Fullmetal Alchemist [Anime]: What could have been a masterpiece simply isn’t…

So I skipped last week, and I’m willing to admit it’s because I’m lazy. To make up for it, I am writing not one, not two, but three, yes, three (!) reviews for this week. Starting off with Fullmetal Alchemist (2003).

I’m going to do my best to make this a review of Fullmetal Alchemist and a not a comparison between Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. However, given the fact that both anime have the same set up, there will be some comparisons throughout. Fullmetal Alchemist is a 51 episode adventure/action anime, that concludes in the movie the Conqueror of Shamballa. There are also five accompanying OVAs. 


What’s it about?

The set up is the same as Brotherhood: two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, use alchemy to perform human transmutation in an attempt to bring their mother back from the dead. They ultimately fail, and in the process Alphonse loses his entire body whilst Edward loses his left leg. Edward manages to save his brother by tying his soul to a suit of armour, which results in Edward losing his right arm. A number of years later, the two brothers attempt to find the Philosopher’s Stone which will enable them to return their original bodies. What differs in this anime is that the complication in the plot is different there is still someone manipulating everything in order to create Philosopher’s Stones for their own use, but for different reasons. There’s not too much I can say, as it is quite easy to spoil the plot.  

The Positives

One of the strengths of Fullmetal Alchemist is the character development and pacing at the beginning of the series, which makes it more successful at developing the viewer’s emotional bond with the characters. This mainly stems from the fact that everything is not presented at a super-fast pace, but instead we have time to understand and get to know the characters. For me, this transitioned to emotional events being a lot more emotional and meaningful. Furthermore, the tendency for this anime to have good pacing means that there are a lot more funny moments in it, with some episodes mainly designed for laughs Roy and Edward’s fight in episode thirteen was pure gold.

Another thing that I really liked about this anime is some of the unique concepts that differ from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. I particularly liked the ideas concerning the homunculus [SPOILERS/] as failed human transmutations, and I think Wrath having the body parts that Edward lost was particularly powerful. I also liked the idea of two immortal characters constantly encountering each other through time, and the need to change bodies because of the rotting that resulted from the rejection of the soul [\SPOILERS]. These ideas make the anime quite dark, which I absolutely adored. There is also some stuff to do with parallel worlds thrown in, which, although not done well, is always interesting to see.

One of the concepts I really liked in Fullmetal Alchemist

One of the concepts I really liked in Fullmetal Alchemist

Finally, the art and music. The art is of a good standard, the actions scenes are done particularly well, and I quite liked the styling of Alphonse at the end of the series. In terms of music, I really liked two of the openings in Fullmetal Alchemist (the first- “Melissa“, and the third “Undo“), as well as the first ending (“Indelible Sin“). In general, the soundtrack of Fullmetal Alchemist is quite good, but it’s the Russian song “Bratja” that really steals the show. This song is just so perfect for what the two brothers must feel, but never say, to each other. Furthermore, it’s utilised throughout the anime at the best possible moments for maximum impact.

The Negatives

Firstly, the “other” characters (i.e. the non-cannon characters) are pretty standard and boring. For example, the Tringham brothers, who admittedly play a minor role, are dull, and I feel that their inclusion in the series is unnecessary. Lyra is bland, and apparently doesn’t know how to think for herself. I feel that her character could have been expanded a bit more, to make her fate more meaningful and emotional. Whilst Dante is a convincing villian, Dietlinde Eckhart, the antagonist of the anime’s concluding movie, is laughable and not worthy of inclusion in the franchise. Although I didn’t like the way some of the characters from the manga were portrayed (particularly Van Hohenheim and Rosé Thomas), this anime was purposely designed to be different from the manga, so I can’t really take a dig at them. The only other problem I really had with the characters were a couple who I found too ridiculous to continue existing in the anime- Shou Tucker and Frank Archer. They made me roll my eyes whenever they were on screen… not their intended purpose. 

However, the major negative of this anime is apparent halfway through the series… its plot. The unique ideas that I mentioned earlier lose their value without a meaningful and organised plot to string them together. There are simply too many things going on, and not enough satisfactory explanations or conclusions of sub-plots. The last four episodes are particularly messy, and it feels like the writers were desperately searching for a conclusion that would be plausible, but instead launch a brand new idea that is miserably done. Not even the movie, The Conqueror of Shamballa, can save the wreck of the plot, and only just manages to pull off a bitter-sweet ending that I did not find satisfactory.

It's okay, Rosé, you're not the only one looking for an explanation here.

It’s okay, Rosé, you’re not the only one looking for an explanation here.

Anything else I should consider?

The movie The Conqueror of Shamballa concludes the anime series, so if you watch this anime, make sure you to finish it 🙂

If you’re uncertain whether to watch this anime or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood first, or if you are unsure as to why I’m referring to two anime with slightly different names, it might be best to check out my review of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.


Art:  8/10: The art is good throughout, and the actions scenes are perfectly done.

Story: 5/10: The plot falls apart halfway through, and the ending is messy.

Characters: 7/10: Although the viewer forms solid emotional bonds with the characters, some are just too ridiculous and bland.

I did my best to give this anime an honest review and not tear it to shreds by comparing it to Brotherhood. However, by now it shouldn’t be a secret that this isn’t one of my favourites, but instead is filed under “Ah, what could have been”. If you do decide to watch this anime, I recommend that you immediately follow it up with Brotherhood, and see what happens when the plot’s done right. Overall I give this a 6/10.


fma full group


3 thoughts on “Fullmetal Alchemist [Anime]: What could have been a masterpiece simply isn’t…

    • Thanks for the reply 🙂
      You’re right- the second half was definitely a massive let down.
      Hahaha, I had to google that opening because I couldn’t remember it! There’s so many in this series.

  1. Pingback: Seiyuu Spotlight: SHIRATORI Tetsu | A Fandom of its Own

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