Fullmetal Alchemist is a well known anime about a fantasy universe where alchemy is real. It actually tackles a lot of serious issues, while providing a story about 2 brothers trying to fix their past mistakes.
I could write an entire essay on why this anime is good, but I'll put it simply. I'm not one to be hyped up by other's expectations. This anime is among the most popular but I went in feeling cynical as usual. I wouldn't have watched this if it wasn't 50 episodes as I have trouble watching long anime series. I almost gave up at ~45 episodes (not because of the anime itself) but the fact I was so close to end and the great story kept me going. After just a few episodes I realised that this anime is worth the praise its gotten. This has everything, comedy, action, sci-fi fantasy, seriousness and even heartwrenching sad moments. Dare I use realistic to describe this anime?
The story is very good, its not a simple good guy vs bad guy story and there are reasonable twists and turns. It initially takes a while to get going but even then the start has a lot of backstory. The ending was good IMO and even if you aren't satisfied, the very faithful movie sequel ties up all loose ends.
Animation was decent, nothing amazing, nothing terrible. I'm happy to say ecchi is pretty much non-existent, though they try to have a go with the Phantom Thief episode. It looks pretty cool TBH and for the time, the animation was up there.
The music during the anime itself is very good, getting the right moods with some epic sounds. Due to this anime being 50 episodes it has 4 intros/outros. The music in these are amazing. I got the soundtrack after watching this because I couldn't live without the awesome music. The voiceovers are also great and the english dub is done surprisingly well. A few odd people tend to find Alphonse's voice annoying but I liked it.
Characters are awesome. Again, like the story the characters aren't simple good/evil human beings, they make mistakes and have their motives. Even the antagonist(s) have some backstory/reasoning allowing the viewer to understand why they behave the way they do. Among my favourites were Maes Hughs *salute* and Roy Mustang who is a well fleshed out character.
One aspect of this anime that I enjoyed immensely was the subtext. It makes you think about various important topics like war, crime, killing, scientific progress, the value of life, the list just goes on. Despite going into this with a cynical mindset this anime is a must-watch for anyone who like anime, especially when followed up by the sequel movie: Conqueror of Shamballa. Definitely among my top 5 favourite anime of all time, if not the top 3. I look forward to eventually watching FMA: Brotherhood, I've heard its just as good.
Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 Overall the characters are modest with a few exceptions like the Phantom Theif and some characters with large breasts (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 10/10 (higher is better)
Full Metal Alchemist is an up and coming anime that is causing a lot of buzz. Its mix of historical and fastasy elements are creatively combined to appeal to those from all genres. While it is a longer anime (51 episodes), very few of the episodes should be missed because of the anime's progressive nature. Everything in this anime, no matter how confusing, adds up to deliver something different, crazy, and unique.
Set in the early 1900s in a modern world where Alchemy developed as the primary science, the story focuses on two brothers: Edward (Ed) and Alphonse (Al) Elric. After an alchemy accident in which Ed lost his arm and his leg and Al lost his body, the two brothers set out in search of the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary object that will restore the two brothers to their original bodies. Along the way, they meet a collection of characters who help them or hinder them on their quest for the Stone: the boy's childhood friend, Winry Rockbell; Auntie Pinako, Winry's grandmother; Roy Mustang, a colonel in the army; a collection of demons called Homonculus, and a mysterious man named Scar. Most of the episodes focus on Ed and Al in their quest, but others focus on Mustang and other members of the army and the origins of the Homonculus.
Grade: A. The characters are popular, and many have elicited their own 'fan clubs' - particularly Ed and Roy. The series ends on a happy note, despite the fact that some of the loose aends never get tied up properly.
Full Metal's art does a good job of making sure to change with the characters - i.e., if the character grows up, they are drawn to look older. It manages to stay true to the art in the manga, a mix of cartoon outbursts and free-flowing art that fits well with the story. Each of the explosions, transformations, and fights are all well drawn and well coreographed.
Grade: B+. While the art is reflective of the nature of the anime, it's something we've seen before, but still appreciate. If you really like Hiromu Arakawa's art, there are two Full Metal Alchemist artbooks that are very cute and give additional insights about character designs. :-)
The music for Full Metal is a mix of catchy pop and rock songs along with classical instrumentals. Many of the main themes in Full Metal carry a classical connotation (many using a choir for vocal) that is remniscent of composers popular in turn of the century Europe, while others have a bouncy, pop nature that reflects the happy moments in the anime.
Grade: B+. The music isn't necessarily unique, but it has a sort of mass appeal that listeners enjoy.
While the anime can be depressing, it posesses enough charisma to keep viewers enthralled in its magic. As action animes go, it is more on the flashy side with regards to its explotions and transformations, but it keeps the viewer entertained. Though it moves slowly at times, the anime moves fast enough to keep the viewer on their toes. It possesses a number of elements that elicit attention, particularly in relevance to the story line. It's a great anime for fans of other action animes like Rurouni Kenshin and Bleach and for those with an interest in history. There is also a movie that comes after the anime, which helps to wrap up the series (sort of - the attempt to wrap up the loose ends from the series is overshot), along with a few OVAs that explore a different side of the storyline. There is also a second series called Full Metal Alchemist:Brotherhood that is airing right now that more closely follows the plotline of the manga.
When it comes to this show, it seems the only way to not compare it to Brotherhood is to not watch Brotherhood. It seems like most people want to pick a side between the original and Brotherhood. A lot of people actually originally told me just to watch Brotherhood, but I felt the need to watch both and compare. I'm really glad I did, because honestly, rather than pick one or the other, I wish I could pick and choose elements of both and Frankenstein together my own cut of these shows. So I'm going to both try to review it as its own entity while also comparing and contrasting to Brotherhood.
The story is that of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elrich, who live in a world of alchemy. Seemingly abandoned by their father, the two boys live with their mother and become promising young alchemists by studying their father's alchemy books. When their mother is stricken dead by an illness they try to use alchemy to bring her back, something strictly forbidden. Not only do they fail, but Edward loses his arm and leg, and nearly his brother, who he able to save at the last minute by bonding his body to a suit of armor. Edward, now with a mechanical arm and leg, known as automail in the show, sets out with his brother on a quest to regain Alphonse's body, doing whatever he can to achieve his goal.
Let's just get this out of the way: yes, the ending is awful. The manga wasn't finished, and rather than go on hiatus and wait or something that might have made sense, the anime took creative liberties and branch the story into it's own ending. Unfortunately, it seems that the writing team they had were incredible at interpreting the manga, but awful at coming up with their own ideas. I could probably rant on this for days, but instead I'll say that there is This Blog Post that I think effectively covers everything I could say in great detail, and leaves me with very little to add.
All of that being said, I actually preferred FMA over Brotherhood up until the plot deviation. Sure, it may have been a little grimdark, but it told each story in more detail and gave more life to each character. It was a little slower, but to me, Brotherhood moved too fast, feeling like a recap that just wanted to get us to the story split in 13 episodes. And it's possible that was the point. Just remind people and highlight the differences (some people who lived longer die sooner, some people who died quickly lived longer...) before going all in on the new aspects of the story. And that's fine, some people probably wouldn't want to watch all that detail again. But as a first time watcher, I honestly feel I would have been thrown off by how quickly plots were resolved. I'll say FMA probably had more filler, but I felt invested and interested in the filler; the early filler at least.
The whole story is also dealt with in a darker tone, whereas Brotherhood seems to havea lot more comic relief and an overall lighter tone. However, the story itself is pretty dark, and although Brotherhood also works, I felt the darker tone of FMA was to its advantage.
The biggest problem with the animation is probably the fact that Brotherhood is so well detailed. Don't get me wrong, FMA has great animation, but Brotherhood is amazing. That said, I preferred the darker tones of FMA. Brotherhood seemed to have lighter colors to match its lighter story tones.
Discussing the dub: I'm not going to lie, when this show first aired, I avoided it because I hated Alphonse's voice actor. As I've grown to appreciate the show, I've come around, but it used to just drive me insane. I know it's supposed to be a younger child, but he just sounds somehow both whiney and wooden to me. After a little getting used to, I'm ok with it, but it could still be better. Otherwise, I can't think of any bad performances off the top of my head, and the background music is always good and fitting. The soundtrack is wonderful. I'll admit that I skipped the themes enough that I don't remember them though.
Throughout the first half of the show, all of the characters developed wonderfully. As I said before, the slower pace than Brotherhood really let you connect to the characters. Even the villains often had a story that made you at least understand where they were coming from. I know some people might disagree. When I talked about how sad the Hughes death was, I had a friend say, wait until you see it in Brotherhood. Well, I did see it, and with less character development, I felt less invested. I'd argue that without knowing him from all the screen time in FMA, it wouldn't have been as powerful. The same goes with the Tucker story. Although I prefer him dying in Brotherhood over becoming a somewhat shitty character later in FMA, I liked the detail in the FMA story. I'm not saying slow is always better, but the attention to detail in the early show didn't seem to drag at all.
While Brotherhood definitely gets better as it goes, FMA was better early on. And although it really dropped the ball at the end, I prefer the early FMA's tone and story detail to the almost recap feeling of Brotherhood's first season. It's hard to say whether or not I recommend all of it, when the ending is so lame, and Brotherhood was so necessary to fix it, but I without question recommend at least up until Dante's introduction to prime yourself for Brotherhood.
The very first thing I can say about this anime is that its strongest foundation is its cast of characters that exhibit its multiple themes in relation to the concepts behind the story whether basic ones such as brotherly bond, or bigger issues such as ethnic cleansing, or crazy cults that make scientology look good. I feel that the bond that Ed and Al share is something that everybody can connect and relate to, especially if you have your own sibling(s). I felt their relationship does more than enough to exhibit a majority of its distinguishing qualities, as well as the other supporting cast members and their motivations and relationship to Ed and Al.
At times, I did question what defines Ed’s idealistic views beyond just brotherly love. Despite his status in this anime as a teenage military officer, there are many times you can admire his stance on certain moral issues some people can think are simple and/or complicated, but during those moments, you do wonder what does motivate him to feel that way. Is it because of his age that gives him that kind of way to view things? Or is it because of his experience? Sometimes I felt it couldn’t have been a combination of both. To give some elaboration, I just thought that his mentality at times, even at the most idealistic of moments was just him being a naïve kid who has yet to fully grow up, or was it really because how he has faced so much adversity to give him that much hope. I felt Al despite being Ed’s primary motivation also serves as an excellent foil to Ed whenever he got out of hand. In a way, I feel those who are the younger sibling can relate to him. A lot of us know how bossy older siblings can be just because they’re older, and I think Al and his relationship with Ed does a great job of portraying this relationship in a realistic way, and yet so comedic at times.
Before I give some conclusion to what I felt about the story and characters, by the laws of equivalent exchange, I feel I do need to point out a flaw in conjunction to my praise until now, and which I will give again at the conclusion of the story and character part of this review. And that of course is that it at some point it loses track from the original manga source material which has inspired the April 2009 installment. Upon buying the DVDs, I started reading the manga with it. If there was one thing that upset me between the differences between the two mediums, it was definitely the handling of Barry the Butcher in the anime. This will be a spoiler, so skim to the next paragraph. What I liked in the original manga is that he was simply that sadistic soul in the crazy armor acting stupid. In the anime, he is given a different, but elaborate back-story in which he kidnaps Winry and Ed. I mean, the guy freaks Ed out to the point that he seemed to pee his pants and I felt it kind of cheapened that moment that Ed was scared for his life during their initial encounter in the anime. When Barry was reduced to being a comic relief character, I felt those moments in the anime were kind of ruined for me, and I felt it was the only time the comedy didn't feel right. I guess this is what happens when you adapt an anime from a manga in which there was limited material at the time.
Now that I mentioned the comedy aspect, what I also found unique about this anime was how it combines a dark story with some lighthearted comedy, especially with Armstrong who reminds me of Gai-sensei from Naruto, and the never ending jokes about Ed’s height. Despite my criticism of the anime handling of Barry the Butcher, it’s very rare to see this combination pulled off so effectively by still keeping a consistent tone in any medium whether American or Japanese animation, or even live action. I feel it does a great job that it can appeal to just about anybody who is either new or strongly familiar with anime.
The character design, specifically the faces, I’ll just call very fan art friendly. It’s basic and simple, but yet very distinct. What helps define that distinction first is the costume and clothing designs. I felt they were very appropriate for the time period it takes place in and compliments the frame of the characters. I really thought the design of Al was quite original, especially in use. It appropriately makes him unassuming and I like how the beads in his eyes convey that he’s an innocent soul thanks to the support of the voice acting (in both English AND Japanese) which I will elaborate later. The special effects are top notch, and the action sequences are timed and coordinated excellently. It’s easy to follow, and still elaborate. I like how it combines martial arts and the alchemy attacks. I like how this anime redefines the shounen energy action sequences to something more directly scientific and not over the top such as FF7: AC, or as technical as Rurouni Kenshin. The city designs are breath taking and I like how all kinds of environments are portrayed. In addition to old cities, you also got rural villages, forests, deserts, ghetto slums in which our heroes will explore.
The Japanese and English tracks are equally excellent. I feel this is one of those animes where you can watch it in Japanese for one episode, and watch it in English, or you can simply exclusively watch it in one language or another. I feel the English and Japanese respective actors for Ed and Al had perfect chemistry, and really brought out the qualities of them as individuals. I felt that Paku Romi and Vic Mignona did an excellent job of making Ed sound mature, idealistic, and appropriately childish and stubborn. While Kugimiya Rie and Aaron Dismuke accurately capture Al by being that eternal and yet mature child who always shows concern for Ed. It’s hard to believe that he played the role at 12 years of age, the same age as Al. He’s far more talented than a majority of dubs I’ve ever seen in my lifetime of watching anime. The anime in both Japanese and English overall share an all star cast of the best talent you can find.
The soundtrack is also an undeniable quality. The first two opening themes are performed by Porno Graffiti and L’arc~en~ciel, who also did the two opening themes to GTO. But their style to the songs they contributed to this anime brings a much different flavor from what those two bands contributed to GTO. For Melissa performed by Porno Graffiti, in comparison to Hitori no Yoru, the 2nd opening theme of GTO, it feels much more relaxing and laid back, but yet the imagery along with the song gives an adventurous and mysterious feel to it. I also somewhat feel the same about Ready Steady Go, the 2nd opening theme by L’Arc at some capacity as well. The last opening theme is Rewrite by Asian Kung Fu Generation, in which many of you may know as the singers of Haruka Kanata in Naruto. They also bring that hard and loud style to this song and reflects more on the action orientated nature. The background music is more generally grand and orchestrated and accurately reflects the mood and atmosphere of the moment.
Like I said before, I feel this anime can be watched by just about anybody whether you’re not just new or familiar with anime, maybe you don’t have to be an anime fan to appreciate its universal qualities and themes. I feel that the characters are people we can relate to for pretty much every reason possible.I feel by watching this anime, by the laws of equivalent exchange, you'll get something inspiring out of it.