In a decision between Monty Python’s Flying circus 16-ton and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, i went with Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Monty Python’s Flying Circus from 1974 is a tad dated.
In 2003, Studio BONES produced an anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, a shonen series from relatively new mangaka Hiromu Arakawa. The end result was a smash hit for both Japanese and American audiences, ranking #20 in TV Asahi’s list of the Top 100 most popular anime, and continuing to run on Adult Swim for years after its incredibly successful initial run with longtime anime fans and non-fans alike, becoming a gateway title to otakudom somewhat comparable to Cowboy Bebop and Spirited Away. For all its acclaim, however, a fair amount of fans were displeased with the adaptation’s severe divergence from the original manga.
Brotherhood seeks to rectify this complaint with a retelling of Ed and Al’s quest to regain their lost bodies, this time in strict accordance with the events of the manga, which is now nearing completion. The revisited epic jumps to an electrifying start, following the brothers from their tragic origins up through their first encounter with the self-proclaimed homunculus, Greed…
It would be nice to have written a real plot summary to preface this review, it would be nice to pretend everyone doesn’t know the synopsis already, and as such, it would be nice to discard the first anime adaptation of FMA and take Brotherhood completely at face value. It’s the only way to gauge an adaptation’s worth as a work unto itself, after all. Unfortunately, this series makes it clear from episode one that it doesn’t want to be taken in through fresh eyes, but rather, squeals of nostalgia. Like its predecessor, Brotherhood’s begins its pilot in media res, but instead of doing this as a way to establish the cast and the world they live in, this is really an excuse to cram as many well-known characters and their catchphrases into one episode as possible. This does not feel like the first episode to a fantastic journey, it plays like an episode of Saturday Night Live where retired cast members come back for a cameo and only those who recognize them laugh at the skit. Of course there is a great deal of action, the story is well underway, and some character establishment is present, but “establishing” that “ha ha, Ed is short” at least four times in ten minutes makes this easy to forget.
Speaking of casting, fans of the Japanese version of FMA may be at odds with the casting choices here. Romi Paku, Rie Kugimiya, and Keiji Fujiwara return as Ed, Al, and Hughes respectively, but the majority of the characters have been recast, and many, notably Mustang’s new seiyuu, sound wholly different from their original voices. Still, no complaint can be found with the acting as of yet, and this goes for the dub as well. With the notable exceptions of Dameon Clarke and Aaron Dismuke, the entire English cast, down to some incidentals like comedic vagrant Yoki, returns here and mostly sound as if they’ve never left, which is a very good thing if the glowing reception for the previous dub is any indication. J. Michael Tatum takes over Clarke’s place as Scar, playing the role quite differently but for good reason: Scar is a very different character in this version of the story. Maxey Whitehead takes over the post-pubescent Dismuke’s role as Al, and while still clearly not Dismuke, does a remarkable job emulating his voice. What’s more important, of course, is that she fill the part dramatically, regardless of her vocal quality, and in that regard, they could not have found a better replacement for Aaron’s great performance in the first series. The english cast is also responsible for the only noteworthy extras on this release: a pair of commentaries, wherein we are introduced to the talented Maxey Whitehead and everyone discusses Tesla and anachronistic rotary telephones. Thanks to the breakneck pace of the show, nearly all the main cast makes an appearance somewhere in these first thirteen episodes, so viewers can judge for themselves what to think overall.
This is a party held for the fans, and the more diehards you can pack into a room to watch this series, the more enjoyable it will be. This is highly recommended, because viewed alone with the fanboy (or girl) switch off, the very first episode is borderline terrible. By episode three, there is no borderline. Now portraying these events for a third time and striving to do it uniquely, Brotherhood plows through key emotional moments just before shattering them with poorly placed humor, all the while dogged by music so uninspired and distracting, it sounds suspiciously like a mix from Pro Scores tacked on far too late in the game. In fact, the musical score of Brotherhood has got to be its highest detriment. This series’ fear of silence is astounding, and overly grandiose choral music or piping loops of orchestral mediocrity blare through scenes that were more effective without them…just compare to the other, quieter anime. It is honestly embarrassing. By episode 4 the series has shown signs of restraint, but it’s not yet doing anything that the first anime and the manga did not do better, because it can’t seem to decide between the two mediums in its execution.
With the exception of its celebratory premiere episode, this series is everything that the fans have hoped for: a transcription of the original manga, nearly by the panel, with elements and events added in occasionally to pad for time or speed it up and substitute chapters like the train hijacking or the Youswell coalmines already covered faithfully in the first anime. It seems loyal to its source manga to a fault, playing out like a pan of various comic panels and lapsing into super-deformity and screaming for nearly a third of every episode, but the places it chooses to step out and improvise are much worse. Case in point: by the time Father Cornello turns into the Hulk, exhaustion and confusion have replaced all initial fanthusiasm, never mind any poor newcomer who happened to stumble upon the raucous mess. Once the dust has cleared, this series has covered roughly 33 episodes of the first anime’s material in its first 13, or to be more accurate, 7 volumes of manga.
Still, to be fair…how many anime fans have not seen Fullmetal Alchemist or have at least had its entire plot spoiled for them by their friends who have? The franchise was lucrative enough to allow a viewership entirely of prior fans, and should they hold out past the garish introduction, the later episodes in this release are already improving. Al’s identity crisis and the brothers’ reunion with Izumi are handled well, and despite rough spots in execution, the story at Fullmetal’s heart is incredibly strong, and not even slipshod pacing and delivery can tarnish that by much. All complaints against this series are simply comparing it against an incredibly high pedigree, but it is still above average.
In truth, there are precisely three places this adaptation surpasses its predecessor. Adherence to the manga, obviously, which will be a more rewarding trait when new material is animated, and a budget sizable enough to make those coming episodes an incredible treat for all. Brotherhood carries a rounder and warmer look than its predecessor, with simpler character models that are both more fluid in animation and, of course, eerily exact to Arakawa’s illustrations, down to Ed’s puppyish downturned mouth when he’s being obstinate. It could even be argued that this sketchier, more velveteen look will lend the gorier events of the manga more tolerance than the original series, which is sometimes accused of being melodramatic. Whatever the case, a couple fights in these initial offerings are near feature-quality, and that’s reason enough for praise. Thirdly, a minor but appreciated detail, the opening and closing themes to the show are wonderful. FMA has had a number of catchy pop and rock themes grace its episodes, but YUI’s Again and SID’s USO are so good at conveying the heart of the story they play more like love letters to the series itself, assisted by some downright moving animation that proves this remake may be in good hands after all.
If those factors make it a superior series for certain fans, namely aficionados of the manga, then rejoice, because it will run for many more episodes to come. For those wishing to view it as standalone entertainment, however, it is floundering in its own self-indulgence, pleading for approval, and despite being fairly enjoyable for it, only has room to improve. With any luck, it probably will, and quickly. Until then, either the first anime or the manga should absolutely be experienced first, then this younger sibling can be given a fair shake.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Much higher production values for the well-loved story; an entirely new animal from the original while still maintaining the essence of the franchise, later episodes show promise
− Catered almost exclusively to prior fans, using its assured audience base to get away with a rushed, noisy, and tactless presentation that is “faithful” to a fault, earlier episodes are terrible
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-ray Part 2
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Blu-ray Part 2 BLURAY
Fuhrer King Bradley gets personally involved in dealing with Greed and his chimera soldiers, leading to a quick and messy solution which also results in Al regaining his memories from the time of the alchemical accident. In the wake of that incident, visitors from the distant eastern land of Xing arrive on the scene, one a prince (Lin) with his accompanying duo of warriors and the other a girl (May) with her accompanying mini-panda. Both have an interest in learning the secret of immortality to further their respective clans’ statuses in an upcoming bid to succeed the dying Xing Emperor and both bring with them the Eastern traditions of alcehestry (a variation of alchemy focused on medical arts), so both hook up with prominent Amestrian players – the former with Ed and Al, the latter with Scar. All get caught up in the ongoing schemes of the homunculi and their Father, although both Ed and Colonel Mustang bring their own schemes into play focused on drawing out the homunculi, learning the truth about a former comrade’s death, and learning just how far up the chain of command the influence of the homunculi goes. Amidst the battles, subterfuge, and occasional foolishness, a loyal soldier gets made a scapegoat, Winry gets to confront the man who killed her parents, someone loses an arm, others lose their lives, and Ed gets to confront Hohenheim, his father. A few people get eaten, too (and not always intentionally) and someone other than Gluttony eats a shoe.
In wrapping up the affair with Greed and his chimera soldiers, episode 14 also marks the end of Brotherhood’s quick replay through events covered in some form in the first TV series. With its closing scenes it heads off in a completely new direction, a move only further reaffirmed in episode 15 with the introduction of prominent characters who never appeared in the original series: the Xingese prince Lin (with servants Lan Fan and Fu) and princess May (with panda Shou Mei – actually they appeared briefly in an earlier episode, but this is their formal introduction). This expansion of the core cast provides ample additional opportunities for gags and slick action scenes and adds another cute girl into the mix (Lan Fan is quite the looker when not shrouded in ninja gear), but just as importantly, it also expands a setting that was originally relatively limited for as worldly as its story was. A different culture taking an entirely different mindset to alchemy is a quite sensible and intriguing development, one not explored at all by the original series, but as of the end of episode 26 it has been treated more as a curiosity than an element of major importance to the ongoing plot. More significant is the presence of Father, the mastermind behind the homunculi in this version of the story; he appeared very briefly in earlier episodes but has broader involvement here. The addition of the backstory involving the legendary city of Xerxes also adds a new wrinkle to the overall story, essentially replacing the role served by the underground city in Conqueror of Shamballa.
Not all of the new direction involves new characters and story elements. Barry the Chopper, who was arguably the most colorful of the antagonists in the original series, gets a substantially expanded role as he works with the good guys, while the character who was the homunculus Pride in the first series becomes Wrath in this one, the barely-seen Sloth is entirely different, and the heard-but-not-seen Pride also seems to have an entirely different identity. Some of the prominent subordinate soldiers get caught up in much messier complications and Scar’s backstory is expanded, including connecting him to an event portrayed in the first series that previously did not explicitly involve him. Unfortunately, though, those expansions fail to make Scar a more interesting character. The same cannot be said of King Bradley, who gets some sharp new action sequences and background development which fleshes him out better. Winry gets some new scenes, too, although only one of them has more than a negligible impact. (That one scene is arguably the strongest dramatic moment in the series to date, however.)
Freed of the constraints of having to paraphrase big chunks of the original series, this new material progresses smoothly and at a brisk pace, creating a very fluid and dynamic story in which multiple things are always going on at the same time. Though these episodes still retain the full frequency of (supposedly) humorous asides, they have little downtime; nearly everything that happens feels like it fits into the bigger picture, and the episode content rarely wastes time on needless distractions. Yes, there are flashback scenes, but unlike the producers of Naruto and Bleach, the producers of this one actually understand how to use such scenes without bogging down the story with them. The producers never forget through this run that this is, at heart, an action-based shonen action series, either, as it provides plenty enough spectacular action sequences, with plenty enough variety, to satisfy any action junkie. Those who like their graphic content will not be disappointed, either, as plenty of bloodletting can be found here and some scenes (especially the death scene of one of the homunculi) border on gruesome. Plot developments over the course of this block make it clear that, for all that has happened so far, these are just the first stages of a much longer story, and based on what is going on at the end of this set, it should continue to be an interesting one for quite some time.
Most would say that the visuals are an upgrade from the first series, and indeed these episodes have many especially sharp moments; Envy’s true form is quite the impressive monster, battle scenes are typically visual spectacles, and flashback scenes use some neat coloring effects which focus on the eye colors of involved characters. New additions to the cast vary between respectable designs and semi-caricature. On the downside, flaws in the integration between character animation and background art are commonly noticeable (at least on Blu-Ray, anyway) and silly moments sometimes go too far into superderformed caricature. The animation shines in the fight scenes but it is more ordinary elsewhere.
Although the first TV series was no slouch in the music department, Brotherhood’s musical score may be even better. Directed by Akira Senju, the same man who turned in such a wonderful effort on Red Garden, it delivers a rich, deep, and effective sound clearly made with advanced digital stereo equipment in mind. It is heavy, thrilling, creepy, or silly as needed, and unlike many other anime scores it knows how to be dramatic and full-bodied while stopping just shy of going overboard. Its original opener and closer remain through episode 14 before being replaced by “Hologram” and “Let It Out” respectively in episode 15; the former is a decent number which is a straight-up replacement for the first opener, while the latter is a more adult contemporary-styled number whose tone and lyrics serve as such a perfect round-out for many of the episodes that it stands among the year’s best closers.
Funimation’s English dub for the original series was a strong one, and the vast majority of the original cast reprises their roles here. Maxey Whitehead is a good-as-could-be-hoped-for replacement for the aged-out Aaron Dismuke; she has slipped into the voice and role well by this point, shaking off the tentativeness heard in the earliest episodes. Contrarily, J. Michael Tatum is an adequate but far less impressive replacement for Dameon Clarke as Scar. Perhaps the best performance in this run belongs to Jerry Jewel for his nigh-unrecognizable, gleefully twisted take on Barry the Chopper, but many other performers shine, too, including the vocally-flexible Chris Cason as Gluttony and especially Ed Blaylock as King Bradley, a role in which he skillfully embodies a sense of his real identity’s name without ever making him sound crazed or evil. Personal preference may still reign in the key roles, but the English performances and minor script adjustments lose nothing in comparison to the original Japanese dub.
Funimation’s Blu-Ray transfer, which is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec, looks decent but unimpressive as such transfers go, especially considering how recent the animation is. It excels most in its sharp coloring but suffers from some of the same minor visual flaws that the first set had, although only those with top-grade equipment and picky eyes are likely to notice. The presentation makes very good use of lossless audio tracks, especially in the English dubbed version; you’ll want a good stereo system to fully appreciate this one. On the downside, a viewer can only switch between audio tracks via the main menu and the Japanese dub seems to be hard-subbed – both major annoyances for those who wish to flip back and forth between dubs or watch the English dub with subtitles on. (Thankfully, this has not been a common practice with Funi Blu-Ray releases beyond this series.) On-disk Extras include clean opener and closer for the new set and a pair of audio commentaries for the English dub, both featuring line producer Mike “Havoc” McFarland; episode 14’s also features Vic Mignogna and Chris “Greed” Patton, while episode 23’s features Monica “May” Rial, Trish “Lan Fan” Nishamura, and Todd “Ling” Haberkorn. The latter is, naturally, a little sillier (Monica is involved, after all), but both mostly stay on-topic.
The big question that still remains is whether or not this new version of Fullmetal Alchemist, given that it has now shown some new content, is clearly better than the original. The answer should be irrelevant; why don’t fans just enjoy the fact that they get to see a whole bunch more fresh FMA content and leave it at that? Does it really need to matter that this version sticks with the original manga, while the original veered off on its own? Unfortunately that does matter to a significant chunk of fandom, so let’s look at the two. Brotherhood is unquestionably an even flashier and more graphic show than the original and tells a grander and broader story with upgraded sound and animation. Its emphasis is more firmly on the action and graphic content, however, at the expense of the philosophizing done in the original. The recurring underlying theme about how power should walk hand-in-hand with responsibility – and how abuse and calamity happen when it doesn’t – that was so prominent in the original series is far less in evidence here (at least so far). While this loss of substance has gotten mostly washed over by the hyped-up action, it is still evident and may hurt the series’ depth, comparatively speaking, in the long run. Taking the silly asides to greater extremes is not necessarily a Good Thing, either, unless the viewer is already a fan of that style of humor in the manga. Overall, this second series has proven quite good and entertaining so far, but claiming that it blows the first series out of the water is an exercise in hyperbole.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Superb musical score, good English dub, great action sequences, new content.
− Apparently hard-subbed, some art integration issues, sacrifices some depth.
Ed and Ling (and Envy, too) reemerge from Gluttony’s gut to be reunited with Al, only to discover that Al was in the process of meeting with the figure the Homunculi refer to as “Father” – who happens to look exactly like Hohenheim! All Hell breaks loose when Scar and May Chang also show up. In the wake of that mess, Ed and Al get their formal introduction to Wrath and are warned not to stick their noses too far into Homunculi business lest those they care about (i.e. Winry) be endangered. After a talk with Hawkeye, who fills in the gaps for Ed about the awful story of putting down the uprising in Ishval, Ed comes to the conclusion that he and Al’s best chance to get their bodies back involves studying alcehestry – and to do that they have to track down May Chang. Their quest leads them north to Brigg’s Wall, Amestris’s border-guarding northern fortress, where Major Armstrong’s sister, Major General Oliver Mira Armstrong, reigns over a harsh, tough bunch. There they encounter the Homunculus Sloth, discover that Solf Kimblee, the Crimson Alchemist, has been freed from jail and set on Scar’s path, and piece together something of the full truth about a grand plan for Amestris which spans centuries. Things get more complicated when Winry is brought to the scene (to reinforce her hostage status) and Scar shows up, but under the circumstances can the Elric brothers even consider him an enemy this time? And who else can they really trust?
Meanwhile, back in Central, Hawkeye has a very scary run-in with Pride as she struggles to maintain safety and sanity in her status as a walking hostage against Mustang, while Mustang calls in an old friend for help. On another front, Hohenheim contemplates finally taking action himself.
This set, which spans episodes 27-39, begins with a reflective piece focused on Hohenheim which is about 80% recap of the first 26 episodes and 20% delving into Hohenheim’s own motivations. After that, though, things really begin to sizzle, and quickly. Though the next twelve episodes occasionally pause for a retrospective piece, such as further revealing reflections by Hohenheim and Hawkeye’s account of her past and the events in Ishval, they otherwise charge forward with a tightly-packed regimen of action, scheming, and menace. Want to see the sum and substance of what makes this version of the story great? Check out these episodes.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this span of episodes is that it is nearly devoid of side stories. Other than the recap episode, nearly every scene in every episode is somehow related to the bigger overall plot lines. Even the content of its retrospective pieces is directly relevant to current events. For instance, what happened in Ishval shaped the current attitudes of characters like Major Armstrong and Hawkeye; seeing the boisterous Armstrong so downcast and the unwaveringly firm Hawkeye so dead-eyed from what they had to do there is heartbreaking. Hawkeye also gets another one of this season’s best sequences in her harrowing encounter with Pride (it may not be who you expected it to be) and how much it shakes her in the aftermath. That, combined with the thinly-veiled threats cast against Winry to keep the Elric brothers in line, the disturbing scheming of General Raven, and the overwhelming power of Father, gives this series a sense of menace well beyond what the first TV series ever achieved and a tightness to the writing not as evident earlier in the series.
The scheming is another big draw here. The earlier episodes dropped plenty of hints that some kind of grand plan was going on behind the scenes in Amestris, but not until this block of episodes do viewers start to get a sense of what that plan actually is. The scope of it is mind-boggling, but one would expect nothing less from a shonen series running a single main plotline over the course of 64 episodes. Its intricacy and execution so far do an excellent job of getting viewers interested and giving the Elric brothers and their allies an awesome problem to confront and difficult foes to defeat; too often shonen series depend primarily on having personally uber-powerful Big Bad Guys at the core of things to provide the full threat value (and this one does, to an extent, have one in Father – seeing Scar completely flummoxed by an individual foe is a treat), but here the systemic corruption that the Elrics, Mustang, and others must contend with is even more daunting, and that is a challenge that most other shonen series lack.
These episodes offer some great characters and character development, too. While the highlights may be Winry’s Round 2 with Scar and the aforementioned scenes with Hawkeye, we also get to see that Hohenheim is not the uncaring, irresponsible bastard that he earlier appeared to be; he is a man who does care but simply does not know how to relate to other people, even his own progeny. We get to see more of the pasts of Hawkeye and Mustang and understand how they hooked up (and get some suggestion that Hawkeye may have her own alchemy-related secrets, unlike in the first series) and see Scar start to question more deeply the nature of his own actions. Ling also heads in an interesting direction, the consequences of which will, no doubt, have an impact for the rest of the series. Pride finally pops up in physical form, and Sloth gets some feature scenes as he figures into a couple of episodes big-time, but the bigger treat is new character Olivier Mira Armstrong, who is cut from the classic hard-ass mold but is also insightful and impressively righteous in her convictions for all of her “this is a harsh place where you must be strong to survive” bluster. Kimblee’s expanded role is, by comparison, a disappointment, as he simply does not come across as aggressively evil enough to be exciting and does not cut it as a manipulator.
Of course, Fullmetal Alchemist would not be what it is without its action scenes and humor, though this season does not have as many pitched battles as earlier 13-episode sets. This season’s regular episodes open with one of the most intense and hairy battles to date, a multi-sided affair which eventually involves the Homunculi, Father, Scar, May Chang, Ling, chimeras, and the Elric brothers, but then lays off on the heavy-duty action for a while until a Scar/Kimblee battle comes up and Sloth’s burrowing results in a heaping amount of trouble for everyone involved. Along the way the series offers no shortage of humorous asides, some of which continue to be annoying in the same way that they were earlier in the series while others sparkle (General Armstrong’s comments about the stolen food several years earlier, for instance).
The artistry and technical merits remain on par with what has been seen previously in this series: very sharp most of the time but not without weak points and occasional brief visual flaws. Highlights here include the aforementioned tweaks to character designs in the flashback episodes, Pride’s horrifying nature, Olivier’s character design, certain automail mechanical designs, and some color contrasts and uses of gray in the mining town in the later episodes. On the downside, the minimal variance in facial structures, especially in female character designs, becomes more noticeable in these episodes. The musical score also maintains the same high standards seen earlier in the series, with highlights here including the ominous vocals used in various places. New opener “Golden Time Lover” is a decent but bland pop song, while new closer “Tied Hands,” which primarily features Winry in its visuals, is solid but not quite up to the level of “Let it out.” Both get more up-tempo replacements for episode 39.
Recurring roles in the English dub continue to do either mediocre or stand-out jobs, as established by earlier volumes. Caitlin Glass and Todd Haberkorn in particular get some additional nice work as Winry and Ling, respectively, while Scar still is the weak link. Amongst new roles, Stephanie Young is a suitable fit as Olivier and Troy Baker makes a good-sounding new incarnation of Greed. Patrick Seitz so subsumes himself into the role of Sloth that he is unlikely to be recognized.
The thirteen episodes of the Blu-Ray version of this release come on two disks in a now-standard 9-4 distribution. Extras on the disks include clean opener and closer on the second disk and one English audio commentary on each disk, one for episode 28 and the other for episode 36. Both feature line producer Mike McFarland hosting 2-3 of the English voice actors and predominately stick rather closely to the series. Both disks also have the now-standard but no less irritating arrangement of not allowing one to shift between the vocal tracks without going out to the Set-Up menu and providing no option to view the dub with subtitles on. The disk encoding uses an AVC/MPEG-4 codec with 1080p/24 resolution, producing a picture that still has minor glitches for visual nitpickers but generally looks a little better than the earlier two sets. The Japanese track uses lossless Dolby TrueHD 2.0, while the English track uses Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The latter give a little fuller surround sound experience.
Funimation’s release of this set, perhaps not coincidentally, nearly coincides with the series’ return to TV broadcast of new episodes on Adult Swim, and perhaps also not coincidentally, the next set is due out around the time that the AS broadcast will hit the end of this set. If done intentionally, that seems like a fairly effective marketing gimmick. In general, though, of the sets that have come along so far, this is the one most worth owning.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Generally strong English dub, great musical score, very involving.
− Apparently hard-subbed, some minor artistic integration issues.
Events in the North come to a head when Ed’s group and Kimblee finally clash, but before the final blow can fall Kimblee gets new orders: carve the crest of blood at Briggs. The nationwide transmutation circle is almost complete and the new turn of events soon has “Father”‘s staunchest opponents, Ed and Al, separated. With every soldier in Amestris on their tails, the two, along with a few unlikely allies, must make their separate ways to Central and to the heart of the evil that threatens their nation. They’re not alone. Olivier Armstrong and Roy Mustang both have plans for Amestris’s capital, and neither plan is particularly beneficial to the powers that be, King Bradley and Father included. The coup is on, and Central will burn.
If you want a demonstration of what a shonen adventure is like when it’s done exactly right, you can’t go wrong with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Especially now. It has always, at least since its somewhat rushed opening episodes, been a funny, exciting, occasionally wrenching action series of epic scope and deceptive depth. But it’s here during the opening strains of its nearly twenty-episode climax that it opens the throttle all the way and really comes into its own.
Of course, this being the show’s penultimate set, it isn’t all climactic acceleration. There’s a good deal of maneuvering to be done and secrets to be revealed before the show can wind up for its final blow-out. It’s in this period that we finally learn Hohenheim’s past, and Father’s. That Ed and Al go their separate ways, create their separate alliances, and demonstrate their separate strengths. That Dr. Marcoh settles his score with Envy, and Greed breaks with his homunculi brethren. That the boys reconcile with their father and make their final preparations for the Promised Day. There’s humor along the way (most memorably during Ed and Winry’s ill-timed reunion), and intrigue, and poignancy (most strongly in Al’s return to Liore). Brotherhood navigates this all with the same loose-jointed ease with which it has navigated nearly all of its many plot turns and mood shifts, plunking us almost carelessly down right on the brink of the siege of Central.
Whereupon it screams downhill into a pit of tightly-controlled chaos.
It’s in that pit that the true mettle of Brotherhood’s creators is tested. The siege of Central is an enormous undertaking during which dozens of characters, a half-dozen plot lines, and nearly as many fragmenting and recombining fights are juggled simultaneously with the inexorable advance of the main plot. That takes skill to pull off—a lot of it. And surprisingly, Brotherhood has it. As charming as that loose-jointed feel was, it gave little indication that the series would handle a Byzantine monster like the siege particularly well. But director Yasuhiro Irie and screenwriter Hiroshi Ohnogi orchestrate Hiromu Arakawa’s epic climax with a clean ease that is truly eye-opening. Armies of undead dolls, the various homunculi, Central’s disordered soldiers and their even more disordered leadership, Mustang and Olivier’s factions, Ed’s group, Al’s group, the Xingese warriors, the Ishvali dissidents, Father, and a few unaffiliated faces from the past—Irie and Ohnogi keep them all moving with miraculous clarity as they bounce off of each other, joining and parting and striving each for their own ends in their own distinctive ways. It’s a narrative balancing act of daunting skill, nearly as thrilling and beautifully choreographed as the fights that result from it.
It’s also a narrative balancing act that necessitates a few transparent devices. The ways in which it delays and otherwise occupies some of the factions while it focuses on others aren’t always artful. Ed and his crew’s long, pointless brawl with a legion of flesh-eating mannequins is the worst of them, though the pitifully unconvincing “death” used to keep King Bradley out of the fray is a close second. Such tactics are necessary, one knows, and can pay off most handsomely (especially about four episodes into the next volume), but that doesn’t stop them from also being irksome.
There are enough other rote elements scattered throughout this set to remind you that Brotherhood is indeed a shonen adventure, with all of the attendant trappings. Folks who somehow find the time for lengthy speeches on not leaving comrades behind or the relative efficacy of killing as opposed to sparing enemies in the midst of pitched battle, for instance. Or timely rescues by once-absent comrades. But the series gets so much else right that it’s positively curmudgeonly to hold that against it. It’s full of great little inventions, from Pride, a formless monster comprised of teeth and eyes swimming in jagged lakes of shadow, to the screeching, ravenous masses of eyeless man-dolls that make up Central’s “immortal legion” (among anime’s more unsettling sights, by the way). It’s populated with characters every one of whom, from the tertiary throwaways to the late additions to the big players, is written well enough that they could spearhead a lesser series on their own. Its world strikes a perfect balance of eerie mystery and explicit detail, and it never forgets its slightly goofy sense of humor (or its SD gags), even in its darkest, most disturbing hours—of which it has plenty.
And one shouldn’t forget the series’ sheer technical skill either. Hiroki Kanno provides simple and efficient, if occasionally slightly sloppy, designs for the characters to inhabit, just as Irie and his collaborators at BONES flesh out Brotherhood’s setting with superior backgrounds and complement its colorful, varied plot with vibrant, energetic visuals. Action scenes are pure showboating, full of “because we can” moments of sheer animated excess as characters leap, punch, slice, shoot, burn, detonate and generally wreak mayhem with every ounce of cinematic fluidity and substance that BONES can muster. Akira Senju’s score, for its part, is as vast, varied, unsettling, and beautiful as the series itself.
There’re no new characters added this set, so your impression of Funimation’s dub is unlikely to change for the better or the worse. It’s rock-solid work with just the occasional soft spot in it, perfectly capable of delivering every ounce of the series’ considerable impact intact. The script appears to be pretty tight, though it’s difficult to tell as the discs’ settings prevent one from watching the English version with the subtitles on.
For extras we have two episode-long commentary tracks, one for episode 40 and the other for episode 46. Each features ADR director Mike McFarland with a portion of the cast and is more informative than entertaining—just the way I like ’em. The bump in video quality, for the record, is worth the bump in price.
Filmmaking is a curious art. It’s as much a logistical exercise as an artistic one, its practitioners both artists and engineers. There are a good number of differences between the original Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but if one had to choose just one, it would be that Fullmetal Alchemist was controlled by the engineers while Brotherhood was controlled by the artists. The original’s mechanical precision, its carefully measured ratios of action and tragedy and humor, are no coincidence. Brotherhood is the more organic of the two, ruled simply by what it wants to do rather than what it thinks it should. Which, by the serendipity peculiar to artistic efforts, results in it doing exactly what it should: Weaving an engrossing tale, the next chapter of which, thanks to this set’s roiling cauldron of intertwining schemes and destinies, cannot come soon enough.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : A-