Remakes are all the rage these days, with popular series like Hellsing and Dragon Ball Z getting brand new series that are both polished and closer in tone to the original manga than their first foray in animation. Fullmetal Alchemist is the latest to receive the treatment, having already had a series that strayed from the original source, but earned critical acclaim in doing so. It’s been less than ten years since Bones’ original effort and the sheen had barely rubbed off before work was begun on a new series that was meant to closely mirror the original manga. Subtitled Brotherhood, the series was picked up by Funimation with the original voice cast in tow.
The original Fullmetal Alchemist performed the astonishing feat of maintaining an extraordinary caliber of writing through 50+ episodes without so much as a dip in quality. The series was truly among the best to come out in recent years, rivaling anything that had come before it. Despite this, the fact remained that it had taken a divergent route from the manga, stripping fans of their chance to see Hiromu Arakawa’s original work come to life on the small screen. Yes, the characters were there, but it wasn’t the story fans of the manga wanted to see. Perhaps as way to capitalize on the lingering popularity of the series, Bones decided to go ahead and produce a new series that would faithfully adhere to Arakawa’s work.
Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in a world physically similar to our own but governed by a set of rules beyond those we are used to. The law of Equivalent Exchange pervades every action one takes with the practice of alchemy being widespread and accepted in society.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are two children learned in the use of alchemy, having read the transcripts of the father, whose knowledge is second to none. When their mother passes away from an illness, the two forsake the law of equivalent exchange and perform the ultimate taboo in an effort to resurrect her. What results is Alphonse losing his body and Edward his leg. In an effort to save his brother, Edward sacrifices his arm to bind Al’s soul to a suit of armor. Adopting a pair of metal limbs, Ed signs his life away to the military in exchange for the resources and the freedom to regain his brother’s body.
The story is an affecting one, with an easy to understand dedication the two brothers have for each other, trading up their own lives for the promise made to each other, set against a world ensconced in war and religious friction.
Because the original series followed closely to the manga, breaking off half way, Bones was faced with the option of adapting it over or to breeze through it at a madcap pace. The studio chose the latter and in effect, sacrificed the pacing in an effort to bring fans new material as quickly as possible. The first 13 episodes comprising Part 1 are for the most part, a lesson in redundancy, depicting events that had been animated previously. This time around however, the story moved so fast that much of the emotional cues were lost. There is also more action to be found here than in the original series due to its keeping with the tropes of a shonen series. One example of this is Hugh’s death which lacks the emotional resonance that the first series carried. Despite covering the same material, the differences are striking and speak volumes. It’s by no means bad but it just didn’t match up to the quality of the first go around. Then the next 13 episodes arrived and transformed the show into high art.
The second set is where the series turns around and establishes its own identity. Whereas the first part featured a series of events that were told in the same order as before in half the time, the second part gets down to business in developing its secondary characters and shaking up the status quo. Major changes are inflicted upon favorite characters and revelations are dealt that threatens to undo everything fans have come to know about them.
The Homunculi, dangerous creatures resembling humans birthed by alchemy are allowed their time in the spotlight, getting to strut their stuff and ditch their morality that had previously been imbued in them in the first anime. Then there’s the Flame Alchemist Colonel Roy Mustang, a man driven by the desire to bring an end to the corruption in the military that took the life of his best friend. Both sides receive abundant doses of development, thrust into life altering circumstances against each other with surprising consequences.
Along with a new anime comes a new cast with a traveling prince from Xing consuming ample amounts of screen time. Lin is perhaps the best developed of the side characters, a surprise considering the others had a whole other series to flesh them out. Lin starts off as a sort of punk, casually ordering his servants into battle then latter feigning ignorance. He comes off as little more than comedic relief early on but is given the chance to change the audience’s perception of him when pitted against the Homunculi with the odds weighing down on him.
Brotherhood surpasses the original in artistry, courtesy of a widescreen transfer and vibrant colors. The majority of the animation is very well done, the action scenes in particular, with fluid movements that see’s the subtle shifts in muscle and character expressions not always present in the medium and captured perfectly with maximum detail thanks to the high definition of the blu-ray.
The extras are substantial here with not one but two commentaries on each set featuring the English cast. Depending on the actors in the studio, some are livelier than the others but all make sure to express their enthusiasm for the new show and getting to return to their roles. There are also 4 postcard included with each set featuring promotional artwork.
Despite an excess of action early on, Brotherhood retains much of the psychological aspects and emotional drama that made the first series essential. The series is a bit wilder than its predecessor but that’s to be expected considering its shonen roots. While the first part is a bit weak, by the time the second rolls around, it carries the series to greatness. The series improves in quality with every passing episode, allowing it to transcend the sum of its parts. When taken as a whole, Brotherhood stands as a measuring stick for modern animation.
Part 1 – B Part 2 – A+
*Images are taken from DVD and not indicative of Blu-ray's quality.