A large part of bringing the characters alive in an animated television series or movie is the voice acting. In the manga, you just imagine the voices, but in animation, voices are provided, and ideally, these are voices that you will closely associate with the characters, so a strong cast is valuable. Fortunately, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has an excellent cast.
Romi Paku and Rie Kugimiya reprise their roles as the brothers Elric, and perform as brilliantly as ever. Paku especially seems to drive home Edward's lines in certain key scenes, the most significant I can think of being when he vows to Alphonse's body at the Gate that he'll return. Kugimiya continues to do her part, and makes Alphonse both likeable and formidable sounding, depending on the scene.
Also returning were Kenji Utsumi as Alex Louis Armstrong, Kenji Utsumi as Maes Hughes, Hidekatsu Shibata as Fuhrer King Bradley, Shoko Tsuda as Izumi Curtis, Makoto Nagai as Shou Tucker, Kazuki Yao as Yoki, Miyoko Asou as Pinako Rockbell, and Shin Aomori as Basque Gran. All the returning voices did their characters at least as much justice as thei roles allowed. Shibata, however, far surpassed his original performance, as his character was given a much larger role with a greater breadth.
At first I was upset that certain voices were changed. Some of my doubts were founded; Fumiko Orikasa wasn't as strong a Riza Hawkeye as Michiko Neya, she sounded too soft. Likewise with Kaori Nazuka's Maria Ross. It took me a while to adjust to Megumi Takamoto as Winry Rockbell and Shinichiro Miki as Roy, but they both grew into the roles well before the end of the initial 14 episode arc. I was pleasantly surprised by the performances of the new Scar, Kenta Miyake, and the new Greed, Yuuichi Nakamura, every bit as strong as their previous voices. Some, like Minami Takayama, who played Envy, even well surpassed the previous performers in their roles. Takayama's Envy was absolutely flawless.
The music, ah, the music! I was really disappointed when I heard Michiru Oshima wouldn't return to score this new FMA series. Her work in the first series was remarkable, and some of my favorite music in an anime production. Akira Senju, who had previously done the soundtrack to Mobile Suit Victory Gundam and the latest incarnation of Tetsujin 28, all pretty decent work, was the composer for the music in Brotherhood. Fortunately, his work in this series far outshines his "pretty decent" work. The music in this series is excellent.
Much like Oshima, Senju makes use of sprawling, almost pastoral, European-sounding tracks, establishing leitmotifs and conjuring up very operatic pieces for the most dramatic moments in the series. Early on, there was some issue with the overuse of some tracks and the lack of new ones, and even at later points I wondered if there would even be enough to fill three soundtracks like the original series, but the third and final soundtrack has just been released, and each one has plenty of beautiful tracks to choose from. Now, when I say I probably prefer Oshima's work in the first series in the long run, don't get me wrong. Senju's Brotherhood soundtrack still does its job, and besides which, is plenty good enough to keep on hand for separate leisurely listening.
As far as the opening and closing credit songs, I think they were, on the whole, better than the first show's, and with a few exceptions, very good. My special favorite is "Golden Time Lover", the third theme song, which I didn't even like much at first. By the forth or fifth episode I was singing along with it, finding myself loving it. There's nothing quite as good as "Rewrite" from the first series, but nothing as droning as "Ready Steady Go" or monotonous as "Melissa" can get.
The question then is, "Is Brotherhood more than the sum of its parts?", or rather "Is it an overall enjoyable experience to watch?" Well, yes! It's not flawless, mind you. It seems overly drawn out at times, there are a few plot snags, some characters I don't care for, and adaptation missteps (Dublith/Greed arc, the Ishbal massacre). But, on the whole, looking at the big picture, it's absolutely more than just the sum of its parts. When I average the scores (out of 5) of all the episodes, it only barely rounds up to 3.6 or so. But I don't feel like it's a 3.6 anime. I feel like it's a solid 4 out of 5. It's better than a lot of even my favorite anime. It's a great action/adventure epic with colorful characters and settings and some thoughtfulness and emotional value to it.
Finally, I measure the rewatch value. Am I going to watch Brotherhood again? Of course I am! Who wouldn't want to experience again some truly amazing scenes in this show, especially on Blu-Ray, in HD, on a flat screen TV, with the volume up? Hell, I'll even sit through the first Rush Valley episode. If I didn't feel this way, I wouldn't have started collecting it. Just thinking about watching it again from the beginning makes me want to break out the volume I already have and watch some of that.
The night... er morning... evening (?) (in Japan) that the first episode of Brotherhood premiered on Japanese television, I fired up my computer, logged into Freshverse (which was working back then), and watched the show in raw Japanese. Earlier that night I watched Conqueror of Shamballa. In preparation of the second series, I had watched the entire first series the weeks leading up to the premiere. Despite thinking that it was just a novelty at the time, I was still fairly excited about it.
As I tune in to Japanese TV on the same time Brotherhood aired on Keyhole, all I see is Sengoku Basara, season 2. I will no longer see new episodes at that time on that station, enjoy the thrill of watching it before most other people in the U.S. do, watching the Japanese commercials, making little reaction rundowns to post on a FMA forum I go to, waiting for the Random Curiosity blog to have a full rundown with great screen caps (though I tend to take my own for my reviews), and other traditions surrounding the show.
But most of all, of course, I'll miss watching new episodes of the show itself, a great show, and one that I'm more than happy to add to my collection (hopefully it won't take so long to do so).
So despite my griping, and I did quite a lot, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was an excellent show, one of my favorite anime, and every bit as good as the first series.
Speaking of the first series... hey, I'll do reviews of that next!
FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD
OVERALL SERIES SCORE: 4 out of 5
- Penguin Truth
- Penguin Truth