into that definite grey area. In fact, one could argue that, without me ever watching FMA, I might have never started this very blog. Anyway, how can I possible include FMA into a blog focused on the obscure? FUNimation released the TV series, the sequel movie The Conqueror of Shamballa, & even the short "Premium Collection" OVAs, not to mention the manga-accurate anime reboot Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood & it's various movies & OVAs, after all. Well, there is one FMA (2003) production that, to my knowledge, FUNimation never licensed: 2005's Fullmetal Alchemist: Relfections.

I can't just simply go into a synopsis for this production, mainly due to what it is. On March 19, 2005, Aniplex aired a 55-minute PPV special that was only aired on Animax, & the entire special is a recap of the FMA anime's most important plot points. But rather than be a simple recap, this special is done in five parts with brand-new conversations between characters as they reflect on what happened, hence the subtitle "Reflections". Because of this style the story isn't exactly told in chronological order & is actually 100% not for newcomers; this is solely for the fans, and therefore giving a synopsis is pretty pointless. Instead, let's get straight to what's in this special, though I'll remain spoiler-free for anyone who hasn't seen the original FMA anime, because I know those kinds of people exist, like how I'm one of those mythical people who hasn't seen Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop (I have seen the first Rebuild of Eva movie & the Bebop movie, though).


Part 1 is all about how Edward Elric & his brother Alphonse get into their adventure to gain the legendary Philosopher's Stone after trying to revive their dead mother via human transmutation, effectively screwing over any chance either of the two had at a normal life. From their peaceful childhood days with their mother to the start of their adventure by burning down their house & Ed becoming a "dog of the military" by becoming a State Alchemist, the entire origin story is covered here. Part 2 focuses on Ed & Al's encounters with the mysterious Scar, one of the few living members of the Ishval tribe, who has tattoos on his arm that allows him to destroy anything via alchemy just by touching it. The brothers' first meeting with Scar, where he kills State Alchemist Basque Gran, to the Scar's final moments is covered here. Parts 1 & 2 feature conversation between Ed, Al, & childhood friend Winry as they recap why the Elrics did what they did, complete with a joke stating that Ed wanted the Philosopher's Stone so that he could make himself taller, as well as why Scar did what he did in his last moments.

Part 3 changes the focus to "Flame Alchemist" Roy Mustang & his friend Maes Hughes, with the two having a conversation as to how Mustang's plan to reveal Fuhrer King Bradley's big secret & remove him from power as well as Hughes' information gathering were going. It's easily the shortest of the Parts & it just has to remind the viewer of one of the most shocking & saddest scenes in the entire series. Part 4 focuses on the Homunculi, who are created as a byproduct of human transmutation, with Envy & Greed getting into a conversation of why they exist & how they could gain "true" eternal life. This conversation is the best one in the entire special, as Envy actually explains who Greed used to be & why he became a homunculus, as the TV series only hinted at it, annoying Greed to the point where he "leaves" the conversation & Envy reminisces about the other Homunculi and whether they ever had any real reason to become human once again. The special ends with Part 5, which covers the last story arc of the anime & is the only Part that actually operates like a "recap". In it, Ed & Mustang have a short conversation about the paths each one took after their last meeting before it returns to Ed & Al conversing and finishing up the special.


Watching this special reminded me fairly well of why this series was so good in the first place. It has truly memorable characters, a great story behind it, and even when the story changes into a different one from the manga entirely it still stands as a strong & memorable one, with some neat twists some moments of true unpredictability. Naturally, some people don't like the direction the original FMA anime went & prefer the manga/Brotherhood story, and that's fine. I'm not saying that the 2003 anime has the better story, especially since I haven't read all of the manga yet or seen Brotherhood, but rather I'm just saying that I still feel that the original anime's story was a really great one. Before anyone brings up how I should get to the "real" story, I do plan on buying that manga boxset that Viz released sooner or later.

FMA: Reflections has to be obscure, as the ANN Encyclopedia doesn't even have a page from this special, but I'm sure that it was directed by the same man who directed the original anime, Seiji Mizushima (Dai-Guard, Gundam 00, Generator Gawl, Shaman King).  Mizushima is generally considered a mixed-reaction director, with some great showings & some "meh" showings, but the original FMA anime is one I do consider a great showing by him. The music was done by Michiru Oshima (Arc the Lad TV, Lord of Lords Ryu Knight), and it's still just as good as I remember, with probably the best song in the entire show being the vocal song "Brothers", which is sung in complete Russian and is both mesmerizing as well as a little chilling, especially when you read the translated lyrics. Reflections features three of the TV series' opening themes, "Melissa" by Porno Graffiti, "Rewrite" by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, & "Ready Steady Go" by L'Arc~en~Ciel, throughout the special and all three still sound great & identifiable to this day. It's just too bad that the third opening theme, "UNDO" by Cool Joke, was left out, especially since I feel that it's already the most underrated of the four themes already. There's no ending theme used at the end of the special itself, but the third theme, "Motherland" by Crystal Kay, is used at the end of Part 2 & fits perfectly where it's used, especially since it's still a great slow song.


Even though the series featured a whole bunch of great voice work, only a few seiyuu were used for this special, so I'll only cover those. Romi Park & Rie Kugimiya's portrayals of Ed & Al, respectively, are still great, especially Kugimiya's performance since afterward she would become typecast as a bunch of cute tsunderes, which Ed is obviously not. Though Shinichiro Miki would voice Mustang in Brotherhood, Toru Ohkawa's original performance is still memorable and worth bringing up. Keiji Fujiwara's Hughes, though similar sounding to many of his other roles, is still great to hear, as he does a great job mixing up serious & outright silly, which is Hughes' personality in a nutshell. Just like Mustang, Envy was recast in Brotherhood, but Mayumi Yamaguchi did such a great job as the original Envy, & the same applies to Masashi Ebara's Hohenheim Elric; doubly so for Junichi Suwabe's excellent portrayal of Greed. Luckily, Hidekatsu Shibata voiced F├╝hrer King Bradley in both anime, & his gruff and unassuming voice is a perfect fit for the character.

I started watching the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime back in mid-2004, so watching the Reflections special was not just a nice reminder of why anime interests me so much and how excellent this anime was and still is but also a reminder that, in two years, I'll have been a "full-on" anime fan for an entire decade. Does that make me "old" among other anime fans? Does that make me a part of the "old guard"? In a form of entertainment that seems to move quickly & makes shows that are only two years young come off as "old" being a fan for 8 years (cue "Has it been that long, already?") might just make me "old" at only 25, but who cares when I know that I've had a great time so far and I hope to keep on having a great time in the years to come. FMA: Reflections was a great reminder of all of that, & I'm kind of happy that I decided to wait this long to finally watch this special, as I doubt I would have had the same feeling if I had watched this back in 2005.

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