Movie, "Conqueror of Shamballa" Review
Synopsis: After the events of the first TV series, Edward Elric finds himself still trapped in our Earth, having all but given up hope of returning home and reuniting with his brother. However, the Thule Society, looking for the mythical paradise of Shamballa, plan to open the Gate with the help of Envy and a gypsy girl named Noah who Ed has befriended. Edward has to stop them from taking over both worlds.
Conqueror of Shamballa seems to get a bad reputation. Whenever anyone brings up their love for Fullmetal Alchemist, they often say, "Well, except Conqueror of Shamballa." When speculation began over the new FMA movie, The Sacred Stars of Milos, people were saying, "Hey, as long as it isn't like Conqueror of Shamballa", which caused others to reply, "You know it!" "Yeah, no kidding." "That movie sucked." But I don't get it. I really enjoyed the movie when I first saw it. And the second and third times. The last time I watched it, as well. Apparently, there's a lot of animosity in the fandom about it, because that's not even the half of the bashing I've read about it. Still, it got overall great reviews from various anime reviewers.
Well, I'm sure some of the controversy is over it continuing where the likewise controversial ending of the TV series left off. Edward Elric is in our world, or a world that's like it for the most part, anyway. It also features everyone's favorite real life historical villains and Captain America punching bags, the Nazis. Yes, those Nazis. For some reason, that's another big contention is that Nazis have nothing to do with FMA, so why are they here? After all, Nazis are from WWII, and this doesn't even take place during that, and what does any of that have to do with...
Are you telling me that the country that FMA takes place in, with its Fuhrer, genocidal tendencies, and monsterous human experimentation is not already referencing Nazi Germany? Well, you're right if you think it's way too on the nose to bring in actual Nazis. Totally goes overboard. Except that, this movie isn't about the Nazis per se. They're used as a historical parallel to the world of FMA, as evidence of how similar the two worlds are, but this movie's concentration in Nazi history is the Thule Society, a group of occultists who believed the Aryan race came from a place called Thule, a legendary place. Likewise, in this movie, they're looking for "Shamballa" where they hope to find paradise.
Whether "Thule", "Shamballa", or "Shangri-La", these idyllic utopias promise a "true home" for the occultists who, much like the growing Nazi party, was looking for a place where only they, the special privileged race, belonged. Alfonse Heiderich was looking to restore the German pride, making Germany into that utopia. The gypsy woman Noah, despite her heritage, was looking for somewhere to truly belong. Edward was looking for his home, which he already knew wasn't a paradise. Alphonse was looking for wherever his brother was, which was his utopia, his Shamballa. Even filmmaker Fritz Lang was looking for a place where he could carry on making films without the Nazis breathing down his neck, his own place to belong. In one way or another, the characters of this film were looking for their own Shamballa. It's not important where Shamballa exists in myth, they were looking for anywhere to call their "Shamballa", a place to bring them their desires.
I love the historical details in the film. Not just in the visuals of Munich, Germany and the film studio. The events in the last act surround the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, when Adolf Hitler's followers were foiled and Hitler himself arrested. I've read complaints that, "Hitler didn't lose, he took over Germany!" The Nazis didn't gain power right away, folks. Go crack open a book. Or at least Wikipedia. The attitudes of the people in Germany, the inclusion of historical figures like Karl Haushofer, Rudolph Hess, and Erik Jan Hanussen, and Fritz Lang, mention of Japan Und Die Japaner, and the setting of UFA in Berlin all help to create a sense of genuineness. None of them are used randomly, either; they all belong in these surrounding events and help put into perspective the themes.
A lot of people point to the confusing mechanics of the Gate as a flaw of the movie. How does one access the Gate and cross over without sacrificing? How does one get through in one piece? Why does the Gate need to be opened and closed from both sides? How did Envy pass through the Gate without the rockets? There are a lot of weird inconsistencies that seem to be answered with, "Whatever's convenient for the plot." However, I assert that it's not as convoluted as you think.
The Gate can be open from one side if necessary, using the right array and the blood of somebody from the world Amestris is in (a world whose alchemy is powered by the lives of people from the other side). But doing that results in an imperfect Gate that people will die going through. The soldiers died because what was sacrificed wasn't enough for all of them to pass through. The Gate has to be open on both sides for a perfect transfer from our world, like towards the end of the movie.
My only real problem with the plot of the movie is how Roy Mustang is positioned in it. At the end of the TV series, Roy seemed to be at peace with the world, and fine recovering with Riza Hawkeye's help. But when we first see him in the movie, he's taken a position in a snowy outpost and has stopped using his alchemy, depressed over the people he's killed. This seems to all be a convenient set up for his big comeback in the last act of the movie, where he shows up and takes charge of the soldiers defending Central HQ. And in between these two scenes, he's barely in the movie. Sure, he's awesome when we finally get him back in action, but is there any reason why he couldn't have been on this the whole time?
Maybe he could have been elsewhere fighting the soldiers and is overwhelmed, with everyone thinking him dead and then he reappears when all hope seems lost. Or maybe he's been in Ishbal helping them rebuild and hearing the stories of people he's made suffer, he gives up his alchemy until one of the Ishbalans convinces him he can do good with his abilities and he runs off to Central to help. Either of these situations would seem somewhat contrived, but far less than his "development" in this movie. It feels like a lot of his appearance in this movie is, "Look at some of the cool things Roy's doing now!" If only they had the scene Aikawa wrote where Roy and Winry bond at her parents' grave. At least that might restore Roy in a sensible way.
The production values, especially the details in the art, are amazing. The scenery is great, and it's apparent the staff studied real areas of Germany. I also enjoy the faded colors used when scenes take place on our side of the Gate. The animation is damn good most of the time and looks real good in the action scenes. The music is beautiful, though I wish there were more original pieces just for the movie, rather than all the reprisals of music from the TV series. The voice acting in Japanese ie excellent, and even the English dub is fairly decent (but not nearly as good). It's a really lush, beautiful looking film that you almost want to live in (if it weren't for the terrible poverty and hatemongering of Post-WWI Germans).
It's not a perfect movie. The final battle is a bit anti-climactic, as the main antagonist's ultimate goal just seems to be simple fear and hatred, and the way she's taken down seems to be after little fanfare. It often feels like the movie would have been better as multiple episodes of an OVA, as there seems to be a lack of transition and places that could use a little more development. They never really go anywhere with the Huskisson angle, and how his bomb is now in our world (it almost seems like a sequel hook that didn't pan out). Hohenheim feels like an afterthought. Again. And yes, LOLNAZIS. It's not like Edward was punching Hitler in the face like Captain America, though. Or would that have been better? I don't know what any of you want.
I really like this movie. I mean, really. It's got this great thematic/emotional power to it that feels like a good capper to the TV series. Was it absolutely necessary to see how Edward and Alphonse reunite? Not really. The TV ending leaves you with a hope that one day they will meet again, even if you don't necessarily know how. But this movie was a very good wrap up and they even managed to sneak in a history lesson or two in there. Well, as long as you don't believe that the Thule Society captured a dragon. It might not be the greatest anime movie of all time, but it's a damn good one.
Hey, even Shamballa isn't paradise.
4 out of 5