Full Metal Alchemist/Brotherhood: An Unintentionally Comparative Review in Retrospect.
I began watching anime at the age of 10, thanks to my cousin Zak showing me Case Closed (aka Detective Conan). The episode was Mountain Villa Murder (Part One), and as a 10 year old girl, I found myself immediately horrified and entranced by the anime. I found the style of art so enticing, yet the content absolutely terrifying, i.e. Bandage Man.
The following episode (and the nightmares that came after as well) made me swear off anime forever, except for things with no real ‘super scary’ bits, such as Fruits Basket or Tokyo Mew Mew. Eventually, around the age of 15, I found myself watching D.N.Angel and I absolutely fell in love with the voice of one Dark Mousy, Vic Mignogna in the English dub. I became obsessive, watching every small, unheard of anime he had even the tiniest part in, until I finally discovered Full Metal Alchemist. No longer the innocent 10 year old I was when I first experienced anime, I decided that, hey, what the heck? This doesn’t seem like a big deal.
And with the beginnings of the first episode (an amusing desert banter between protagonists Edward and Alphones Elric), I believed I was right, that this anime would be something light and fun.
I was wrong. Horribly, amazingly wrong.
This anime was one of the most gruesome, emotional, dark, mindboggling series that I have ever come across, especially up to that point. You could argue that I only felt that way because I was roughly the same age as the characters, but looking back on the show, and the movies that followed, I can honestly say that I still find it excruciatingly brutal.
In a nutshell, the plot is this: two boys live with their mom after their dad abandons them. Their mom dies. They try to bring her back using alchemy. Shit hits the fan. The younger brother loses his whole body while the elder just loses his left leg. He then sacrifices his right arm to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armor that just so happens to be in the corner of the room. The younger brother then takes his older brother to a family friend, who just so happens to work making prosthetic limbs.
While the elder is passed out, the house where they are staying receives a visit from a military colonel, who, you guessed it, just so happened to be in the area and saw the light from the alchemic reaction. He talks about possibly inducting the elder brother into the military and is promptly kicked out of the house. Of course the elder brother was awake, heard everything, and works to join the military, against everyone’s better judgment, so he can work to restore his and his brother’s bodies.
With me so far? Okay, so then they train, stuff happens, the older brother becomes a State Alchemist, goes on adventures, not really getting much closer to his goal. Then they end up getting wrapped up in a military, let’s say, scandal that results in a coup, then more stuff happens, and eventually the little brother gets turned into Philosophers Stone.
Still there? The last episode involves a lot of human transmutation, and finally, the younger brother has his body back, yet the elder is trapped on the other side of The Gate -which is a fairly unexplained place/entity- the other side of which, for some reason, is Munich circa 1930something, pre WW2. Pretty good, yeah?
The movie that follows directly after, Conqueror of Shamballa, has gun fights, gypsies, and Nazis, along with a somewhat convoluted plot and an odd take on Nazi occultism, but is fairly good regardless.
Either way, I’m getting off track.
Full Metal Alchemist really is a good show. The plot is well developed, never too simple or too complex, and the characters are mostly dynamic and interesting, as well as being voiced by some incredibly talented people. Our main protagonist, Edward Elric, is likeable and relatable, if a little “short” tempered. My one fault of this show is its female lead, Winry Rockbell, who can never decide which female cliché she wants to be, tough and bad ass or whiney and dependent. Though I do admit that the relationship developed between her and Edward is fairly touching without being necessarily romantic.
And now. Brotherhood.
This adaptation (we can’t use the word sequel) is said to follow the story of the manga more closely (though, there are numerable differences between it and the manga), whereas the original series takes its own approach to the story somewhat, and as the English dub is still in the works, it’s hard to put together a full review.
The story gets a bit more convoluted in the Brotherhood series, and very condensed. In my mind, it’s comparable to the later Bleach episodes, where if you miss one episode you lose you grasp on the plot somewhat.
The main voice cast is actually, pretty different. Vic Mignogna reprises his role as Edward Elric, though Aaron Dismuke, Alphonse, was unable to reprise his role due to puberty making his voice change, so the loveable suit of armor is now voiced by Maxey Whitehead. Most of the Homunculus change voice actors, but the voices still fit and the dialogue is still great.
The biggest problem I have with this show is the new style of animation.
I know it’s a subtle and shallow thing to complain about, but I’m still going to complain about it.
Overall, the original series is fantastic, and the movies aren’t bad either. Brotherhood is also worth checking out, though I don’t recommend watching it on Adult Swim, if you’re like me, you’ll want to watch it in succession to keep up with the story, not one week between episodes.
Both series are well developed, and well written. And while it is fairly mainstream as far as anime goes, sometimes things are popular for good reason.