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Friday, November 10, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (300th Review Special Part 2 of 2)

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Alchemy has the power to transform anything. Depending on the skill of the alchemist, nothing is impossible. Yet there are things humans should leave in the hands of Gods. For to see the Truth, there’s no telling what one must sacrifice.

Believing they could achieve the unthinkable, two brothers attempt to resurrect their mother. Though gifted in alchemy, Edward and Alphonse Elric (voiced by Romi Park and Rie Kugimiya) underestimated the gravity of what they were trying to do.

Their transmutation goes wrong. In the process, Edward loses his left leg. While Alphonse loses his entire body. To rescue his brother at the cost of his right arm, Edward transfers Alphonse’s soul into an empty suit of armor. From that fateful day, the weight of their sin has haunted the boys. Despite that, they are determined to restore their bodies.

They learn of an artifact that can ignore the fundamental principles of alchemy; the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. Yet to obtain such an item, the brothers need access to a limitless supply of knowledge and resources. A privilege that is only given to the controversial State Alchemists.

Undeterred, Edward manages to become the youngest State Alchemist in history. Through his exploits, he soon earns the title of the Fullmetal Alchemist.

However, the Elric brothers can’t afford to be arrogant. The secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone are deep. To recover what they lost, Edward and Alphonse much face the darkest aspects of humanity.

Series Positives

We’re moving right along with this 300th Review Special. Granted, if you’re counting, this is the 301st. That doesn’t have same the kind of ring, does it?.

Before saying more, we need to organize ourselves. We have two series carrying the Fullmetal Alchemist banner. No point getting confused along the way. From here on out, whenever I say Fullmetal I’ll be refereeing to the original 2003 series. Thus, whenever I say Brotherhood, I’ll be talking about, well, Brotherhood. Not the hardest code to crack, but there you are.

Going into Brotherhood, I was interested. Though, it’d be closer to the truth to say I was excited. I had been looking forward to this series for a long time. As I said in the last review, I had seen some of Fullmetal many years ago. Not the case with Brotherhood. I didn’t know anything going in. Other than, you know, the entirety of the events of Fullmetal.

Both these shows came from the same source material. In case you don’t know, Brotherhood isn’t a sequel. It is the second anime based on of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. I was aware of this and it made me worried. Not about potential quality. That would be a separate issue. I was instead concerned about engagement.

When starting this series, I thought to myself, “this could be amazing”. If anything, it had to be at least that. Otherwise, were Brotherhood’s chances squandered even before episode one? I had already seen this story. I knew what was going to happen. What surprises could there be?

Yet I also knew there was a chance I was overblowing this issue. Part of what had me so interested in Brotherhood was it being a near one to one adaptation of the manga. Now, I’ve never read the manga, so I can’t vouge for the validity of that. Although before, and now after, watching this series, I’ve no reason to doubt that assertion. Except, sixty-four episodes ago, I didn’t see how this could matter.

Even if Brotherhood is the more faithful series, Fullmetal came from the same place nonetheless. Things may have shifted. I expected as much. Still, the original show would serve as a guide. I mean, how different could these two really be?

Well, let me put it this way. If Brotherhood is the one to one manga to anime conversion it claims to be, Fullmetal is almost unrecognizable. The first series didn’t just make a few changes. Major plot points, key characters, the fundamental understanding of how this world worked was different. Many aspects of Fullmetal I consider pivotal and once thought had to be from the source, simply weren’t.

It’s kind of astonishing to think both shows are Fullmetal Alchemist. Almost every aspect changed. Sure, characters had the same names. Sure, there was some overlap in events. Yes, alchemy was a thing that existed. All that’s irrelevant. Vodka and water look the same. But their differences aren’t subtle. You’re going to know one is not the other the moment you take a taste.

This is not a rant. I don’t want this to come off as a negative for either show. Particularly for Fullmetal. Nor do I want to insinuate a given positive. Particularly for Brotherhood. These two series may differ in many ways, but that’s all there is to it.

I don’t blame Fullmetal for going in the direction it did. Look at the release dates. The original series’ final episode came two years after the manga started. The manga would then go on for another six years after that. Brotherhood, on the other hand, aired at the end of the manga’s run. I’ll go out on a limb and say series creator, Hiromu Arakawa, had a pretty solid idea where her story would conclude.

How you want to determine Fullmetal’s worth as an adaptation I’ll leave to you. I’m more than happy to see the original series for what it was. By that I mean it was very good. I stand by what I wrote in the last review. I cannot recommend that show any higher.

That said, Brotherhood was much, much better. It’s not even a contest. This show was awesome.


Sixty-four episodes is a lot. And it doesn’t feel like I watched that many. This series flew by. A big surprise was how much faster Brotherhood was compared to Fullmetal. Odd since Brotherhood is the longer of the two.

There was a scene that existed in both series. I’m not going to go into specific, spoiler-filled details, but it’s a perfect illustration of the power of tone. Right off the bat, I want to say this scene succeeded in both shows. Fullmetal and Brotherhood got the job done for their respective stories. With that in mind, you tell me which sounds more efficient.

The scene in question came around the midway mark of Fullmetal. It was a turning point of that series. Again, this moment was effective. In fact, this is a moment I’ve remembered, in detail, since I first saw it on Adult Swim in 2005.

When this scene came up in Brotherhood, I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have guessed, but this version was even stronger than the first series’. It was more impactful. The fallout from it resonated throughout the rest of the story. It meant a lot more. Except that wasn’t where my surprise came from. I was more surprised this scene happened ten episodes in and not halfway through.

How does this happen? How does a story which spent more time getting to a certain point be not as good as the story that spent less time? To answer that we need to consider what happened before these scenes. As well as the respective tones of both shows.

Fullmetal revelled in darkness. There were plenty of instances that produced a sense of foreboding and dread. Fullmetal wasn’t averse to having fun, but its strategy for development rested on tragedy. A strategy that was a resounding success. The original was a brilliant character story. On more than one occasion, the original flirted with becoming a straight up horror series.

There was another scene from Fullmetal in which I had forgotten how disturbing it was. I, of course, won’t mention what happened. Although I do want to give credit to the episode. Night of the Chimera’s Cry was not fun. Yet it was brilliant in how haunting it was.

Also, don’t misunderstand. Brotherhood’s versions of these events were no cake walk. The distinction is, Fullmetal had more moments that made me feel sick to my stomach. Brotherhood had its own instances that produced reactions as powerful as Fullmetal did. In fact, Brotherhood, both in quantity and quality, had more of these types of scenes that produced strong emotions. Sickening just wasn’t one of them.

Brotherhood was much sillier than Fullmetal. Jokes and goofing around were much more common. Characters weren’t always trying to make sense of something awful. Instead, the story focused more on giving us actual characters. People with personalities, opinions, and interpretations of the world around them.

That’s why when tragedy struck in Brotherhood it hit a lot harder. Things were happening to characters we knew a lot better. And trust me, tragedy did strike. I wouldn’t call this a comedy series despite the amount of humor.

The events in Brotherhood prior to our initial example scene did so much in so little time. But it never felt rushed. The reason for that’s simple. Characters that laugh are often more charming that characters who sulk. Brotherhood understood this.

During Fullmetal, we got to know the characters involved in this one scene over time. We were familiar with them. That’s why it remained a good scene.

Except now I’m going to give you three choices. Be honest, which scenario would make you feel sadder? Some stranger dies, a casual acquaintance dies, or someone you care about dies. If you answered with the latter, that was what Brotherhood tapped into.

Action and Animation

This was my biggest gripe with Fullmetal. In the grand scheme of the original series, this wasn’t a major problem. The action wasn’t the focus. Is that a good enough excuse to have fights be lackluster? Fullmetal made a compelling argument. However, the excitement could’ve been turned up and nothing would’ve been lost.

Don’t believe me, watch Brotherhood. Holy crap, this was a rush.

The improved animation alone made this series a treat to watch. That would be a notable achievement if Fullmetal looked like garbage. So, this was made even more impressive since Fullmetal was not garbage. The original looked great and has aged very well. The first series wouldn’t be out of place if it re-aired today.

The uptick in visuals benefited every aspect of Brotherhood. But nowhere more so than in the action scenes.

Faceoffs were flashier. They were faster. They were more exciting. Alchemy felt more impressive. Battles weren’t glorified, light-infused fist fights. The true destructive power of what a skilled State Alchemist could do was frightening.

For example, Colonel Mustang (voiced by Shin-ichiro Miki) didn’t rely on hearsay. Based on Brotherhood, any of the Colonel’s potential seen in Fullmetal was but a drop in the ocean. He made for a formidable opponent. Even the Homunculi considered him to be a problem they had to account for.

Noteworthy, since the Homunculi were a much greater obstacle in this series. In Fullmetal, specific conditions needed to be met to defeat them. While it was difficult to obtain those conditions, it wasn’t impossible. Once acquired, Homunculi weren't a problem. In Brotherhood, they didn’t have that kind of weakness. The only thing that could win the day was pure determination.

The Homunculi of Brotherhood were durable. Think of it like this. You’re given a hammer and chisel and told to cut a massive hole through a concrete wall. Sure, you can do it, but good luck. To beat a Homunculi in this series, someone had to keep going big for a long time. Something Colonel Mustang was able to do. His fights were among the coolest of the series.

Then there was the ending. Between the two shows, Brotherhood’s ultimate threat was much more concerning. The sheer scale of what would transpire if the Elric’s lost was insane. Yet it didn’t feel ridiculous. Considering what the villains wanted to do, yeah, you’d need something about that big to make it happen.

If you’ve only seen Fullmetal and think what that series did was devastating, let me assure you. That was a mere slap on the wrist when next to Brotherhood.

The Characters

This was Fullmetal’s greatest achievement. And Brotherhood even did this better.

I want to separate this section into three groups. The first being the newcomers. The second being characters who were in Fullmetal, but I did not mention in the review. The third are characters I mentioned and were stronger here in Brotherhood.

For the first group, all of Xing. The inclusion of this country added a whole other layer of depth to this series. It was a fantastic counterbalance and companion to the Elric brother's version of alchemy. And the two shining stars were Lin Yao (voiced by Mamoru Miyano) and May Chang (voiced by Mai Goto). They were a lot of fun. Alone, they would’ve been enough in terms of additions. But I would be wrong not to talk about another new character.

Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong (voiced by Yoko Somi) was a breath of fresh air. Like Colonel Mustang, the General had huge ambitions. As well unshakable loyalty among their subordinates. The difference was, Mustang earned people’s respect. General Armstrong inspired it. She managed to get her opponents to fight alongside her through her mere presence. She was not someone you crossed.

The second group has three members. The first is Major Alex Louis Armstrong (voiced by Kenji Utsumi), General Armstrong’s younger brother. I liked him well enough in Fullmetal. Though, I didn’t think there was much worth talking about him. Not this time. If there was a title I could give the Major, it would be incorruptible. While a lot to handle, if you were his friend, he had your back. Whenever he showed up to help, any situation became more manageable. That and he was one of the funniest characters of the series.

The second is King Bradley (voiced by Hidekatsu Shibata). In Fullmetal, he accomplished his role. But because he did it so well, he was almost forgettable. I want to emphasize that word “almost”. Given who he was, I don’t see how you could forget him. Still, he was one of the least memorable characters. Brotherhood changed that. In this series, he was a bad ass. I wish I could say more, but I can’t.

Last is Envy (voiced by Minami Takayama). This character had the greatest improvement in terms of satisfaction. Envy’s story in Brotherhood was engaging. Leading to an end to a character arc that was worlds better than Fullmetal’s interpretation. In addition, Envy was the biggest source of stress of the entire series. Knowing this character could be anyone at any time caused me to get quite paranoid.

The final group of characters is the largest too. For everyone here, take what I said about them in my Fullmetal review and an enhance it. What I’m going to do is list these characters from least to most improved.

At the bottom is Captain Maes Hughes (voiced by Keiji Fujiwara). He was even more lovable in this series. Yet the thing that impressed me the most was his relationship with Colonel Mustang. Though I didn’t doubt it from Fullmetal, there was no denying it here. These two men were good friends. They were as important to each other as the Elric brothers were to one another.

Next was Colonel Mustang. His actions were more impactful. He was almost never in a position where he didn’t have the upper hand. Calm and collected, he was one step ahead of everyone. Unlike in Fullmetal, the Colonel was in the field a lot more often. That and I already mentioned his upgraded alchemy ability.

Third, and this was a big one, was Scar (voiced by Kenta Miyake). The religiosity angel of his character was toned way the hell down. He was more a spirit of vengeance. This made him even more of a problem to deal with. There were even fewer things people could use to challenge his way of thinking. He wanted revenge and had justification for it. But due to that, he knew he wasn’t in the right. Scar was as much of a monster as the people he was going after. This made him more of anti-hero. Thus, it was easier to follow his story.

And of the improvements, the biggest was Winry Rockbell (voiced by Megumi Takamoto). In the last series, I can justify why she was around. She was out of place, but I got what the story what trying to do. Brotherhood made me fall in love with her. She wasn’t a side character this time. She was the female lead. She felt important. There was so much I liked about her in this series. Her attitude, her determination, her affection for Ed and Al. The brothers were very dear people to her. In turn, Winry was someone the Elric’s would go to the ends of the world to help.

In both series, Winry was dealing with the death of her parents. The scene in Brotherhood where she confronted her parents’ killer was phenomenal. It’s one of my absolute favorite moments. It was sad, tense, scary, it was amazing. If I could only use one scene to show why Brotherhood is outstanding, this would be the scene.

To round this off, there is a fourth group I want to discuss. It’s the smallest, but it’s also the most important. Brotherhood’s version of the Elric brothers was the superior.

How do you do that? Fullmetal nailed it. I can’t think of a single flaw in the original series’ depiction of the bothers. Yet, here we are. I think it comes down to this. In Fullmetal, they were willing to face the impossible for each other. In Brotherhood, they did.

Series Negatives

There was something I noticed in Fullmetal. Brotherhood only made it more blatant. There’s no sense of time or distance in this universe. Amestris, the setting of the series, was a country of about 50 million. It wasn’t small. The fastest form of transportation in this world were trains. Turn of the 20th-century era trains. It should have taken a while to get anywhere.

I’ve driven from Los Angeles, California to Seattle, Washington in one shot. It took about twenty-four hours. The people of Amestris could travel to opposite ends of their country and make it seem like a trip to the supermarket.

Also, based on the events of both shows, these stories took place, at best, over the course of six months. Except Brotherhood indicated that’s not the case and was in fact much longer.

Plus, if we’re going to be fair, let’s talk about the characters I liked better in Fullmetal.

Lust (voiced by Kikuko Inoue) served a much bigger role in the original. She was more integrated into the plot. In Brotherhood, the story could have almost removed her. She seemed to exist because there are seven deadly sins. Therefore, Lust had to be included. Her overall character in Fullmetal was the more interesting of the two versions.

The other was Second Lieutenant Maria Ross (voiced by Kaori Nauka). I’m not going to pretend and say I wasn't disappointed with who she was in Brotherhood. She was no longer the caring big sister from Fullmetal. If not for one key moment, Lieutenant Ross was a throw away subordinate.

With that out of the way, there is a distinction I need to make. Though I like the characters of Lust and Lieutenant Ross from Fullmetal better, that comes with a catch. If they were the same in Brotherhood as they were in the original, they would not have worked. There are a lot of factors into why I prefer Fullmetal in this instance. The main one being the story. 

Since the two shows are so different, it’s impossible to interchange parts. Lust and Lieutenant Ross were fine in Brotherhood given the roles they had to play.

Enough comparisons. There was one thing from Brotherhood that could’ve been done better. That was the introduction of the Homunculi, Pride. Once part of the story, Pride was great. The reveal of this character's identity, though, lacked any sense of reason. There was no build up to the moment. It just became a thing. It played more as shock value than a decent twist.

But if that’s all, in terms of negatives, Brotherhood knocked it out of the park.

Final Thoughts

I’m recommending both series. Therefore, the question becomes, what order do you watch them in?

I’ve been saying this throughout the review. These shows are different. One is not going to affect the other. You could watch them in any order. Thus, my advice would be, upgrade from gold to diamond. Fullmetal first, then Brotherhood. Because once you get to Brotherhood, the improvement will be astonishing.

A fantastic story. Brilliant characters. Exciting action. Vibrant visuals. Funny, heartwarming, tragic, intense. This series hit everything. For so long I’ve wondered why so many people hold Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood in such high regard. I get it now.

With that, this brings me to the end of this 300th Review Special. Thank you to everyone for joining me. Here’s to one hundred more anime.

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