Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Volume 1

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most popular Japanese properties of the last decade. The fact that people are still cosplaying as Hiromu Arakawa’s troupe of brilliantly conceived actors and still hold the first series (which, it should be stated, aired way back in 2003) in high regard is a testament to its popularity as a franchise.

However, that first series had one glaring flaw. It was made in 2003 and lasted a year, ending in 2004. The manga ended in 2010. As such, the ending to that series (to say nothing of the second half) has absolutely no resemblance to how the manga plays out and various people, places, and story elements in the manga made no appearance. Arakawa approved the plot details and the like, but they are not what she ultimately planned for her story.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (known as “Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Fullmetal Alchemist” in Japan) is Ms. Arakawa’s story animated by Studio Bones (Eureka Seven, Ouran High School Host Club and, er, Fullmetal Alchemist). No more, no less. OK, that’s a slight lie, episode one is a “filler” episode designed to welcome everyone who loved the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime back into the fold with welcome arms but the rest is a one for one straight lift from the manga. This does mean that some things covered in the first series are omitted for the sake of getting to the new material but overall, these episodes aren’t a rush job, in a misguided attempt to turn Brotherhood into Fullmetal Alchemist season 1.5.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the story of a world where instead of modern science as we understand it, there is a force known as “Alchemy” which allows those who practise it to create new objects by rearranging the base materials of whatever they are working with. However, with this power comes the rule of “Equivalent Exchange.” Whatever is being created must be done so from an equal base material.

Our main protagonists, Edward and Alphonse, are looking for a way to undo the disastrous consciousness of attempting a Human Transmutation to revive their mother. This childish attempt at playing God results in Edward losing his leg and Alphonse losing his whole body, forcing Edward to sacrifice his arm to anchor his brother’s soul to a suit of Armour. Thus begins the brothers’ journey of self redemption, fuelled in part by the legendary philosopher’s stone, an artifact said to be able to allow alchemists to ignore the rules of Equivalent Exchange and, they figure, allow them to regain the body and ligaments they have lost.

The Brotherhood of the title, as picked by Funimation to differentiate it from the 2003 series, focuses on the brothers as they are forced to overcome the insurmountable trials that await them as the story progresses.

From the start to the set up until the final scream of “I’M A HOUSEWIFE!” this set grabbed my attention and refused to let go.

The art direction is stunning, it’s clear that there’s never a moment during the production where I could say “Whoops, there goes the budget!” If I was being pragmatic, I could imagine where the production team picked a few notes from their animating Soul Eater, but that’s hardly anything to give them grief over.

It also stands to be mentioned that I found the battle choreography to be excellent. Whilst the battles usually don’t use anything more complex than one’s fists (steam punk prosthetics that can be alchemised into blades notwithstanding) they are usually spectacular feats of wonder that leave me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what happens next. To say that certain Shonen Jump authors could learn a thing or two from Brotherhood is an understatement.

The music pays its dues to the original series’ soundtrack whilst being its own thing brilliantly crafted by Akira Senju with the opening and ending themes (Again and Uso respectively) being two very interesting pieces of music.

The actors on both sides of the pond have to be applauded for their ability to make the characters their own. There was a moment where I was seriously concerned that Maxey Whitehead would have been permanently stuck  under the shadow of Aaron Dismuke’s portrayal of Alphonse in FMA but by the time episode five rolls around it’s clear that she’s nailed Alphonse down to a T.

Sure, there’s moments where Romi Paku, Rie Kugimiya (who, with a few others, return to play Ed and Al again from FMA 2003) or any of the other Japanese voice actors does a specific part better but it’s not as if Vic Mignogna, Catlin Glass or anyone else on Team Funimation are phoning it in. They know exactly how much this revival of the franchise means to everyone who’s ever seen or been behind it and they put their very hearts and souls into their performances and it shows every time.

Disk production is the only area that I was not entirely happy with. I did notice an alarming high number of errors in the subtitling, with missing “not’s”, text not being correctly justified such that it runs off the screen, and various typos being noted on more than one occasion. There’s some really bad anime out there that could do with having a few sub flubs in exchange for this being a perfect package so it’s a shame that we have this situation. As far as specials are concerned, the set is rather sparse, with two dub commentaries (Episodes 1 and 10) and the standard clean openings and endings. I have to say that’s a rather poor show given that this should, by rights, Manga’s biggest release this year.

If it was not for the subtitle issues, this set would have scored a perfect 10/10 and that’s something that should never be taken lightly. Saying that these first thirteen episodes of this series have no inherent flaws to them is a very hefty accolade. I have to stress that, as far as I know (though Twitter correspondence with Manga’s PR manager) that the subtitle errors will be present in the final press of the DVD version (I can’t speak for the Blu-ray version as it wasn’t the version I reviewed) and hence I had no choice but to knock the score down two points because those typos will take people who prefer the Japanese audio with English subtitles way of watching anime out of the moment.

That all said however, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood set one is a thirteen episode thrill ride that will make you beg for more.

In Summary
This set is both a brilliant start for those new to the franchise and a warm welcome back to the fold. If you must own one series with a main character called “Edward”, make it Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. If you must own two, make it FMA: Brotherhood and the original Fullmetal Alchemist.

8 / 10