Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - OVERALL REVIEW (Part 1)

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"One more time, Al." "Right, brother!"

*****SPOILERS*****

Synopsis: In a world of the magical science of alchemy, Edward and Alphonse Elric pay a terrible cost for attempting to resurrect their death mother, and now search for a way to restore their bodies to normal with the help of the fabled Philosopher's Stone. However, they discover that the object of their desire has a terrible secret, as does the country they live in, and are thrust into a conflict involving the very nature of alchemy itself and one who would use alchemy to become a God.

"I'm too sexy for my coat.""Yes yes, Hughes. Your fear of phone booths is fascinating." 

Fullmetal Alchemist fans are a lucky bunch. Not only did they score one television anime based (for the most part) on Hiromu Arakawa's amazing manga series, but the same studio who made that one, Bones, decided to later do an even longer series based even closer to the manga. This is lottery jackpot lucky. This is attending-Anime-Expo-when-suddenly-Yoko-Kanno-appears-lucky (those lucky sods). Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was one of those things that I thought was just going to be summarily dismissed as a novelty for the manga readers. I personally didn't care whether there was an accurate version of the manga in anime form. I loved (and still love) the first series and movie, and if I want the manga's story, I can read the manga.

Fortunately, Brotherhood was damn good enough to keep watching from beginning to end, and even begin collecting on home video (Blu-Ray in my case). And it isn't necessarily because this show is significantly superior to the first (it isn't at all), but because it's just a very good show in itself. So when I say I've made room in the plastic drawers I keep my anime DVDs in for Brotherhood, you should get the impression that despite my nitpicky nature, I did enjoy this program.

"But, wait, Penguin Truth," you say, scratching your heads. "Didn't you bitch about nearly everything in this series?"

Shut up. I do that with everything. Go die in twelve fires.

Let me break things down for you, as a courtesy to the reader, and to me out of convenience, the way I would judge this series as a whole.

STORY

So, basically, the story is a quest of restoration. The Elric brothers lost their bodies (well, an arm, a leg, and one whole body) and are looking for a way to regain those things. Initially, they search for the Philosopher's Stone to do this. Then, after discovering the terrible secret behind it and those who are using it, the quest transforms into one of defeating the Big Bad before he destroys the country. The journey of the Elrics takes them to various places, meeting various people, and with various plot twists and turns, ultimately leading them to the final confrontation with said Big Bad, and somehow regaining (most of) what they lost.

There were some plot elements I felt were sort of convoluted or only existed by which to move the plot along and had little internal logic to them (Father making a new Greed homunculus), some parts that plodded along ceaselessly (the Briggs arc), and just seemed plain dumb (the homunculus army, Father's inability to use his powers with any creativity). There were little plot holes and hindrances, as well, such as the lack of explanation for what Father was and how he was tied to the Gate, what "God" is, how it's possible to force a person to be a human sacrifice, and why the homunculi waited until the last moment to secure said sacrifice, and finally, how Edward knew that sacrificing his Gate would be enough to restore Alphonse.

However, for the most part, these bits of head-scratching missteps weren't enough to significantly detract from the intriguing and immersive story. To see how the brothers grew as they moved across the country gaining experiences with how alchemy and the State Military has affected the lives of characters past and present and how they've affected and been affected by others is too involving to let those mistakes weigh too heavily on the overall experience.

My one objection to the treatment of the narrative is that, much like in the original manga, it relies on these big sensational "moments", which are cool to read/watch, but ultimately take away from the verisimilitude of the work as a whole. All you end up getting are a bunch of puncuations that take away from the subtlety of the themes. Perhaps to contradict that, some of those sensational moments weren't even as impactful in this series as they were in the manga. But I digress.

Brotherhood's story was a good enough one to keep me watching and after finishing, remembering.

Ah, family reunions. "Don't mind me, just making the most awesome moment in the series."

CHARACTERS

Fullmetal Alchemist is a story with a lot of characters. The manga and Brotherhood has even more characters than the original television series did. And while I don't like every character in the cast, nor necessarily agree with their placement or how important they're made out to be in the story or by their fans, I have to recognize that Brotherhood does a pretty damn good job balancing out its character representation. No character goes criminally underused, that's for sure. However, some do seem to become overused, and some characters feel a tad ornamental, at least to me.

The Xingese characters never really grew on me. They just felt out of place through most of the narrative. While I appreciate the representation of a different country and culture, everything the Xingese did was so exaggerated and over-the-top as to draw too much attention away from the already established main characters. They also seemed to have the all-too-convenient skill of tracking down homunculi by sensing them. I could understand how May, who understood how to use the "flow" of the world, could sense them, but Ling and the others had never been trained in alkahestry, so them being amazingly gifted in combat in addition to able to sense homunculi just made them seem overpowered, and they often stole the spotlight away from more interesting characters (like the Elric brothers) simply because they cut a better fight scene than them.

Another thing is the chimera characters. I do sort of like how Arakawa put in different sorts of chimera than just the ones in Greed's group, and the interesting parallel that Greed eventually gains two new chimera groupies in the ones that were with Edward at the time. However, these chimera characters, they killed me. I mean, really, who gives a fuck about these guys? Nobody, that's who. Certainly not me, so nobody of any importance (heh). They just feel like they're sort of... there. If Kimbley had simply just killed the chimera when they failed, the story would not have changed a jot. Just get somebody else to disable Dr. Goldtooth for a few moments later on. Have Edward stumble away after pulling the beam out and get picked up by a kindly old couple. Who cares? These chimera were lame comedy relief characters at best and character splooge that cluttered the hallway at FMA cast calls at worst. I did not care for them when they first appeared, and by the end, cared even less than that.

Finally, I realize that there are more characters than just Edward and Alphonse, but the series is called Fullmetal Alchemist. It's great to explore the various characters, but not when it decentralizes the cast so much that Edward and Alphonse (especially the former) becomes a secondary character in a series about them. In the final episodes the two get their moments to shine again, but it feels like they're more like bookends than main characters after a while.

Still, for the most part, we get a variety of interesting, and examined characters. The short-tempered but honest Edward and his more composed brother Alphonse. The ambitious and snarky Roy Mustang. His loyal subordinates. The over-the-top, larger-than-life Alex Louis Armstrong and his vicious, tough-as-nails older sister, Olivier Mira Armstrong. The affable, but wicked Greed (my favorite character). The king of trolls, Envy. The badassery-oozing-from-every-pore King Bradley. The adorable May. The butt monkey Yoki. The distant father with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Hohenheim. Some great characters.

Too bad they don't make a larger variety of character merchandise for this show. I want my damn Greed figure!

ART/ANIMATION

The art and animation in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is pretty good, and what one would expect of an anime of this generation.

The character designs are much closer to Hiromu Arakawa's art in Brotherhood than they were in the original series. They are distinctly Arakawa-ish I personally preferred the more solid, weighty style of the first anime's character designs, but as this series follows the manga closer than that one, it's all too appropriate to go with this particular style.

The backgrounds and foregrounds can be quite beautiful, if oddly like watercolor paintings at times. One particular setting I felt that was always rendered beautifully was the country town of Risembool, where the Elrics are from, and the small village Doctor Marcoh lived in, which was only shown twice. I also quite enjoyed the touches they gave to the design of Central HQ, like the mass lift elevated tunnel. It was especially noteworthy during Greed-Ling's attack on the Central soldiers in the last arc.

The animation is mostly pretty good, though there are times when it noticeably isn't, and it's pretty clear certain episodes have a much higher quality animation than others. Though I never had too much a problem with it.

END OF PART 1

- PenguinTruth
(2010)