The latest in Netflix’s brand of live-action anime adaptations is Fullmetal Alchemist; taking what is normally long-form media, and squishing it down into a shorter format, with all the problems associated with that downsizing. Netflix helped fund the western adaptation of Death Note, which is entertaining for viewers if they can get past a few hiccups. Sadly, the Fullmetal Alchemist movie is not going to get the same fanfare. Death Note was scrutinized for making big changes to the characters to a point where fans of the anime said the movie makers should have just made new characters, leaving the movie not well received. Fullmetal Alchemist does not make massive changes to the characters but feels rushed, the story leaves holes, and the CGI looks like it belongs in a cheesy B movie. In a world with absurd powers and visual effects, it just is not enough to breathe fun into a subpar movie.
The movie uses a ton of CGI special effects for when characters use their alchemy abilities, along with other non-human characters but rarely make the effects look like they fit in the movie. Watching the movie for the CGI effects is not advised, as there are points when the CGI effects look like they work in the movie, but most times they stick out like a sore thumb. The two biggest problems with the CGI is when the characters use alchemy to alter the world or create an object, while the other one is the characters themselves. Alchemy has the rule of equivalent exchange, meaning if the character wanted to they could make a pillar rise from the ground by taking away matter from the ground close by. This is when the environmental CGI looks bad. As the pillar raises from the ground it has the stark look of CGI, looking like it should be in an animated movie, not a live action one. The worst case of CGI characters, aside from the non-human creatures that look awful, is Alphonse Elric. He is the brother of the main character Edward Elric. The character is a giant suit of armor, but instead of having an actor in a suit of armor it is a CGI character, really taking away from the movie. The character of Alphonse Elric looks laughable, nothing like metal or like a proper suit of armor, pulling the viewer out of watching a live action movie, The movie’s special effects are on par with a B movie, but due to the CGI it looks worst and skewing the representation of the characters.
The biggest visual problem with Edward is that his hair is very obviously a wig. The character is supposed to have long blonde hair in a single braid, which he does, but the hair does not flow or move naturally. The wig is incredibly stiff and fake looking, which can break the sense of immersion as the human brain will start to dissect why something looks unnatural. Another missed aspect of Edward is that he is supposed to be short to the point of being made fun of, which is an ongoing joke within the series, and the movie only capitalized on it once or twice. Leaving out the long-running short jokes is a let down as it’s comedic flavor for the viewers and adds onto Edwards character, showing some of his insecurities, and his anger. Winry is one of, if not the best friend of Edward and his personal mechanic for his automail arm and leg, but like Ed is not represented properly. She is supposed to be a level-headed, calm, but hot-tempered blonde, that plays a major role in supporting the Elric brothers. In the movie Winry is closer to the stereotype; an overly energetic, loud, anime-esque character, with brown hair. Winry’s representation does not fit in the movie as most of the characters do not act with anime tropes, yet she does. This is yet another let down for fans and new people alike, not catering to either new or old fans.
A creator can only cater to fans so much before they have to leave a door open for new viewers. The biggest problem with Fullmetal Alchemist is not the poor CGI, nor the bad character representation, but the holes and questions that the viewer is left with. Fullmetal Alchemist is created with fans in mind, to a fault. If the viewer watched the anime a long time ago and does not remember much of the series or are new to the series, they will be lost at points and left with questions unanswered. The movie rushes through different plot points and skips out on many others, leaving holes for the watcher to wonder what is going on. The titular character, Alex Louis Armstrong, is excluded from the movie. Leaving Armstrong out is a huge hit to the cast of characters as he serves as moral support to the main characters along with comedic relief for the watcher. Armstrong is in the anime from start to finish, making fans wonder if he will appear in a sequel, if one is made, or if they will be cutting him out entirely. The movie suffers from taking long-form media and remaking it for short form, causing many plot points to be rushed, reworked, rewritten, taken out, and new points added in, just to fit with time constraints.
If the viewer stops caring about watching a “good” movie and can look past plot holes and bad CGI, the movie is entertaining. The characters are acted well, and even for misrepresentations, they are entertaining. The set pieces are satisfying, using bright vibrant colors even in the darkest of scenes, drawing the attention of the viewer’s eyes to the point of interest. There are other characters and moments in the movie that make it entertaining, with Maes Hughes and Colonel Roy Mustang being a good representation of their anime counterparts and contrasting each other well. The movie keeps the high action scenes but also some more emotional parts, creating a good flow to the story. The rework of putting the bigger chunk of backstory first, unlike the anime which was pieced out bit by bit in the first few episodes, works well for those who do not know the series and helps with time constraints.
There are enjoyable aspects of the movie but it is riddled with issues that many may not be able to get past which is a shame because the story of Fullmetal Alchemist is one that is beloved by consumers of anime and manga. Hopefully, if there is a sequel the creators can take a step back, re-evaluate the movie, and make changes so the sequel can be way better. The anime is incredible in both animation and story, while the movie lacks in both. If Fullmetal Alchemist is a passion of yours then it can be very upsetting to watch the movie unless the viewer goes in with very low expectations. Until a better movie is released, it is advised to stick to the anime, only watching this for the covenant “Bad Movie Night.”