If you’re a manga and/or anime fan at all, you’ve at least heard of Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA), the popular manga series by Hiromu Arakawa. One unusual thing about FMA Brotherhood is that it is the second anime series to be based on the property. The original FMA anime ran in Japan in 2003-2004, long before Arakawa had finished her work on the manga in 2010. And where the original series had to find its own ending independent of the manga, Brotherhood follows the original manga plot much more closely.
The story is set in the war-torn fictional country of Amestris, where alchemy not only exists, but is the source for the country’s military might, giving normal humans amazing magical powers. Enter the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse. Ed has become a state alchemist for the government in part to help the military, but mostly to find the mythical Philosopher’s Stone. At a very young age, both Ed and Al studied alchemy and tried to use it to bring their mother back from death. In punishment for going against the natural order of things, Ed lost a leg and an arm, which was replaced by the mobile cybernetic prosthetics known in the series as automail. Poor Al lost his entire body, his soul being hastily grafted to a suit of armor by Ed. This leads to many humorous situations where Al is mistakenly identified as the Fullmetal Alchemist, which is Ed’s code name in the military. Both Ed and Al see the power of the Philosopher’s Stone as the only possible way to return their lives to normalcy. But this power has a price of its own, and as the Elric brothers learn more about the mystery of the Stone, they get embroiled in the murky politics and power plays of Amestris itself.
Fans of the first anime series may be surprised as over half of the plotline they remember is seemingly blown through in Brotherhood’s first 15 or so episodes, but the story being told here is deeper and packs an even more emotional punch than the ending of the first series did. The English dub should also be very pleasing to longtime fans, as Funimation was able to get most of the actors from the first series to reprise their roles.
What Brotherhood does is expand the world of FMA in almost every way possible. The unique twist on alchemy becomes an even more integral part of the plot. The animation style, again produced by the Japanese studio Bones, has a more crisp and realistic take on the characters this time. Battles are more realistic as well, and, in general, Brotherhood is darker in tone. But because of this stylistic choice, the humorous moments also get to stretch into a more exaggerated chibi-style, heightening these needed funny moments, such as when poor Ed has to endure yet another short joke. But underlying it all are the emotions of Ed, Al, and their long time friend and automail mechanic, Winry Rockbell. This emotional core, so important to the manga and the story, shines through and is highlighted by the excellent, delicate color and background work in many touching moments throughout the series.
It is also a pleasure to watch as each character in grows emotionally (and in Ed’s case, physically) throughout the series. Not only do Ed and Al go through this process, but also the vast myriad of fan-favorite characters, like the Flame Alchemist Roy Mustang. Also of note is the more satisfying resolution between the brothers and their father, Van Hohenheim, as well as a more nuanced take on FMA’s big baddies: the homonculi embodying the classic seven sins. Fans of the first series also get introduced to a whole host of unique and intriguing new characters, as Brotherhood picks up an amazing amount of steam and rolls to its conclusion. While an imposing 64 episodes long, the last disc will fly by.
Needless to say, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood should be on every library’s Young Adult shelf. Not only its popularity, but the quality of the production, means it won’t be on the shelf for long before going home with someone again and again. Being set during a war, there is a large amount of violence and bloodshed, but it is not gratuitous and acts in service of the story. Anime fans who liked FMA the first time around will love to see the rest of the story, and the manga fans will be pleased at this faithful adaptation.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Complete Collection, Vols. 1 & 2
directed by Yasuhiro Irie
Vol 1 running time: 825 minutes, Vol 2 running time: 755 minutes
Number of discs: Blu-Ray: 4; DVD: 10
Company Age Rating: Not Rated (TV 14 or TV PG when broadcast on Adult Swim/Toonami)
Related to: Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa