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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fullmetal Alchemist is a live-action, subtitled Japanese fantasy movie based on one of the best-selling manga (Japanese comic book series) of all time, which has also spawned two animated TV series, video games, audio books, and more. It's extremely violent, with everything intensified due to the fact that it's live action rather than animation. Heroes are imperiled by villains who use all kinds of weapons (spears, knives, guns, and more), along with evil mystical powers. Expect to see brutal hand-to-hand fighting, bloody deaths, terrifying monsters, and grotesque humanoid creatures. Characters are stabbed, shot, impaled, burned, crushed, and mutilated. There's also some mild language ("damn," "hell," etc.). While the story does promote values including courage, loyalty, bravery, wisdom, and compassion, this isn't a kid-friendly manga like Pokémon or Hamtoro; it's only intended for mature teens and adults.
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What's the story?
Ed and Al are little boys when their mother unexpectedly dies in FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST. Their fantastical world is one in which alchemy is a science, so they use that "science" in an ill-fated, forbidden attempt to bring her back to life ... with tragic results. Al is killed, and his soul is only brought to life when Ed trades his right arm and leg for it, installing his little brother's soul in an old suit of armor. Years later, Ed (Ryosuke Yamada), now fitted with efficient prostheses, is a state-certified alchemist. But his true mission is to find the legendary Philosopher's Stone, which he believes can restore both brothers. Armed only with his passion and his ability to transform objects, Ed faces a relentless assault of villains. The armored Al is at his side as they engage a trio of monstrous criminals (Envy, Lust, and Gluttony), a professor whose motives are questionable, and an entire military force, some of whom are alchemists themselves.
Is it any good?
Dazzling special effects, an original story with surprising twists and turns, and a seemingly endless supply of bizarre baddies almost make up for this film's intense gore and violence. Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely not for the young or the squeamish -- just when you think you've seen the worst villain ever, an even more horrific one shows up to take his or her place. On the upside, female characters, with the exception of one ditzy sidekick, are as smart and powerful as their male counterparts.
Fullmetal Alchemist also has some important notions about family: loyalty, self-sacrifice, and the often pent-up anger that can sometimes emerge. Fans of the comic books and earlier animated fare should be pleased by the filmmakers' faithfulness to the original manga, but so many characters come and go that it's possible they may have tried to incorporate too much. And, with a running time of more than two hours, it feels long. Finally, although every effort is made to give viewers who are new to the franchise a heads-up regarding the rules of the story's intricate game, newbies may have to go along for the ride without completely understanding such phenomena as "The Laws of Equivalent Exchange."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Fullmetal Alchemist, which started out in comic book and animated form. Is the gore and mayhem more intense in live-action form? Why or why not? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Find out more about manga. What do you know about this Japanese art form in which some stories are family-friendly and others aren't?
If you were already familiar with Fullmetal Alchemist, did this movie live up to your expectations? If you're new to the franchise, did the filmmakers make the "rules" about this specific form of alchemy (transmutation) understandable? Did it matter?
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