Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 10: Journey to Ishbal

Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 10: Journey to Ishbal (2004)
FUNimation Entertainment
Extras: Textless Songs, Production Art, Character Profiles, Trailers

The dark mysteries of alchemy are put on prominent display in "Fullmetal Alchemist, " the hugely popular anime series based on the manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The story follows two brothers and their quest to correct a mistake they made years earlier after dabbling in unknown spiritual forces. FUNimation Entertainment has been releasing the series to DVD, and they now present volume 10, "Journey to Ishbal," to continue the ongoing tribulations of the Elric brothers in this most fascinating of animated programs.

After tragically losing their mother to a deadly illness, Eric and Alphonse Elric called upon the mysterious powers of alchemy to resurrect her. Not realizing that such an extreme transmutation requires a sacrifice of equal measure, the boys are horribly disfigured when the experiment goes wrong. Eric loses one arm and one leg, and Alphonse's soul becomes attached to an empty suit of armor. Vowing to restore his little brother to his original state at any cost, Eric seeks out the legendary Philosopher's Stone, which holds godlike power. He joins the military as a State Alchemist, something he finds distasteful but exceedingly helpful in attaining the Stone. The problem is that with this Stone, the military will have unprecedented power that may lead to the destruction of nations.

Volume 10 of "Fullmetal Alchemist" contains episodes 37 through 40. We find the brothers in the middle of a falling out after their vehicle breaks down and explodes. Lost in a random city, they encounter Martel, a human-snake hybrid with a personal vendetta against the military for the heinous torture she endured during a war they started without provocation. She reveals many secrets of the war, implying that there is corruption in the military. Meanwhile, back at military headquarters, someone has taken out an investigation of Flame Alchemist Roy Mustang.

This is a deeply involving and highly addicting series that is forever going in new directions. Each episode introduces new elements and gives further nuance to the characters. This is not the type of show that you can just jump into at any time. In order to fully appreciate the depth of the series and understand the major events, one must see it from the beginning. With fully fleshed out characters, viewers can readily identify with their plights and emotions.

Although this is a rather dark series with many tragic and disturbing elements, there is a surprising comedic side that some may find intrusive. Some characters seem to exist solely for comic relief, and the show frequently resorts to the over-the-top antics typical of many anime comedies. Character expressions become highly exaggerated, often with giant sweat drops appearing on their heads. The comedy takes on a manic, slapstick energy that is in complete contrast to the serious nature of the series as a whole. From time to time, such relief is most welcome, but on more than one occasion it just goes too far.

The image quality on FUNimation's DVD release is quite good. Presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio, the picture is crisp and sharp, with rich color saturation and deep blacks. Some digital noise is visible, but it is not excessive or distracting. The animation comes through very nicely, retaining its delicate beauty and earthy tones.

Audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital English track, as well as English and Japanese stereo tracks. As a language purist, I am disappointed that we were not given the original Japanese track in 5.1 surround, but I have no major complaints about the audio. All tracks feature clear, natural voices. The 5.1 track adequately distributes the sound effects around the back speakers, keeping dialogue at a good level in the front. Music and effects are well-pronounced without being overbearing.

For special features, we get textless versions of the opening and closing themes. This is a feature I always enjoy on anime series, which characteristically boast wonderful title sequences.

We also have some production art, with separate background illustrations and character galleries.

Some character profiles come next, followed by trailers for this and a boatload of other FUNimation DVDs.

"Fullmetal Alchemist" is a thoroughly engaging series of mystical deeds and military secrets that should satisfy any anime fan. With action and storylines that could only be conveyed through serial animation, this makes for provocative entertainment. FUNimation has done a good job of delivering this series on DVD, giving it the quality treatment that it deserves. I certainly look forward to more volumes from FUNimation, as they have proven to be up to snuff with their anime releases.