by Richard von Busack
More adventures of the Elric brothers, blasted by the power of alchemy, restored somewhat by metal prosthetics. One is the intrepid, golden-eyed Ed, who sacrificed his arm to keep his Al alive when he was dying from an evil spell; there was a price to this preservation, since Al is now a grim, living suit of armor. In pursuit of a rogue magician who broke out of jail, killing several guards along the way, the Elrics travel to the border lands and get entangled into a complex desert Holy Land. The two end up at the bottom of a garbage-littered canyon, home of a nation of refugees called the Milos. They live in tunnels and caves like troglodytes, within site of their sacred mountain. An elite secret society of flying guerrillas called The Black Bats patrol its skies.
The second film derived from an anime series that ran 9 years, Fullmetal Alchemist has a dense, ambitious narrative. First timers will end up bewildered by the characters and the references to what's gone before. But one's grateful for a little bewilderment , especially when being spared yet another simple 'mythic' (in other words, plagiarized) battle between good and evil. It takes a while to understand what's going on, the way the power flows and what the characters mean to each other from the past. Soon it's clear: this is a sly and ultimately well-developed allegory to the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian enclosures, in which there are no out and out villains, and forbidden black magic substitutes for terrorism. Director Kazuya Murata and the studio called Bones (the latter is responsible for Cowboy Bebop) have here a film that's two-thirds of the way to the kind of work Studio Ghibli does. Action sequences are stirring, particularly a fight scene on top of a train between the brothers and some fearsome, 9 foot long "wolf chimeras" (werewolves that can overcome your boredom with werewolves fast). The violence can be extreme, but it's kept at a tasteful distance and sometimes even kept off camera: it never seems to be there just to pump up the audience. And the often-articulate subtitles shame the kind of cheap, crass dubbing that makes so much anime look crass and cheap.