For the most part we all amble through the world of anime choosing to watch various shows ranging from niche to divisive. There are a couple of shows out there though that seem to be requirements of being an anime fan, shows that are universally accepted (pretty much, I’m sure there are people out there that do disagree) as fantastic. Apart from the show I’m going to review in this article the only example I can really think of is Clannad: After Story. That aside the focus of this article is the number 1 rated anime on both MAL and Hummingbird (check out my profiles in the links!), Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is the definition of universally loved. Through the last two weeks, I’ve been on the journey that so many have loved and now I’m going to let you know what I thought of it. Given how many people have watched this and how much I would have to miss to avoid spoilers, in this review I won’t be holding back.
At the beginning of our story Ed and Alphonse Elric tragically lose their mother to an illness, after their mysterious father had disappeared, not to have been heard from for several years. The two boys are alchemists, following the principal of equivalent exchange and decide to dedicate themselves to finding the secrets of human transmutation (a taboo of alchemists), in order to bring their mother back to life. After several years of research and training, the two boys attempt the alchemic exchange to bring back their mother. [Spoiler] The experiment fails. Not only do the boys not revive their mother, creating instead a hideous, dying humanoid, but Ed loses his leg while Al loses his whole body, only for Ed to give up his arm to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of a armour.
Following these events, Ed and Al burn down their house and head to the capital where Ed becomes a state alchemist with the aim of reclaiming their bodies.
After the initial set up of the story (which it should be said is actually quite rushed), we follow the brothers’ journey with their allies in the military (most notably Colonel Roy Mustang) and friends from the neighbouring state of Xing. The principal enemies are the Homunculi, human like beings that are immensely difficult to kill, fuelled by philosopher’s stones, alchemic amplifiers created through the sacrifice of human lives. Ed and Al begin by searching for these stones to help them reclaim their bodies. However, they soon give up after discovering the origins of the stones. They soon discover that there is a great deal of corruption in the military and as a result end up joining up with former enemies (most notably Scar, a man who had been killing state alchemists for revenge). It emerges that the leader of the homunculi is planning to sacrifice the whole of the country in order to gain enough energy to capture ‘God’. For the most part the story is well paced, though as I mentioned earlier the beginning isn’t really given enough time, while the ending is drawn out, almost to the point where much of the rest of the story is overshadowed.
Potentially, this section could go on for many thousands of words. One of the best things FMA Brotherhood does is involve a large number of characters, give each of them a specific role in the story and then develop them really well. As the eponymous character, Ed is the main focus of the show. Ed’s character is made clear from the outset and is developed well throughout, making him largely predictable throughout. This though doesn’t stop what happens to him and the decisions he makes exciting however.
This isn’t to say that Ed is the best character in the show. Nor is that to say it isn’t. There are several characters in the show that you could developed whole spin off shows about. The most obvious character in probably Roy Mustang, but other extremely well developed characters are Scar, Ling, Winrey and Hohenheim. Though there is often more than one plot arc going on at once, no one character ever feels overly dominant. It’s testament to the writers of the show that, unlike in the first anime adaptation, Ed and Al do not become the most dominant characters.
The show has a lot of aspects of the shonen genre to it, so it should be pointed out that the female characters throughout are exceptional. They stand independently of the leading men and act as strong, well written characters in their own right. Not only do they often act as supports for the male characters but they are also incredibly strong by themselves and at times become totally central to the defeat of the enemy through combat, a feature that is often ignored in screen writing more generally.
Sound, Artwork and Animation:
The music throughout FMA Brotherhood is, on the whole, very good. There are some very emotional insert songs and most of the title music is exceptional. The artwork, which has been significantly updated from the original FMA anime is also mainly very good. It never really feels like the art style is particularly over the top, while it is always managed to convey the magnitude of the story. The combat scenes that frequent the show are only as good as they are because of the animation style, I’m thinking particularly of the combat with Pride.
Best piece of music:
Choosing the best piece of music from FMA Brotherhood is difficult, if only because there are so many songs to choose from, particularly when you take into account the insert songs as well as the opening and ending tracks. What have I gone for after being dealt with this dilemma you then ask? Well I was torn between three or four, but in the end I chose the very first song you here when you watch the show: Again- Yui. Essentially, it’s just a really catchy song. That said, it does fit very well with the opening titles and it’s a great opening for a really epic show.
Episode 54: Beyond the Inferno. How do you begin to choose the best episode from a series like this. There were so many episodes I could have gone with, but I decided to choose 54, Beyond the Inferno. Why? It’s an episode where we see a lot of our characters at their best. Mustang is dangerous, but we can relate to him, which makes him even more likeable. Hawkeye has been on the periphery throughout, and has been well liked up to this point, but this is the episode where we really her words mean something. Ed and Scar are also massively important in this episode. Scar show’s that he isn’t a one dimensional, opportunist who is using his alliance to gain an advantage for his own goals. Ed is important in a lot of episodes but here we see it in his face off with Envy. I think Envy is probably the most important homunculus- make of that what you will- and because of that everything that we find out about him is hugely important. Through him in this episode, Ed establishes the true motivation of the enemy. All the more reason to love the episode.
It’s not surprising Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is rated so highly by so many people. The plot line is essentially free from holes and the characters are developed exceptionally well. The music and animation is consistently excellent. The balance between serious plot and comic relief is great and as such I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend FMA Brotherhood for it’s comedy alone. It’s difficult to find problems with the show. Trying to review a show that has done so well is difficult- it would be easy to try to pick holes to prove people wrong, even if it the show doesn’t deserve it. At the same time however, it would be equally easy to say it’s perfect at leave it at that. Well here’s what I think. FMA Brotherhood is an excellent show. It isn’t without flaws however, the opening feels rushed and even though this is covered in the original anime, as a standalone the story is expanded upon enough. At the same time the ending is ever so slightly unnecessarily dragged out. That said, I can’t really pick out many other problems with the show. On the MAL and Hummingbird, I’ve given it the highest score, but because of the small problems I’ve mentioned here, it won’t get a perfect score here.