[Editor's note: this wasn't originally mentioned, but this post is the first by reviewer Matt "Legion" McClellan. The writer's name is always up there in the post header, but until now it's always been the same one.]
I’m quite fond of the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime. It’s got a great story, memorable characters and relationships and a lot more depth than other shows of it’s ilk. It’s well animated, funny, but also tense and engaging, with a solid and satisfying conclusion.
Why then, do we need another one? As is often the case a popular manga was adapted for television before the original author, in this case Hiromu Arakawa, was done his story. The series was catching up to it’s manga counterpart and therefore had to diverge. The first 26 episodes are fairly close to the manga but script writer Sho Aikawa took the storylines in a different direction.
This is quite common, but perhaps due to the show’s popularity at home and abroad, something rare has happened: it’s getting a do-over. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is intended to faithfully adapt Arakawa’s manga, with both the manga and anime concluding around the same time. Is this necessary? Given that the original show does not feel lacking or hampered in any way, maybe not. But is it welcomed? After 13 episodes I’m going to say yes, it’s very welcome.
The first 13 episodes of Brotherhood cover the same material as the first 26 episodes of the original show. This has proved to be interesting to watch. The slower buildup of the original made some of the plot points resonate deeper than Brotherhood, such as a likable supporting character’s death. However, the pacing in Brotherhood has been very good and nothing feels lost or skimmed over. The story of Ed and Al and their quest is still highly engaging and the results of their attempt to bring back their mother are as chilling as ever.
The visual aspects are similar yet slightly expanded and modernized on the original’s aesthetics due to the 16:9 framing and extra resolution. The show looks great and even if the resolution isn’t technically at high definition levels the animation is nice and fluid. I’m willing to take sub-HD resolutions with nice animation over 720p resolution with awkward animation any day. While Brotherhood is the technically superior production, there are elements of the original that I prefer. Both series have a wide range of amusing facial expressions and comically deformed moments, but I personally think the original may have handled these aspects with a bit more panache. Brotherhood’s comedic animations and visual jokes feel a little more typical (such as a giant arrow pointing at an empty space where a character or important object just was). Brotherhood still has a sharp sense of comedic timing and many fans probably prefer its visual humor.
Great characters call for great acting, and this is a franchise I’m currently more familiar with in English than Japanese. The original voice cast retains Romi Park and Rie Kugiyama as Ed and Al but the majority of the supporting characters are recast. FUNimation was more diligent in it’s casting; although Al has a new voice as Aaron Dismuke has long since hit puberty Vic Mignogna is clearly just thrilled to be playing Ed again and most of the supporting cast from the original series reprise their characters for Brotherhood. I’ll surely re-watch both series in the original Japanese some day, but I imagine the voice changes will be more jarring when I do.
Now that I’ve got the first 13 down, Brotherhood is entering new territory: new characters, new storylines, all leading to a different conclusion. I can’t wait to get into the new material but I’ve still enjoyed re-visiting the story covered in the original show. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the first 13 to get straight to the new material, either. There are moments and plot points not seen in the first half of the original run that feel like they may be giving context to the different path Brotherhood is taking.
Fullmetal Alchemist is just good anime. When I finish a really good show, a part of me can’t help but feel sad that it’s over. Brotherhood isn’t the same as continuing where the previous left off, but it’s great to be getting re-acquainted with the Elric brothers and their tale again. I’m quite willing to spend more time in their world, even if it’s from square-one.