Some Basic Info About This Rock-Solid Reboot
Title: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood a.k.a. Fullmetal Alchemist a.k.a. Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
Series Length: 64 episodes
Air Dates: 4/5/2009 to 7/4/2010
Age Rating: 13+ (strong violence, mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Edward and Alphonse Elric are two talented practitioners of alchemy, the pseudo-magical science of instantly exchanging materials for their equivalent through the use of transmutation circles, determined to get their hands on the legendary Philosopher's Stone. Several years earlier, the two brothers had tried to bring their mother back to life using alchemy, resulting in the loss of Ed's left leg and Al's entire body from the backlash. Ed, in a desperate bid to save Al, gives up his right arm to bind Al's soul to a suit of armor. In the present day, they seek the Philosopher's Stone in order to restore their bodies to their normal state, but they will soon learn how little they know about the country they serve, as well as the stone they seek.
The Good: Production values make the 2003 anime pale in comparison; memorable story and characters; intense atmosphere and pacing; spectacular opening and ending sequences
The Bad: Episodes lack theme; rushes past the first few episodes; brand of comedy may not please everyone
The Ugly: Hawkeye's extremely large eyes
So, what's up with this reboot? Where'd it come from?
Spoiler Alert: This anime is on my Top 10 Anime list. The 2003 series isn't. This should give you a fairly good idea as to which incarnation of Fullmetal Alchemist I prefer. Now, don't get me wrong, the 2003 series was perfectly fine for the most part, but it's just that, in my opinion, Brotherhood took the much more entertaining route and, in the end, delivered a more solid product. Naturally, the entire reason this reboot exists is because fans clamored for a more faithful anime adaptation for over 5 years until Bones decided to give in, and they went whole-hog on it. Was Brotherhood really necessary, in the end? We'll dive deep into that mystery as we continue on...but the answer is yes.
Brotherhood is basically universally beloved. Any reasons why?
First off, remember when I said the 2003 anime was coated in money and looked great? Brotherhood makes the original series look like garbage in comparison. For every stunning bit of animation FMA had, Brotherhood has two. For every time FMA awed you with some visual wonder, Brotherhood has done it a dozen times. Even the voice acting is more engrossing than in FMA, and that's for both the English and Japanese versions (sadly, Aaron Dismuke can't play Al anymore, but he does get an awesome cameo later on!). From start to finish, Brotherhood is a wellspring of state-of-the-art animation, and it never once dips in quality. Well, I do have to mention that the backgrounds occasionally look blurry and rushed, but that's a very minor nitpick in what is otherwise a fantastic set of aesthetics.
Of course, what would a Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation be without lovable characters and an enthralling storyline? As with the original, we have an extremely large and well-rounded cast of characters whom we get to know and love. Some personalities differ slightly (e.g. 2003 Mustang was more laid back and calm than his intense and vengeful 2009 counterpart), but if you've seen the original series, you should have very little trouble adjusting. Now, while FMA had the same wonderful characters, its story was bogged down by filler episodes and unanswered questions in its final arc; Brotherhood's narrative, however, doesn't fall into either of those traps. We have a conclusive and easy-to-follow story that covers all the bases and ends without any frustrating holes or abandoned threads. Everything that is brought up serves a purpose, every character completes their arc, and all in all, it's just a much more enjoyable experience. Maybe not as deep or philosophical as the 2003 series (which really is a shame), but fulfilling nonetheless.
That's not even where the greatness ends, either: While it's true that FMA had its nail-biting moments, Brotherhood maintains an extremely high level of intensity throughout most of its runtime, building and building until it comes to a fever pitch and explodes...and then we move onto episode three, where the process begins anew! This intensity also translates into the overall pace the series takes, moving along at an extremely brisk pace and ensuring that something important is always occurring, thus we always have a reason to care!
As a final cherry on this delicious cake, many of the opening and ending themes are fantastic, including "again" by YUI, "Period" by Chemistry, "Rain" by SID, and "Shunkan Sentimental" by Scandal. Even if there are some segments I myself am not crazy about, I know for a fact that somebody out there loves them most of all, guaranteeing that there will be at least one for everyone to call their favorite. And hey, even if you don't care for the individual songs, you can't deny the sheer beauty of the animation accompanying them. Like the rest of the series, they're a joy to behold.
What could this reboot have done a little bit better?
Now that we've basically given this series a big sloppy kiss, because nothing is perfect, it's time to bite the bullet and put on our critic hats to find the flaws in Brotherhood. The major thing that people have pointed out is that the episodes don't have any self-contained themes and often don't transition well into the next. In the 2003 series, you'd have episodes centered around themes of family bond, separation, loyalty, trust, self-doubt, etc., and they would fit right into the story without being obvious. In Brotherhood, however, episodes pass and events happen without any consistent theme or tone. For many, this won't be much of a big deal, but it really bugs some people, and even I couldn't help but feel that something was missing.
Another thing that doesn't sit well is that the first 12-13 episodes really rush themselves. This is because the 2003 series already covered much of the same material, so Brotherhood felt like it had to get it out of the way fast to get to the new stuff, but that just seems odd. If it was going to be the definitive version, why make changes based on an earlier adaptation? Why not just give those first story arcs the same deliberate pace as the rest, 2003 series be damned? It just feels like poor planning.
And finally, just like the original series, the bits of comedy sprinkled throughout can be a bit intrusive. Neither incarnation of Fullmetal Alchemist really seems to know how to integrate its comedy very well, and the jokes themselves are very hit-or-miss, so it can be grating at times. Unfortunate, but that's just how it is.
In the end, did Brotherhood surpass the original?
But all that aside, there's no excuse for you to skip out on Brotherhood. Even with those measly little bumps, this series ranks up there as one of the greatest action anime ever made, if you ask me. Which you always should. Even on anime aggregate sites like MyAnimeList or Anime News Network, the people agree--Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sits at or very near the top of their highest-ranked series lists. And it's no accident. Okay, sure, brand recognition and flashy aesthetics may have played a role, but those can only carry you so far; when the entire anime community is basically in agreement that a particular series is among the best of the best, it's a pretty safe assumption that several million people can't possibly all be wrong.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood certainly dazzles and astounds with its top-notch animation, tremendous scope, and huge cast of characters, even though its comedy doesn't always work and the first few episodes rush by so fast that they may leave your head spinning.