Japanese Title: Hagane no Renkinjutsushi (2009)
Related: Fullmetal Alchemist (alternative version)
Similar: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 64 episodes
- More Roy Mustang.
- Different enough to justify creation.
- Meaningful conflict.
- Great cast.
- High production values.
- Grander scale.
- Northern arc slows the pace and intrigue.
- Common plot lines done better in original.
If any series were to receive a remake, Fullmetal Alchemist would not be my first nomination. While the original had its flaws, it didn’t warrant a remake. Therefore, I figured Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was capitalising on a popular series; however, Brotherhood is far from a money grab.
Rather than repeat my sentiments, I suggest reading my original Fullmetal Alchemist review. Brotherhood’s essence is the same – brother alchemists Al and Edward Elric search for the means to restore their bodies after a transmutation to revive their mother turned disastrous. You can still expect a deep plot, complex characters, conflict that doesn’t talk down to children, and great lore. Brotherhood does not let the team down. Instead, I shall focus on the differences for those undecided on which series to watch first or if Brotherhood is worth your time in general.
FMA and Brotherhood both follow the same trajectory at first, so some story does repeat with each episode differing more than the last. Brotherhood diverges into entirely new territory at episode 15, which roughly equates to episode 34 of FMA. This does result in Brotherhood rushing the story they share in common – stories that had two episodes to explore detail, now have to get out of the way in one. The writers seem torn: “We want to get to the new stuff as soon as possible, but we have to show the old stuff for context, but we can get through it faster, but we must maintain quality!” For this reason, start with FMA if you intend to watch both, as Brotherhood will spoil two-thirds of the original. Brotherhood doesn’t adapt these arcs poorly, by any means, but there is no comparison to the original’s versions.
Furthermore, the comedic timing is off in Brotherhood for the same jokes – comedy breaks into serious moments when truly unwarranted, and Brotherhood gives away the incoming short joke by going into ‘comedic art’ mode ahead of time. It feels as though they didn’t know where to place the jokes with the change in plot tempo.
The other major change plot-wise to the original involves the homunculi (near-human constructs created by alchemy). The homunculi do not play as prominent a role this time, which is a shame, as they were best part of FMA’s villain side. But, of course, there wouldn’t be much point in Brotherhood if they kept all the same. While not as important, the homunculi are still an excellent element in the plot and the changes do bring several surprises.
Once the versions diverge, Brotherhood grows into a beast of its own. There is so much different and new that you won’t feel as though you are watching the same thing again. Brotherhood earns your time independently of FMA, increasing the scale by involving neighbouring nations and a dozen new characters. At first, Ling, the main character from the eastern nation of Xing is tedious – introduced him five episodes too early – but once he becomes relevant, he’s a great character. Shame the same can’t be said for the little girl May, another Xing resident. She’s always annoying.
While I welcome the eastern characters, they do bring alkahestry, an alternative to alchemy and garbage plot device. The writers forgot to explain it properly, as done with alchemy, and several minor deus ex machina moments make it an unwelcome addition. Alkahestry lacks the lore and well-planned nature of alchemy.
Brotherhood also falters around the middle with the northern story arc. Suddenly, the plot has no mystery, no intrigue. The villain plans aren’t just obvious, but revealed at the first possible moment and this isn’t a red herring either to surprise you with an alternate plan; no, the plan is exactly as they said at the start. The northern arc was the first time I willingly stopped watching for the day.
However, once the story clears that hump, it becomes excellent once more, making up for all past errors. Above all, Roy Mustang, one of anime’s best characters, has an incredible story arc throughout the series. The depths to which they plumb his character… Gives me chills thinking about it.
Brotherhood has more vulgarity and violence, shifting the target audience by a couple of years. In fact, in my original review, I noted how FMA is great for kids, but Brotherhood does include several episodes with heightened horror, which may frighten young viewers. Fair warning.
Overall, my favourite moments – barring the Roy arc – are in FMA; however, FMA also has greater flaws. Brotherhood’s overall package is superior – a satisfying ending goes a long way. And as far as any changes go, whether for better or worse, there would be no purpose in having the same series twice. Better to try something different and fail than to repeat, as Fullmetal Alchemist will always be there in its untouched state either way. How many stories can boast two excellent adaptations?
Art – High
Brotherhood’s art is similar to the original, but in HD and with a more polished finish. Softer shading transitions. I loved the pastel backgrounds; gives a more distinct look, which reminds me of Professor Layton.
Sound – Very High
Same great quality voice work. The cast is similar with a few changes. Alphonse is noticeably better. Great music that lives up to the original’s high standard.
Story – Very High
Two brothers seek the ultimate secret in alchemy to fix their past mistakes. After some common ground, Brotherhood diverges in story from FMA, for better and for worse. Still excellent overall.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch, even if you have seen Fullmetal Alchemist already. I recommend starting with the original, as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood will spoil the original, whereas the original won’t do the same for Brotherhood.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)