Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is a 64 episode adventure action anime, a remake of a very popular anime, featuring some very interesting sci-fi-esque themes of Alchemy. I normally struggle with long anime and avoid them, but having watched the first and enjoyed it, this is an exception. This review might as well be obsolete for various reasons, nonetheless I’ll go ahead with it as usual. I’m a bit confused as to the existence of this anime of course, while there have been anime remakes, usually the remakes are made at least a decade or so after the original version. Brotherhood released only 5/6 years after the original, so what could warrant a remake so soon? One word: manga. Of course I don’t read manga, but I know that the manga deviated from the main plotline of the original FMA quite a bit and added much more, so this is based on that. Needless to say, this is regarded as one of the best, (if not the best) anime of all time by many and even folks who normally don’t like or watch anime love this. So the question is why?
Being made in 2009, the animation of Brotherhood has no doubt improved vastly over the original due to time alone. The quality excels and I found it in juicy 1080p. In some scenes this upgrade in quality is very obvious and in a few other scenes the 1080p version looks no different from the 720p version. The outlines are very well defined with no strange fuzziness and I didn’t notice many visual artifacts, though quality dropped with distance rather noticeably, the style usually fixed this however. The backgrounds were well detailed and the colouration of the characters was solid. Most of all I was impressed by the motion. There are quite a lot of action scenes in this anime, the intro is one such example and boy does it flow so well and look so good. No skimping on framerate here!
The style remains the same style as the original FMA, which is a good thing. The FMA style is actually rather unique and one that some argue is unlike most other anime. Some folks have even said that FMA is the least ‘anime’ of all anime, which I don’t fully agree with, but I can understand why one would think that. The character designs are very distinctive, even characters that might seem familiar don’t have any look-alikes in anime. Of course with such a large cast, there eventually had to be an overlap, Trisha Elric and Chesca seem to have some more familiar designs. This anime also makes good use of simplification and facial expressions, it seems to have a trademark simple ‘icon’ for both of the main characters. This was also used in the original series. There is also the shot designs and use of camera angles, in earlier episodes I noticed purposeful splitting of the screen, showing two parts of the scene at the same time. I’d give more examples, but I must move on. The style mostly remains the same as the original bar some interesting new use of cinematography.
This being FMA, there is zero fan-service or ecchi and they seem to have improved it even more, as if that was possible. Winry’s design and dimensions are dynamic and actually much more appropriate because of it. There’s none of that strangely large cleavage we saw in one of the outro to the original. The character design of lust seems to be improved, she seems to be a bit sexier which is appreciated and rather fitting. ‘Hey but you said there’s no fan-service,’ I hear you but this isn’t fan-service, ecchi is depicted an altogether different manner with a different purpose. A sexy character is just a sexy character, no need to use panty shots and awkward camera angles to show it. And here’ I’ve gone off on a tangent on something has never been a part of the FMA series, thus I apologise.
Since a very long time, I’ve had the OST for this anime. It was one of the earliest ones I got and I did so after hearing one of the opening themes ‘Period’ by the band Chemistry on a YT video. Needless to say the music is supreme here, all of the intros/outro are pleasant and some are more awesome. The background music for the anime is also just as good, the sound design is on point. It’s a lot of orchestral pieces and some comedic tunes (heck I need to find out what it’s called or come up with a name for that musical genre) where appropriate. There’s a good mix of sound, which is appropriate for this anime.
This anime is available in both English and Japanese, but I will say that the English audio is more definitive for this anime for a variety of reasons. I’ll quickly get off my chest first that I loathe the voice of Rie Kugimiya, the Japanese voice of Alphonse Elric here and her voice is reason alone to put me off the Japanese version of some anime. It’s personal preference, I can’t help but associate her voice with some of my most hated anime characters (which she has voiced). The more legitimate reason is that both of the Elric brothers (who have female VAs in the Japanese version) sound much more genuine and believable in the English version, they sound a bit too young and ever so slightly feminine at times in the Japanese version (Al’s English VA is experienced in voicing male child characters and is thus pretty damn good at it). This is especially unsuitable for Edward who is a teenager and ages a bit too.
Another reason is that this anime has very little to do with Japan or Japanese culture, it’s almost the least ‘Japanese anime’ of all anime and I heard that from someone else (a person who claims to dislike anime in general) first. Most of the names are western names, with few exceptions for first names like ‘Izumi’ Curtiss, ‘Pinako’ Rockbell, ‘Yoki’ and such. Japanese voice actors have trouble with the Western names, heck the English voice actors do a decent job at pronouncing the more ‘Japanese’ names. Probably the biggest thing of all is that the anime seems very English oriented, there is no in-game Japanese text: the signs, letter and writing, it’s all English with the exception of a few ‘comic-book-style’ sound effects that use Kana. Which is a mark down actually, as this is an anime and not a manga, there is sound available for sound effects, visualisation of the sound effects is arguably unnecessary. That said, it does add to the visual style, but this anime isn’t going for a manga style (despite being a manga adaptation). Of course, the English voices are also just very good, Kent William’s voice was perfect for the narration sequences.
Funny thing is, when I started watched this I had a discussion with someone else who watched it in Japanese and preferred it Japanese. We had a nice conversation and we were tolerant and understanding of each other’s opinions. Strangely enough, they mentioned that they preferred the English for Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon (never watched it, never will), which might be a bit more suitable for Japanese IMO, but okay. Moral of the story is, don’t be a dick about your preferences and you might get something pleasant out of it, like a nice conversation about anime.
Since there’s an awful lot of characters, I won’t go into detail on the roles besides the two main ones. Edward Elric is voiced by Vic Mignogna, he voices Yukito Kunisaki/Sora in Air, Erd Gin in Attack on Titan, Broly in Dragon Ball Z, Edward Elric in the original FMA, Shigeru Aoba in Evangelion, Fay D. Flourite in Tsubasa Chronicle and Ryouta Iijima in Yumekui Merry. Alphonse Elric is voiced by Maxey Whitehead, she has voiced Czeslaw Meyer in Attack on Titan, Maki in Darker than Black, Antonio in Romeo X Juliet, Crona in Soul Eater and a few other characters. The other characters: Caitlin Glass as Winry Rockbell, Travis Willingham as Roy Mustang, Ed Blaylock as Fuhrer Bradley, J. Michael Tatum as Scar, Colleen Clinkenbeard as Riza Hawkeye/Rose Thomas, Christopher R. Sabat as Alex Louise Armstrong, Stephanie Young as Olivier Mira Armstrong, John Swaysey as Van Hohenheim, Mike Farland as Jean Havoc, Sonny Strait as Maes Hughes, Meredith Mauldin as Maria Ross, Kevin M. Connolly as Kain Fuery, Jeremy Inman as Heymans Breda, Kyle Herbert as Vato Falman, Laura Bailey as Lust, Chris Cason as Gluttony, Wendy Powell as Envy, Chris Patton/Troy Baker as Greed, Brittney Karbowski as Selim Bradley, Todd Haberkorn as Ling Yao, Trina Nishimura as Lan Fan, Kenny Green as Fu, Monica Rial as May Chang, Kent Williams as Narrator/Father, R. Bruce Elliot as Dr. Knox, Jerry Russell as Tim Marcoh, Jerry Jewell as Barry the Chopper… and I some of those folks reprise their roles from the original FMA. Goddamn there’s so many characters…
...Yeah, I don’t have the time or word limit to write about the vast number of characters here. I’ll summarise the changes and such for those who’ve watched the original.
Edward and Alphonse are the Elric Brothers, two brothers who committed the ultimate taboo of human alchemy, in an attempt to bring their mother back to life. Failure left Al without a body and Ed without his right arm and left leg. Since then, Edward has been able to perform Alchemy without a circle, by merely clapping his hands together. The two brothers are looking for the philosopher’s stone in an attempt to try and get their bodies back. The closest thing they have to family is their childhood friend Winry Rockbell and Pinako Rockbelle who took the boys in after their mother died. Ed hates their father for leaving them without saying a word and not being there for them in their time of need.
For the most part, most of these characters are the same as in the original 2003 anime. There have been quite a few omitted characters, due to plot, which I will list: Lyra, the original Sloth, the original Wrath, Dante and the Tringham (fake Elric) brothers. There are a whole lot of new characters here, including: the characters from Xing (Ling Yao, Lan Fan, Fu and May Chang), some military characters (the Chimeras, Dr. Knox, Lt. Gen. Raven), Alex Armstrong’s older sister Olivier Mira Armstrong and her soldiers at Briggs in the north, the new Homunculi (Sloth, kinda Pride and kinda Greed) and a whole lot of other characters. One of these new characters is also a major role and I’ve not listed due to spoilers.
One significant addition to the cast is General Olivier Mira Armstrong, the older sister of Alex Louise Armstrong. Not only does she hold a higher rank than her younger brother, she looks like a regular woman (like their younger sister Catherine Elle Armstrong) and her personality couldn’t be more the opposite to her brother’s. Olivier is a cold-hearted woman, who laughs in the face of adversity and her anger knows no bounds. She has trained her soldiers very well to the point where they can operate without her orders and she cares not for the politics of central, all she wants is to maintain Fort Briggs’s reputation (has never been captured) and prevent any northern invaders from getting into Amestris. While her brother is gentle and likes hugs, she wouldn’t hesitate to torture children or kill anyone who gets in her way. Like Mustang, she also desires power and the throne.
Onto some changed characters, some characters have a more pronounced role, including Barry the Chopper, Tim Marcoh, Yoki, Selim Bradley, while other characters have a reduced role, including my favourite Maes Hughes, Greed, Sheska (I thought her name was spelt Cesca?), Shou Tucker, Lust and a few others. In some cases, characters die much quicker or just die (that character didn’t die in the original) compared to the original.
Among the most changed characters are the Homunculi [SPOILERS for original FMA]. I will spoil the original since I’d expect folks to have watched it first. The Homunculi are no longer created by human alchemy, which explains why some of them are absent. Their creation is mostly unknown, though one method of Homunculus creation is shown. Tying into this, the homunculi require one thing (which I won’t spoil) in order to be created and they can devour each other to gain strength and powers. Thus they no longer have a weakness from their ‘remains.’ Some of the Homunculi have alternate forms, one of them even has 3 forms (the ‘real’ true form). The designations for the Homunculi have been changed a bit, especially as some of the original Homunculi don’t exist. Wrath and Pride are kinda switched, except a ‘new’ homunculus is designated Pride. Sloth is now a big brute. Perhaps most interesting of all is that to balance the lack of weakness, the Homunculi are no longer truly immortal and can be killed, albeit with extreme difficulty. I guess that’s better than being completely invincible. Of course the most plot-relevant change is their objective and where the allegiances of these homunculi lie, especially since Dante doesn’t exist. A bit of trivia, the original Wrath is now the ‘Truth’ figure at the gate of truth, even retaining the same voice actor.
The plot is set in a fictional world in the relatively young country of Amestris. Amestris is divided up into 5 large regions, each with their own main city named after the region itself: North, West, East, South and the capital Central. The recently annexed province of Ishval to the east of the country was the latest in a long line of war waged for the nation’s expansion. Amestris is a military state known for its unique science of Alchemy, said to have been brought by the country’s very founders from the east. This alchemy is very practical and militarised, talented alchemists can gain the title of State Alchemist, awarded an income of research funds and a military rank equivalent to Major. On the border of the country’s snowy and mountainous north is the giant nation of Drachma, held back by the infallible Fort Briggs, a massive wall blocking the only path into Amestris. To the south west lies the nation of Creta, Aerugo to the south and a vast desert to the east. The desert was once the prosperous and magnificent nation of Xerxes, which was said to have been mysteriously wiped out in a day. Beyond the desert lies the oriental land of imperial Xing (like real world China). The Xingese emperor rules over the 50 clans that compose the country, the daughter of each clan’s chief making up his 50 wives and each bearing a single heir. The heirs to these clans vie for the throne and wish to gain the emperor’s favour. Xing is known for their unique culture of martial fighters and medical equivalent of Alchemy known as Akahestry, knowledge of which originated from a golden man known as the western sage, many hundreds of years ago. Our story starts in the year 1914, where State Alchemist Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse are on the search for the elusive philosopher’s stone to regain their bodies.
That was just a taste of the entended lore that this remake version of FMA offers over the original, but its plot is not without its flaws. The first 15 or so episodes remain faithful to the original series, but the pace is sped up considerably and much is missed out, such as the events at Youswell. Granted much of the omissions were of filler content, the plot here remains strictly on track but after those episodes, the plot diverges from the original. At times things go unexplained, there seemed to be a few too many conveniences and contrivances, some events are rearranged and certain characters appear much earlier. As a fan of the original, I was initially disappointed.
But with very little filler and fast pace, the story quickly got to the interesting new content. After those early episodes, the plot shrugs off the original anime and goes off in its own direction. It remains on point, full of action, tension, twists and turns. At times it even appears to purposely hint at thing, which leads to viewers jumping to predictions. Except it isn’t predictable at all, it’s ingeniously written. Beyond the simple changes in story, we are given so much more background on a lot of events. These events include the origins of Hohenheim, the short time he spent with his family, the Ishval war, some background on characters like Mustang and Hawkeye and so much more like the geography of the country, to which I’ve given a taster above. The plot here is rich and improves much over the original. Among the few omissions was the historic real world parallel universe that was seen at the end of the original and in the sequel movie. Like the original, meaningful character deaths are present and with more characters… it can only mean more death, right?
The story goes more place than the original ever did, the Elric brother’s travels take them all over the country and it doesn’t just follow the Elric brothers. Various groups of characters are followed throughout for a more diverse plot, it feels almost like Game of Thrones in that regard. But best of all are my favourite plot-elements: foreshadowing and passage-of-time. The first is self-explanatory, earlier episodes refer to and give clues to later events. But the second mean that the story covers a long period of time. From the death of Trisha Elric in 1904, to the early block of episodes in 1914 and beyond, time passes. In the original, this was only evident by a few younger characters like Elicia Hughes. Here, we see the visual changes and aging of our main characters, Edward and Winry. Winry in particular can be seen going through the transition from child to adult and similarly with Ed. There’s even a period in the anime where a few months pass for things to occur.
Perhaps the best part of this anime was the end, even though it didn’t quite have the impact that the original did on me (I felt like the happiest man in the world, granted my current situation is not as pleasant as the setting in which I watched the original). Everything is wrapped up neatly, zero loose ends and little chance for a sequel given certain occurrences and how conclusive it was. Perhaps only one groups of characters are absent from the final wrap-up episode, but we at least hear about them. The final lasting image of the anime is one that is capable of putting a smile on the viewer’s face. And with this… I don’t know how on earth the 2011 movie will fit in?
There are so many big themes in this anime, I recommend checking out my review of the original for some extra. Perhaps most of all is the question of what it means to be human and the qualities we possess. It even asks about god itself, religious characters get questioned and there are similarities to real life. This anime can make people think. The Elric brother’s morality of murder is taken even further here. It didn’t quite have the final message about equivalent exchange like the original did, that message was lost, but it was still good.
As a fan of the original, I was initially disappointed by how fast it went and about all the things omitted in this remake, but this ended up growing on me and I realise why people like it better that the original. It has much more to offer, it’s more to the point and the story is more intense. Sure my favourite character didn’t get as much screen time, but the gain for that small loss was much more. This seems to me like an anime almost anyone can enjoy, thus I recommend it to all, even those people who don’t like anime. Though I do recommend you watch the original first. This is how a remake of something should be, the creators here, while admittedly keeping to the content of the manga, weren’t afraid to try something completely new with this setting, story and characters. This anime isn’t really a remake, it’s more of a reboot. And goddamn is it good, it manages to remain faithful to the original in many aspects while giving viewers something completely new. No need to worry about wasting time watching something you’ve already watched. This is a whole new anime compared to the 2003 original and I hope other anime try something similar with their remakes.
Family-friendliness Rating: 3/5 Absurd amounts of blood, violence and disturbing themes (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 10/10 (higher is better)