This week we are covering a series mixing fantasy with action. Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) is also a series which has had several incarnations. It originally began as a manga which ran for 27 volumes between 2001-2010. Early on it was adapted as an anime series 51 episodes long between 2003 and 2004, followed by a film, Conqueror of Shamballa, in 2005 but it was only a loose adaptation as the story was incomplete at the time. A second, more faithful adaptation called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was broadcast between 2009-2010 with a film in 2011, The Sacred Star of Milos. Whichever version you go for, there is one thing that can be said for definite: for the main characters, things really do cost an arm and a leg, and sometimes more.
FMA is set in the land of Amestris, a country run by a military government. In this world, alchemy is science, which several alchemists working for the government as "State Alchemists", although the public looks down on those who take the job calling them "Dogs of the Military".
The story follows two siblings: the Elric Brothers, elder brother Edward and younger brother Alphonse. Prior to the beginning of the tale their mother died, and so two tried to commit the ultimate alchemy taboo of "Human Transmutation" - bringing the dead back the life. However, the spell horribly backfired, resulting in Edward losing his left leg and Alphonse losing his entire body. However, Edward managed to save Alphonse by affixing his younger brother's soul to a huge suit of armour - at the cost of Edward's right arm. Thus Alphonse's only existence was as a living metal suit, while Edward ends up with artificial limbs made of a metal called "Automail".
The two decide to try and restore their bodies to what they originally were. Edward thus becomes a State Alchemist, earning the codename of "Fullmetal Alchemist". Using the extensive research material now available to them, the Elric Brothers try to find the one thing that can restore the bodies, the Philosopher's Stone. However, during their search they discover many people and beings wanting to stop them. These range from people from foreign lands that the Amestris military has slaughtered, to a race of homunculi each related to the seven deadly sins who see humans as a lower species to them.
There is much to recommend this series. The main one is the story and plot development. The series is full of intrigue and conspiracy. Slowly and surely we learn more and more about the terrible secrets behind the rise of Amestris and the power behind the country's military leader, King Bradley (King is his actual first name). Although having said that you know that he is a baddie. This is not so much about his actions, but his title: Fuhrer. When you have the same title as Hitler, it is never a good sign.
There is also a good supporting cast alongside the Elric Brothers. Examples include Winry Rockbell, Edward's automail mechanic and love interest; Colonel Roy Mustang, the "Flame Alchemist" and close friend of the brothers, who desires to become the new head of the military government; and the more comic, moustached muscleman alchemist Major Alex Armstrong.
Although for most of the time it is an action-packed series, there is plenty of humour as reflected in characters like Armstrong. However the main recurring gag is Edward's lack of height. He hates any comment stating he is short, and the fact that Alphonse's armour is massive does not help him.
FMA has plenty to go for it. A very good plot, good characters, good ideas, and it combines this with all other sorts of thematic elements. It is one of the best anime and manga of recent times.
The first Fullmetal Alchemist anime series has been released out on DVD by Manga Entertainment, but it has since been "replaced" by the more faithful Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood version, which is out on both DVD and Blu-Ray by Manga Entertainment. Both films are out on DVD and Blu-Ray.