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Originally published Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos': anime film for fans

A movie review of "Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos," the latest feature-length chapter in the anime franchise. Its settings are marvels of pure imagination, but as the convoluted plot progresses, it becomes a derivative mashup of elements from steampunk, the "Star Wars" saga, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the "Harry Potter" series.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos,' with the voices of Romi Park, Rie Kugimiya, Maaya Sakamoto, Toshiyuki Morikawa. Directed by Kazuya Murata, from a screenplay by Yuichi Shinpo. 110 minutes. Not rated; contains bloody violence and intense action. Grand Illusion.

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If you've been following the "Fullmetal Alchemist" franchise in comic books (manga) or on film and TV, then don't hesitate to check out "Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos." Not a fan? Don't bother.

The "FMA" manga launched in 2001 and sold 50 million copies before publication ceased in 2010. The first season of its TV series lasted for 51 episodes in 2003. In 2009, the second season ("FMA: Brotherhood") spanned 64 episodes and still repeats on the Cartoon Network. It's now one of the most popular anime franchises of all time.

I've always found anime franchises to be a mixed blessing. By necessity, the animation quality is cheap and economical, so these franchises are best appreciated as factory-made entertainments for devoted fans. Their styles rarely vary, but despite these shortcomings they're almost always impressive as works of pure imagination, and "FMA: The Sacred Star of Milos" is no exception. If this were a lavish, live-action special-effects extravaganza, it could easily give Hollywood blockbusters a run for their money.

Picking up where "Brotherhood" left off, "Sacred Star" offers no orientation for the uninitiated. While searching for the Philosopher's Stone (aka the Sacred Star) that will restore them to fully human form, the technologically enhanced Elric brothers, Ed (the Fullmetal Alchemist) and Al (who's been "transmuted" into a robot body), are drawn into conflict as a slave race called the Milos stages a rebellion against their oppressors. A young Milos alchemist, Julia, is determined to use the Sacred Star's awesome but corrupting power to restore her people to their former glory.

As dueling alchemists, snarling chimera, "Black Bat" terrorists and our underdog heroes engage in battle, "The Sacred Star of Milos" turns into a lavishly designed but hopelessly convoluted mashup of elements from steampunk, the "Star Wars" saga, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the "Harry Potter" series. The particulars may vary, and the visuals are frequently dazzling, but the plot's almost completely derivative. At some point you have to ask: When are fantasy fans going to tire of heroes and villains throwing bolts of energy at each other? Give it a rest already!

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