When I first heard that a new series of Fullmetal Alchemist was to hit our screens in spring 2009, I admit that I approached it with trepidation. I loved the 2002 version, thought it ended well and, after believing the film had ruined it somewhat, I was praying that a second season wouldn’t besmirch the franchise any further. When I learned that this new anime was a re-telling that actually sticks to the manga’s plot, I was suddenly much more interested.
While initially it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly comparing the first Fullmetal Alchemist with Brotherhood, when it really picks up, those thoughts soon disappear. Although the earlier part of the series speeds ahead at double the pace of 2002 – putting into ten episodes what FMA draws out for twenty-five – the plotline itself is far from hurried. Instead, Brotherhood finds the perfect balance of action-packed instalments with slower sections to develop the narrative. Certainly, the Nina arc in 2002 feels more fully fleshed-out, twice as disturbing, and far more heartbreaking, and yes, in contrast it seems rushed in this new incarnation. So, while I missed that chance to cry like a little girl, in the grand scheme of things that one event becomes much less important than everything else that follows, and it would have been to the detriment of later events had that arc been stretched out any longer.
However, what really gets your knickers wet with excitement is the developing narrative and its accompanying action. The show chops out all of the extraneous fluff (albeit good fluff) that the first series had and not only links together the individual plot threads, but expands its scope to cover more of Amestris’ territory and beyond, thus developing the world further and emphasising the horrific threat posed by the homunculi. Alongside this comes an assortment of arse-kickingly awesome fights. Brotherhood doesn’t hold back and really packs its punches with far more brutal violence than its predecessor. Blood splatters from every direction, people get impaled, sliced, shot in the head, and burned to a crisp – all in gloriously animated detail. While not excessively gory or sadistic, this unsubdued approach to fighting makes each battle all the more exciting to watch, while adding a contextual sense of realism. This all results in a story that feels so damn epic you’ll be watching episodes in the thirties thinking that it can’t get any better… until you get to the forties… and then the fifties…
My only minor quibbles with Brotherhood’s plot stem from two things. Firstly comes the somewhat unnecessary re-cap with Hohenheim sitting around a fire re-counting the various events thus far in episode twenty seven. Such episodes generally feel rather pointless (unless the audience is particularly dense or the narrative ridiculously convoluted), but aside from that, they also ruin the show’s pacing. Secondly, is that due to skipping the Youswell coalmines arc, Yoki’s presence seems somewhat downplayed. While the incident receives vague explanation in the form of flashback, and sure he’s not a major character, it would have been better to dedicate an episode to this arc and make more sense of his existence within the plot – heck, it would have been a much better use of twenty-four minutes than the summary.
Brotherhood must have had a rather large production budget, as the animation is sumptuous and at times literally breathtaking. Smooth movement and nicely detailed backgrounds complete with an almost painterly texture effect make the series truly pleasurable to watch. When it comes to action sequences, there are no cutting corners with cheesy action lines, or ‘epic still shotz of awesomez’. No, instead Ed, Al and the gang jump, hop, and dash across the screen with a veritable eyegasm of dust clouds at every rock fall and sparks flying as metal clashes against (full) metal.
In the same manner as the rest of the visuals, Bones does a glorious job of animating blood. One particularly striking shot shows a tear falling onto a drop of the carmine liquid on Lin’s cheek, and the subtlety showing the two fluids merge, with the crimson tone watering down ever so slightly, is simply dazzling. From jets projecting themselves across the screen as characters are slashed by swords, to a large pool gradually oozing from beneath a fallen corpse, as much care has gone into these details as into Ed’s rapid fighting movements.
Accompanying the beautiful animation and kick-ass plotline comes a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack with brass notes through to softer string melodies reflecting the series’ wide variety of moods. While choral tracks – courtesy of the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir – enhance the haunting nature or dramatic revelations of certain scenes, tribal tones add an extra pace to busier action sequences to fully round out an altogether stunning soundtrack.
Brotherhood’s voice actors provide superb performances all around with each seiyuu capturing their character’s personality and mood exceptionally well. Sure I could knock off a mark for cheesy commercial bumper guy whose annoying voice belts out ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ week after week, but it’d be like saying the best day of your life was ruined by having to take a leak at lunchtime.
Fullmetal Alchemist has always boasted two of the strongest protagonists in any anime or manga. Ed has a lot of the stereotypical heroic qualities, such as immense power, a hot head and a rash attitude, which could work against him, except he counteracts these with visible weaknesses. He tries to act tough but gives in to fear and despair, and he has a very short fuse when it comes to his height complex – something that not only highlights his imperfections, but also provides a lot of the comedic content. On top of this, the fullmetal boy goes on a massive learning curve as he finds out the truth behind everything he thought he knew, maturing with each new and horrific revelation. He doesn’t glorify or try to skip over his past actions; instead he attempts to atone for his sins without having others pay for his mistake, all of which makes him more compelling to watch than a vapid hero vowing to save the world.
In the same vein, Al could easily fall into the trap of becoming “the nice one”; he’s generous, kind, patient and likes small animals – doesn’t sound too interesting when you put it like that, does he? However, he has one massive metallic reason for avoiding this pitfall: his lack of physical body. Spending his life as a soul in an empty suit of armour gives the young boy a melancholy that makes him so much more intriguing. Suddenly, all of his positive attributes seem brave, and if he does break down, or show weakness or anger, it becomes all the more powerful.
While Ed and Al could carry the story themselves, the show’s supporting characters prove just as memorable as its protagonists. For an anime boasting such a large overall cast, Brotherhood develops its varied individuals exceptionally well; in particular, the fact that the Elric brothers aren’t the only heroes certainly helps this. A lot of the biggest battles are either joint efforts, with multiple allies ganging up on their foe, or permits one of the secondary characters to momentarily claim the limelight for themselves. With multi-faceted personalities, no one feels flat, dull, or a waste of the space they take up on screen. Allowing for plenty of evolution in both its protagonists and antagonists, the series accords reasonable motive behind everyone’s actions, which ultimately makes the audience care and certain deaths all the more poignant – whether through genuine upset (and full on gushing waterfalls of tears) at a fatality or the shock that you actually feel a upset at a bad guy’s demise.
I’d love nothing more than to just yell “WATCH IT, WATCH IT NOW! STOP SCRATCHING YOUR BUTT AND PRESS PLAY!” over and over for a thirteen hundred words, but as a reviewer, you must try to suppress your inner fanboy/fangirl for fear of over-rating a show purely because you love it. As such, dishing out a high overall score is not an easy undertaking, but Brotherhood genuinely deserves this praise. Overall, it provides a little over twenty-five and a half hours worth of pant-wettingly epic entertainment. With a gripping plot, consistently glorious animation, a beautiful and befitting orchestral soundtrack, and a full, well-rounded cast, this anime remains one of the best series that I have seen to date, and I’m pretty certain that it’ll be a long time before I see anything this good again.
The foundation of alchemy is based on the law of equivalent exchange; you cannot produce something from nothing. As such, alchemy is bound by one taboo - human transmutation. Four years ago two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, broke this taboo when they tried to resurrect their dead mother. During the process Al's body disintegrated and Ed lost his leg. In a desperate attempt to prevent his brother from disappearing completely, Ed sacrificed one of his arms so he could affix Al's soul to a suit of armor. When his missing limbs are replaced by auto mail parts, Ed bears the name of the Fullmetal Alchemist - the youngest ever State Alchemist and dog of the military. Now, alongside his brother, Ed uses his status within the military to attempt to find any way that he can return their bodies back to their original state.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.