Fullmetal Alchemist – Brotherhood Complete Collection (Cert 15)
10 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 1513 minutes approx
One would have to be either a very recent convert to Anime or a dweller under a very large rock to not already be familiar with the story of Edward and Alphonse Elrich, the two brothers who attempted to resurrect their dead mother using the power of alchemy which is governed by the law of equivalent exchange. The subsequent failed attempt at the most forbidden use of this powerful gift saw Ed lose his right arm and left leg while Al lost his entire body; thankfully his elder brother was able to transfer Al’s soul into a suit of armour. Learning that the only way to restore their bodies to normal is by employing the power of the Philosopher’s Stone the brothers head off in search of this fabled substance, joining the ranks of the military as State Alchemists in the process.
Arguably one of the most popular and successful franchises of the past decade, Hiromu Arakawa’s best selling manga was first animated into a very successful fifty-one episode series in 2003/2004. However it was hampered by the age old problem of the anime galloping ahead of the original source material, leading to a huge deviation in the story for the second half of it run with the show’s writer Shō Aikawa penning his own ending. With the manga continuing on until June of 2010, the differences between the two stories was monumental and loud ponderings as to whether the “true” FMA story would also be adapted as an anime were finally answered when in April of 2009 this reboot debuted on Japanese television. This new version is now unequivocally faithful to the manga from beginning to end thus providing many fans – especially those who have not read the manga – with what is a essentially a new and vastly different viewing experience.
Ideally it is therefore good advice to forget everything you know about FMA and approach this as a brand new venture; that is not to say the original adaptation isn’t worth your time because it is. However the producers of this new version were aware that delivering an ostensible frame by frame repeat of the tale up until the detour from the manga would detract from the experience for both themselves and the already clued-up viewer, whilst appreciating that for some this would be a new experience. Therefore the stand alone first episode acts as a “welcome back” for the established viewer and brief insight into the characters and the world of Alchemy for new viewers. From then on we are in familiar territory albeit presented in a faster and occasionally altered manner than before. Many of the outings already covered in the first series are dealt with inside one episode this time around yet nothing is lost in these compact presentations, so newcomers won’t feel like they are missing anything vital.
This emotional attachment one develops with the characters is just one of the strengths of the FMA franchise and indeed a testament to the writing of creator Hiromu Arakawa. She has created not just two very original and endearing main protagonists but a strong and easily identifiable supporting cast who have a purpose in the story and prove to be more than just effective catalysts, often having their own personal crisis become an integral fulcrum for future plot developments. Perennial favourites Winry Rockbell, Roy Mustang, Maria Ross, Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes, Major Armstrong et al, are all present and correct along with the key antagonists Scar Solf J. Kimblee and the Homunculi, led by Father. They are all joined by a slew of new faces including Olivier Mira Armstrong, May Chang, Lin Yao and some very unpleasant Chimera.
Long time fans should not feel cheated in anyway as the duplicated material still feels remarkably fresh and compelling as before. And once these episodes are through and the new material arrives, fans of the original series while find themselves taken on a brand new journey with a new cast of characters and in directions they never assumed possible. Most of the voice cast for both the Japanese and English dialogue have returned for this show which helps give it an added authenticity and genuine sense of place within the FMA canon. A very palpable difference, aside from the hurried pace, is in the presentation since animation techniques have improved since the original series and it clearly shows from the first episode. The detailing of the artwork is more intense than before and the animation a lot more fluid in the fight sequences thanks to computer animation.
One very noticeable difference is in the tone. The show is both darker and more humorous than before which sounds like a paradox but it’s true. The violence and bloodshed is far more unflinching than before and the whole look has a piercing dark veneer out it, but when the jokes and moments of levity arise – largely through Ed’s disdain at being called short – it’s chibi figures, greyed out silhouettes and sweatdrops galore which in this writer’s mind kind of spoils things even if it is supposed to be good natured, largely as they often employ it at some inopportune moments. But this is a minor complaint to bring up against such an immensely entertaining show of this calibre.
Should you find yourself wanting more than fret not: Manga Entertainment are not only re-releasing the first FMA movie Conqueror of Shambala – which concludes the story of the first anime adaptation – but they are also bringing us the second movie The Sacred Star of Milos too, which is available either separately or as a double pack on DVD or Blu-ray!
There is really little else to say about Fullmetal Alchemist – Brotherhood except that this is more than just an old favourite with a new coat of paint, it is an essential anime purchase which will not only win over new fans but remind older fans why they loved the franchise in the first place.
A five star classic and deservedly so.
English Language 5.1 Surround
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 1 Commentary
Episode 10 Commentary
Episode 14 Commentary
Episode 23 Commentary
Episode 28 Commentary
Episode 36 Commentary
Episode 40 Commentary
Episode 46 Commentary
Episode 64 commentary
Ratings – *****
Man In Black