Last week I kicked off a brand new feature, Anime HotSpot, where I discuss an anime I think you all should watch. Since I chose a fairly obscure, not super well known anime to begin the feature, what better what to continue it than with one of the absolute classics?
Fullmetal Alchemist, the original show, was one of the very first anime series I watched. (The very first, not including Pokemon, was Wolf’s Rain but we’ll talk about that another time.) Because of this, it will always have a very special place in my heart.
Now you probably noticed my use of the words original show there. That’s because there are two versions of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime. There was the original, just titled Fullmetal Alchemist, and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
The difference between the two is pretty key: the original FMA was requested by the manga creator Hiromu Arakawa to have a different ending from the source material. So, in the original anime, the first half follows events of the manga pretty closely and then heavily diverges about half away through, with a very different ending from the manga as requested.
Brotherhood, however, was released many years later (2009, to be exact) and follows the manga pretty much to the letter, with a different animation style than the original. Now I know you’re probably wondering, “is the original FMA worth watching?” and the answer is yes, absolutely. Despite it’s divergence from the manga, it’s still fantastic but the second half does suffer from the divergence from the original story. Brotherhood manages to top it’s fantastic younger self with brilliant storytelling, excellent and interesting animation, and a darker tone all round.
The other reason you would be better off watching the original FMA actually ties into a key flaw with Brotherhood: some of the earlier episodes feel a bit rushed, and don’t flesh out key events as well as FMA. It’s almost as if Brotherhood is assuming you have seen the original, so is rushing through the earlier events. That’s not to say you wouldn’t know what’s going on without watching FMA, but a certain event especially is not as powerful in Brotherhood.
So, with that out of the way, let’s talk details! The basic story of FMA Brotherhood is simple at it’s core and grows more and more complex as the story continues. It follows two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are living in a world where alchemy succeeded instead of science. This means transmutation, creating fire from nowhere and other such amazing feats are everyday occurrences.
This serves as a fine and interesting foundation for a very interesting world, filled with all sorts of characters and excellently executed stories. The world itself is worth exploring, with interesting locations and different issues to be faced by the people in it. The world feels real, with the characters dealing with the effects of living with powerful people with alchemy at their disposal, who aren’t always deserving or using it in good ways.
But it is the characters and story that makes both Brotherhood and the original FMA stand tall. Even after years of consuming anime it is still in the top tier. Even Edward Elric, who does suffer from “main character syndrome” a little because he is so absurdly powerful, is still interesting and flawed. He can be brash, arrogant and does not always think things through. He is simultaenously old for his years and oddly young when it comes to his idealism. Each character with any significant screen time is interesting in some way, with their back story and motivations for being involved with events.
Another two characters I personally would like to bring to your attention are Colonel Mustang (shown above) and Alex Armstrong. Both of these characters are in the military, but they could not be further apart in terms of their personalities. Mustang is the famous “Flame Alchemist”, an intelligent man with powerful alchemy who has his eyes on the highest position in the military. Due to this, he is often seen as an “arse kisser” to get to that top position, but in his mind the end justify the means if he can get to the top and set things straight in what he sees as a corrupt military.
Alex, on the other hand, is an exuberant character who is absurdly silly and is often used for effective comic relief, who shows extreme versions of emotions such as joy and pride. He is one of the most memorable characters from both iterations of the anime due to his fun and out there nature. Yet, even this “silly” character has depth, and what you see beneath the eccentric exterior is a man with his own issues, enemies and pain.
Even the enemies and villains are well fleshed out, and none of them are just “generically evil” (aside from maybe the main one who is mostly behind the scenes), with them all having their own reasons for doing the things they do. But, enough about that (I could talk about the characters all day), let’s move onto the story.
Interesting characters are great and all, but if they don’t have a good story to work with, then they are kind of wasted. But thankfully, Brotherhood succeedes here too. Now, due to the alchemy in the show, there are several elements of “battle anime” here (think Bleach, Fairy Tail), but this show is not afraid to get adult. There is not only blood, but distrubing creatues and people alongside some very dark themes indeed.
I don’t want to talk too much about the nitty gritty of the story, as I don’t want to spoil it, but the basic premise is that Edward and Alphonse are on the hunt for the ancient Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to grant the user incredible power far beyond their usual abilities. But, although they don’t seek it for any selfish reasons, they face off against plenty of those who want for themselves for selfish motivations, as well as their fair share of interesting enemies.
Alongside that, the battles are interesting to watch and well executed, with one of the best fights in the show belonging to Mustang. (If you’ve seen the show, you know the one). But each alchemist has their own unique style and abilities, leading to some true clashes of very powerful forces, meaning some fights are quite the spectacle.
Despite the fact that the two main characters are children, the show is dark. It truly does show the messed up world that Edward and Alphonse have gotten themselves into. There are adult motivations from adults who do not always have good intentions, leading to some pretty tough battles and challenging storylines. There isn’t a huge amount of gore, though (Elfen Lied this is not), so not to worry there. I only mean that Brotherhood is not afraid to show the reality of the situation, and to expose this world’s rotten underbelly.
So, all in all Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, and it’s predecessors have their flaws they both still make for fantastic, one of a kind experiences. It is rare to see a more adult anime that doesn’t go overboard with either the gore or the fanservice, but Brotherhood gives you just that. You can watch it on Netflix.