Anime for beginners, Case File 2 – Fullmetal Alchemist

To be technical, this should really be called case files 2 and 2B because I’m going to cover two series. Both are exceptional, and I highly recommend watching both. (Dare I’d say buy, but who am I kidding – no one besides me buys anime.) Most anime are adaptations of a popular ongoing manga series, so it was no surprise that Hiromu Arakawa‘s serial would get televised in 2003. What is surprising is that a second television series was created in 2009. Translated as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the second series was able to do what the first series could not do – faithfully adapt the second half of the manga series.

,Cover for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood s f...
DVD cover of FMA Brotherhood - Part 1

The premise is simple: in an alternate world, the ability to transmute matter, i.e.: alchemy, thrives in an Industrial Era European-style country. There are only two taboos: (1) no creation of gold, due to the potential economic collapse; and (2) no bringing the dead back to life. The former is easy for an alchemist to perform; the latter has never been successfully performed. Despite that, two young budding alchemists, Edward and Alphonse Elric, try to resurrect their dead mother because they are now orphans, due to their father disappearing years ago. For their failed attempt of committing the ultimate taboo, Alphonse pays the ultimate price – he loses his body. In order to save Al’s soul, Ed sacrifices his arm and leg in order to fuse the soul into a nearby suit of armor. Ed decides to become a state alchemist, with the goal of getting Al’s body back. Ed and Al research the one thing that can achieve that goal – the mythical philosopher’s stone.

There are plot twists abound. And the primary antagonists are homunculi: immortal humanoids named after the Seven Deadly Sins. There is a race of oppressed minorities, and one of them is on a one-man vendetta to wipe out the state alchemists that killed his brother and nearly wiped out his race. And oh yeah, he can perform alchemy as well.

Okay, end of book report. There are plenty of synopses and spoilers out there, and I have no desire to add to those lists. The first TV series was created when the original manga was ongoing, so the anime could only faithfully adapt the first half of the story. The anime had permission to go in a completely different direction. Therefore, episodes 27-51 have nothing to do with the manga. Not to mention the first FMA movie, which takes place immediately after the final episode of the anime. The series at the time was highly praised across the board for its powerful storytelling, and well-developed characters, who were constantly put through one emotional wringer after another. The franchise was a multimedia hit in Japan, between the manga, anime, video games, and soundtracks. The characters Col. Roy Mustang, and Lt. Liza Hawkeye were constantly ranking in the favorite Anime character polls in Japan. Even without reading or seeing the manga, novels, or supplemental material, FMA stood by itself as one of the best anime series of the 2000’s. (For once, I agree with the consensus.)

Hollywood is not the only medium that loves to make remakes. In 2009, with the original manga story coming toward an end, studio Bones created Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Fullmetal Alchemist. In order to animate the entire story, Brotherhood runs for 64 episodes. And while most remakes (live-action or animated) are usually watered-down derivatives of the original, Brotherhood bucks the trend. If anything, it raises the stakes, and provides more drama, tension, action, and character development than the 2003 FMA series. The remake adds characters that weren’t in the first series, and it changes the identities of a few homunculi, as well as the Big Bad.

The box score looks like this: 2 TV series, 115 episodes, 2 movies, 4 OVAs, fairly compelling storytelling, awesome animation from Bones, and some of the most iconic characters of the past decade. As far as the English dub is concerned, Funimation pulled out all the stops to create one of their best performances, which unfortunately means that it rises up to mediocrity. If forced to pick just one, I’d take the 2009 series. However the 2003 series is still one of my favorite series of all time. So you can’t go wrong.


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