I first saw this movie in a theater in Kyoto’s Purple Dragon shopping center in August of 2005. My Japanese is pretty good, so that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I’d never seen a single episode of the television series prior to paying $18 bucks to see this movie (tickets are crazy-expensive in Japan), so I had no clue just what the Hell was going on. And, even in English, unless you have watched *all* of the TV series, up through the last episode, you’re going to be just as lost as I was.
Now, what if you *have* watched all of the TV series? Holy crap, this movie is magnificent! When it was finally released on DVD in the US I had the benefit of seeing the entire TV series on my side for my second viewing, and I can’t believe just how great this movie is under the proper context.
Following the climax of the television series, Edward Elric is trapped in another dimension. Our dimension, shortly before the beginning of World War II. Members of the Nazi party have caught on to Alchemy, the Humonculi and Edward’s home dimension (which they refer to as the mystical land of “Shambala”). The Nazi’s intend to open the gateway to Shambala so that they can bring Alchemy back with them to our world, using the “magic” to strengthen Hitler’s forces. Edward is caught in the middle, as he is needed in order to open the gateway. Edward knows that this could be his one chance to return to his world, but at the same time, it could mean certain destruction for our world.
This is a brilliantly written film that works in the tension of post WWI Germany to the plot exceedingly well. The people who wrote this film know their history and their folk lore, using aspects of the Nazi society (including Hitler’s supposed obsession with the occult) to pen an enthralling experience. I went and looked up a number of the references made in the film to find out most of them were real. The setting also leads to lots of character conflict. For instance, Hughs (the Maeyz of our world) is a soldier in Post WWI Germany suckered into joining the Nazi party out of desperation. He genuinely thinks the Nazis are doing the right thing (remember, none of these characters have the luxury of knowing where all this will lead) which puts him at odds with Ed. It’s very moving.
The characters from the TV series are all there. Ed takes center stage, with the majority of the film taking place in our world. Al and his alternate version feature prominently, though. Al’s bit in the underground city with Wrath and Gluttony is amazing. Some of the other characters, like Winry and Hawkeye, are somewhat cheated of screentime, but practically every character from the show gets to make an appearance, even if it’s just their alternate version (there’s one cameo at the very end of the movie that’s absolutely hilarious).
The animation in this movie is non-stop eye candy. The fight scenes and action sequences are all fluid and choreographed to perfection, but that’s only the half of it. The backgrounds and environments are lush and detailed and are just dripping with beauty, even when the setting is the dank bowels of a castle. I’m so thankful I got to see this film on the big screen.
It’s hard to rank Conqueror of Shambala. If you’ve seen the TV series you will adore this film. If you haven’t seen the show, you’ll like all the pretty animation, but the story will go completely over your head. Still, if viewed in the proper context, this film is worthy of a B+. And if you haven’t seen the TV series, do yourself a favor and go check it out. You’ll be glad you did. Full Metal Alchemist is one of the best things to come out of Japan in a long time.