Fullmetal Alchemist Live Action Movie Review: Bringing Equivalent Exchange to Life

Overview:

Ed and Al are brother’s who have been studying alchemy when their mother dies unexpectedly. Determined to bring her back, they commit a taboo and in the process Al loses his body and Ed loses his arm and leg. Now a State Alchemist, Ed is determined to learn the secret of the philosopher’s stone and use it to restore his brother’s body.

Review – With spoilers for those who have never read or seen any adaptation of this story:

I must admit, one of my greatest fears going in to this movie was that they would actually try to fit the whole saga of FMA into a movie which was guaranteed to fail without any chance of redemption. Fortunately, this movie seems to understand it was an adaptation and decided on a sensible stopping point in the narrative to bring the movie to a close and also made some pretty solid choices on what to cut and what to keep in the story.

Admittedly, purists who want the source adhered to are going to hate it. There’s no Scar, the Fuhrer doesn’t appear at all, various actions and motives get attributed to the characters that were left in the story in order to fill some of the gaps left by the entire arcs that have literally been hacked out. But the end result is surprisingly okay. There’s a few bits of awkwardness, a couple of plot threads that people who aren’t familiar with the story are going to be puzzled over because they are just kind of floated out there and left dangling for a sequel, and the pacing isn’t spot on, but this definitely could have been worse.

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And that is probably going to be the mantra of this review. It could have been worse. That is hardly a glowing recommendation but I honestly found that I enjoyed this movie well enough, but at the same time, I’d rather watch the anime. Either version of the anime.

Taking this logically, I’m going to point out the first twenty minutes of this feel need to be redone. It is a horrible beginning and almost had me reaching for the remote the first time through, unsure if I could stomach watching the farce FMA had become. The second try watching was actually worse and I would have stopped it except that I remembered things got better. So what is wrong?

The child versions of Ed and Al are not good actors (let’s not talk about the hair, really, we’ll save that for the grown up version of Ed). They do not pull off the whole tragic backstory that was so incredibly hard hitting in the anime. And possibly even the director realised this given the aftermath of their attempt to bring their mother back to life is only told in a dream sequence by Ed where the older version of Ed stands in instead of child-form. It is completely illogical that older Ed would be there and yet so much better than what that scene would have looked like if the younger version had attempted that scene.

But actually, the bigger issue with the start of the movie is the action sequence. Yep, FMA is a shounen story through and through and it has some incredible and fantastical fight sequences. These were always going to be really hard to translate into live action and yet somehow I think they could have done better than this.

Whether it is the pained expressions on the actor’s faces, the poor trajectory of Ed’s leap off the roof (seriously, he did not land anywhere near where the landing shot showed him landing, that was incredibly badly cut), the very average CG, the poor attempt at inserting some of the slapstick humour into the story (which just resulted in me declaring the main character dead about ten minutes into the movie), or even Al’s dreadful attempt at pacifying the crowd and explaining alchemy in one of the clunkiest exposition dumps I’ve seen in recent memory… Just no.

Quite literally the only good thing to come out of the opening sequence is Al’s first appearance and that was entirely deflated because we had already seen that exact moment in a teaser trailer. That moments and reveal utterly powerless because we were just kind of waiting for exactly that to happen.

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Throw in the disappointment that came when I first saw Mustang (no, he did not live up to my impossibly high standards given he’s one of my all time favourite characters), and really the opening of this movie left me really wishing I’d decided not to bother.

By the end of the movie, I would re-evaluate that thought.

Mustang grew on me as the movie progressed and to be honest, while the actor never quite pulled off the nonchalant attitude Mustang usually has when not in combat, he certainly pulled off the final of this movie in the confrontation with the homunculus. He was every bit the Flame Alchemist I wanted to see in action. He delivered and to be honest the removal of the comedic Colonel wasn’t such a downside in this movie.

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However, there is no escaping discussing the appearances of the characters. While I know the reasons they chose an all Japanese cast, one has to wonder why they then decided that they had to stay true to the Elric’s being blonde. Would having a hair colour that didn’t look totally ridiculous on the actor really have been that difficult? Given all the other changes to the FMA universe, would we have been that upset by a dark haired protagonist? I’d like to say no. And given FMA isn’t set in Japan in the first place, if you wanted to keep them blonde then don’t use a Japanese actor. There is genuinely no escaping that Ed looks bad. The hair is the main culprit here with the plait looking completely detached from the rest of his hair most of the time and the whole time it just looks nasty (distractingly so).

And the costumes themselves, while faithful reproductions of what the characters wore in the anime (and possible the manga – never read it), they don’t look good in real life. All of the characters look like they escaped from a cosplay convention where a few minor modifications would have brought the outfits in line with the reality they were trying to construct. This is a case where slavishly trying to replicate something has resulted in an inferior product rather than giving this movie the look it deserved.

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Though, while still on appearances, they nailed Hughes, Lust and Envy (Gluttony, not so much – okay, not at all). Hughes particularly, though he had about four scenes, managed to be exactly the character he needed to. Similar enough to what we were familiar with and yet he made Hughes come alive in a way most of the other characters fail to do during most of the run time.

To get to more positives, I loved the attention on Ed’s feelings of guilt toward Al for the majority of the first half. While there were certainly other stories that could have taken the lime-light, this story managed to humanise the characters and it is a story that managed to play out in the time given. Some great choices in shots and the relationship between these brothers gets the spot light and it manages to hold up very well.

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However, that does come at the expense of Nina and Alexander’s moment which becomes more a moment for Ed and Al. I didn’t mind this too much given it fit the context of the film, but the anime definitely handled this particular story better.

I also really liked that they realised that in their short length of time the Homunculi couldn’t be these massively unkillable creatures where fights took up episodes. Sure, they were tough enough to be a threat but reasonably scaled down to be dealt with in the course of the movie and while we might all be sad if our favourites didn’t appear, or were killed off too quickly, I think this was a sensible choice.

So it is a mixed bag. There are some great choices here and some really good moments, and then there are some poor choices and less outstanding scenes. I think your enjoyment of this movie will come from whether you are willing to accept the compromises that were needed to bring the movie to life or not and whether you are willing to ignore the incredibly bad hair on so many of the characters.  It might seem like a petty complaint, but it is definitely distracting.

After a second watch through, I definitely know that I enjoyed this well enough, but if I want to see FMA again, I’ll watch the Brotherhood box set. However, will I watch a follow up movie to this? Probably.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Character Poses

Tuesday's Top 5

Pretty much every anime fan will admit that at some stage they definitely struck the pose of their favourite character (usually a fighter) in real life. There’s something very cool about character poses on screen and something utterly ridiculous about using them in real life and yet some cosplayers really pull it off. Today my top 5 includes 5 character poses I love seeing and am really glad that they are either parodied regularly in other anime or that cosplayers enjoy them too because it means endless streams of images to admire.

Please Note: There may be some spoilers below.

Honourable mention this week goes to Rika from Chuunibyou.

Number 5: Steins;Gate

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This one is fantastic but mostly because you can actually pull it off in real life without looking too ridiculous, which makes it a fairly safe pick for most people who while they would like more anime in their everyday life don’t want to have people start avoiding eye-contact with them. There are some more dramatic poses from Steins;Gate but the back to back in the lab coats is pretty classic.

Number 4: Soul Eater

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I’ll admit, Death the Kid with Patty and Liz is also pretty iconic but there is something insanely fun about taking on one of Maka’s stances and if you happen to have your scythe handy (or a broom stick or anything else really) you can really prepare to fight. Of course, the key to Maka’s look is not actually how she stands given other than the crouch it isn’t exactly the same each time, the key is in that piercing gaze. Nail that and it won’t matter how ridiculous you look.

Number 3: Evangelion

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The Gendo Pose. Probably doesn’t need much explanation and while it isn’t really a cosplayer favourite, it is an overly referenced and parodied look in anime. Plus, it is all kinds of fun to strike it in meetings when no one knows what you are doing. Even more fun if one person knows what you are doing and the rest are oblivious.

Number 2: Full Metal Alchemist

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I dare you to tell me you watched either version of Full Metal Alchemist and didn’t at one point in the month after the viewing clap your hands together when something broke or didn’t work. It may not be the coolest pose but once again it is all about the attitude while doing it. This isn’t a clap your hands if you believe in fairies moment.

Number 1: Sailor Moon

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I should probably attribute this one to the fact that I was significantly younger when I watched Sailor Moon but I most definitely spent more time than I will ever admit practicing and perfecting each of the Sailor Scout’s poses. And their attacks. And pretty much anything else to do with the show. Favourites were of course Jupiter and Mars for attacks. But very little beats Sailor Moon’s transformation stance and then her little monologue ending with “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you”.

Okay, time to spill. What is your favourite anime pose or which one will you admit to practicing in front of your TV?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Brothers

Tuesday's Top 5

We all know there are some terrible anime families out there, but every now and then a show finds a way to remind us that not every blood relative wants to abandon you, use you to destroy the world, or is on a vendetta to kill and destroy you. I’m dedicating this list to all the very cool brothers out there in the anime world and my criteria was simply that they had to actually look out for their sibling/s in some way.

Please Note: There will be some spoilers below.

Honourable mention this week to Byakuya from Bleach (admittedly, it took him awhile to warm up to the idea of saving Rukia but after that point he was a pretty good brother).

Number 5: Sora from No Game No Life

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Sora is an incredibly confident gamer who is absolutely certain of victory, but only so long as his sister, Shiro, is by his side. More importantly, he prioritizes her happiness and well-being at every turn and absolutely trusts in her abilities. While there relationship may be unhealthy in some respects, separating them leading to the both of them all but shutting down emotionally, you can’t doubt the love these siblings have for one another and how much Sora is willing to do to give Shiro exactly what she wants.

Number 4: Edward and Alphonse from Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood

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Oh, they are so cute. Seriously, these two are adorable as brothers even after one of them ends up as a soul attached to a suit of armour. Realistically these two could be put at number one on the list given everything they do is initially driven by Edward’s desire to ‘fix’ Alphonse but to be honest they get caught up in a lot of other stuff and even while the two will forever help each other out, both are aware there is more at stake. Still, utterly adorable.

Number 3: Lelouch from Code Geass

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I’ll be the first to admit that Lelouch’s family situation is complicated and not exactly nice, however his genuine love for his little sister Nunnally remains one of the touching cornerstones of Code Geass and is pretty much the only reason Lelouch shouldn’t just be written off as another egomaniacal character wanting to show off how smart he is. While I’m not entirely convinced that Lelouch ever really succeeded at ‘saving’ Nunnally, his determination to give her a better life was pretty admirable and he did end up shouldering an end that really shouldn’t have befallen him in order to spare her from having to take the responsibility.

Number 2: Touya from Cardcaptors

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Best big brother ever. Okay, maybe not given I put him in the second spot on the list, but he would still be an awesome brother to have. He doesn’t fall into the sickly sweet category as he certainly teases his little sister, as any self-respecting big brother would, but he never crosses the line into being mean and he most definitely always has his sister’s back even when she doesn’t know what he’s given up for her. This also carries over into Tsubasa Chronicles, though Touya has a much briefer role there.

Number 1: Komui Lee from D Gray Man

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While most of the time Komui acts like such an idiot it is hard to take him seriously as a character, it is important to remember that he gave up everything in his life to be with his sister and be her support. She was taken by the Dark Order because she could use Innocence and then she was pretty much on a self-destructive path and perfectly happy to die until Komui gave up whatever future he’d been heading towards to work for the Order to be with her. While casual observers think he’s the sister obsessed one, it is more that he knows how important his presence is for his sister and it really is the case that she’s the one who is a bit obsessed. Whenever you remember those scenes where we see Komui join the order to care for her, it makes so much of his character more tolerable and makes him my very favourite anime brother.

Over to you, who would you have included on your list of anime brothers?


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Friday’s Feature: What Genre Is That?

As kids, when we first start watching anime, we kind of get the impression it is all giant robots and lots and lots of fighting (or magical girls, which are much the same except that they’ll hit you with sparkly hearts instead of a sword and the results will be more or less identical). For me, growing up with Sailor Moon and the like, that is what anime was and while it was cool and all, I probably wouldn’t have become the obsessed anime fan I am today except that there is so much more to anime than that.

As the internet actually became functional for watching videos (believe me if you didn’t grow up being introduced to dial up where waiting for even a single page of text to load was torture you have no idea how painful it was to try to watch or access anything else and even after dial up was a thing of the past slow internet speeds continued to be a major problem for access in Australia) there came the realisation that there were all these other types of anime out there. Suddenly, anime wasn’t just the beat ’em up amusement for when you felt like turning your brain off but was something that could be explored and where stories of all sorts could be found.

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Genre list from AnimeLab.

And that’s where this feature actually gets started because realising that anime wasn’t just about kids beating monsters meant that you then had to say more than just watching anime. You were watching a shounen or a mecha or a romance or a myriad of other types of anime. And then you get those series that you just can’t explain what genre they are at all.

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Let’s look at Angel Beats. I love this anime even if it makes me cry every single time I watch it; even if it is deliberately contrived to pull on your heart strings. So it’s a drama then? Not really. Certainly there are dramatic elements and the conclusion of the series would have you believe it is a drama or a romance but the show itself deals out healthy doses of comedy, action, slice of life, and fantasy. To simply call it a drama would not really get the point across at all and anyone who started watching it expecting a drama would probably hate it by episode 2 because the first two episodes deal very much with the comedy and fantasy elements of the show.

Now mixed genres are certainly not exclusive to anime stories. Many movies and books cross several genres particularly romances. The number of hybrid genres that have become mainstream such as romantic-comedy, historical-romance, and supernatural-romance are clear indicators that while romance is indeed a big genre people tend to prefer their romance paired with something else these days. It helps keep things interesting and moving.

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If we were to look at a show like Full Metal Alchemist defining genre becomes really difficult. MAL lists it as an action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, magic, military, shounen. And yes, all of those genre elements are there. But what genre is Full Metal Alchemist? If we were going to file it somewhere under a genre title which one would we choose? I’d probably go with adventure given the whole thing follows the journey of the main characters but you could legitimately choose any of the other genres listed there and justify why FMA should be there.

So the question becomes, does genre matter? Why classify things if they are going to cross between genres and incorporate other elements?

From my point of view I think it is because regardless of the window dressing, stories tend to follow set patterns and that pattern is embedded within a genre. That is why Angel Beats ultimately is a drama and Full Metal Alchemist ultimately is an adventure story at least from my point of view and I fully accept that other people will classify them differently. Despite the comedy and all the other elements that come in to create subplots, excitement, or just fill time, these stories when broken down follow patterns that we are very familiar with. It is this adherence to basic story patterns that makes something mixed genre rather than just a mess of ideas that may or may not come together into something comprehensible.

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One thing I’m fairly certain of is that we’re going to see more and more stories (anime or otherwise) that will push the boundary of the genre they are in and draw on elements of other genres. Whether they do this well will remain to be seen.

What are your thoughts on genre in anime?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Female Characters with Blonde Hair

Tuesday's Top 5

This was a seriously hard list to narrow down and even then I’m still torn over some of the decisions. The issue is unlike with red-heads and the blue-haired ladies, there are so many different types of blonde characters that it gets hard to decide who your favourite is. I did finally make a decision and unfortunately that mean some really excellent characters got the chop (as well as a lot of cliché ones). As always, feel free to tell me your favourites in the comments below.

And for patrons there is my lesser top 5 list. This week I just went with blonde girls who irritate me to no end.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions go to: Lucy (Fairy Tail), Serena (Sailor Moon), Annie (Attack on Titan) and Lizzy (Black Butler).

Number 5: Triela from Gunslinger Girl

Triela is my choice for being both tragic and incredibly amazing. ALl of the girls in Gunslinger Girl are tragic characters. Suffering sever injuries before being brought back more machine than girl and then being trained to be a killer. While Triela is the oldest of the girls, she also goes through a lot and she’s one of my favourite characters from the show as we see more of her involved in direct combat than some of the other characters. Determined and deadly, this blonde character means business.

Number 4: Amber from Darker Than Black

Amber is a bit of an enigma because she’s only really in flashbacks until the second half and even then she is in and out of the show. That said, I like her character. She plays everything very casually even while she’s probably the only character with the full picture of what is really going on. And she makes some really hard choices and pays the price for them. While I still feel she might have clued some of the other characters in a bit earlier, she has sound reasoning for her actions in the end and she seems to genuinely respect Hei’s final decision in the series. Amber, for taking on everyone and doing it with a smile, you have taken the fourth position on this list.

Number 3: Riza Hawkeye from Full Metal Alchemist

What’s not to love about Riza no matter which version of Full Metal Alchemist you are watching? She likes dogs, she’s the only one who can really deal with Colonel Mustang, she’s a crack shot, and she’s a hard worker. Add to that she’s also a voice of reason and logic and occasionally a motherly figure to the younger characters, and she’s just all kinds of amazing. If I ever do a best supporting character list, Riza is going to be on it.

Number 2: Utau Hoshina from Shugo Chara

She’s an idol with not one, but two guardian characters that take the form of an angel and a devil. Early on in the series, Utau works against our protagonists and only uses Iru (the devil guardian). Later on she accepts Eru (the angel) and she begins building herself up from scratch as an idol and a person. Other than her brother complex, Utau is a fascinating character and a good rival for Amu early in the series. She’s also pretty awesome as an idol even if she does use her powers for evil early on. As a character, Utau experiences the best growth and development in this series.

Number 1: Maka Albarn from Soul Eater

It had to be Maka. She’s one of my all time favourite characters and she’s just plain awesome. She hits the books, fights with a scythe, and is still a genuinely nice person who is able to make a real connection with Crona who is need of human contact. Unlike so many heroes, Maka isn’t just strong because she is. She’s actually probably the weakest in the group we follow, but she is an incredibly hard worker and very determined to succeed. Even Maka going crazy is highly entertaining.  Oh, and don’t make her mad when she’s carrying a book or you will get hit with the dread Maka chop.

And that’s my list this week. As I said at the start, feel free to add your own suggestions to the list in the comments below and let me know what you think of my selections.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Annoying Anime Tropes

Tuesday's Top 5

While we all know that there are some clichés in anime that just won’t go away (girl running to school with toast in mouth, guy falling on girl and hand accidentally landing…) we all have to admit there are some tropes that we just wish would disappear. This is my list of the 5 common tropes that annoy me and I’d love to hear yours in the comments. No criteria this week other than personal annoyance.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions to weird shot types, dense MC’s, pretty much anything from a harem anime, and the skinny guy that can eat the entire pantry bare.

Number 5: The School Idol or Prince

I don’t know if this is a cultural thing or whether this is an anime thing, but having an entire school of girls fawning over one guy to the point where they make pacts and sign agreements not to date him or speak with him unless there is someone else there just strikes me as ridiculous. It’s impossible to take this character seriously or any of the fan club for that matter. What really surprises me is how many anime this comes up in. While highschool based animes aren’t my favourites the few I can think of instantly are Kazehaya (Kimi ni Tadoke), Yuki (Fruits Basket), Kuran Kaname (Vampire Knight), and even Rem (Dance with Devils)

Number 4: Characters having lengthy discussions about their attack techniques mid-battle

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You know what, we get that your power is awesome and amazing and that we may not quite get exactly what you are doing without the explanation but, I’m kind of certain no winning strategy in history involved giving a detailed description of your power to the enemy. This is an ongoing annoyance for me in anime as it seems like if the audience had to know how that power worked we probably should have prior to the battle, and if it wasn’t that important all that dialogue is doing is slowing down the pace. Bleach is my main example of this one but honestly, I really would like to gag some characters in some of the fight sequences I’ve watched.

Number 3: The stuttered confession

I get that being too direct in Japanese is kind of rude but why are so many characters unable to express how they feel when they are alone with the person they like. Seriously? From Edward in Full Metal Alchemist, Kadoka in Haganai, to Tomoe in Kamisama Kiss, these characters avoid, use pretext, out right run-away, or divert the issue rather than just give or receive a straight confession. Not to mention the slew of girls running around with love letters that never get delivered or are pushed into shoe lockers to be detonated (Full Metal Panic style).

Number 2: The club is going to get shut down

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Oh the horror. We might have to join another club or find somewhere else to hang out because if we don’t have X members by X date we’ll lose our room. While in a slice of life or comedy anime this is all well and good as something to get the characters moving it is hardly sufficient conflict to build an entire show around. Equally irritating is the we want to start a club but we don’t have enough members. While we’re at it, why do so many clubs seem to not actually follow their purpose and just have students hanging out?

Number 1: The protagonist wins the fight because they are the protagonist

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I know that this is true of all stories and not just anime but when the protagonist pulls out a deus ex machina mid-fight it really kind of kills any reason to care about any of the events up until that point. If they had this mysterious power or ability why didn’t they use it earlier?  I know that some anime try to give their protagonists reasons for being unkillable overpowered fighting machines but really this is a bit of a contrivance and sometimes could be avoided just by showing the character build up to that point or maybe making the villain just a little less unkillable. While I don’t normally throw rocks at SAO this is probably my biggest complaint about the first arc. Yeah, they foreshadow that the game is a game and therefore is subject to cheats and that the human spirit might be able to overcome some of the limitations but I don’t think that justifies not dying when your health bar runs out. However, Kirito is not alone in the list or protagonists who really should have just dropped dead mid-battle.

So that’s my list of annoying anime tropes. The thing is, an anime could have some or all of these tropes and still be fairly entertaining to watch. Just having a cliché doesn’t mean that the entire story is derivative or dull. However, sometimes anime leans just a little to heavily on these tropes to fill in for actual character development or plot and that’s when it become a touch annoying.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Character Quirks

Tuesday's Top 5

Okay, if you are looking for quirky characters, anime has you covered. However, there are some characters who just have one specific trait that in some ways ends up defining them. This is my list of favourite quirks that complement the other features of the character, fit into the narrative being told, and still manage to stand out and be remembered. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Baldo from Black Butler for cooking with explosives, Fuko from Clannad for carving starfish, Isana Yashiro from K for his umbrella, Lita from Sailor Moon for her constant falling in love, and Himemiko from Kamisama Kiss for clacking her teeth together.

Number 5: Nice Holystone from Baccano

Despite her name, Nice is definitely an explosives junky which ultimately caused the disfiguring accident she had as a kid. Did that in any way curb her enthusiasm for things that go boom? Not remotely. When things get bad, Nice always has a supply of noisy helpers and a big smile on her face.

Number 4: Io Otonashi from Acchi Kocchi

In a show full of one trick and quirky characters it is amazing that I remember Io so vividly, sitting as his desk and spinning his pen. It’s probably just how impressive he is at spinning it that makes it stick but that image really defines his character for me.

Number 3: Saki Hanajima from Fruits Basket

I don’t know if this one is ever explained in the manga, but in the anime, Saki spends a lot of time reading people’s waves. She senses something odd about the Soma’s, knows when people are sad, and generally scares the living daylights out of anyone who is mean to Tohru. At times this is invaluable as Saki is a hard worker in the background ensuring that Tohru is able to enjoy her high school life.

Number 2: Gray Fullbuster from Fairy Tail

Once again, the show is full of quirky characters with a whole array of interesting character traits, but Gray and his stripping down to his underwear is what stuck with me. He was definitely one of my favourite characters and it makes perfect sense that an ice mage wouldn’t be worried about the cold. The fact that this is usually subconscious until someone points out to him that he’s stripped is just funny (as is the back story as to how he developed this trait). And yes, the joke is overplayed, but still funny.

Number 1: Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist

Edward takes being offended by comments about his height to a whole new level. To the point where he actually insults himself and his height far more than any other character in the show. It’s absurd and hilarious. It also adds a bit of reality to his character. He is just a kid and he’s having to face issues far above his emotional maturity and deal with the world of adults. Having a few of these very childish traits (he also hates milk) really just rounds out his character.

So what are some of your favourite character quirks?