Castles of the UK: Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle! It’s long been a place I’ve wanted to visit, and I was so excited when we arrived in Scotland’s capital. We were staying just off the Royal Mile, so we were walking distance to this critical monument of Scottish history and identity. We were up early on a Saturday morning to get to the castle early. Not just because it’s a popular attraction in Edinburgh, but also because the Fringe Festival was running, and there were crowds everywhere. We were at the gates of the castle before the opening time, but it was already crowded! Luckily we had fast-track passes (due to our purchase with Historic Scotland, more information here if you’re looking to do the same), so we were in straight away!

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The first thing we did was admire the views over Edinburgh. Trust me, this was something I could have done all day! It’s no surprising that Castle Rock, on which the castle is built, has been used as a fortress site since at least 100 AD… you can see everything! I particularly liked the views looking out over the Firth of Forth and the Kingdom of Fife beyond, as well as back towards Athur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. Stunning!

We set out to explore the castle, starting with the prisons. The castle has actually housed prisoners from 1758 through to World War Two, although not consistently. What I found very interesting was just how many different nationalities were imprisoned in the cells… French, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, Polish, German, and even American! The cells are set up to look authentic for different time periods, and you can even read actual graffiti carved by prisoners, many, many years ago!

We next entered Crown Square to visit the most sacred parts of the castle; The Great Hall, The Royal Palace, St. Margaret’s Chapel, and the Scottish National War Memorial. The Great Hall was first built in 1511 for King James IV. The hall was later converted to a barracks, and its great beauty hidden. However, today its interior is the most striking in the castle. I was quite swept away with the exposed 500-year old wooden beams towering above my head, the bright red of the walls, and the display of weapons everywhere!

The Royal Palace was next, and this is famous for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, King James VI of Scotland and I of England in 1566 (for my visit to Queen Mary’s childhood home, Stirling Castle, please click here). The Royal Palace also houses Scotland’s Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs for hundreds of years. Understandably, you can’t take photos in this part of the castle, but they were certainly a sight to behold! If you keep an eye on the queue from outside the Palace, you should be able to slip in when it’s relatively quite… we had enough time to admire everything!

We next went into the the War Memorial followed by St. Margaret’s Chapel. The chapel was once exclusively used by the royal families of Scotland, and dates to 1130, making it the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh! Whilst the stain-glassed windows are more recent, the decorative arch around the altar is original. It’s hard to believe that this holy place was actually used as a gunpowder store in the fifteenth century, its original importance only rediscovered in 1845!

After one final look out over the city from the Half Moon Battery, we had to move on from Edinburgh Castle, although we could have stayed to visit the National War Museum and Regimental Museums. We only had a day and a half in Edinburgh, and there were many sights we wanted to check out.

img_3107However… that’s not the end of our time at Edinburgh Castle! We returned that night for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the reason why I fell in love with the site in the first place! The line to get in was long, but moving very quickly, so we were soon in our seats, a couple of rows back and right in the middle of the parade ground. I wish I had a second set of eyes, because I wanted to look at everything! The Lochiel Marching Drill Team from New Zealand, Jordan Armed Forces, Nepal Army Band, and Hjaltibonhoga Shetland Fiddlers were amongst my favourite performers, but nothing could top the mass pipes and drums at the end of the evening. The atmosphere was rich, reaching its peak when we held each other’s hands and sang Auld Lang Syne. I will never forget the whole evening for as long as I live!

-S

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Castles of the UK: Balhousie Castle

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After leaving Stirling Castle, we drove to Bridge of Earn, a small village just out of Perth, Scotland. We spent two nights here in the start of the highlands, and I wish we had time to travel further north! Our main motive for coming here was to visit the Glenturret Distillery, Scotland’s oldest distillery. However, it also meant we could tick off a couple of castles that I was really looking forward to.

The first was Balhousie Castle in Perth. As soon as we pulled into the car park here, I could see that the castle, just like Wray Castle, was relatively new. In fact, the newest extension to the building was only added in 2011! But there was a castle on the site, perhaps as early as the fourteenth century. In 1624, King Charles I granted the lands and Barony of Balhousie to Master Francis Hay, and it remained in the family for over 300 years! However, there were many times when the castle lay empty, and by the early 1860s it was in a dilapidated state. Although the oldest building today dates from the seventeenth century, most of the castle was rebuilt in the early 1900s.

It was during the 1960s when The Black Watch, the most famous of the Scottish Highlander regiments, permanently established their Regimental Headquarters and their Museum at Balhousie Castle. Today, the castle is “The Home of the Black Watch”, still housing the regimental history… all the way back to 1739! If you don’t know who the Black Watch are, you probably don’t know your military history, because they have been involved in just about every near-modern and modern military conflict you can think of… War of the Austrian Succession (1745), the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Indian Rebellion of 1857, World War One (1914-1918), World War Two (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and even the Iraq War (2003-2011). They were also the last British military unit to leave Hong Kong in 1997. That’s a very long and very impressive history! The Black Watch are identified largely by the red hackle worn on head-wear, and the distinct dark tartan.

Since my Dad is a military nut (he’s ex air force), and I’m a history lover, I was really excited to check this place out. We were fortunate to visit whilst the “Poppies Weeping Window” were on display, marking the first centenary of World War One. Thousands of hand-made ceramic poppies poured from a tower window of the castle to the ground. The effect was dramatic and breath-taking.

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After admiring the view and speaking to the volunteers outside, all of them former Black Watch members, we headed inside to buy our tickets for the museum. There were two options; entry, or entry and guided tour, and we went with the latter. It was money well spent. Our guide, the archivist of the museum no less, was absolutely fantastic. He gave us so much information about the Black Watch, their development, and the role they played throughout history. He had an interesting or quirky story for just about every item we came across, and he kept us entertained the whole time. Honestly, if this is your thing, you can’t go wrong with the guided tour. You can still explore the museum leisurely at your own pace afterwards!

 

I have to admit, once I was inside and on the tour I was pretty distracted that I didn’t take any photos inside. But that’s okay, because I had a wonderful time. If you’re as much of a military lover as I am, and you happen to be in the area, be sure to pop into Balhousie Castle. You won’t be disappointed!

-S

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Descendants of the Sun [Drama]: Not what I was expecting, but SONG JOONG KI!

Song Joong Ki’s comeback drama! I was so happy to hear that Song Joong Ki had signed up for a drama not long after being discharged from the military, and I was counting down the days until it aired! I didn’t expect 16 episode Descendants of the Sun (2016) to have created a new ‘Hallyu wave“, but I’m glad that Joong Ki is getting the recognition he deserves as an actor!

Descendants of teh Sun

What’s it about?

Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki) is a Captain in the special forces of South Korea. When on leave with his second-in-command and best friend Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo), he encounters the beautiful and talented doctor Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo), falling for her instantly. However, his works get in the way of their dates, causing Mo Yeon to declare the relationship over before it even has a chance to begin. Eight months later, Mo Yeon is sent to Urk (a fictional recovering war-torn nation) to lead a medical team. Having his unit detached from special forces for a short break, Shi Jin is also there on a peace-keeping mission. The two meet again, but can their relationship blossom in the unique pressures of Urk?

The Positives

Once I started watching, the first thing that really drew me into this drama was the great characters, and their fantastic chemistry on screen. I like that Mo Yeon knows what she wants, she’s professional, direct, and is immensely likeable. Her resistance to Shi Jin makes sense (who on earth wants to date someone who might disappear from you with no warning and no explanation?!), and her handling of herself and her emotions makes sense throughout the drama. Likewise I really liked Shi Jin’s confidence, suaveness, and cheekiness, and there’s a lot to like in the interaction between the two. The secondary couple of the drama, Dae Young and army doctor Yoon Myeong Joo (Kim Ji Won) have their own dynamic and problems in their relationship, and Dae Young’s sincerity and sternness bounces well off Myeong Joo’s eagerness. In fact, there’s times when the secondary couple grabbed my attention slightly more than the main. Other characters that I really liked include veteran doctor Song Sang Hyun (Lee Seung Joon), veteran nurse Ha Ja Ae (Seo Jung Yeon), young doctor Lee Chi Hoon (Onew), and peacemaker doctor Daniel Spencer (Cho Tae Kwan). With all of these actors (and more!) proving their skills on screen, there’s a lot of good chemistry going on, and a lot of fun to watch!

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The Korean armed forces and the medical team of Urk… such a fun mix of characters!

Secondly, I really liked the humour in this drama. From Shi Jin’s jokes, to Sang Hyun’s comic over-dramatic reactions, and even the breaks in the façade of Dae Young, the comedy is always well-timed and accurate. The comedy gives this drama something a little extra, which gets you invested into it even more.

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Shi Jin and Dae Young escaping from danger

Finally, you can’t deny the cuteness and overly sweetness of this drama. There’s plenty of cute scenes between our main couple and secondary couple (and third couple?) that will melt anyone’s heart. The bromantic moments between Shi Jin and Dae Young are solid and funny, and the warming relationship between Mo Yeon and Myeong Joo also unfolds nicely. There are, of course, moments to counteract all of this sweetness, and these moments are all done extremely well. The acting, as I’ve already pointed out, is very solid in this drama, and so these extra dramatic and intense scenes are bought to life beautifully.

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You are so right, Mo Yeon.

The Negatives

As much as I loved this drama and its characters, I need to point out some of its flaws. The overall pacing of the series reminded me a lot of Boys Over Flowers; a lot happens in a very short amount of time. So much so, in fact, that you know the ‘big event’ that happens in each episode is going to be wrapped up nicely without any major effects on the characters. As such, it removes a lot of the tension from the drama, and leaves the audience feeling a lot less concerned about the main characters’ welfare than they should be. A lot of the time these ‘big events’ just feel like they’re thrown in to get our main couple in situations in which (mostly) Mo Yeon needs to rely on Shi Jin to save her.

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Dramatic! But don’t worry, Shi Jin’s got this.

Secondly, and very strongly linked to my first point, I feel like the setting of the drama in the fictional country of Urk is underutilised. Yes, it’s pretty, and sure, it helps the feasibility of some plot points, such as the desperation during the natural disaster and the involvement of gangs, but that’s about it. I mean, the characters have zero problems using wifi and only problems making a phone call back to South Korea to talk to loved ones… let’s try and make the setting a little more important!

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Very pretty, Joong Ki!

Finally, my only other gripe was with the last two episodes. I found the timeline to be a little bit messy and over the place, with smaller and larger time skips thrown in haphazardly to make the ending work. I get that the writers had a lot to wrap up, and, considering they only had a total of 16 episodes to deal with, I think they do a reasonable job, but it could have been handled better. I particularly didn’t like the scramble to get all of the characters to the same event in the last episode, although I did like the idea of all the characters being there.

Anything else I should consider?

The narrative of this series takes up 16 episodes, but there are also three special episodes. The first two are the ‘best’ moments of the entire series (with an obvious focus on Shi Jin and Mo Yeon’s relationship), and the third is made up of behind the scenes and cast interviews (and arguably the only one worth checking out).

Conclusion

Story: 7/10. A lot of cute scenes and dramatic scenes that are acted out well, but they often feel strong together with little time for the characters to reflect on the impact of different events.

Characters: 8.5/10. The four main characters and the immediate supporting cast all have great chemistry with each other and really come to life when they’re on screen and together… which makes for a lot of fun!

Descendants of the Sun does not live up to the gritty and tragic feel its title, premise, and setting give. If you’re looking for a soldier struggling against his duty for the woman that he loves, you will not find it in this drama. However, if you want a sweet romance story and plenty of laughs and cute scenes, you’ve come to the right place. Overall, I give this drama 7.5/10.

-S

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And finally, a gif of our second couple, Dae Young and Myeong Joo

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 [Anime]: Its many flaws are close to being completely redeemed by the ending

I hope everyone had an awesome Easter! Mine involved beaches, fishing, four-wheel-driving and making paper flowers. Without further ado, here is my review of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (2008), which concludes the story-line from the first Code Geass anime. This series, like the one before it, is 25 episodes long. 

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What’s it about?

Continuing one year after the events of the first series, Lelouch has had his memory replaced and is living life as an ordinary student with his younger brother Rolo. However, being watched closely by both the remnants of the Black Knights and the Empire of Britannia, Lelouch is again forced into a double-life when C.C. restores his memories. Is Lelouch able to recreate the Black Knights whilst keeping the fact he has his memories a secret? Can he overthrow the Empire successfully this time? And where is Nunnally in all of this? Lelouch is launched back into the world of politics and tactics to answer these questions…

The Positives

We’ll first look at the things that continue from the first series. The action and overall epicness is maintained in some of the second series, particularly from about episode 17 onwards. Action scenes are still visually great and a lot of fun to watch. Secondly, the soundtrack is still pretty awesome, but the openings and endings remaining dull (again, I have to hold up Ali Project’s “My Beautifully Elegant Flower of Evil” as an exception) (Although, I do like the style of art in both of the endings).

Now, the aspects where the second series excels compared to the first. There is a deeper look at ideology in the second series, focusing on the importance of the past, present, and future, and their relations with each other. In many ways it reminded me of the ideas that [C] posed. Not only is there more ideology in the second series, there are some more interesting ideas and political manoeuvres that the first series lacked. R2 also builds on the different interests of the political groups from the first series, in particular expanding the Chinese Federation. Finally, the second series continues the complex relationship between Suzaku and Lelouch, and further expands on Lelouch’s character.

However, the second series’ best asset is… its ending. The second series is more emotional overall, but it is nothing compared to the final episode. There’s not too much I can say without spoiling it, but this ending is so far my most favourite ending to an anime ever. Nothing else has been able to compare to it so far. It makes peace with the story to keep you happy, but is also open-ended so that you are left to imagine what happens next. The song that plays in the background of the final scenes, Hitomi Kuroishi’s “Continued Story“, captures this perfectly.

Ending (spoiler free!)

One of the only spoiler-free images I could find involving the ending…

The Negatives

The art… I’ve addressed what I don’t like about this elsewhere, and it hasn’t changed since the first series. One thing to note is the fan service… it was bad enough in the first series, but I was still able to easily ignore it. In the second series, it’s pretty terrible.

Secondly, characters. The criticism of bland characters in the first series only gets worse when taking a look at the second. A whole bunch of new characters are introduced and then… nothing happens with them. A few had the potential to be great characters (particularly Rolo), but there was a severe lack of character development coupled with little meaningful screen time. Whilst a number are easily likeable (for me it was Gino and Anya- first half only), they are still boring. Many of the characters that carried over from the first series retain their blandness, or otherwise manage to create an indescribable amount of hate inside me, wishing they were dead already (yes, that’s you, Nina). The winning duo of Lelouch and Suzaku both suffer as well, although not as badly as the others. Their main problem is consistency; particularly Lelouch with his attitude towards Rolo and Suzaku with his moral values. I also feel that Suzaku’s character fell apart, although this may just be me turning from “I support everything this character stands for” to “why isn’t he dead yet”.

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Oh hello pointless characters…

Now, where the second series really starts to lose its edge… the plot. R2 loses in terms of tactical aspects (particularly battles- reduced to who has the latest upgrade) and unpredictability. I also found it slow to warm up compared to the explosive beginning of the fist series. It manages to hold up okay for a few episodes, but gets really messy in the middle when it comes to Lelouch’s mother and psychological (?) worlds. The ideas that are thrown around are very interesting, but are too confusing to be any merit to the series. There are a few other times where the plot gets shot to pieces, but from about episode 17 onwards, it gets back into the swing of it, and leads to the awesome ending I have already mentioned.

Conclusion

Art:  6/10: Remains the same as the first series; pointy chins and not enough food, but excellent action scenes.

Story: 7/10: Loses itself half-way through, but has an ending that is beyond amazing.

Characters: 5/10: Meaningless additions and consistency problems.

Although there is a problem with characters and a loss of tactics and explosive unpredictability, R2 is still enjoyable to watch and serves well enough as a second series. If you can get through the mess of the middle episodes, you will be rewarded with what should be considered one of the best endings to an anime. If you’ve watched the first series, I strongly advice continuing onto the second and sticking to it until the very end, no matter how many times you want to turn back. Overall, I give it a 7/10.

-S

Lelouch makes a tough call

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion [Anime]: Unpredictable, intense and addictive

I decided to review the action/military anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006-2007). This is the first of the two Code Geass series, and is 25 episodes long.

Code Geass Full

What’s it about?

Set in the future of an alternate history, Japan has been conquered by the superpower Britannia, and renamed “Area 11”, with all traces of Japanese culture effectively erased. Due to the murder of his mother, Lelouch Lamperouge is an exiled Britannian prince living in Area 11 with his younger sister, Nunnally. After a series of events involving terrorists fighting to free Japan, Lelouch comes in contact with the strange woman C.C. who grants him the power of Geass; the power to command others to do his bidding. With this power, Lelouch is determined to find the person who killed his mother, overthrow his father, the Emperor of Britannia, and create a new, safe world for Nunnally. However, further complicating this task is Britannia’s military use of fighting robots known as “Knightmare Frames” and the re-appearance of Lelouch’s former best friend, Suzaku Kururugi.

The Positives

The plot of this anime is explosive, addictive, and unpredictable. It’s fast paced and almost every episode ends in some kind of “Ah what is going to happen now?” moment. From episode 22 onwards, the anime is brilliant in its nail-biting conclusion, setting the scene nicely for the second series. There are a number of laughs thrown in along the way, as well as a couple of sad moments. There is plenty of action and it is executed well in terms of art and intensity. What I really liked is the fact that this anime did not back down when it came to covering the gruesome acts of war and the way it affects people, both in Lelouch’s actions as part of the rebellion, and in the flashbacks to when Japan was first conquered. I also found this anime pretty realistic in terms of presenting all of the different groups that had vested interests in Lelouch’s rebellion (e.g. the Britannian royal family, the Black Knights, and the Chinese Federation, just to name a few), and also did a great job in depicting the games of cat and mouse, use of tactics, and problems associated with secret identities.

One of the things that I really liked about Code Geass was the two male leads; Lelouch and Suzaku. Standing alone, both characters are quite brilliant. Lelouch is dramatic, flamboyant, and over-the-top, to the point where I was making comparisons to Ouran High’s Tamaki and Fruit Basket’s Ayame (thankfully Lelouch is down to earth not so insanely energetic). At the same time, however, Lelouch is an intellectual and strategist to the nth degree, and is not afraid to become the ‘bad guy’ to get what he wants. At first glance, Suzaku is your standard hero. He’s brave, athletic, loyal, etc. But Suzaku is more complex than that, and his need to play a hero stems from a dark past. Separately, Lelouch and Suzaku are strong characters, but the relationship between the two is also very important. Their relationship involves many different layers, building up from their first meeting as kids, and often puts Lelouch in complicated positions. The friendship (?) between Lelouch and Suzaku is also an ideological battle-field as both characters want to change the world, but take different paths in their effort to do so. Finally, it’s nice to see is the transformation of the two characters and their relationship throughout the series.

A difficult future is ahead for these kiddies...

A difficult future is ahead for these kiddies…

Whilst the soundtrack throughout the series is good, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the opening or ending songs, with the exception of “Hero Youth Song” by Ali Project (first ending song).

The Negatives

Firstly… the art. I just found the chins too pointy and the eyes too weirdly shaped. Also… does no one in this anime eat?! I was ready to call an intervention. Everyone is also impossibly tall. Another thing that I didn’t like about the art was some of the clothes that the characters wear… some looked great, but the clothes that the pilots wore looked pretty horrid.

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IS THERE NO FOOD IN THIS ANIME?!

Now, earlier I mentioned that the unpredictability of the plot was a big plus for this anime. Well, hand-in-hand with this unpredictability comes a bit of confusion. When the plot is focused it’s great, well-written and surprising. However, there are times when the story is a bit jumpy, which left me feeling a bit confused. This is particularly the case with characters who don’t get a lot of screen time in general, as well as when exploring the intentions and interests of the different groups that are involved in the politics of the anime.

Sometimes the plot is stretched a little bit in terms of believability. For example, the one that ticks me off the most is Lelouch’s “joke” to his half-sister Princess Euphemia in episode 22 that leads to the climax of the plot. I remember sitting there thinking “there has to be a better way to get this plot moving in that direction”.

Finally, a note on a couple of the characters. Some that you see frequently and play an important role are actually pretty bland; Shirley, one of Lelouch’s school-friends, being the main offender. In fact, almost all of the school members are stereotypical and boring.

Anything else I should consider?

If you’re sitting there thinking this sounds like a great anime, but are put off by the idea of giant fighting robots, you might want to read this. I’m not particularly into mecha myself, and avoided watching this anime for a while. However, the Knightmares play an important role in the action scenes; they allow a faster pace compared to using tanks and soldiers, and they also allow a lot more ‘peaceful’ violence (e.g. instead of a person’s arm being cut of, a robot’s arm is). Take the time to enjoy the visuals in the fighting sequences, which tend to focus more on the pilot and their decision’s than the actual robots, and just tune out on the rare occasions where the characters talk about specifics. All you need to know is that each new model will destroy any earlier model, unless that earlier model is piloted by a key character such as Lelouch, Suzaku, C.C. or Kallen.

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You can’t deny that they have had a decent amount of attention paid to them…

Conclusion

Art:  6/10: A lot of hits and misses… but given the terrible-even-by-anime-standards proportions of the characters, more of a miss…

Story: 8/10: Fast paced and intense, I can’t think of an anime off the top of my head that matches Code Geass in its unpredictability and strategy, but you can easily get confused.

Characters: 7/10: Whilst the main characters are solid, particularly Lelouch and Suzaku, the majority of the lesser characters are dull.

This anime’s main assets are its explosive, addicting plot, and its two male leads; Lelouch and Suzaku. Whilst the art isn’t as amazing as it could be, you do get used to it, and it does justice to the action scenes. Whether you are drawn to strategy and tactics, or action, you will probably enjoy this anime. Overall, I give it an 8/10.

-S

Lelouch and his Geass

Fullmetal Alchemist [Anime]: What could have been a masterpiece simply isn’t…

So I skipped last week, and I’m willing to admit it’s because I’m lazy. To make up for it, I am writing not one, not two, but three, yes, three (!) reviews for this week. Starting off with Fullmetal Alchemist (2003).

I’m going to do my best to make this a review of Fullmetal Alchemist and a not a comparison between Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. However, given the fact that both anime have the same set up, there will be some comparisons throughout. Fullmetal Alchemist is a 51 episode adventure/action anime, that concludes in the movie the Conqueror of Shamballa. There are also five accompanying OVAs. 

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What’s it about?

The set up is the same as Brotherhood: two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, use alchemy to perform human transmutation in an attempt to bring their mother back from the dead. They ultimately fail, and in the process Alphonse loses his entire body whilst Edward loses his left leg. Edward manages to save his brother by tying his soul to a suit of armour, which results in Edward losing his right arm. A number of years later, the two brothers attempt to find the Philosopher’s Stone which will enable them to return their original bodies. What differs in this anime is that the complication in the plot is different there is still someone manipulating everything in order to create Philosopher’s Stones for their own use, but for different reasons. There’s not too much I can say, as it is quite easy to spoil the plot.  

The Positives

One of the strengths of Fullmetal Alchemist is the character development and pacing at the beginning of the series, which makes it more successful at developing the viewer’s emotional bond with the characters. This mainly stems from the fact that everything is not presented at a super-fast pace, but instead we have time to understand and get to know the characters. For me, this transitioned to emotional events being a lot more emotional and meaningful. Furthermore, the tendency for this anime to have good pacing means that there are a lot more funny moments in it, with some episodes mainly designed for laughs Roy and Edward’s fight in episode thirteen was pure gold.

Another thing that I really liked about this anime is some of the unique concepts that differ from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. I particularly liked the ideas concerning the homunculus [SPOILERS/] as failed human transmutations, and I think Wrath having the body parts that Edward lost was particularly powerful. I also liked the idea of two immortal characters constantly encountering each other through time, and the need to change bodies because of the rotting that resulted from the rejection of the soul [\SPOILERS]. These ideas make the anime quite dark, which I absolutely adored. There is also some stuff to do with parallel worlds thrown in, which, although not done well, is always interesting to see.

One of the concepts I really liked in Fullmetal Alchemist

One of the concepts I really liked in Fullmetal Alchemist

Finally, the art and music. The art is of a good standard, the actions scenes are done particularly well, and I quite liked the styling of Alphonse at the end of the series. In terms of music, I really liked two of the openings in Fullmetal Alchemist (the first- “Melissa“, and the third “Undo“), as well as the first ending (“Indelible Sin“). In general, the soundtrack of Fullmetal Alchemist is quite good, but it’s the Russian song “Bratja” that really steals the show. This song is just so perfect for what the two brothers must feel, but never say, to each other. Furthermore, it’s utilised throughout the anime at the best possible moments for maximum impact.

The Negatives

Firstly, the “other” characters (i.e. the non-cannon characters) are pretty standard and boring. For example, the Tringham brothers, who admittedly play a minor role, are dull, and I feel that their inclusion in the series is unnecessary. Lyra is bland, and apparently doesn’t know how to think for herself. I feel that her character could have been expanded a bit more, to make her fate more meaningful and emotional. Whilst Dante is a convincing villian, Dietlinde Eckhart, the antagonist of the anime’s concluding movie, is laughable and not worthy of inclusion in the franchise. Although I didn’t like the way some of the characters from the manga were portrayed (particularly Van Hohenheim and Rosé Thomas), this anime was purposely designed to be different from the manga, so I can’t really take a dig at them. The only other problem I really had with the characters were a couple who I found too ridiculous to continue existing in the anime- Shou Tucker and Frank Archer. They made me roll my eyes whenever they were on screen… not their intended purpose. 

However, the major negative of this anime is apparent halfway through the series… its plot. The unique ideas that I mentioned earlier lose their value without a meaningful and organised plot to string them together. There are simply too many things going on, and not enough satisfactory explanations or conclusions of sub-plots. The last four episodes are particularly messy, and it feels like the writers were desperately searching for a conclusion that would be plausible, but instead launch a brand new idea that is miserably done. Not even the movie, The Conqueror of Shamballa, can save the wreck of the plot, and only just manages to pull off a bitter-sweet ending that I did not find satisfactory.

It's okay, Rosé, you're not the only one looking for an explanation here.

It’s okay, Rosé, you’re not the only one looking for an explanation here.

Anything else I should consider?

The movie The Conqueror of Shamballa concludes the anime series, so if you watch this anime, make sure you to finish it 🙂

If you’re uncertain whether to watch this anime or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood first, or if you are unsure as to why I’m referring to two anime with slightly different names, it might be best to check out my review of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Conclusion

Art:  8/10: The art is good throughout, and the actions scenes are perfectly done.

Story: 5/10: The plot falls apart halfway through, and the ending is messy.

Characters: 7/10: Although the viewer forms solid emotional bonds with the characters, some are just too ridiculous and bland.

I did my best to give this anime an honest review and not tear it to shreds by comparing it to Brotherhood. However, by now it shouldn’t be a secret that this isn’t one of my favourites, but instead is filed under “Ah, what could have been”. If you do decide to watch this anime, I recommend that you immediately follow it up with Brotherhood, and see what happens when the plot’s done right. Overall I give this a 6/10.

-S

fma full group

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood [Anime]: Epic action, ultimate feels; everything is done right

I am going to do my best to keep this review fairly neutral… but it’s gonna be hard. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) is the first anime that I watched to completion, and remains my favourite anime to date. It is an adventure/action anime that is 64 episodes long, with 4 accompanying OVAs and 1 movie (not part of the main plot). 

fma-b

What’s it about?

This anime takes place in a world where alchemy exists. Two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, learn alchemy from their absent father’s books. When their mother dies of a long-term illness, the two decide to bring her back by performing human transmutation, a taboo in alchemy. However, they fail miserably, resulting in Edward losing his left leg and Alphonse losing his entire body. Edward saves his brother by successfully tying his soul to a suit of armour, sacrificing his right arm in the process. The boys set out to gain their original bodies, searching for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Edward even becomes a State Alchemist, which involves working for the military, to complete the task. However, they soon find out that their country harbours dark secrets, which will put them in danger that they never imagined…

The Positives

The entire thing. No jokes. Not convinced? Alright, here goes…

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has some amazing art in it. All of the action scenes are drawn well and are easy to follow. If, like me, you prefer to see blood in fight scenes, this anime does blood and injuries realistically, so that the characters don’t end up looking like they’ve bathed in it, like they do in other anime (*cough* One Piece). There is plenty of detail in the anime, which brings the settings to life, and even the characters in the background have had attention paid to them. All of the characters are styled well, and I particularly like the military uniforms. Emotions are portrayed excellently in the character’s facial expressions and body language. Keep your eyes peeled for the change in style as time goes on in the anime, and the younger characters (especially Edward) grow up; it’s done in a simple, elegant way.

The soundtrack of this anime is also pretty decent. The main themes are quite catchy, but  there are also lovely string songs that leave you feeling sad, and perfect military marches. During some of the stranger scenes (e.g. when before Truth), the music is mystic and eerie. Throughout the whole series, the music really helps to set the scene. Furthermore, the first opening has become my favourite Japanese song, and sets the mood for the anime perfectly.

Now, moving onto the more important stuff… characters. This is one of the rare series where each and every character is well thought out and makes an impact on-screen. I think you are guaranteed to absolutely love at least one character in this anime, as there are enough characters to keep everyone happy. The ‘good’ characters aren’t all knights in shining armour; many have a past in which they have done something horrendous and unforgiving. There are all types of male characters; some who are clever and manipulative, others who would rather hit first and ask questions later. The female characters range from damsels in distress to strong leaders, brutal and honest in their mannerisms. Chances are you will also love hating the ‘evil’ characters, whether they appear to be out-right crazy, or more like the thing of nightmares (here’s looking at you, Pride). And of course, there a few characters who fit in the scale between good and evil, leaving the viewer unsure if they are trustworthy or not. It’s a real pleasure to watch the characters interact, producing plenty of hilarious moments, but also allowing gripping, suspenseful moments. The relationships between some characters (e.g. Hawkeye and Mustang) are incredibly meaningful and are a real testament to how amazing the characters are. I honestly don’t think any of the characters in this anime could have been done better; I loved the unique quirks and attitudes of all of them.

Two of my favourite characters (who don't appear in the first anime)

This anime has some of the best characters in it…

... including characters you love to hate.

… including characters you love to hate.

Finally, the storyline, which can be wrapped up in one word… wow. The story of this anime has everything. There are plenty of funny, light moments that make you laugh, keeping the anime upbeat. There are heart-crushingly tragic scenes, which successfully bought me to tears on several occasions. There is a touch of horror in the failed human transmutation attempts, the back stories of some of the characters (e.g. Wrath), and the concepts of humans and life that are thrown around.  There is a touch of romance, some of which is out-rightly stated, some which is hinted at, especially in the older characters. The romance adds sweetness to the anime, without taking away from anything else. And there is plenty of suspense, which keeps you craving more. The plot is full of unexpected twists and never falters, keeping the anime moving at a good pace. There are plenty of original, well-developed ideas in the anime, and everything is crafted together, bringing every aspect of each plot idea and character to a final fight scene that left me feeling on-edge and incredibly emotional until it concluded. The final episode of this anime does a perfect job of tying up all loose ends and is deeply satisfying. 

This anime = a whoooole lot of emotions

This anime = a whoooole lot of emotions

The Negatives

If you have never heard of Fullmetal Alchemist before, here’s a little bit of back-story before I point out what I think the main negative is in this anime. There are two Fullmetal Alchemist anime. The first one, simply entitled ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ was created in 2003, and its first 25 or so episodes has a lot in common with the manga, including the brother’s exploits in Liore, the story of how they lost their bodies, the encounter with Scar, investigating a certain research laboratory, etc. However, the 2003 anime quickly develops an original plot that is extremely different from the manga. The second anime, ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” was created in 2009, and contains the plot of the manga (i.e. the story that was thought up by Hiromu Arakawa). Now having said that, the only real negative that bugged me about Fullmetal Alchemsit: Brotherhood was the pacing at the beginning of the anime; the first half-dozen episodes zoom by and feel rushed and brief. Although very annoying, you can understand why this was done… these episodes were already covered (quite well) in the first anime, and I’m sure the writers wanted to get onto the good stuff. A major problem that may result from the fast pacing is this… the viewer may not connect with the characters as well as they do in the first anime. I’m not too sure how badly this emotional connection is affected, or even if it is affected at all, as I watched the two anime at the same time, but it might be something to look out for.

The only other thing negative about this anime, is that every other anime I watch is judged against and falls down in comparison. You can’t half-tell this is my favourite anime, can you?!

Anything else I should consider?

If you are unsure about what order you should watch this anime vs. the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, I have some advice; the first anime is brilliant in building connection with the characters, and having knowledge of it will help you ignore the rushed feeling of the first few Brotherhood episodes. If you don’t mind going over parts of the story that you already know (including some of the emotional parts), I would recommend watching the first anime before this one. However, if you feel that you can connect with characters easily, dive straight into this anime, and don’t bother with the first one until afterwards. As I mentioned earlier, I watched the two at the same time, which really helped me connect with the characters. However, I dropped the first anime once its plot began to falter, and focused entirely on Brotherhood, because its story was a lot more gripping and interesting.

Conclusion

Art:  9/10: Fighting scenes are excellent, character styling is excellent, the portrayal of emotions is excellent… all of the art in this anime is excellent.

Story: 10/10: The story is a beautifully conceived roller-coaster of emotions

Characters: 10/10: Protagonists that you love, antagonists that you love to hate, and a whole range of others to give everyone a favourite!

This anime is an example of where everything; art, story and characters, is done right, and a true work of art is produced. I recommend this anime to anyone and everyone. Overall, I give this anime a 9.5/10, only because I think a 10/10 would be impossible to achieve.

-S

The beginning of it all...

The beginning of it all…