The second feature spinoff from the Japanime tube franchise, “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos” is primed to please aficionados but also draw newbies into the fold. Offering further adventures for two brothers in an alternate world where alchemy is a highly sophisticated scientific application, pic upholds the series’ trademark use of pacey action and well-defined characters struggling against oppression and seeking answers to spiritual questions. “Milos” grossed a hearty $7.5 million domestically on 90 prints in July and should attract solid fanboy biz on its early 2012 limited U.S. release. A worldwide ancillary bonanza is guaranteed.
Since appearing in 2001, the manga created by artist Hiromu Arakawa has sold 50 million copies in Japan and provided source material for animated TV series in 2003 and 2009, plus the feature presentation “Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa” (2005).
The main protagonists of these popular tales are Alphonse Elric (voiced by Rie Kugimiya) and his brother, Edward (Romi Park), young alchemists whose ongoing quest is to be reunited with their dead mother and reclaim parts of their bodies and souls they have lost for “violating the taboo against human transmutation.” Auds not in the “Fullmetal” loop will wonder precisely what that means at first, but everything soon becomes clear once the siblings’ latest mission gets underway.
Spiky-haired, quick-witted and occupying the position of “State Alchemist,” Edward is dispatched with Alphonse (who exists only as a voice inside a hulking suit of armor) from their homeland Amestris to Table City, a buffer state of high cliffs and deep valleys wedged between Amestris and rival power Creta.
Orders arrive from Cmdr. Col. Mustang (Shinichiro Miki, co-helmer of cult item “Funky Forest: The First Contact”) to track down prison escapee Melvin Voyager (Toshiyuki Morikawa). A dangerously powerful alchemist, Voyager is seeking the “Star of Fresh Blood,” a sacred stone that unlocks “the doorway of truth.”
The lynchpin in Voyager’s plan is Julia Crichton (Maaya Sakamoto), a 16-year-old orphan taken in by the Milosians, a downtrodden people living in caves below Table City whose destiny is linked to the stone.
Those are just the basics of a highly imaginative tale that brings Edward and Alphonse into contact with shapeshifting wolf-chimera beasties and the Black Bats, a flying squad of human fighters bent on taking control of Table City.
Although philosophical discussions around the prized object are occasionally labored, scripter Yuichi Shinbo’s elaborate plot remains coherent even in the midst of furious fights and multiple identity switcheroos among combatants.
Directed by experienced TV animator and “Fullmetal Alchemist” first-timer Kazuya Murata, and produced by the Bones animation studio which has delivered the entire “Fullmetal Alchemist” catalog, pic has subtly sharper lines and less fluid movement than the TV episodes. Slight shift in visual strategy suits the punchy rhythms of Shinbo’s narrative. All technical aspects are pro.