FullMetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa

FullMetal Alchemist is, quite simply, the best anime television series to come out within the last few years. Although no one episode stands out as being perfect, the whole is as compelling a series as I've seen. The only caveat to that is the show's ending, which is so open-ended as to demand a conclusion. That conclusion, at least in part, is the feature film The Conqueror of Shamballa. For fans who've been waiting for some closure, this may be the closest we're ever going to get.

Reviewing such a film is hard because it assumes a full familiarity with the 51 episodes that precede it. To say much about the plot is to create spoilers, which I am loathe to do. But is it too much to say that it involves multiple dimensions, lots of alchemy, and Nazis?  I don't think so. If you're simply ready for an action-packed adventure with the Elric Brothers, you'll probably have a grin plastered on your face for most of the movie. It plays like three back-to-back, faced paced episodes of the series. With a creative storyline, animation that's a little better than what we saw on TV, and a solid soundtrack, all the pieces are here to make up a great feature.

And yet, though I enjoyed the movie quite a lot, it's a step down from what we've seen before. It's fun and entertaining and energetic, to be sure. But if you've really loved the TV series for all its moral dilemmas, character development, and plot twists, you'll find Shamballa lacking in all these areas. In fact, Shamballa has a case of the "stuff everything we can into an hour and a half" syndrome. We see virtually every character who's still alive (and at least one who's not, in a way) make a token appearance. While fans of Rose or one of the lower-level military alechemists may appreciate this, it means that there is less time devoted to the real story and the characters we care about most. The film also bungles how it kills off a few people. At least a couple of characters die during the proceedings, but not in such a way that really matters to the audience. There are no great reveals here -- no central character gets axed -- but even the background characters deserve a little more attention than what they receive. And frankly, the new villains are far too one-dimensional to fit into the ambiguous world of FullMetal Alchemist where a lot of gray exists in the ether between good and evil.

Perhaps the real problem that bothered me after watching the movie is that while one central plot thread left dangling from the TV series is resolved, the film is wholly ambiguous about where things will head from here. While Shamballa plays as if it is the true series finale, it's almost impossible to be satisfied with where things are left. There's room for many more chapters when the movie ends. I haven't heard anything about a second film, but I can't imagine they wouldn't make one with what a hit the show has been overall. Then again, the Japanese have left many an anime without a definitive ending, so I'm not holding my breath.

I'm complaining a lot for a movie that I'm giving a B+, and I realize that it's a bit unfair of me. I had a great time when I watched The Conqueror of Shamballa and was impressed with a lot of it. After dedicating the time to watch the whole series, I was ready for a conclusion, and I got one...but it could have been better. I wavered on giving the film an A- for a while, but what I've realized is that I could only give it that rating if there was a sequel definitively in the works. So go in with your expectations lowered from all the hype, and you'll find it a flawed but worthwhile addition to the FullMetal canon.

FullMetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa -- violence -- B+