Netflix's Live-Action 'Fullmetal Alchemist' Trailer Is Here And It Is Something...

Anime adaptations haven't gotten great press lately. As Hollywood mines the medium for gripping stories to bring to the big screen, the industry has inevitably gotten into hot water over casting. Specifically, whitewashing. Recent blockbusters like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell have faced outcry over taking the Japan-set stories of the original animes and transplanting them to America or a vaguely neo-Tokyo-inspired city.

So it should be a relief that a live-action adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, one of Japan's most popular animes, has been cast entirely with Japanese actors, right? Not quite. The trailer for the film gives an excuse to talk about this weird case.

Fullmetal Alchemist is set in 20th century Amestris, a European-inspired fictional country whose closest equivalent is probably Germany — which the original anime series alludes to in its final season. The steampunk-style adventure follows Edward and Alphonse Elric, two young brothers whose lives have been wracked by tragedy — partially by their own hands. The two of them are alchemists who attempted to bring their mother back from the dead in an experiment gone horribly wrong. The cost: Edward's arm and Alphonse's entire body.

Based on an insanely popular manga that ran from July 2001 through June 2010 and two acclaimed anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist seems like it has the perfect formula for a live-action adaptation: Heart, ambition, and colorful characters. But the trailer for the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist makes it seem anything but.

Fullmetal Alchemist Trailer

Watching this trailer made me sad. And it's not because of some of the harrowing emotions that Fullmetal Alchemist dares to explore or the tragic arcs of the anime's wonderfully complex characters. I'm sad because this movie looks inexcusably, irrefutably bad.

Fullmetal Alchemist is my favorite anime of all time. I desperately bought the DVDs after I caught an episode on TV one night, and worshipped Hiromu Arakawa's manga series, which ended up deviating from the anime adaptation that was running at the same time as its publication. Fullmetal Alchemist is an incredibly affecting, stylish story that perfectly balances anime's penchant for sleek action scenes with poignant character drama. Arakawa's rich world-building provided a perfect setting for a highly ambitious story about life and loss. And the original anime series (which I will controversially say I prefer to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) even meditated on vicious cycles of racism and political corruption — something I had never seen tackled in anime before.

The One Case for Casting Western Actors

Listen, I'm usually all for color-blind casting with Hollywood, which Fullmetal Alchemist director Fumihiko Sori has said was his intent by casting all-Japanese actors with his live-action adaptation. But in the process, the movie looks no better than a fan-made cosplay film, with teen idol Ryosuke Yamada sitting uncomfortably in his garish yellow wig.

As for the acting, I can't say that Japanese actors are ill-suited toward this story, but it is not a story that warrants the big, borderline campy performances that we see in this trailer. And I'm someone who loved both Japanese live-action adaptations of Death Note — movies that you could never argue are any bit subtle. But nothing about this trailer does service to the wonderful, compelling story of Fullmetal Alchemist.

In Joshua Meyer's /Film review of Fullmetal Alchemist, which premiered in Japan on December 1, 2017, he said the film "feels destined to become one of those bargain-bin features that show the weird growing pains of a sub-genre (in this case, the live-action manga adaptation)."

It won't hit the bargain-bin, but perhaps its digital equivalent: Fullmetal Alchemist will be available to stream on Netflix on February 19, 2018.