Otakon 2011: ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos’ review and Q&A

Aniplex never cease to surprise me. They have always utilized the current media trends to get attention, to advertise. They know the net is a cheap way to get the fans to get the word out. At NYAF 2010, they incorporated texting into their Drrr!!! scavenger hunt. At the Otakon movie preimere, Funimation plugged their twitter hashtag of #FMAMilos and their Facebook page. Of course, following that, they asked everyone to put all electronics away.

Funimation and Aniplex staff introduced the film along with director of the movie, Murata Kazuya. They noted the effort and dedication of the staff on both sides of the globe in order to make it for the US premiere. It truly is an amazing feat: the movie opened in Japan on July 2nd and already, the evening of July 30, the movie could be shown in the US. It was no small estimate to say the excitement and anticipation of the crowd was at a fevered pitch. Yet, we were also excited to hear Murata-san’s words to the fans.

    Murata: I’m Murata Kazuya. Thank you for coming. So many people turned up to see Milos movie. I hope you’ll enjoy the new chapter in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist. I like to explain where the movie takes place in the storyline. It takes place around the 11th chapter of the original manga and episode 20 of Brotherhood. Edward noticed that it wasn’t really his mother that he brought back when he went to dig up his [mother’s grave]. So after finding out the truth, they wanted to give a whole new try to recover their original bodies. This is a story of Ed and Al’s [determination]. Ed and Al are in a new country that hasn’t been revealed before, the land of Milos. Hope you’ll enjoy this just as Ed and Al will be experiencing new places, new people, you can experience new things with them. Please enjoy the movie!

As Kazuya-san said, this movie takes place at the first quarter of the Brotherhood series. Ed and Al are on the journey to find a way to restore their bodies. That is the premise and the adventure starts from there. However, that isn’t the point of the movie at all. Aside from the the Elric brothers, the two main characters are Julia and Melvin and the story is really about them. Their land is in turmoil, there is a fight for survival, not a unique theme in the story as Fullmetal with the war in Ishbal. Taking sides, trying to obtain power, how to obtain it and how to use it. Alchemy is only a part of it and the power itself will surprise many.

Fans of the series should note that unlike Noah and Alphons from Conquerer of Shamballa who were essential to the story, but still maintained their presence from the sidelines at most times, Julia and Melvin held a larger part in this movie, sometimes even placing Ed as supporting roles at times. It was a unique way to tell the story, but gave an interesting view to the central idea of character development and growth. Although Ed and Al will develope as characters in the movie, their learning does not conclude with the movie but continues in the main storyline of Brotherhood. For that reason, I believe the focus falls on developing the two new main characters instead. Their personalities, styles are unique, especially Melvin. Although Julia is easily read, we don’t know what Melvin is thinking at all times, and with good reason. Their characteristics are interesting and we sympathize with their opinions and cause. A common trope in Fullmetal is that not one side is completely right at all times. Between the two, there is a dichtomy that keeps things interesting.

If Edward and Alphonse are relegated to minor roles, that isn’t to say that Roy and his crew disappeared. They are there, although their presence is just felt in the story. Of course, being a fav with the fans, Roy has more screentime then others which I can’t complain about at all. Instead, everyone reveled in the moments when he and Riza are on screen.

You’ll note that although I referred to the characters in detail, I haven’t really touched on the story itself. From the very beginning of the movie, things are happening that pertain to the main storyline which will spoil the fun of watching it if I discuss the premise. Unlike the movie of the previous series (and this being a prequel,) those who aren’t fans of Fullmetal Alchemist will understand what is going on easily. The storytelling is fluid, the concepts are easy to grasp and although there are details which relate to the main storyline, they are details that don’t require that much knowledge to follow the movie itself. Of course, there are a few injokes (especially with Roy and Ed) that will fly over the common viewer’s head, but that will not detract from enjoying this.

The artwork is beautiful and the action fluid. The colors are brighter (also in comparison with the darker, subtle colors of Shambala.) Some characters also went through some minor design changes. The first thing I noticed was that Ed’s eyes were a varied shade of yellow and gold. Very unique since it’s not a single color but a color that pans out from gold to yellow. Riza’s eyes were also reddish which gave her a sterner look. I heard (but failed to notice) that Roy’s eyes went through some changes as well. As for the the architecture and creation of the new land, it is very unique. The surroundings have familiar elements of some places in Europe though with a air that is different from Amesteris. It’s not really an art direction, but Fullmetal has always lingered in Steampunk territory. The previous movie and this current one is practically wallowing in it. Steampunk definitely influences the art design and the pullies and machines that are present in this film reflects that.

I guess the only major spoiler I can give is the ending which unlike the previous movie, is simply a happy ending. It has to, since it takes place in the middle of the main story. The ending credits are overlayed with the train moving on into the distance acompanied by L’Arc~en~ciel’s ‘Good Luck My Way’.

Appropriate in the idea that no matter what occurred, the Elric brothers are moving on to their next journey.

Perhaps we can hope for more adventures like these.

After the movie, Murata-san came up front to answer questions.

    Murata: It was really enjoyable to see all your excited reactions.

    Q: Were there any memorable moments you had making this movie, especially with the cast?
    A: I enjoyed seeing the interactions between the actresses for Ed and for Al just raised the level of the emotional exchange between the two. I thought they brought it to a whole new level which really excited me to see it myself while they were doing it.

    Q: Where did you come up with the idea for the plot?
    A: The original story plot was created by Shinbo Yuichi who wrote the screenplay. After we set that, we tried to build an exciting world around it and tried to have situations to build the excitement all around the story.

    Q: The movie was good, Col. Mustang did not have as big of a role. *described the lack of presence in the story*
    Interpreter: What is your question?
    Funimation staff: *prompts in understanding* Why didn’t Roy have a bigger part in it? Travis is going to be mad! *audience laughs*
    A: The Japanese fans were angry about the same thing. *audience applauded*

    Q: What kind of pressure did you experience for creating a film on a popular franchise?
    A: I really didn’t feel any pressure creating this movie off a popular franchise. If anything, it gave me more motivation to create something new and exciting for it. *audience applauds*

    Q: Was Hiromu Arakawa involved in the script writing in any way?
    A: Arakawa-sensei has always had the stance to leave the animation creation to the animation staff. She had said since the beginning, “I look forward to what you guys come up with.”

    Q: What kind of research did you have to make this movie?
    A: The only research I did was for the creation of Table City. Since Amestris is based on England, I wanted to give a feel of what other European countries like Spain for the architecture. Everything else came out of my head.

    Q: How did you come up with the names for the characters? A: All of the characters names were thought up by the script writer, Shinbo Yuichi.

    Q: What were some of the challenges you faced as a director in the creation of this movie?
    A: *long pause* I have to say for such a series like this, creating a movie with all the ideas I had for it, all the action scenes I wanted to throw in, all the story plots that I wanted to work into it into a limited amount of time and limited amount of resources for the animators to create. Trying to find a balance for it all, trying to squeeze as much as I can in and complete it on time, I guess that was the most difficult thing about creating this movie.

    Q: Now that you have a movie in the middle of Brotherhood, any plans for anything after the Brotherhood series?
    A: The whole idea to do this movie came from the producers. As long as their passion for the show continues, I’m pretty sure there will be another movie. *audience cheers*

    Q: *in Japanese* Do you have the keitai strap that they gave out in the theaters?
    Aniplex staff: In Japan, when you preorder the tickets for the movie, they gave out calendars, keitai straps and fans. We’re working with Funimation to hopefully have it next year [for the theatrical release?]

    Q: Since the movie was created after the series is over, was it hard to create a story that didn’t mess up the plotline of the show, after the show is obviously over?
    A: Since this happens in a land that Ed and Al had never been and didn’t go back to in the second series, it was difficult to conclude it in a way that didn’t affect the rest of the existing story. But, having it being in such a locale let us concentrate on the story aspect of it without worrying about the affects on the rest of the series. But we had to be careful with how much Al felt for Julia because it could seriously affect what happens in the future.

    Q: What influenced you to make the timeline of the story right in the middle of where it is? [After 11th chapter of the manga and after ep. 20.]
    A: The reason that that was chosen was that Ed has come to the realization that he was certain Al’s body existed somewhere, and he would’ve been ready to jump on the next train to wherever he could go to make that happen. So in that time period, it was the best time for them to travel to another location if it means they could find a clue to the recovery of their bodies.

    Q: What if any, was your favorite part of the movie?
    A: Let’s see…my favorite scene of this movie? All of it. *audience cheers*

    Q: Do you plan to involve the other countries around Central? If I’m not mistaken, towards the end, Ed goes one way and Al goes another.
    A: Please ask Arakawa-sensei.

    Q: How did you choose to design Julia?
    A: The original rough design concept was done by Arakawa-sensei and the animation director refined it turned it into the character you see depicted.

    Q: Usually when creating, people tend to put some of themselves into the characters. Are there any characteristics that you share with Ed and Al?
    A: For this movie obviously, I put the most of myself into depicting Al, Ed and Julia. But for one of the other characters that I was quite fond of is Gonzales, the automail maker. *audience agrees*

    Q: How come they come so close and then disappointment? They find the stone and then nothing.
    *interpreter is unable to understand the question*
    Funimation staff: He is thinking up a new script, get it down!
    Fan: He is trying to say why does Ed and Al keep getting so close to the stone but end up being disappointed.
    Funimation staff: But it’s such a good plot! *audience applauds for awesome plot*

    Q: There are tons of action sequences in this movie. Where did you get the inspirations to have scenes like that?
    A: When you start working with characters in a movie, they start taking a life of their own. After the first action sequences, they just sort of wanted a bunch more so I had to do it.

    Murata: This was my first trip to America. *audience applauds* For me to see how much you were moved, how much you were excited gave me energy and moved me to the point to want to keep creating movies that you all can enjoy. I want to thank you very much.