A retrospective on ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’

Do you enjoy political intrigue? Well how about one of the greatest government conspiracies in all of television? Maybe you prefer shonen battle anime? Brotherhood has some of the most intense fights in all of anime. Comedy, romance, religious commentary, grounded stakes, larger than life battles, a crazy yet simple magic system, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has it all.

Although it aired over a decade ago, Brotherhood has remained a fan favorite among anime fans due to a large variety of reasons. In order to dive into them, one must first understand the history of the manga and its first anime adaptation.

Art from the cover of Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 1.

Written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa, the Fullmetal Alchemist manga is one of the best-selling manga series of all-time; selling over 70 million copies. The manga ran from 2001-2010 and followed two alchemist brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric. After committing the ultimate taboo, human transmutation, Edward loses half of his limbs and Alphonse loses his entire body. In order to regain their original bodies, the two go on a quest to find the mythic Philosopher’s Stone, which could allow them to regain their original bodies. While on their quest, the two discover a plot that puts their entire country at risk. The world may seem larger than life, but Ed and Al’s story allows it to feel small and contained.

Because of its popularity, Square Enix licensed an anime adaptation of the manga to premiere in 2003 with Studio Bones animating it. However, due to the manga still being written at the time, the story of the anime diverges greatly from its source material. It features entire arcs, characters, and world building that are unique to the anime. These changes eventually led to a much different ending which was polarized by many fans. While the changes are not necessarily bad, fans wished for a complete adaptation of the manga for years after the original anime ended.

Luckily their prayers were answered when a new adaptation, titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, was announced in the 20th volume of the manga. Unlike the original anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a near one-to-one adaptation of its source material, meaning that it directly follows all of the events that happen in the manga, while having a couple new additions here and there. The series premiered in Japan on April 5th, 2009, and it premiered in the United States with English subtitles just five days later. Due to Fullmetal‘s popularity in America, Funimation announced that they would dub the show in English for its release on Adult Swim’s Toonami in 2010. The dub premiered on February 13th, 2010 and the rest is history.

Screen-cap from episode 21 “Advance of the Fool.”

The lifeblood of Fullmetal Alchemist is its leads. Edward might have some serious anger management issues and a slight height problem, but when he is faced with a challenge, he is not afraid to rush in head first. Ed carries a deep understanding and respect for life. Despite being a “dog of the military,” Ed is unwilling to sacrifice lives to get his and Al’s bodies back. He may not seem compassionate on the outside, but he does care about his friends. Ed may carry deep pride for his alchemical prowess, but he never lets it get the best of him.

Screen-cap from episode 19 “Death of the Undying.”

Alphonse on the other hand is not afraid to let his true feelings show, even if he embarrasses himself in the process. He is completely selfless, often using his body to protect those around him from danger. All Al wants is for those around him to feel and cherish his presence, even if he cannot do the same for them. He cannot eat or sleep, yet he never despairs. He never loses hope that he and his brother will succeed, despite the great opposition they both face. He may desire to have his original body back, but he does not let greed control him.

Bones did wonders with this show. The original anime might still hold up well today, but Brotherhood‘s animation is on a completely different level. The animation of each fight compliments the writing perfectly. It truly feels like the manga panels jumped onto your television screen.

Screen-cap from episode 13 “Beasts of Dublith.”

The best scores not only sound great, but also enhance every scene they occupy. Brotherhood‘s score does this masterfully. Akira Senju’s score rivals Yoko Kanno’s score from Cowboy Bebop and Shiro Sagisu’s score from Neon Genesis Evangelion as the best anime score of all time. Every theme stands out and amplifies the scenes and characters they correspond to. The songs that stand out the most are Xing Symphony (Ling Yao’s theme), Knives and Shadows (Wrath’s theme) and the main theme (Ed and Al’s theme).

However, the best thing Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has going for it is its fantastic English dub. Unlike now, it was not common for anime to be dubbed in English, let alone have good dubs. Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) director Michael McFarland (the English voice of Jean Havoc), aided by the rest of the ADR crew, helped create one of the best English dubs of all time. Not only did the original Fullmetal Alchemist have a great dub cast, but they were able to bring back most of the original cast for Brotherhood. It is hard to imagine anyone else as the voices of Roy Mustang (Travis Willingham), Winry Rockbell (Caitlin Glass), Riza Hawkeye (Colleen Clinkenbeard), King Bradley (Ed Blaylock), and Alex Louis Armstrong (Christopher Sabat). While I love the cast of the original, the recasting choices, particularly Maxey Whitehead as Alphonse, John Swasey as Van Hohenheim, and J Michael Tatum as Scar, were all excellent. However, what truly sets this dub apart from the original are the additions of Todd Habberkorn as Ling, Troy Baker as Greed, Stephanie Young as Olivier Mira Armstrong, Kent Williams as Father and Monica Rial as May Chang. A large cast of characters requires a large cast of voice actors and it is an incredible feat that each member of the cast works so well. The fact that more minor roles like Meredith McCoy as Maria Ross, Jerry Jewell as Barry the Chopper, or Bradley Campbell as Heinkel stand out as much as they do is crazy.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a masterclass in visual storytelling. Every piece, animation, score, voice acting and especially writing, combine to make one of, if not, the best anime ever made. I highly recommend this show to anyone who is even somewhat interested in linear storytelling, especially those that have never watched an anime before.

Rating: 10/10

Published by John Wintroub

Aside from being an aspiring mathematician, I also enjoy writing about all things pop-culture related, especially film, music, anime, and comic books. Killer Queen has already touched this bio and King Crimson has obliterated the rest.

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