Japanese Title: Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
Related: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa (sequel – included in review)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (alternative version)
Similar: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 51 episodes, 1 hr. 45 min. movie
- A deep narrative that challenges its complex characters, hero or villain.
- Alchemy lore.
- Subtle commentary.
- Packed with great humour.
- Impactful conflict.
- The subsequent movie doesn’t live up to the series.
A deep narrative. Twists and turns. Complex characters. Darkness. Humour. Engaging conflict. Coherent lore. And a few further trace details. These are the ingredients that transmute into making a great anime. If artists expect a viewer’s full attention, they must give art worthy of that attention. That is the law of equivalent art exchange. Fullmetal Alchemist makes that exchange.
After a failed attempt at resurrecting their dead mother, alchemist brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric seek the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate power in alchemy, to restore Edward’s arm and leg and Al’s lost body, taken as sacrifice in the forbidden transmutation. On their journey, they will face darkness the likes of which they could not imagine, the horrors of their ignorant actions. A lost limb or two won’t compare to what else must balance on the line to complete their quest.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a rare anime. Rarely does one find a story aimed at children that doesn’t sugar-coat reality, that holds nothing back and expects more of its young audience as Harry Potter had done. FMA weaves commentary on consequence, gullibility, war, racism, and responsibility in a story that would make many parents cover their children’s eyes. However, children need to see the likes of FMA, they need to be challenged, to have their worldview taken beyond the confines of the homely bubble – hell, many adults could do with the same. A wish to revive the dead does not make it a reality; a life of dreams and desires means nothing without an execution in reality.
Edward and Al’s journey mirrors that of children who have been coddled for too long. They start as naïve, ignorant, with an unworthy belief in their own abilities, but once reality strikes, they realise how small a cog they are in life’s machine. They must draw from every corner of knowledge to gain the wisdom necessary to become a larger cog.
FMA’s key in being perfect for children is in its balance between dark and light. FMA goes to dark – very dark – places, but there is always a moment of light awaiting the heroes in the end. This reward, however, never comes freely; they must earn the right to happiness and relaxation, a lesson few learn in childhood. Well-timed humour offsets FMA’s dark moments, broad-appeal humour at that, so no matter the age, one can find enjoyment. Edward’s ire at being called short got me every time and Major Hughes, obsessed with sharing pictures of his daughter at the most inappropriate moments, had me in pain. I think, “No, he’s not going to pull out the picture. Not this time. The moment is too inappropriate…” Then he does it and I double over.
The lore is also a core source of engagement. The alchemy is complex with much thought put into it. FMA takes place in a pre-WW2 Europe where alchemy rather than chemistry held the answers to the universe in Newton’s time, but it still has rules. It isn’t so magical that an alchemist can create anything at will. Something in, something equal out – the law of equivalent exchange.
Comparing the alchemy and our science, one can see the equivalent rules translated to the former from the latter. They use alchemy circles akin to equations to trigger a transmutation. Even genesplicing plays a part in the form of Chimeras, abominable fusions between multiple creatures. An undercurrent of ethics permeates every facet of alchemy, as in our science. Another parallel is religion, which plays a part in the conflict against science. The deadly sins perform a prominent role, as does religious hypocrisy and gullibility, all at different levels of strength, whether villainous or kind.
FMA’s only significant flaw lies in the concluding movie. The movie, whose idea was most interesting, loses the depth of quality from the series, too focused on the action rather than the characters. I loved the idea they were going for, but the narrative didn’t seem fleshed out, almost thrown together to have something there. It’s not bad, but after the series, it is a drop in quality. Furthermore, the series stops at a fine ending.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a page-turner. It accomplishes more in its fifty-one episodes than other shounen reach in three hundred episodes – six hundred if talking Dragon Ball Z. Share this anime with your kids, your nieces, your nephews, anyone, really. It’s a true gem of fiction.
Art – High
Sharp art. The alchemy effects are awesome. Great character design; they look memorable, unique, and practical.
Sound – Very High
Sub or dub both greatly performed to an excellent script. Great European influence for the soundtrack.
Story – Very High
Two alchemist brothers search for the means to correct the errors of their past. A dark, funny, complex, and character-driven story – all-around excellent.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Essential to every anime library. Fullmetal Alchemist is a great place to start if new to the anime medium.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)