I am going to do my best to keep this review fairly neutral… but it’s gonna be hard. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) is the first anime that I watched to completion, and remains my favourite anime to date. It is an adventure/action anime that is 64 episodes long, with 4 accompanying OVAs and 1 movie (not part of the main plot).
What’s it about?
This anime takes place in a world where alchemy exists. Two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, learn alchemy from their absent father’s books. When their mother dies of a long-term illness, the two decide to bring her back by performing human transmutation, a taboo in alchemy. However, they fail miserably, resulting in Edward losing his left leg and Alphonse losing his entire body. Edward saves his brother by successfully tying his soul to a suit of armour, sacrificing his right arm in the process. The boys set out to gain their original bodies, searching for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Edward even becomes a State Alchemist, which involves working for the military, to complete the task. However, they soon find out that their country harbours dark secrets, which will put them in danger that they never imagined…
The entire thing. No jokes. Not convinced? Alright, here goes…
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has some amazing art in it. All of the action scenes are drawn well and are easy to follow. If, like me, you prefer to see blood in fight scenes, this anime does blood and injuries realistically, so that the characters don’t end up looking like they’ve bathed in it, like they do in other anime (*cough* One Piece). There is plenty of detail in the anime, which brings the settings to life, and even the characters in the background have had attention paid to them. All of the characters are styled well, and I particularly like the military uniforms. Emotions are portrayed excellently in the character’s facial expressions and body language. Keep your eyes peeled for the change in style as time goes on in the anime, and the younger characters (especially Edward) grow up; it’s done in a simple, elegant way.
The soundtrack of this anime is also pretty decent. The main themes are quite catchy, but there are also lovely string songs that leave you feeling sad, and perfect military marches. During some of the stranger scenes (e.g. when before Truth), the music is mystic and eerie. Throughout the whole series, the music really helps to set the scene. Furthermore, the first opening has become my favourite Japanese song, and sets the mood for the anime perfectly.
Now, moving onto the more important stuff… characters. This is one of the rare series where each and every character is well thought out and makes an impact on-screen. I think you are guaranteed to absolutely love at least one character in this anime, as there are enough characters to keep everyone happy. The ‘good’ characters aren’t all knights in shining armour; many have a past in which they have done something horrendous and unforgiving. There are all types of male characters; some who are clever and manipulative, others who would rather hit first and ask questions later. The female characters range from damsels in distress to strong leaders, brutal and honest in their mannerisms. Chances are you will also love hating the ‘evil’ characters, whether they appear to be out-right crazy, or more like the thing of nightmares (here’s looking at you, Pride). And of course, there a few characters who fit in the scale between good and evil, leaving the viewer unsure if they are trustworthy or not. It’s a real pleasure to watch the characters interact, producing plenty of hilarious moments, but also allowing gripping, suspenseful moments. The relationships between some characters (e.g. Hawkeye and Mustang) are incredibly meaningful and are a real testament to how amazing the characters are. I honestly don’t think any of the characters in this anime could have been done better; I loved the unique quirks and attitudes of all of them.
Finally, the storyline, which can be wrapped up in one word… wow. The story of this anime has everything. There are plenty of funny, light moments that make you laugh, keeping the anime upbeat. There are heart-crushingly tragic scenes, which successfully bought me to tears on several occasions. There is a touch of horror in the failed human transmutation attempts, the back stories of some of the characters (e.g. Wrath), and the concepts of humans and life that are thrown around. There is a touch of romance, some of which is out-rightly stated, some which is hinted at, especially in the older characters. The romance adds sweetness to the anime, without taking away from anything else. And there is plenty of suspense, which keeps you craving more. The plot is full of unexpected twists and never falters, keeping the anime moving at a good pace. There are plenty of original, well-developed ideas in the anime, and everything is crafted together, bringing every aspect of each plot idea and character to a final fight scene that left me feeling on-edge and incredibly emotional until it concluded. The final episode of this anime does a perfect job of tying up all loose ends and is deeply satisfying.
If you have never heard of Fullmetal Alchemist before, here’s a little bit of back-story before I point out what I think the main negative is in this anime. There are two Fullmetal Alchemist anime. The first one, simply entitled ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ was created in 2003, and its first 25 or so episodes has a lot in common with the manga, including the brother’s exploits in Liore, the story of how they lost their bodies, the encounter with Scar, investigating a certain research laboratory, etc. However, the 2003 anime quickly develops an original plot that is extremely different from the manga. The second anime, ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” was created in 2009, and contains the plot of the manga (i.e. the story that was thought up by Hiromu Arakawa). Now having said that, the only real negative that bugged me about Fullmetal Alchemsit: Brotherhood was the pacing at the beginning of the anime; the first half-dozen episodes zoom by and feel rushed and brief. Although very annoying, you can understand why this was done… these episodes were already covered (quite well) in the first anime, and I’m sure the writers wanted to get onto the good stuff. A major problem that may result from the fast pacing is this… the viewer may not connect with the characters as well as they do in the first anime. I’m not too sure how badly this emotional connection is affected, or even if it is affected at all, as I watched the two anime at the same time, but it might be something to look out for.
The only other thing negative about this anime, is that every other anime I watch is judged against and falls down in comparison. You can’t half-tell this is my favourite anime, can you?!
Anything else I should consider?
If you are unsure about what order you should watch this anime vs. the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, I have some advice; the first anime is brilliant in building connection with the characters, and having knowledge of it will help you ignore the rushed feeling of the first few Brotherhood episodes. If you don’t mind going over parts of the story that you already know (including some of the emotional parts), I would recommend watching the first anime before this one. However, if you feel that you can connect with characters easily, dive straight into this anime, and don’t bother with the first one until afterwards. As I mentioned earlier, I watched the two at the same time, which really helped me connect with the characters. However, I dropped the first anime once its plot began to falter, and focused entirely on Brotherhood, because its story was a lot more gripping and interesting.
Art: 9/10: Fighting scenes are excellent, character styling is excellent, the portrayal of emotions is excellent… all of the art in this anime is excellent.
Story: 10/10: The story is a beautifully conceived roller-coaster of emotions
Characters: 10/10: Protagonists that you love, antagonists that you love to hate, and a whole range of others to give everyone a favourite!
This anime is an example of where everything; art, story and characters, is done right, and a true work of art is produced. I recommend this anime to anyone and everyone. Overall, I give this anime a 9.5/10, only because I think a 10/10 would be impossible to achieve.