The king is dead. Long live the king!
I never imagined saying that about one of my tops in a span of less than 10 years, much less for a remake. Yet life is full of surprises and behold, I now have this ranking exactly where the previous version stood.
If you happen to be paying attention to remakes, you may notice that most of the times they feel inferior to the original series. The feeling of excitement is not there because you already know the story. Yet, in this situation we had not JUST a remake but a far more close to identical adaptation to the source material, which is of course a manga. You see, the first series was made when the story was still mid-way and thus had to resolve to an original timeline, which ended up having no relation to the manga. Not a bad thing if it’s done right. It could always stop when it covered all the material at the time, or it could turn to the usual solution all milking fighting shounen run off to at the drop of a hat. Killers Fillers, the dreadful monsters that murdered Rurouni Kenshin, Inu Yasha, D Grey Man and turned all the others from Viagra to sleeping pills. Well, the first series wasn’t that purist but all things considered it had a pacing than made all action/adventure anime up to that moment to look like retarded snails crawling on our faces, covering us with disgusting saliva and still claiming to be entertaining.
Anyways, if I could describe the main differences between FMA (henceforth A) and FMAB (henceforth B) those would be that the later has much faster pacing and an overall more complicating and engrossing story that ends in a far more solid way. The opposition will of course claim that going faster meant for many events to feel rushed and without the dark and depressing feeling of the first. Also, the whole remake felt to them too bright, humorous, and cheery, with the ending being far less symbolical and exciting. This is based purely on personal tastes, since I considered many of the weaker episodes of the first to be without replay value and the original ending confusing and contradictory as hell. So I leave it all to you to decide which version you prefer; I am personally in favor of this one for sticking to the original and not confusing or contradicting anything.
ART & SOUND SECTIONS: 8/10 (A gets 9 for being more detailed in artwork and having more memorable songs)
Art Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 2/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
Sound Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
The production values were great in A and still are in B. High amount of detail and fluidity, with very well drawn backgrounds and character figures and a rather high amount of well-made cinematics as atmosphere building. There are some sloppy scenes with lots of still frames and the SD slapstick moments may feel overdone. Also the backgrounds and the characters are in various cases rather run down, simplistic, done with low quality filters or in overall with less attention than in A. But these are not damaging the whole that much. Also, the way all modern anime are made today I am even willing to consider the complete lack of erotic humor and nude to be a major plus too. Almost everyone is drawn handsomely and there is a token loli and mascot critter for the mainstream fans but even those are still not presented as a freaking brothel that distracts you from the actual story and character immersion. Banzai! Also, the series blends in various cultures and nationalities and yet it does not feel disjoined as it usually does in anime that throw in ideas at random. There is uniformity and a good excuse for everything looking the way they do. Voice acting and music score remain amazingly good although I will never whistle to their tunes.
STORY SECTION: 9/10 (A gets 7 for the incomplete story and the annoying fillers)
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 2/2, Complexity 2/2, Plausibility 2/2, Conclusion 1/2
Imagine you, wanting to go get a beer from the fridge. How much time would it take to do that? Assuming you are not living in a huge villa, tied to a pole and/or all doors and windows are locked, it would take around 5 seconds. Now imagine Frieza telling you that your beer will explode in 5 minutes yet 5 hours later, the beer is still intact. Time flows slowly in anime and not only because the characters can’t shut their traps for a change. Fillers, dragging, looping, flashbacks, internal dialogues and a million different excuses to make you incapable of drinking a simple can of beer in less than 24 episodes. B dared to skip all that crap and go straight to the point. You want a freaking beer? You freaking get it in the same episode.
That aside, the actual story is ingenious and really full of deep shit you would never expect in an average show. I know most anime are full of interesting ideas and concepts but very few actually manage to do something with them. Most just throw them in as extra shock value and poor excuses to show off as smart or mature… and do a sappy job with them. Beats me what the fuss was all about in anime like The book of Bantorra or Karas. The main story is about finding a magic trinket to gain back lost body parts and even resurrect the dead. But as the story goes on, it is no longer about that. It is about the meaning of life itself in a way and how each one pursues happiness or perfection in his own personal way. It’s not a unique premise; it’s like that in other series like One Piece for example. But over there the objective is unseen and impersonal to the point of not caring about it after awhile. Plus, it reached a gazillion episodes and no exposition of what the hell is going on with it was shown. No more!
Moving along, almost everything in this series is excused. Yes, it’s a series where people use magic to turn water to wine and dirt to spears; yet the inner workings of such a thing are excused to a basic level of understanding. They even offer some scientific explanations to excuse it even further. So, when Ed uses alchemy to soften the diamond-hard shield of an enemy he makes sure to explain how carbon works to make that possible and not the DBZ type of excuse “My Power Level is bigger than yours”. Furthermore, although alchemy looks in practice a lot like chakras and jutsus in Naruto, the superpowers are never overused to a point where a character is defined only by his special move. Plus, there is actual strategy in battles here, unlike there where 99% of the so called tactics is making clones of you and exchanging places with a log. And yes, they do tend to talk and explain a lot during battles but I wasn’t annoyed that much by it.
Finally, there are various side stories and they are all resolved in the end. No open endings or half-baked solutions, like in most series or even the A itself. All of which in far less than 600 episodes, most of which are dead time. So yeah, it is a masterful work that is glitched at some points by the way the plot may or may not move too fast or too slow and the emotional impact on you may or may not be as strong as it should have… or whatever.
Many viewers complained how B goes much faster than A and loses a lot of the emotional impact the old series had. I won’t deny this but it still dwarfs the fact of not having fillers popping every now and then. No matter which episode you watch, you actually see progress that does not fit in a single sentence (using a hundred “and” is a cheap move; does not count). In a few words, the pacing of B may feel too fast (or too slow if you so much want to bitch at it no matter what) at times but it is done in a way to both tell the story and offer time for immersion without allowing you to stroll around the house waiting for something to happen. Fans of the old series still find it less exciting and seem to miss the simple fact that the effective duration of B is far closer to 100% that that of A. And I happen to prefer the term “faster” to the term “half-dead”.
Also, even though I love even the original timeline A went for, I must admit it was full of unexplained motivations. Why couldn’t the homunculi leader (in A it was a woman) make the philosopher stone herself the second time? Why did she kill all those looking for it when in fact she wanted it to be made? What did the homunculi want? How would they turn human again? Why did they keep their human remains around if it was killing them? And stuff like that…
Finally many disliked the ending as they found it too normal and simple. Well I am sorry for not seeing Al throwing galaxies to Father, who has created an 11-dimensional black hole, and most of the cast being dead, and a huge naked girl in space is looking down, or something crazy like that. The themes were fine, the resolution was reasonable and the final battle was long and exciting. Not being epicly epical epic epicness in terms of explosions is not a minus. Although A’s twist was far more imaginative, it was also far more contradictory to its onw in-laws and I got to dislike it for that.
Oh and by the way, I keep receiving these feedbacks about having the story too high at marks because I compare it only with shounen series. Well, with what should I compare it too? The Iliad or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms? It’s an action/adventure anime and it’s the best in overall in this regard. Giving it any less for following the tropes of the genre (in a very good way I must say) is like blaming a comedy for making me laugh. Yes, it’s less serious than Legend of Galactic Heroes and people in it clap hands and shit changes to chocolate mousse. As I said, the inner workings of all that are well excused and the effective duration is close to perfect, so let it be already.
CHARACTER SECTION: 10/10 (A gets 8 for the unclear motivations of the villains and the addition of useless filler characters)
Analysis: Presence 2/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 2/2, Development 2/2, Catharsis 2/2
I will tell you something that is not a secret or anything, yet very few seem to be aware of. A good character is not only about good looks. You get tired of that pretty fast. It doesn’t take more than a few years for a pretty chick in some anime to lose its appeal by the next pretty chick that comes out in a newer series. You hear than Queen’s Blade?
It is more about an interesting personality; it is harder to get over a colorful persona. But eventually even that happens one day anyway. Sorry Lina Inverse; it’s not my fault you are so flat in more areas than your chest.
That is when you look for truly memorable characters. Those who have a goal they strive to achieve and progress towards it. Now, the word progress is something most have a really wrong image about. Son Goku gets blond, oh look, he is now different. Uzumaki Naruto changes a blouse after four years, oh look, he has changed a lot.
…Bullshit; they are the exact same people as before. They didn’t get smarter, wiser, or more careful in their actions.
So this is what makes FMA cast so great. They all mature as characters. From the most superficial detail such as changing clothes, down to the core, like personal impressions of something, goals in life and deep stuff like that. In a span of merely ten episodes you get so much progress that most series out there can’t even see with binoculars and neon light arrows flashing above the target. So the FMA cast has all the elements of a great cast. You like pretty boys and girls? Sure, lots of those. Do they have quirky behaviors? You bet! Do they mature, grow older, wiser, smarter? Uh-huh! Do they have variety in all that or are they all slight variations of one another? Nobody is the same! Did most of them appear out of thin air? Nah, they all have backdrops excusing their place in the story. And do they all get their issues resolved at the end? Yup! Code Geass air-filled sex dolls, eat my dust; lol.
Self-realization is very powerful for most and that can lead to some very emotionally powerful moments. Not to mention how many of the cast is actually killed and never returns back to life with some shmuck way. This is in fact a core difference with the older series, where even the dead could return to life as easy as peanuts. Over here, if you are dead there is no Jesus raising from the grave. They may yearn for it all the time but it never happens. That is what makes this version a far more mature and solid one. Oh, as for a certain event that took place towards the end, it doesn’t count as ressurection if someone’s life force is sucked for a few seconds before it returns to him and he is fine again.
Another thing is how even small fries end up affecting the story. It usually is about the powerful few protagonists doing all the hard work as the rest of the world just eats pop-corn and watches them fight. Well no sir, not here. In this story even the meekest of characters actually does something. They may not all have an army behind their backs, super laser beams to level those who oppose or Geass eyes to convince others of how cool they are. Yet they actually do something! From digging trenches to stall the enemy, to secretly gathering information about his weakness, to even taking up arms when they can’t take this shit any longer. Heck, the villains themselves need to resolve to deception all the time exactly because they know they can’t just openly terrorize them no matter how powerful they are. Now THIS is what I call an interesting all-round cast. Marvelous! Nothing alike that parade of cardboards that is Bleach or Naruto.
I will not deny that some characters like Envy and Sloth were far more detailed and colorful in A, but B can easily counter this by having double as many characters, most of which also develop on their own, while leaving aside all the filler characters that offered nothing more to it.
VALUE SECTION: 10/10 (A gets 9 for not being so awesome anymore)
Analysis: Historical Value 3/3, Rewatchability 3/3, Memorability 4/4
I admit that it had boring parts or was partially not as emotional as the first series. It is still almost entirely captivating and a fine example of how great action/adventures should be made… in less than 600 episodes. It is almost a crime not to place this in the top adventures of all times. Replay value is very high, as there are so many events and character motives that there is no way to remember them all in one go. Plus, it will show how awesomely planned out every event was made to be since the beginning. It is nothing alike the average shounen out there, brimming with fillers, dragging, ass-pulling and random power-up panaceas. If Dragonball created the golden formula of a successful shounen series, then FMA transmutated it into a marvelous crown, full of jewels and decorations, fit only for itself and those rare few who can only hope to mimic half of its glory.
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10 (A gets 8 for all the reasons stated above)
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 1/2, Story 3/3, Characters 4/4
Another thing for all you shallow people out there. I admit that there are far fewer memorable events in this anime than in most other shounen. I can recall a hundred events exactly as they happened in Naruto and only a few dozen in FMA. This does not mean FMA is less cool for not helping you to remember everything down to the last detail. It’s just that it is so complicating at times and doesn’t focus entirely on the rule of cool, thus most of its events pass by you because they are not too simplistic or too over the top. Although most people find it easier to memorize something when it’s way too extreme or dumb simplistic, this does not mean it is better. In the contrary, it is so dumb, it is worse. FMA is more elaboate and requires more brain power to recall its events. Plus, it is not about whose power was cooler or how did he perform it. The action part is of secondary importance. So before you start to nag for how it doesn’t have so many memorable scenes as your average crappy shounen, please consider first if the reason is because it is a more mature and elaborate show that requires from you to THINK a little tiny whiny bit more.
VERDICT: B: 9/10, A: 8.5 [/spoiler]
As for you deceived fans of the first version who refuse to accept this as superior, I only say you didn’t like it as much because you already knew the story by now and had read the rest of it in the manga, while conveniently filtering out from your mind all the fillers and nonsense that the older one had.