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Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hagane no Renkinjutsushi (2009)

 

Related: Fullmetal Alchemist (alternative version)

Similar: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Orphen

Baccano!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 64 episodes

 

Positives:

  • More Roy Mustang.
  • Different enough to justify creation.
  • Meaningful conflict.
  • Great cast.
  • High production values.
  • Grander scale.

Negatives:

  • Alkahestry.
  • 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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Fullmetal Alchemist – Anime Review

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

Orphen

Baccano!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 51 episodes, 1 hr. 45 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • A deep narrative that challenges its complex characters, hero or villain.
  • Alchemy lore.
  • Subtle commentary.
  • Packed with great humour.
  • Impactful conflict.
  • Soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • 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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicHilariousHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None