Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a re-inventing of the original series, done to accurately portray the plot of the original manga (something that FMA couldn't do because the manga was not yet complete). While the two series differ greatly in terms of plot, their basic premise is the same: Edward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers who open the 'portal of truth' in an attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their dead mother. But the toll of seeing the truth is harsh, Ed loses an arm and a leg, while his brother loses his entire body. With Ed's missing limbs replaced by mechanical 'auto-mail' ones and Al's soul confined to a hulking suit of armour the two set off on adventure that takes them across the globe in search of a cure for their afflictions. Ed uses his newly acquired status as a 'dog of the military' state alchemist to help them in their quest. Along the way they meet a host of unique characters and ultimately stumble onto a secret bigger than anyone could have imagined.
Story - 10/10 - Thought provoking, emotive and above all else, coherent
I approached Brotherhood having seen the original series some years ago and showering it with praise. The bluntest way to put my opinion on Brotherhood's plot?
I take back everything I said about the original series.
Brotherhood is much better developed in terms of plot. Things that the first series left unanswered are answered beautifully in Brotherhood which makes for a much more coherent storyline. The series is massive and some people (myself included) could be forgiven for thinking that some of it is filler episodes. Nope. Everything they show you is of importance and develops both the characters and the plot towards the final encounter, which was one of the most marvellous pieces in my opinion. For the record; the last 10-12 episodes all span across 24 hours in the story and make the complete finale. Best 5 hours of mylife that I've ever lost.
The plot itself is deep, thoughtful and very emotive (I'm not ashamed to admit, I cried a few times). Each character has their own little interlocking plotline and each one is carefully crafted, like a single thread in a great tapestry of human condition.
Animation - 9/10 - Great. Well choreographed fight scenes and gorgeous backdrops, but nothing that's exceptionally memorable.
I love the animation for this series because it's so crisp and fluid. The fight sequences flow effortlessly and the scenery evokes a gentle nostalgia for the early days. But that's about it. It's nice, but nothing to write home about.
Sound - 9/10 - The voice actors are in a league of their own, but funimation need to learn that not all anime is directed at kids.
I watched the funimation dub for most of Brotherhood, but have seen half of the subbed version too, and am pleased to say the dub is very good. The original voice cast has returned (with some notable exceptions) and have given another exemplary performance. But the English dub cuts out any hint of a curse word that was present in the original dub. Sorry guys, but this series deals with some really adult stuff, do you really think someone's going to stick this on for their toddler? I sure as hell wouldn't.
With that aside, the voice acting and scripting are great in both versions. Special props to Travis Willingham (English voice actor for Col Roy Mustang) for the most outstanding bit of voice work in ep 53.
Characters - 10/10 - The meat of a good story, and this story is very meaty.
Everyone knows that for a story to be good you have to identify with the characters in some way and with Brotherhood you can't help but identify with all of them, even the homunculi!
Ed and Al haven't changed masses from the original series, but Al's anguish is made much more apparent in Brotherhood and his character is allowed time to grow in a way that it never had before. Mustang and crew are all much more entertaining and lovable as they act out their own little schemes throughout the show and the cast of new characters (including Ling Yao) all make for a fantastic viewing experience. Even the homunculi getproper character development this time round which not only makes them more lovable (or hateable) but also provides a deep insight into them and the rest of the cast. they are the glue that binds the rest of the cast. There are lots of changes to characters (for the better but to save some time I will highlight a couple of my favourite characters from brotherhood and leave it at that.
Van Hohenheim - Ed and Al's estranged father (don't worry, no plot spoilers here) was an ass in the original series. Cold, detached and definitely not father of the year material, but they never explained why. He barely got any screen time and viewers were almost forced to sympathise with Ed's deep seated disdain towards him. In Brotherhood all of his nuances and apparent cruelties have a reason and Hohenheim gets enough screen time that you have the pleasure of seeing him as a human being as opposed to some dick that abandoned his family. For his plotline, character development and overall epic-ness, Hohenheim is my favourite character in Brotherhood.
And then there's Ling Yao. Initially I hated the guy. To begin with he's like putting your fist in a meat grinder whilst listening to Leona Lewis butchering your favourite 90's rock songs. But then he meets people, things happen and he grows up. I can't say more than that without spoiling a lot of really interesting plot points but I'll just advise, give him a chance - his interplay with one particular character later in the series is wonderful and makes up for all his idiotic moments.
Overall - 10/10 - A welcome and disconcerting examination of the human condition
FMA: Brotherhood is a story about people and their desires. But this isn't all fantasy, sure it's steampunk and we can't really do alchemy, but the stories and characters are grounded in reality and they evoke real emotions. The whole thing is based on the pursuit of desires that are out of reach; money, power, knowledge, immortality, love. It forces us to face ourselves and give up our true forms, our deepest desires and our darkest fears.
And what could be more poignant than that?