06 February 2012

Ohayocon 2012!

My Ohayocon badge!
Art (c) Dan Hess.
My very first anime convention: OHAYOCON 2012!

I am pretty much a newbie to post-90s Japanese animation and manga. I have very little experience with it, so I came to this convention with the wide-open eyes of an innocent.

My trial by fire intro to the world of anime fandom was pretty crazy. My friend Drew Brigner also talks about his Ohayocon experience here, since we went to it together, along with his awesome gf Amanda.

The easiest way to go through my experiences is through a day-by-day play-by-play. That said, I've hit my rhyming quota for the week.

THURSDAY NIGHT
Those who preregistered for Ohayocon got to pick up their badges early, between 9pm and 12am. I think I swung in there around 11pm-ish, and it was crowded and full of tons of people already. Check-in itself was not a problem--it was a relatively smooth process. The only thing that annoyed me was at that moment in time, a convention event schedule still had not been posted, so I had nothing to go on to even remotely plan my day. The best thing I could do was get to the Con right when it started (9am) and then try and organize from there. However, the horrible debacle that was The Towing Nightmare derailed that plan...I didn't get to bed until 4am, so there was just no way I'd be bright and sunshiney at the Hyatt the following morning.
Loved this costume.  Image (cc) KEB

FRIDAY
Got to the convention at noon, and I soon as I stepped inside, my head exploded from the sheer amount of cosplay. I think I stood to the side and gaped at everybody for a good twenty minutes before I snapped out of it and tried to find the convention schedule. Once I got my hands on it, I sat down and started circling the panels and events I wanted to attend. There was a ton of stuff I wanted to go to, but many of the panels overlapped in scheduling, so I had a good deal of struggle over which ones to actually attend.

I don't know about anyone else, but I found the schedules kind of hard to read. And they didn't have the panel descriptions printed with the program book or schedule, so if I didn't have the foresight to copy and paste a file of 27 pages of descriptions spread out over the Ohayocon forums (which took FOREVER to do), I would've been totally lost on what the panels were about. 
 
Actually, because I'm a newbie, I didn't know what the majority of panels were about anyway. There is a distinctive dialect and jargon that floats around anime cons, and if you don't know the lingo, chances are you'll get lost. That's pretty much what happened to me. I looked at a lot of stuff and went, "HUH?" Para para? What is that? What is vocaloid? Slash? Yaoi? What? Daikaiju? Chichin pui pui? Kawaii desu?
Steampunk Joker!
Image (cc) KEB

WHAAAAAAT???????????     

And to be honest, I still don't really know. Of the panels I attended, pretty much every panel leader assumed that "Because you're at an anime con, you already know what this stuff is." That is a direct quote that I heard more than once, I'm not kidding. So, I continued to stay uneducated on a lot of topics, when all the panel discussion leader had to do was give a quick 2-5 sentence definition or summary before diving into the actual panel topic itself.

To Ohayocon's credit, there were a few panels designed strictly for beginners: combat, kimono, the Japanese language, how to run a panel, and I think somewhere on the schedule there was supposed to be a panel on "How to Enjoy Ohayocon"...which I still can't find on the sheets I have. But I didn't see any panels that would give me a good sense of what anime was all about, what manga was all about, and what the fandom was all about, and all of the perspectives that go with it.

Harley Quinn and friend.
Image (cc) KEB

The scheduling of some of these events was funky...some overlapping here and there, and then some of these helpful beginner courses were scheduled late into the night or towards the very end of the con, which didn't make much sense to me. I figured some of this stuff would be the very first day of the con, and some of the earliest panels scheduled...you know, so you can START the con with this information beforehand. Maybe I'm just too picky, but overall, I didn't feel like this was a newbie-friendly convention. Update from the future: 9/16/12 ...After attending a few more cons, I realize that pretty much it's like this everywhere. So...being a little too hard on Ohayocon here. Perhaps it's more of a fandom issue.

This Panty & Stocking cosplay group looks awesome! 
Image (cc) KEB
After drawing circles on the Friday schedule, and snapping photos of people when I could, I spent an hour just wandering the convention center so I could get a feel for where everything was, since I have the tendency to get lost and am directionally stupid when it comes to map interpretation.

As it turns out (I found this out the hard way Saturday), the maps we were given had some rooms mislabeled (or else the rooms on the schedule were given room labels that didn't exist). So even though I did a lot of walking to try and learn my way around, it didn't help that much anyway.

Panels I attended: Photoshop for Comic Artists (mislabeled on the schedule, the panel was actually Using Color in Photoshop for Comic Artists--so, this was not an Intro to Photoshop like the description and title made it sound); The New Age Mecha Panel (for five minutes); Japanese Folklore; and Voice Actor Training.

Even though the Photoshop for Comic Artists wasn't a general beginners class, I still learned a ton from it anyway, took lots of notes, and it got me really excited about diving into drawing. Artist Garth Graham of GCG Studios led the panel and I was so appreciative that it was thorough, interesting, and clearly well-prepared. And I was a fan of the Q & A at the end...most of the class comprised of people who already knew how to draw or use graphics software, but I was able to ask for advice as a totally green artist...I got some good tips about doing ink layers and some great general all-around advice: "CONFIDENCE IS KEY." 

As for the other panels I went to, I won't single out specific ones, but I will mention some overall observations--these panels were not as successful for me because of any of the following issues: clear lack of preparation; inability to stay on-topic; poor time management skills; devotion of time to completely irrelevant information; soap-box brag sessions; gushy fan sessions; the assumption that everyone in the room knows what you are talking about and therefore you don't have to explain anything (again, not newbie friendly!!!).
Balloon Gundam EVA UNIT 2 knows
how to take you down!!
Image (cc) KEB

Even some of the more fun, highly-credentialed dynamic speakers had a huge problem staying on track, so often I'd sit for an hour and a half through a panel where 20% was the actual topic and 80% was "let's talk about how awesome ____ is!" Which ended up having nothing to do with anything. I also didn't care for panelists who had the nerve to back-hand or belittle the people sitting in the room to listen to them speak. I for one don't like being told that "If you don't understand ____ I'll throw my shoe at you." Don't punish me for coming to your panel to learn something new! I came to you precisely because I don't understand! Yeeesh.

After all of that, I ended the night doing karaoke. The rules: The song had to be from an anime series or film, no exceptions (well, one was made--an American pop song sung in Korean). I, being the crazy person that I am, signed up to sing "Again" by Yui (which I'd actually been practicing and learning for a while now). When I signed up, they didn't make it clear that there were three paper lists floating around in different locations. I thought I was sixth down on my sheet, and therefore didn't have long to wait, but no...there were a bajillion people ahead of me, so I ended up missing more panels waiting for my turn.

I was at karaoke for at least an hour and a half before I got called up to sing. And, then, I got so nervous and scared (I don't know Japanese! I don't actually know the words to this song! I don't have the proper breath support to sing it! What was I thinking?!?), my voice shook through the whole song. I didn't even look like I was enjoying myself, 'cause I didn't have my breathing settled to bop around and be all cute and dancey, and I kept shaking as I held the mic. And the background audio was so loud that I couldn't hear myself at all, unless my pitch started to go sharp (then I heard it and was horrified).  Some things are best left imagined than realized...in my dreams, I totally kicked ass at singing. Oh, sad, sad reality..you bubble-burster, you!

Success! I actually know who these characters are!
L-R: Col. Roy Mustang, Lt. Riza Hawkeye, and Edward Elric
from the first series of Fullmetal Alchemist and the film Conqueror of Shamballa
Image (cc) KEB
SATURDAY
The second day of Ohayocon began with a clear mission in mind: I WILL GET AUTOGRAPHS! I WILL BUY THINGS!  Given that a lot of Friday's panels rubbed me the wrong way, I wasn't as gung-ho about attending them. I still had a long list of panels I wanted to attend, and Saturday had a lot of good content and topics, but if I missed any, I wouldn't feel so bad about it. They were negligible at this point.

The first thing on my list: Get an autograph from Todd Haberkorn, and hopefully a photo!

This endeavor proved to be highly traumatic. Not my experience with the actor, but rather the process of trying to actually get the autograph itself.

It started with the nightmare game of "find the correctly labeled ballroom." This took up a lot of unnecessary time. I darted around the Hyatt's ballrooms, then ran over to the Greater Columbus Convention Center ballrooms, and none of them had the label "Ballroom A," which was the assigned room for Todd Haberkorn according to the schedule. I went to Ohayocon customer service and they couldn't tell me where Ballroom A was, either, and recommended I run back to the convention center ballrooms again. I did this, frantically darting around so I could get in the autograph line in time.

Out of breath, I caught another Ohayocon customer service rep, standing outside of Ballroom 3, and asked him where Ballroom A is. He said, "I'll give you a hint. This is Ballroom 3A." Whaaaaat? There was no letter 'A' attached to the large metal lettering that said Ballroom 3. None of the maps in the Ohayocon program, or the convention center itself, had the letter A attached to any ballroom. And wouldn't it have made more sense for Ballroom 1 to actually be Ballroom A? How did anyone expect me to know this? When did 3 = A? Grrrr....

Then the rep kindly pointed out that I goofed up on the time. I ended up showing up two hours early for the wrong autograph line, mistaking 2:00 for 12:00. But then he also told me the schedule had changed and to not look at my Saturday programming sheet anymore and to grab a new one from a customer service stand. I was totally confused but thanked him and apologized for being snippy (trust me, at that point I did not sound very nice when I asked him for help because I hate running around aimlessly).

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!!!!
Image (cc) KEB
I was so discombobulated with the scheduling that I just said screw it, and went to the Dealer's Room to kill time. 

I specifically looked for FMA-related stuff, like a t-shirt or something, and instead found items like human-sized Edward Elric body pillows (kinda creepy), or large photo-print tapestries from both FMA series (not so creepy). I saw FMA messenger bags (ok, that's more practical) and weird chibi plush Edwards, which is just not my type of thing. (Be proud of me! I learned what "chibi" means two months ago--which is basically cartoony, baby-like and over-the-top cute).

I settled on a replica of Edward Elric's silver pocket watch as my FMA fan purchase. My version is of a darker metal, and has the inscription from the first series "Don't forget 3. Oct. 10" (the manga and Brotherhood series have a different date). The flamel symbol is on the back of the watch, not on the clock face, and the chain is a little different, too, but it's a nicely made so I have no complaints. I never have the time on me, and I break every wristwatch I own, so maybe a pocket watch will survive the "Three Month Wristwatch Curse" I've been under for years.

There was a ton of costume dealers representing different styles: Steampunk, Lolita fashion, Medieval/Renaissance, and Kimono, and since I loooove costumes, it really took my willpower to not buy a bunch of things (that willpower didn't last very long--I'll get to Sunday later). There were wig shops and props shops and special effects contacts shops, too...which made me want to get into cosplay like nobody's business.

There were a lot of opportunities to buy secondhand games, or older titles, international titles, and games for older consoles (I was tempted to buy an FMA PS2 game but passed on it), and there were a lot of opportunities to buy DVDs, comics, manga, and more. Not to mention a billion die-cast figurines and ball-jointed dolls for the collector as well.

I wanted to spend more time in the Dealers Room but I was determined to get to the autograph line in time to meet Todd Haberkorn...

...Where the autograph line nightmare continued.
This group was part of the line
that got redirected three times.
We're all bummed because
we lost our good spots!
Image (cc) KEB

About one hundred of us stood in the wrong line for forty-five minutes, then finally someone from Ohayocon customer service told us where Todd's line actually was, so a big chunk of us darted to the proper line (and I lost my place in it). We courteously lined up against the walls and around the corner to not block people from walking through the hallway, then Ohayocon customer service rerouted the line to the other side of the room, where we got stuck blocking people's entrances to a totally different convention running concurrently with Ohayocon (I bet those people were confused when they saw everyone in costume!). Security got involved and told us we had to move, so Ohayocon customer service rerouted us back to where we first started standing. I lost my place three times in line and was very worried I wouldn't get into the autograph room in time due to all the crackpot crowd control going on. It was at this point that I really started getting angry about the overall lack of organization/communication at the convention. I know that these things are hard to plan, hard to run, and hard to maintain, BUT THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY OF DOING THINGS!!

I calmed down once I got in the autograph room, and I was actually really happy how they handled it--you file in row by row, sit down in chairs, and then you wait 'til your row is called and then you stand in line for the autograph. This ensured that nobody cut in line, the lines were very organized, and everybody got a chance to meet their voice actors. This was a nice antithesis to the chaotic lines outside the ballroom.

I'm pretty sure I was one of the oldest fans in the room. I was also one of the few not in costume, and I didn't have a bunch of things to be signed because the only thing I know Todd Haberkorn for is playing Ling Yao in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (again, ignorant noob!). So before I drove to the convention center I selected one of my Brotherhood DVDs that featured Ling for Todd to sign, and that was all I had with me.

Because I had a pretty long wait, I sat and eavesdropped on a lot of people. The group behind me talked about Colossal Con a lot, which I was very interested in since I plan on attending it in June (it sounds like it's a bit more organized than Ohayocon). They also talked about their experiences meeting voice actors at conventions. And based on what they had to say, some of those voice actors sounded like weird, pervy assholes, which was not something I wanted to know. It also sounded like if you were at the right place at the right time, and looked cute/sexy enough, it wasn't uncommon for some of those voice actors to invite you to go a) out to eat with them b) out to drink with them c) up to their room with them.

Thinking too hard about this...
On the one hand, if I was a fan and I got invited to hang out with the pros, I'd be like, "Hells yeah!" And I would not blame anybody for wanting to go to hang out with them, no matter where it was they were going (as long as they were safe). What bothered me is that this group, gabbing on about all the people they've met, were YOUNG (and mostly female). And, I'm pretty sure, UNDERAGED. Maybe the oldest looked 18. I didn't ask, and it's true, I might've guessed their ages wrong, but it still bothered me because they looked like a risky group to hang out with in general. Going out to dinner or lunch is cool, but drinking? And hanging out in the hotel rooms? Uggghhhhhh.  It made me wonder, "What on earth really goes on during these conventions?"

It also made me question the levels in which I idealized actors and other famous types. Of course, most human beings are good and decent people, no matter how famous or unknown they are. But when it comes to actors, most people latch on to them because their strong  skills have brought a character to life in such a way that people form emotional attachments to them...which really, is the point of all art (and definitely writing): to summon forth powerful emotion.

Sometimes it's hard to separate the actor from the character they've made so very real, especially if the character they play is heroic, or admirable, or vulnerable, or whatever. So when you hear something ugly about people you've idealized (and granted, the group I listened to might've been just gossipy, or exaggerated things), you kind of deflate a little. Then you have to tell yourself, "Oh, right. So-and-sos are human beings. Even though they were X, that doesn't mean they are X." Still, it's not fun to have someone knocked off the pedestal.

I'll reserve final judgement for when I actually meet said famous people firsthand, but it definitely gave me pause and brought me back down to reality a bit.

BUT!!! Those dark clouds of thoughts didn't last for very long, 'cause then it was my turn to stand in the actual autograph line! And then I got really, really nervous. And when I get really, really nervous, I get really, really ditzy, and say weird, stupid, or mundane things. And, that's pretty much what happened. I forgot to actually say something relevant like, "Todd! You're talented! Awesome! I really like your work!" And kinda mumbled through how it was my first con, he was my first autograph, and blah de blah. And I think I worked in how FMA is the only series I've seen in full..something like that. Todd was really nice though, he told me to check out Artist Alley and asked what I thought of the con so far, and then after more small talk I said something really weird like, "Oh yeah, Artist Alley has really reasonable prices, I was so surprised!" Todd, I might as well have told you to go shop at Walmart for incredible discounts like you've never seen! Or something like that. Yikes. I wish I said things that made me sound smarter, sounded more complimentary towards him as an actor, and conveyed more appreciation to meet him. And I should've asked him what anime series I should watch next, 'cause then I probably would've found out more about the stuff he's been in and possibly what his favorite series is.

My first voice actor autograph ever!
Hooray Todd Haberkorn!
Art (c) Protected. Photo (Limited cc) by KEB.
If there was anything I felt I did do right, though, it was shaking his hand and introducing myself before I started talking. I watched a lot of people in the lines before me who hopped up there and shoved stuff in his face to sign, which, I totally understand why: in the heat of the moment, you're superexcited or supernervous and you can't believe you're meeting a talented actor, so you may have completely forgotten 90% of things you wanted to say or do and you just want to get down to business because the line is really long and you can't believe you're there!

What I noticed is that nobody did the old-school polite introduction. I know that in a way, there was no point in saying who I was because I'd be instantly forgotten, but I still felt like doing a "Hi, I'm Kristina, pleased to meet you" would add a touch of normalcy to things. I'm probably old-fashioned and overthinking this gesture. But, it was the only thing I did during the whole exchange that I liked.

The point is, I got an autograph, and I got a picture with Todd, which I didn't think was actually going to happen. I brought my Mom's digital camera with me so I could get a higher quality pic than what my Iphone could provide, but alas....the picture came out really blurry, and none of my photo programs could really fix it. Oh well! At least I got one!

Boo blurry camera and crazy lighting.
Neither one of us looks quite like that in person!!!

Would I say that standing in line forever for an autograph was worth it? Yes, I would. Meeting a professional actor was really pretty cool, and one of my favorite things that happened at Ohayocon.

And I did walk away with greater respect for what voice actors do. I think there's a belief that because we can't see the performer as he performs, that somehow the work is not legitimate (like the idea that "Oh, anyone can voice act! It's not the same as real acting!") which really demeans the actors and the profession on the whole.

I don't see any distinction between voice acting and real acting (and in fact, I think that voice acting may be a little bit more difficult to do), so I feel like I already had a good level of respect for these performers to start with...but man, what they're asked to do at cons...unbelievable. Todd flipped into character dialogue and character voices the instant a fan asked him to (considering the number of things he's been in, that's incredible); he let people film these performances on their cell phones if they wanted, and personalized them; and was an all-around amiable, stellar, accommodating guy. A friend to the fans, if you will. I admire that.

At the tail end of the autograph session, another actor I wanted to meet, J. Michael Tatum, entered the room. He wasn't slated for autographs on the Saturday schedule I picked up Friday, but they changed it, and now he was in the same room ready to get set up for his autograph line. I wanted to punch someone...if I would've known he would be there at that point in time, I would've packed my Brotherhood DVD that had Scar on it for him to sign, and I would'nt have had to wait forever again because I was already in the room. For the time being, I had suffice with standing two feet away from him for a few minutes, so I guess I should be glad I got to see him up close. I planned to have my DVD on me Sunday, when he was slated for autographs again.

After autographs, I said, "Tosh on panels!" And went back to the Dealers Room and Artist's Alley. 

I've been HEBERLING'D!!!*
Art (c) Alex Heberling.
The Artist Alley was also one of my favorite things about Ohayocon. Yes, the art in Artist's Alley was reasonably priced, in my opinion, and it was great to see new art, original art, and to speak one-on-one with the artists themselves. And I certainly loaded up on things to hang up in my room, as well as presents for my sister. I bought artwork from Tanya Zolotareva, Jia Wang, Susan Van Camp,  Alex Heberling, and  Zeiva Inc.  

And then I got two talented artists to feed my ego by having them do portraits of me. Alex Heberling did the cute quickie color portrait of me, and then, sharing a booth with Tanya Zolotareva, was the artist A-Riot (aka Ashley Riot) and I had her do one for me as well.

Ashley's portrait was a little bit more involving. She was pretty backed up at the con (if you can click on her name, you'll see why: she's pretty talented) for portraits and she took a photo of me to use as a basis. She wouldn't be done with it until Sunday.

So, after I crossed my two goals off my list: AUTOGRAPHS! PURCHASES! I was so exhausted that I decided to call it a night early. Part of me wishes I would've stayed out past 6pm for more panels, and for the dances and masquerades and balls they were having, but I was pretty run down. That, and I had homework to do (yikes) in the hotel.

Saturday ended up being the most successful day of the Con for me--I was left satisfied with everything I got involved with, and, many, many, many more attendees showed up in costume on Saturday than Friday, so I got to see a lot of really cool cosplay. Unfortunately my mom's magic camera went out on batteries so I didn't get any more photos of costumes for the rest of the event. *Tears.*

SUNDAY
Sunday was the $10 admission day, and I've should've realized it would be the busiest day because it was the cheapest ticket. Parking was awful. I went to six different lots, all full, and spent so much time searching for spaces that I ended up missing the lineup for my second chance to get J. Michael Tatum's signature and photo. That had me pretty bummed, because I was walking around with my FMA Brotherhood DVD in my purse the whole time, ready to whip it out at a moment's notice. Sadly, I missed out.

After wasting a lot of time trying to park, I ended up whacking out the last of my panel schedules. At that point, I was so burned out and frustrated that I said, "Ok. I'm just going to go to the Dealer's Room and Artist's Alley again and then I'm going to go home and do my homework." Events ran from 10am to 6pm on Sunday, and I know I missed out on a bunch of great things, but I knew if I didn't get home right away, I'd only think about the convention, and be completely brain-dead for my homework assignment.

I ended up being completely brain-dead for my homework assignment anyway.
Took this photo when I got home.
Why did I pose like this, arrgh!
 Image (c) KEB. 

I circled around the dealer's room one more time and then did something crazy: I got fitted for and bought a full kimono outfit, with the wooden shoes and everything. So, for the last two hours I was at the convention, I ended up in a roundabout way doing cosplay.

My kimono got a lot of attention and compliments, and I have to admit, I felt very elegant and graceful (until I had to go down the stairs in those shoes. That was rough).

My best responses came from when I walked from the convention center to my car (which seemed miles and miles away) in my kimono. I passed Nationwide Arena and a hockey game was wrapping up...got some catcalls from the jocks, which was funny.

Before I headed to the car in my kimono, though, I made sure to stop by and pick up my portrait by Ashley Riot. It was worth the wait!
Don't mess with me, I'm a Valkyrie!
Art (c) Ashley Riot.

Now, I have to say this...I've complained about my body and how it's transformed over the years from side effects of medication. In short, I became a total fat-ass.

So I have to hand it to Ashley, she drew my bigger body in a very flattering way, and I am so, so appreciative of it! I'm glad she made me look better than how I feel about myself. It really is an awesome portrait. Huzzah, and what a way to end the day!

OVERALL: Ohayocon was equal parts frustrating and awesome, with no middle ground. BUT! I'm not averse to going to another Ohayocon to give it another shot--in fact, I can't wait to attend more conventions and write way too many details about them in upcoming posts. 

24 January 2012

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

So, I LOVE Fullmetal Alchemist. Love, love, love it.. And yesterday I went to the Gateway Film Center in Columbus to see the newest addition to the franchise. Before I hop into my review of the film, please allow me to share this with you: I LOVE COSPLAY! I was so happy to see it at the movie theater--how awesome is that!

(cc)  KEB
From left to right: Amanda as Roy Mustang, Joni as Edward Elric, Kelly as Winry Rockbell, and Ashley as Jean Havoc.

I was nervous to ask to take their picture but they were happy to let me snap one before showtime, and to let me share it with the world.

So...Long live ZAG!  I hope to run into you again in June at Colossal Con.

FILM REVIEWFullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos  

The 2012 film poster.
Animated feature by Bones and Aniplex. Licensed and reversioned in English by FUNimation Entertainment. US distribution by ElevenArts. Film directed by Kazuya Murata and produced by Masahiko Minami. From the manga by Hiromu Arakawa.

Read the official film summary!  

~*~

I was lucky enough to see this in the movie theater when it premiered in the US! The theater was packed, and I loved being surrounded by fellow fans. Sometimes the audience members provided interesting commentary during the film (ahem, that would be the people who sat next to me), but overall, I liked that I wasn't alone in my love for the franchise. There were a lot of small details here and there in the film that only a fan would understand, and it was nice to be able to catch these little moments and have my reactions make sense--we all laughed and cringed at the right spots together.

The audience highlights (SPOILERS): everyone laughing when Major Armstrong winks at Winry, and the huge collective groan when Julia's "brother" removes the piece of flesh from his ribs inscribed with a transmutation circle. I think it hurt everyone who watched it...my row was definitely squirming. On top of all that...watching FMA on the big screen really is a sight to behold. It looked good. Very good.  

Here's my report card, AND THERE ARE MORE SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I also recommend hopping over to Rotten Tomatoes and read what actual film critics have to say about the film--I find I agree with a lot of what they have to say, for both the Fresh and Rotten reviews.

PLOT: When it comes to storytelling, there are two types of tales that exist: a plot-based story and a character-based story. Usually it's one or the other, but some of the best creative works are able to provide a relatively balanced mixture of both. I myself hold a bias towards character-based stories--it's what I like to write and what I like to see/read. So...That being said, FMA: SSM is very, very heavy on the plot and at times I couldn't always follow it. This is also because the film is very, very heavy on the action.

I love action, don't get me wrong, but the pace of the film (after its initial scenes of exposition) shoots out at the speed of light and doesn't let up. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there was never a dull moment in this film and it always had my full attention. On the other hand, I wasn't always sure of exactly what was going on...I feel like I'd have to view this film a second time in order for me to understand it.

There also seemed to be some continuity errors. This film is NOT a sequel to the series, but a sort of "midquel"...it supposed to take place somewhere around episode 20 in Brotherhood, and the film functions as an added bonus episode--extra fun, but also not necessary to the original story. There were a few moments where I scratched my head and thought, Was it like that in the series? I don't remember. The scenes whizzed by quickly but it did make me question the film's consistency with the pre-established anime series.
The 2012 DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack.

To the film's credit, though, it does provide some interesting parallels to the television series--it was hard not to consider the plight of the Ishvallans (from the first and second series) and compare it to the plight of the Milosians (from the film). And it also did a good job of reiterating the terrible price of the philosopher's stone--it was horrific to see in the series and just as horrific in this film (that freaky bloodbath tower of terror!!!!). The film's strong sense of morality, and its ability to show the dark side of things (as well as the gray, ambiguous side of things) is very consistent with the other works in the franchise. The film truly is representative of the series, there is no mistaking that. Overall Grade: B-

CHARACTERIZATION:  While this story is technically Julia and her brother's, I really, really wanted to see more Ed and Al! There were a couple moments where Al did get to have some time to shine, and his scenes with Julia were always poignant, but Ed's my favorite character and I was bummed that he didn't take center stage more often, instead providing some good action sequences and comic relief.

In terms of the rest of the characters in the film, it was nice to see some familiar faces again (Mustang, Hawkeye, Winry) but they still didn't seem to fit the story exactly--it seemed like they were thrown in just for the sake of appearances...again, a nice nod to fans, but sad for the story itself since they're rendered as throwaway characters. Poor Winry--she's come to the battlefield looking for Ed, and conveniently his automail got messed up so she can work on it (and therefore is relevant to the plot again). However, I don't remember seeing Ed mess up his automail and we don't see Winry working on it--if it happened, it was a blip on the radar and I totally missed it amid all the other things going on. Anyway, in graduate school we talk about showing versus telling in our writing, and this was a film scene in which telling was used instead of showing...so it didn't actually prove to me that Winry was a helpful or relevant character. We're just told she is.

As for new characters, Julia proved to be a sympathetic heroine and I felt I got a nice snapshot of her humanity. The other characters--Miranda, Ashleigh, etc.--although they were interesting enough to forward the plot, I didn't know enough about them to care whether or not they lived or died. And there is a lot of death in this movie, just so you know. Overall Grade: B-

ACTING: Consistently top-notch, as always. I got a warm, fuzzy feeling hearing familiar voices once again, and the new actors performed just as well. I didn't always like hearing the villains burst into long and involved fits of maniacal laughter, but I fault the script for that, not the actors. Overall Grade: A+

ANIMATION: This was a new animation style to adjust to. I could easily tell who everyone was, but visually, there was a clear difference to how the characters are rendered in the film versus the first two series. I like the Brotherhood series' style better overall, but that's just me. I will say though, I kind of like Ed's eyes in this movie (there's like three different colors in them, making them more dynamic) and there were instances where character motion was very organic and fluid. But it still seemed like less emphasis was placed on the artwork of the characters themselves, and more on the "set design" of the movie. There are plenty of gorgeous renditions of the landscape in the film, and so much detail and painstaking care is evident in the scenery, backgrounds, and city design. On the whole the use of color was brilliant. But, as a member of the audience, I'm always more interested in watching characters than scenery, and if there is anything to fault the film's style for, it would be emphasizing background over foreground. 

CHARACTER DESIGN


 Edward Elric in action...*
Image (c) Protected 
Look at those eyes!!!!!!
Image (c) Protected

SET DESIGN

A composite of screenshots reveal intricate backgrounds and coloring.
Composite by Rei of Wanabrar. Images (c) Protected
See the difference? The background looks better than the characters. In my opinion, it should be the other way around. However, the film still looks good, so it gets an Overall Grade: A-.

MUSIC: I don't know too much about Japanese popular artists, so I'm not sure how valid my opinion will be in regards to the pop songs for the film.  L'arc~En~Ciel did the main theme "Good Luck My Way" (which I think played over the closing credits), and that was fine and suitable for the film. They've been tied to the franchise and are the perfect choice. The opening song, "Chasing Hearts" by Miwa was nice on the ears, but it didn't seem to fit only because it sounded very happy and optimistic while the Wolfman chimera is jumping along the trains.  Kind of conflicting imagery, there....In terms of the film score, Wow! The opening composition that plays during the Harvest Festival (I think that's the name...it was a Something Festival) scene that first shows us Ed and Al, sounded absolutely lovely. It reminded me of some of the music I heard when I lived overseas. The film score was very well done and was effective at heightening emotional tension throughout the movie. I am a fan of Taro Iwashiro now and will look for more of his orchestral compositions. Based on the film's score, I give the music an Overall Grade: A+

FINAL GRADE (Totaled and averaged from above): B-.

WOULD I RECOMMEND? To fans, yes. And pretty much fans only.I think someone unfamiliar with the series would be lost. Although the film does a good job providing exposition for Ed's automail limbs and Al's missing body (the basis for the whole series) I don't think that this would be a complete enough introduction the world that is Fullmetal Alchemist. The newbie audience member would leave with too many questions, in my opinion. Leaving with questions isn't always a bad thing--you want to promote critical, serious thought with the art you've created--but I think they would not only wonder about the plot, but wonder about the mechanics of the FMA universe...as in, plausibility. The series explains the "rules" of alchemy and the "rules" of Amestrian society ok enough, but this film is only a quick peek into a region that bears no importance to the main continuity of the Fullmetal Alchemist saga.

I've heard that this is the last time anything FMA-related will be produced, since the manga has been completed and Brotherhood has finished. I'll be upset if FMA: SSM is indeed the last thing fans have to look forward to, but on its own, fans will be happy with it.

Source:
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. Dir. Kazuya Murata. By Yuichi Shinbo. Prod. Masahiko Minami. Perf. Vic Mignogna, Maxey Whitehead, Alexis Tipton (Eng. Dub). Funimation Entertainment, 2012. Film.