Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist

FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST

Watched via Adult Swim/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: So before I go into plot, I think I should add a disclaimer. I watched Fullmetal Alchemist after I read the fully published manga. I’m a real purest when it comes to adapting manga into anime, and I only appreciate change when it behooves the series. That said, I can’t see a single reason why anyone would want to deter away from the amazing storyline that Hiromu Arakawa came up with. Seriously it’s one of the few anime plots that actually goes full circle and ties up all of the loose ends. It’s brilliant! What’s probably worse for the original anime is that the market was instantly gratified with a newer version, that actually followed the manga to a T. Where does that leave FMA? Personally, I think it leaves it in a dark and dusty corner as an overlooked relic of what once was.

Okay, onto plot/story. Edward and Alphonse Elric are brothers looking to find a philosopher’s stone in order to regain their original bodies, which were lost/destroyed after illegally trying to bring their mother back to life using alchemy. Edward, the older of the two, is a state alchemist, and uses his status as such to travel around the country side. I have mixed feelings about the pacing for FMA. The animators obviously knew they had a hit when they were coming up with the storyline, as a result, they took their time in filling out the episodes. Some episodes end up used as filler or at least incredibly barren of real plot. However, you do get a better sense of the characters starting out than you do in Brotherhood, and I really feel like you know who the Elric brothers are starting out. Then again, it’s younger Ed and Al, and they’re kind of annoying to watch as they shout and bicker about height.

I don’t wanna spoil later details, but I will say that once things began to “wrap up” towards the end, I just felt confused. Even today looking back, I still don’t get it. The homunculi don’t make any sense to me at all. I’ll give the animators kudos for coming up with their own believable ending, but it’s obviously tacked on with little understanding of the original universe Hiromu Arakawa created. Really I wish that they would have stalled the creation of the later episodes until it caught up with the manga.

I think the original anime really captured the playful essence of FMA, and it’s a shame that it starts to fall apart towards the end. On the other hand Brotherhood has a weak beginning and rushes through events like a check list. I’d really have liked to see these plot lines tied together into one entity.

I’m surprised that you find FMA playful, since I’ve always thought it was a lot broodier and more philosophical than Brotherhood. As a result, FMA also begins to fall apart towards the end, but it’s definitely more thought provoking than Brotherhood, which primarily succeeds at executing shounen tropes perfectly.

PLOT: Unlike Whitney, I watched Fullmetal Alchemist when it was on Adult Swim, so this is the first version of the characters and narrative I experienced. I was sucked into it, hard, and I fell in love with every bit of the show, though I knew the ending was a bit wonky. I only read the manga after finishing this series, so I think I can better appreciate what appeals to fans of both versions. Though I prefer the manga and the Brotherhood anime, I still think FMA has a lot to offer, especially if you’re into philosophy and edgier anime. On the other hand, if you’d rather watch a really, really well done shounen anime, go for Brotherhood.

FMA has the same initial plot as Brotherhood, with the Elric brothers losing their body parts while trying to bring back their mother. Edward decides to be certified as a State Alchemist, and they begin searching for the Philospher’s Stone, which they think will be able to help them get back their original bodies. Along their travels, they find the same group of homunculi who are meddling with their research, and there’s also a conspiracy afoot involving the Amestris military, the Ishbalans, and State Alchemists.

As Whitney says, FMA has some uneven pacing. The first half of the series has a good deal of anime-original episodes that could be viewed as filler, though they also develop the world and help the viewer get to know the characters better. Brotherhood loses a lot of that character-based impact, since it races through the first fifth of its series to avoid repeating FMA too much.

In the end, FMA mainly differs from Brotherhood in how the plotlines unfold, but they feature many parallel elements. The early villains are the same, but as the series unfold, the two continuities diverge wildly, including both major characters and characters’ motivations and backstories. Hiromu Arakawa, the manga’s author, gave the anime studio a basic outline of the series’s future plot, and it’s fascinating to study the studio’s plot and speculate about why they made certain changes. I don’t agree with many of them, but I do find them all intriguing. FMA’s political undercurrent is much stronger than Brotherhood’s, which leads to a more intellectual viewing experience with more meat to chew. It’s a terribly fun time, warts and all, if you’re into critically analyzing anime.

I’m interested in how you found FMA to be thematically stronger and more dramatic. Perhaps my particular viewing was biased in that I couldn’t connect with the story enough to feel the tension between the characters. Even towards the end of the series I failed to feel any real sort of conflict. That could be why I felt it was more “playful” than Brotherhood, which I thought was more emotionally charged. In which case I think it could be easy to say that audience expectations play a large part in the tone of the series.

SETTING: Edward and Alphonse Elric grew up in the small country village of Resembool. After the passing of their mother, the two were raised by next-door-neighbor Pinako Rockbell and her granddaughter Winry. The two brothers go on to study alchemy, and join up with the state in order to travel the country of Amestris looking for answers about the philosopher’s stone while helping people along the way.

Amestris is a war torn country at the bridge of industrialization. Each town the Elric brothers visits is faced with its own problems following the long war that was raged against the Ishbalan people about a decade ago. Amestris is a military state run by King Bradley, and the force of its military is felt everywhere. FMA does a wonderful job of humanizing the military and its people while simultaneously showing us the horrors of a country ruled by its military.

SETTING: FMA does an excellent job of establishing and developing settings. Settings all give off a mood based on their designs, coloring, and lighting, to the point where I always thought I knew what to expect in a particular place.

Amestris is a pretty stereotypical European country, while Ishbal is a clear representation of the Middle East. What FMA does well, though, is provide reasons for making these fictional countries so clearly parallel real ones, both within the narrative and outside of it. It’s not often that an anime’s setting has so many specific reasons for being a certain way, so FMA stands out, even against Brotherhood. As the narrative continues, the settings are developed in more and more interesting (and sometimes ludicrous) ways, keeping the series interesting and the viewers guessing.

CHARACTERS: FMA is all about adding comedy to its politically and socially charged plot. Edward and Al bring youth and joviality to the darker elements of the series, and continually bring hope to a country destined for destruction.

Edward is a hot headed teenager who’s easily identified by his braid, red jacket, and shortness. As an alchemist, he’s top notch. I didn’t like this version of Edward as much as the manga’s because I felt as if his character didn’t develop as much. Ed is a very compassionate person and strives to do the right thing no matter the consequences to him, his brother, or the state. I’d say his motto could easily be, act first, think later.

Al is probably my favorite of the duo. Maybe it’s because I’m a younger sibling, but I love the patience and understanding he has for his older brother. He can’t eat or sleep since his soul is attached to a suit of armor. Due to his state of being, he is a very thought driven person and often solves problems through deep contemplation, whereas Ed just smashes things until they work.

FMA has one of the best casts of secondary characters. They are very well thought out and develop emotionally and mentally over time. I love how human they all seem with their strengthens, weaknesses, and even egos. That said I still don’t get the homunculi and their motivations. I’m probably biased because of the manga, but it just doesn’t seem believable to me.

I think FMA does an excellent job of humanizing the homunculi, whereas Brotherhood leaves them as mostly two-dimensional characters. The homunculi’s backstories may be less solid in FMA, but the series excels at making them psychologically intriguing.

CHARACTERS: FMA develops its characters and their flaws better than most other anime dream of. Not only do characters have human weaknesses, but they have regrets and guilt that can tear their lives apart. In order to move forward, each main character has to face their demons and come to grips with their past decisions.

Ed and Al are subtly different in FMA than in Brotherhood, which I find really interesting. The main difference is in the relationship between the brothers. Here, Al always stands below Ed and never stands up to him the way he does in Brotherhood. I won’t go into details, but the way FMA deals with the theme of sacrifice is crucially different than in Brotherhood, which I think weakens the narrative’s message, though that could be my Western sensibilities speaking. FMA’s spin on sacrifice seems more traditionally Japanese, which irks me.

The other characters are all awesome and interesting in their own ways, with my favorite being Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist. FMA spends more time developing his role in the military as Ed’s watchdog and the local playboy, and it also gives him a more tragic backstory than Brotherhood. You could debate all day the pros and cons of Mustang’s FMA backstory, but I think it makes him a fundamentally different character than in Brotherhood, one that I like less. I still understand where he’s coming from, but Mustang’s great angst in FMA makes me respect him a little less (which is ironic, considering how much I love angsty men). Part of my difficulty with FMA now may be in its changes to Mustang’s character. Brotherhood still makes him go through great difficulties, but nothing near so bad as FMA’s tortures. I just don’t like seeing my favorite character in so much pain. Not even making my OTP more probable can balance that out.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: FMA has a wonderful budget for animation. There are times when characters seem a bit odd, but it’s all done for the sake of comedic relief. Character designs are pulled off well; everyone is easily distinguishable without seeming over the top with frivolous detail. Really that’s one of the biggest draws for watching shounen, the character designs, and this series doesn’t fail to enamor its audience with designs and style. My favorite by all means is Louis Armstrong, the Strong Arm Alchemist. His over-the-top strength, personality, and character design all work flawlessly together to dazzle the viewer, and boy was I dazzled.

694167-armstrong

I think the series did a great job of designing its female cast as well. Probably because the manga is written by a female, but the women are all designed in a way that fits into the shounen model, while still making the characters more than just a nice rack. For example, Riza Hawkeye, Mustang’s subordinate, is drawn as a no-nonsense military solider. As a woman, I really appreciate this treatment of characters as I felt it made them easier to identify with. Really I think Fullmetal Alchemist was one of the first, if not one of few series to date that has included such a well thought out and designed set of characters and world to match them.

Speaking of world building, the animation does an excellent job of drawing scenery and acting out action sequences. There are times when animation seems a bit cheap, but it’s all worth it for those big budget action packed moments later on. I got a little sick of Ed using the same boulder hands and blocky ground road blocks, but the constant influx of new backgrounds, settings, and world building totally made up for it.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: FMA looks great for its time (2003!), because it’s brought to you by Bones. Anymore, most episodes probably wouldn’t stand out that much, since most anime is made digitally and thus looks really good, but it was amazing in its time. The fight scenes definitely shine for their choreography and the tension it creates. I still have several fights from the series stuck in my mind’s eye, and FMA makes for great AMVs.

The character designs cover a wide range of character types, each nicely distinct from everyone else. Some characters have their over-the-top quirks, like Armstrong’s need to be shirtless and sparkly, but mostly the character designs focus on realistic distinctions between people.

If you compare FMA’s character designs to the manga’s or Brotherhood’s, there are some interesting differences in the style of drawing the same characters. The manga makes everyone look a little rounded, so most of the characters appear to have baby fat on their faces, even grown men like Mustang, and Hawkeye has more weight to her body. Brotherhood chose to stick to the manga’s character designs closely, while FMA decided to simplify the characters subtly. The complicated characters, like Armstrong, are drawn with fewer lines, while main characters, like Ed and Mustang, have more angular faces. This change probably helped the series appeal to mainstream audiences and enhances its serious, sometimes-philosophical feel. Personally, I still prefer FMA’s character designs, even though I prefer the manga and Brotherhood as a whole. There’s just something about Mustang’s face….

Haha. I agree about the character designs. The more realistic jaw lines help boost the visual maturity of the series, which aligns well with the politically charged plot line.

OVERALL: If you haven’t read the manga, or watched Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, I think Fullmetal Alchemist would still offer you an enjoyable way to pass the time. If you have read the manga, or seen parts of the newer series, just skip this one. In fact, if you haven’t seen any of the various formats, just go ahead and skip this one, and move onto the manga or Brotherhood. Really I don’t think there’s much need to revisit this series, now that there are better ways to see the characters and plot develop.

I know there are a lot of die hard fans of the original who can’t stand to watch the newer version, but I think it’s safe to say that’s all chalked up to the nostalgia factor. Probably the only thing FMA has to offer that its other formats don’t, is drawn out Elric brother slap-stick comedy. So if you think you can live without that, don’t worry about what you’re “missing out on.” Really, the only reason I went back and finished this was because Crystal wouldn’t let me start Brotherhood until I’d watched the second half of this series. After reading the manga, I have to say I agonized the whole time I was watching the ending. Just don’t mix the two. You can still watch FMA, but if you’re going to, get it out of the way first before you see anything else.

OVERALL: Though I like Brotherhood more, I can’t help but think FMA has its own merit, and I don’t think this is because of nostalgia. Yes, I fell in love with that version first, but I also recognize its many flaws. The characters develop in a way that I find less appealing and less probable, while the plot begins to stop making sense after a certain point. Conqueror of Shamballa? Awful! FMA has a lot of problems, particularly where plot holes are concerned.

Despite all that, though, FMA takes more risks and has more to say than Brotherhood. Freed from the restrictions of shounen manga, FMA goes to dark places and raises disturbing questions. While Brotherhood touches on many of the same topics, like military corruption and the oppression in the Middle East, FMA takes a harsher stand on them and explores them more fully. While it makes much less sense, FMA has a stronger thematic message than Brotherhood, which I respect. I don’t think every anime fan should watch FMA—if you’re into shounen anime, Brotherhood should be enough for you. If you want a thought-provoking watch, though, go for FMA first. There’s a reason why so many people still love it, even if it ends in a train wreck. And, if you still like Brotherhood more, you can still spend hours analyzing the similarities and differences.

I’m glad you had a different experience than me, and were able to point out some of FMA’s unique characteristics. I’ve been thinking about giving the series a re-watch with my husband. Perhaps it’ll be a better watch in the future without me rushing through it to watch Brotherhood, which I had already decided would be better. In which case you could probably say I’m just as biased as all the nostalgia fans, only in the opposite way.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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2 thoughts on “Fullmetal Alchemist

  1. as much as i have seen of this series i like it. i really enjoy the fact that i can get a great overview from the pair of you!!! >,< love and misses!!!

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