kaigou: this is what I do, darling (A1] Edward combusts)
[personal profile] kaigou


Yes, this is when I started laughing because the only other option was to throw things at the screen.

Or to cry miserably.

I don't actually have a problem with Bones' (the production company's) decision to do a remake of what is, honestly, a damn good series in and of itself -- even though I can think of many many television shows that cry out for remakes, and Fullmetal Alchemist ain't even in the top three hundred. Granted, I would like to say this is because Bones et al realized that their story was adequate but it doesn't hold a candle to Arakawa's, but the cynical side of me says it's because they wrote themselves into a freaking hole with ep51, and the only way to get out was with a movie attempt which in fact ended up only burying them even deeper: one big dead end.

But the series was wildly popular! A huge success! The manga continues to be one of the top-ranked, winning several awards and selling like hotcakes! Which means it's not really a labor of love to tell Arakawa's full story: it's a labor of oh my freaking god there's money being made and we want some of that now kthxbai.

Part of the reason I think the first series caught me from the very start and held me for so long was because its scripts were a great deal like its main character: anguished, but doing its best to keep that on the down-low, enough to get by. A flashback scene starts the series but it's snapshots, come and gone so fast, and then we're into present-day, where Edward's all bristle and annoyance. But over those first three episodes, like the flashbacks, anguish creeps in, tinged with anger. Edward had an edge, and not just a chip on his shoulder or the oh-so-perfectly-metaphorical blade on his wrist. In some ways, the series may differ so dramatically from the manga but it retains the fundamental despair that characterizes the manga, for me: it's a kind of kicking life in the teeth, knowing you'll be beaten but determined to go down fighting.

This retelling strikes me as not just -- as Branch pointed out -- kinda fuzzy (not helped at all by Miki's rather affable version of Roy Mustang, could someone please tell me wtf is up with that VA change? and, fine, it's even LESS helped by an eye-catch voiceover I suspect is wot's-his-face as did the english-language Ed and I don't think you could get more cheese in six syllables if you owned a freaking cow) -- but this version's just not acting like it has to prove itself.

That is, the stakes are already known, right, so let's get into the story. I suppose that works when everyone freaking knows Batman lives in the Batcave and looks for big honking lights flashing in the sky, so no backstory really needed (or just kinda skim it) but... first, this story ain't that one, and second, this is the reason the Batman franchise has been on a losing streak, comparatively. Which might be a good comparison, after all: the retell the story with any kick to it, Batman needed a Joker to come along and really push the edges of things. This retelling of FMA doesn't push much of anything, except maybe all the standard shonen/boy's-action buttons.

Which is okay in the general scheme of things, if we were dying for more boy's action stories (which I'd say we're not, not really) and if the first version had been so much the suck that anything would do. But FMA saves itself from the standard shonen fare by its peculiar combination of subtle anguish and implied despair and a veneer of getting up and walking even when you don't got two good legs to do it, because you simply refuse to lie down and take it.

This second version (so far, at least) is like a fandom version of the first series: Roy isn't half as snarky, sounding more affable and even amiable, (such that Edward's annoyance at him seems rather unfounded, rather than justified after constant needling from Roy); Hughes is positively sedate, if not just plain phoning in his lines; the Fuhrer's all stern and a little scary, instead of goofy nonchalant mask over scary reality. But then, I guess it's a lot like fanfiction when the author's retelling the series: where are the surprises? Thing is, there are a lot of fanfiction authors out there who do retell series, and they do a damn good job of it, too. It's just that much harder to do a good job when the original was so damn good in its own right... but it can still be done.

This time around, there's a spark missing. I doubt it's the VAs, since they're the same cast (mostly) as before; I think it's the script. It doesn't give them the room to breathe life, so we're stuck (so far, again, that is) with what I call the Quatre-and-the-teacup syndrome.

It's when someone either can't -- or maybe even won't -- be bothered to grasp the entire complexity of a character, so they settle for the most obvious thing, which is usually not even a characteristic so much as a physical trait or habit. Quatre, drinking tea, offering tea, pouring tea, instead of actually taking the time to grasp the character's nuances; Alphonse, apologizing for his older brother, apologizing for being mistaken for his older brother, apologizing to his older brother... SHUT UP AL AND GO ON STRIKE UNTIL THEY GIVE YOU BACK YOUR BACKBONE!

I'll give props to the second-go-round trying to cleave closer to the original storyline (of the manga), but I also take all those props and another ten to spare right back again at the way it's being retold. Because a story is not just a set of events, that could be marked on a timeline and if told chronologically would amount to the same story if told out of order. Like Memento, a movie with a rather basic plotline but one that created its tension by telling the story backwards, or movies like Pulp Fiction or Traffic, where each individual story is really rather simple but the confluence of six simple stories makes for one big mashup.

That is to say, in Arakawa's version, the backstory is told in bits and pieces -- and, to a great extent, is a rather dry retelling by Edward, all fury and making-a-point and less emotional attachment to the distant event; at least, less that can be seen, especially compared to Alphonse. That is, it's Ed's POV that gives us history but it's Alphonse's POV that gives us the anguish of how badly they'd screwed up. Arakawa doesn't give any real extent of backstory until chapter twenty, well into at least the second volume. (And in actual output time, being a serial comic originally printed monthly, that's almost two years since she began the story.) For that matter, the actual telling of the night it all went wrong doesn't take place for another three chapters. She works her way up to it.

By that point, Arakawa's starting to really gain the depth of a storyteller's art, I think. She's thrown warnings and hints here and there, let the story roll along, and by chapter nineteen the average reader probably has a decent handle on the world and its alchemy rules/constraints. So where at first she had to work hard to undo the immediate sympathy for Ed & Al, in trying to resurrect their mother -- that is, she had to show why they were now pinned to the wall as a result of their breaking such a horrendous taboo -- but when she begins the backstory, she has to regain that sympathy for kids with only the best intentions. In effect, she has to undo the world-education she's shoehorned into readers over the previous twenty chapters.

That, I think, is why her backstories take so long to come to light: when it reaches that point in the story, she comes at it, retreats, come at it from a different angle, hints, retreats... and then advances several chapters before the Big Event (whatever it may be). Those segue chapters, I'm convinced, are necessary to undo the reader perceptions created by the present-day position on things. So Ed and Al are shown struggling with alchemy, finding a teacher, surviving training, and returning home -- by which point the reader has three or four chapters' distance from the young/adult Ed and his brother, and Ed's driving anger (at himself, at the position he's in, at the things he's learning/seeing). Instead, the reader can sink into a younger, more hopeful, and certainly more arrogant Edward, with author-provided distance from the inevitable disaster.

Which means that when, in episode two of this version, we're already getting backstory... I really felt like I was dealing with bad fanfiction, of the really really bad kind. The "well, I should probably tell you all the backstory in the series just in case you didn't actually watch that much, but it's boring, so I'll just shove it all in a bunch of summaries right off the bat and get it out of the way."

That's what we're going through, with this version of the series: we're 'getting it out of the way'. So instead of trying to woo viewers with Edward, it's just presumed that we're watching because, hey, we watched the last one and we're reading the manga, so why waste the extra time to coax us into adoring the characters even more? We're like a done deal, a sure thing, and that's why I feel like -- as I cringe at some of the damn near "as you know, Bob" lines I heard in episode two -- I feel like I'm being taken for granted, damn it.

And even that I could struggle to forgive, or at least rationalize, if it weren't compounded by the sensation that Bones et al went out and found the very last five animators in the entire freaking world who hadn't seen nor heard of Fullmetal Alchemist. Because, honestly, how else can you explain such a stupid mistake as this?



Were these people living under a rock? Was the director out golfing that day? Who's doing the damn quality control around here, people? Or do you think your audience just loooves Ed so much that it doesn't matter if the production values have dropped, the attention to detail is sloppy in nearly every long shot, the script is mediocre, and serving tea is being substituted for, uh, actual characterization? Does Bones et al just think stories sell themselves? Obviously this is a group that's never stopped to see that not every remake of Romeo and Juliet has been a blockbuster, even if some along the line have. Just because the first version blew everyone out of the water doesn't mean a half-hearted, low-key, shonen-ramped, revisioning is going to do the job -- hell, I'd say it will do the job even less, given what it has to measure up against.

Let's compare, shall we? Here's the very first time in the manga that the automail is really shown -- and it's near the end of the second chapter. (Certainly not an 'immediate' thing in comic terms).



That's also one of the most famous images in the FMA world, nearly iconic in its own right. What's perhaps the second-most iconic image follows on the very next page, and for those of you following along at home, it should be pretty obvious what had me head-desking like mad in the current version's screenshots:



You'll have to scroll back up for the v2.0 images. No, I'm not even going to link to another screenshot. I can't take it. I can only hope someone got their ass seriously kicked, and the director promised to lay off the booze and the quality control folks put down the damn crack pipe. I hope. I really hope.

In the meantime, could someone please get rid of the voiceover on the eyecatch? Please. No, really: please. I'll agree to three more episodes before I start really frothing, if I can be free of Houston-tinged smarm at every episode's half-point.

Cripes. No, that's all I can manage now: just, bloody freaking cripes, people. Get a clue already.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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