Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

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Genres:  Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Magic, Shounen, Military
Episodes: 64
Studio: Bones
Personal Rating: 10/10

“What is a human? Are all lives valued the same? Will humans ultimately be the cause of their own demise? Is it right for us humans to be the only ones to enjoy “freedom”? Is the concept of “perfection” attainable? Or is it just a word created by humanity’s fear of death?”

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is an anime I used to overlook, and not just a bit. After watching the first 10 episodes, I saw it as just another shounen, no big deal, and not worth the hype it was getting. So I postponed it for almost a year. However,  about two weeks ago, I decided to give it 10 more episodes. And this was the best decision I ever made regarding anime. It was an experience in itself, an experience full of meaning and symbolism.

This anime in particular is #1 in many websites, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s so good. Fullmetal Alchemist started as a manga, and a 51 episode version was adapted in 2003. Bones picked it up and improved the adaptation, changing quite a few events that happen later in the story, and that’s how Brotherhood came to be. It’s an anime known for its great animation quality, and not being one of those god-awful typical adventure shounen shows that are all basically the same. What makes this anime so good that so many people seem to love it?

The Story (9/10)

The story follows Edward and Alphonse Elric, a pair of siblings who were in an alchemy incident a few years back, when they tried to revive their late mother. This incident took away Edwards’s arm and leg, and Alphone’s whole body. However, Edward managed to affix Al’s soul to a piece of armor, giving him a new non-human body. Seeing that human transumation didn’t work, Edward and Al set out in a journey to get their bodies back. A journey that will have a lot of battles, blood and death. One that they will always remember.

As they continue their journey, Ed and AL eventually find out that the country they thought they always knew is not as it seems: corruption is ever-present, and some people seem to have dangerous ideals that could result in the destruction of the nation. How will the siblings fight this corruption? What will they learn whilst doing it?

Eventually they learn about the Homunclus, beings with immortal bodies that resemble humans, but have advanced combat capabilities. This beings were created through alchemy, and each one bears the name of one of the seven deadly sins: Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Wrath, Pride and Sloth. The goal of these creatures is left unknown until later in the story, and they serve as the main villains throughout the anime.
One thing that FMAB does right away is show who is important and who isn’t, character-wise. One can easily see that the only main characters are the two siblings, as the story follows their journey, but some people they end up meeting also become very important. The story can be looked at from many different perspectives. After all, the concepts of “good” and “evil” are completely subjective. And that’s the main lesson I learned from Fullmetal Alchemist: Different people think differently. Their past , the environment they grew up in, their race and even their families can influence the way they think. In this sense, this anime delivers a lot of different perspectives of different characters regarding what is justice and what isn’t. Questions like “What is a true king?”, “What is God?” and ultimately “What is a human?” are debated in such manner that the anime doesn’t give you an answer, but rather lets you make your own choice as to what the answers of these questions are. And that’s something that should be appreciated.

One thing to note is that is starts VERY slowly. It’s definitely not one of those shows that starts very strong and is consistent throughout. One needs to give Brotherhood at least 15 episodes before starting to like it, otherwise it just won’t work. The feeling of attachment to the characters takes its time to appear too. But, after one finishes the anime, they will probably say they look back at the first 10 episodes as great build-up, and a necessary one too for the story that’s to come.

Having an interesting concept means nothing if the show fails to utilize it. Brotherhood, however, not only managed to use the concept and give it a completely new twist, but it also manage to develop the story to the point where it kept people interested as to what will happen next, and what the conclusion of the journey will be like. The fight scenes aren’t really that overwhelming, compared to other shounen anime, because FMAB’s battles are supposed to have a meaning. More than being epic, the author intended for them to deliver a message, and that’s why some match-ups end up being so interesting. An anime doesn’t need epic battle scenes if it has meaningful ones. And this one has… a lot of them.

The story of Brotherhood takes place in many different places, not only one city or town. Their journey will take the siblings to the east, to the west, to the south and to the north. Each place they visit will give them something new, something they will ultimately use in later battles, as small as it is. The beauty of the story is right there: it shows how humans need to find out about themselves first before trying to figure out other people. Do we really have the right to judge someone else if we don’t even know ourselves?

Finally, Brotherhood shows us how War can influence our daily lives. Sure enough, if one wins the war, they will do whatever they want with the loser, but it doesn’t end there. The nation that won will have to bear the sin they committed for the rest of their lives, the traumas that they got from watching so many people die like rats on the streets, and overall the meaning of the war. They say that a war is good once in a while for economical purposes, and throughout history, wars have been fought with the purpose of acquiring territories, slaves and other goods, but is that enough to justify the cons that come with it? All the suffering that people go through, the traumas, the deaths, the despair…  Brotherhood explores the concept of war, and what it ultimately means. In a way that you probably have never seen too. We take the lives we have as common people for granted, but who knows: maybe we’re not safe at all. Human nature doesn’t allow eternal peace, so a war is sure to be fought again someday, sometime.

The Art (10/10):

Bones is one of those studios that manages to turn everything it touches into a piece of art. But even as a Bones adaptation, Brotherhood stands out as one of those shows that has a memorable animation quality, one that we very rarely see, even nowadays.

As far as the overall artwork of the backgrounds goes, they are great and varied. Since the story takes place in so many different places, it requires the same variety artwork-wise, and Brotherhood delivers, yet again. From the North to the South, the background quality is exquisite, and never does it become dull or boring to look at. It’s just beautiful to see how much effort was put into this show.

Animation-wise, as it has been stated previously, Brotherhood has one of the best animation quality that I have ever seen. We’re in the year 2014, but even today it’s SO rare for shows to actually have good animation… and we’re talking about the year 2009, so there’s that too. The animation looks fluid, especially in the fight scenes, and it’s overall great to look at. Many people take stuff like this for granted, but when an anime does such a great job with simple yet necessary things, it needs to be praised for it. The character designs were good and varied aswell. Unlike some other shows that have the same character with different hair/eye color, here all characters look completely different from each other, and the feeling of repetitiveness isn’t present.

The Sound (8/10)

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood has three different soundtrack disks, and three good ones at that. They could use more variety, as many of them seem to sound the same. The quality of the soundtrack is not to be taken lightly, however, as insert soundtracks like “The Awakening” can really change your mood to fit that of the anime. This isn’t unique to Brotherhood, of course, as many shows have this feature, but its about “timing”, or rather, “when to put a certain soundtrack in which scene”. Music directors are often troubled by this, and the answer they come up with is crucial for the soundtracks to work.

The show also has five different opening themes, aswell as five ending themes. Having 64 episodes, the opening/ending themes change after 12-13 episodes, which is good, since that way it doesn’t get too repetitive. However, some of the songs are just not there. Songs like “Period” can really set the mood for the events that happen in the episodes it plays in, but then there are others that aren’t on the same level. This isn’t to say that they’re bad or anything, but the first few OP themes fail to impress, compared to the later ones.  Some songs even have lyrics that can be applied to the story, like:

“Not averting your eyes from reality
 With the courage to stand up and fight
 Change sadness and anger into strength
 Our fate is right nearby”

-from the song Period (the 4th opening theme).

As for the sound effects, they’re great. The ones that you hear when alchemy is used, especially during battles, can really improve the watching experience, and the overall quality of the show. It’s a minor detail, of course, but it’s thanks to small details like these that an anime can reach the next level.

Another strong point of the series is the voice actors. While some might enjoy the dub version, the Japanese V.A cast was wonderful, and it definitely made a difference in the enjoyment this anime delivers. What’s better than having your favorite characters voiced by such professional actors, after all? They are especially good in intense situations where everything seems lost, and they convey the despair the character is feeling quite well.

The Characters (10/10)

This is where it gets interesting. As stated previously, the two main characters, and the ones the story follows are Edward and Alphonse Elric. Two boys that lost their mother to disease years before and tried to revive her by using alchemy. This incident not only changed their lives, but also the way they look at people and the world. Edward is very outgoing and loved to joke around, but gets serious when the situation asks for it, while Alphonse is more reserved, maybe because he lost his body, though both end up being extremely useful in times of need. Many other characters were introduced along the way, some died, some lived, but most were extremely important to the development of the plot.

Mustang, for example, is the soldier that intends to become the new king. His reasoning is that he wants to change the nation and people’s views on the world, especially regarding the Ishvalans, the people that he and his fellow soldiers annihilated in the great war so many years before. This war changed him, and he became someone who wanted a better future for the nation, and what better solution than becoming king himself?

Scar is one of the few remaining Isvalans, and saw his brother and fellow clan members die in the War. This event completely changed him to a person that seeks revenge against Alchemists, the ones who brought despair to his people. Not only that, but he wants to destroy the nation and insure that another tragedy like the Ishval one will never happen again. Because of this, one might expect him to be heartless and devoid of any emotions. This isn’t the case though: Scar still managed to keep his human emotions, even if he tries to hide them most of the time. In fact, he took advantage of his hatred and sadness and became strong enough to challenge the strongest alchemists of the nation.

Another important character would be Riza Hawkeyes. She is Mustang’s partner, and the one that protects his back when he can’t. Not only is she trustworthy, but she’s also extremely strong, and has superb aiming abilities. She and Mustang make a great team, as it’s often shown. Alex Armstrong  might seem like the comedy-relief character at first, but he gets serious, he can wreck everything. Having participated in the war, he also has regrets, feelings that he converted into strength.

Finally, we have the villains of the show. Named after the Seven Deadly Sins, they all have immortal bodies and superhuman combat abilities. Each suffers from the sin he/she is named after, and sometimes, those were their demise. Leading this group is an old man they call “Father”, which seems to seek perfection and eternal power, and uses the philosopher stones to attain it. This “Father” character is very calm on the outside, but often shows that he doesn’t really care about his subordinates. He is essentially the opposite of Mustang in that sense.

Brotherhood has great characters, and thanks to the development they all get, each and every one of them is able to shine at one point or another, and they all end up being useful later. Don’t judge a book by its cover: a good anime manages to use characters that seem like lost causes and turn them into badass ones. Having great characters and villains, Brotherhood really sets itself apart from its shounen brethren, and it’s one of the main reasons why “human evolution” is another theme explored in the show. Humans aren’t just what they appear to be. They are stronger than that. They have potential. It’s up to them whether to use it or not, but it’s definitely there.

The character interactions are sublime: not only when they’re used in serious situations, but even when used for comedy-related ones. The comedy really makes the characters grow on you, enough that you end up caring about them when the time comes. Some may look at the comedy as just another tool to keep the audience interested, but it definitely serves a deeper purpose here.

Finally, Edward and Alphonse aren’t unbeatable. This is a problem that a lot of shounen shows seem to have, but isn’t present here. Sure there is the so-called plot armor around them throughout the story, but it’s not too annoying, unless you’re specifically looking for it. Ed and Al aren’t the strongest characters in the anime, nor are they the smartest. They fight with what they have to protect what’s dear to them. Overpowered abilities and never-seen intelligence isn’t needed when you have something to fight for. That’s the most important lesson here.

The Enjoyment (10/10)

While Brotherhood does start slow, the fact that it keeps getting better and better as the anime goes means something. There are many shows that start great and then get worse and worse as time passes, but few that actually manage to improve up until the end.

It’s like a snowball as it rolls down a snowy hill: it gets larger and larger, and keeps going until it finally stops. This analogy might seem stupid, but if you see the snow on the hill as the support cast of Brotherhood, and the initial snowball as the Elric siblings, you’ll probably understand the meaning behind it. What is there to say that hasn’t been said about this show? Only that it’s a must see for anyone, this is one of the few examples of an anime that is for EVERYONE. Are you an epic battle fan? It’s for you. Are you a politics fan? It’s for you. The variety of themes it explores, plus all the twists and development it has definitely makes it a candidate for the best anime ever made, objectively speaking.

After all, as good as an anime is character and story-wise, most of us watch anime for entertainment purposes. This show delivers it in a large scale, and it has many good and memorable scenes in it. However, nothing that was said in this review beats the experience itself, so it’s definitely a show worth picking up.

Overall (10/10)

While developing themes such as War, Racism, Monarchy, along many others, Brotherhood manages to have incredible and meaningful battle scenes, something that you will rarely find nowadays. It goes beyond the “Fight to protect your friends and the world” concept that’s so overused, and struggles to improve it, by adding themes that would be worthy of discussing in real life. In fact, most of the lessons it teaches can be applied to real life, like the concept of God, and the way different people have different views on such an entity. Truth, All, The One, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

All in all, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood works precisely because all of these components work together magnificently. It almost makes you feel like, if something was missing, it wouldn’t have been the masterpiece that it ultimately ended up being. Don’t be deceived by the genre, as it’s definitely not the typical shounen that airs each season. Every episode throws in something new that ultimately ends up changing the way the story develops, leading towards the excellent conclusion it had. The Elric journey is one that you don’t want to miss, so if I managed to make at least one person watch this, then I feel like it was worth my time.

Thanks for Reading!

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