Bones Studios Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an interesting development. The studio decided to take the already successful Fullmetal Alchemist anime series and reboot it. The result is an odd but still enjoyable viewing experience for anyone who has seen the original series.
For those unaware, Fullmetal Alchemist is set in a world where the practice of alchemy is widespread. Alchemists have great power, using their alchemy to deconstruct and restructure matter to form a new entities. Employed by the State Military as State Alchemists, many of the characters have a special type of alchemy; for instance Colonel Mustang is the flame alchemist for reasons that become obvious. The only thing an alchemist can’t do is ignore the laws of equivalent exchange. To create something new, something of equal value must be exchanged. It is for this reason that alchemy involving human transmutation is the one taboo; what could equal a human soul?
The Fullmetal Alchemist series sees Alphonse and Edward Elric break that taboo in an attempt to bring their mother back to life. In the process, Alphonse loses his body and Edward loses his leg. It is only when Edward sacrifices his arm that he is able to bind Alphonse’s soul to a suit of armor in hopes of one day returning it to his body. Any normal person would be shattered by such an outcome.
But the Elrics now seek the Philosopher’s Stone, which has the power to perform alchemy with complete disregard for the laws of equivalent exchange. It is their only hope to restore their bodies. With this as their goal Edward and Alphonse become State Alchemists to gain access to resources they need to possess it.
Brotherhood takes the same epic story from the original series, that of the journey of the young brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, and condenses down and reorganizes similar adventures to the first series. Story arcs that went on for several episodes in the original series are now condensed down into one or two.
The result is an odd viewing experience as you get that same but different feeling as you watch familiar stories presented in a different way. In the first 13 episodes, stories involving characters like the Priest in Liore, the alchemist Shou Tucker and his chimera, and Scar the State Alchemist killer all of which appear in the first anime are mixed in with a few new stories, including one about a freezing alchemist.
From what I can gather, this new series is a more faithful adaptation of the manga, and that’s made more apparent as the series goes on. The same overarching story of deceit and mystery surrounds Brotherhood although you know how certain events are going to pan out. Even if you've seen it before, it's still a really enjoyable story.
The tone and presentation of Brotherhood is also different to the first anime. There is a lot more comedy in Brotherhood, even during what you’d think is a serious fight. A lot of the time, this is shown through changes in the animation and drawing style in which characters lose their definition or become distorted. It takes some getting used to if you saw the first series but it does have its benefits.
I found that episodes involving some really serious stuff, like Shou Tucker and his Chimera or Ed and Al trying to bring their mother back to life, had a deeper impact on me because there was that absence of comedy in those episodes. There’s a really good mix between drama and comedy once you get used to it. Al and Ed have been through much and they have such a strong bond, but the times when it or they break down can be quite moving. Sometimes the switch from the serious to the comedic comes a little too soon but on the whole it’s done well.
The animation is nearly flawless with Bones once again producing a show that runs smooth and fast and captures the action really well. The picture quality, presented in 16:9 widescreen, was really good with the color looking amazing and very clear in HD. Each alchemist also gets some really cool animation for their chosen specialty, like Major Armstrong’s face on the result of his strongarm alchemy.
The standout for me was anytime I got to see Mustang use his fire alchemy and the fight between Edward and Greed at the end of the final episode. There was a lot of detail in the design and animation, especially Greed’s regeneration. The only thing people may not like about it is are the changes in design and animation during the light entertainment parts but that’s a design choice and not a reflection of the picture quality.
The Blu-ray uses Dolby TrueHD 5.1 but only if you watch it in the English dub. That’s alright though because the English voice cast for Fullmetal Alchemist is top-notch, works from a great script and contains nearly all of the same voices from the first series. That means many of the memorable characters from the first series remain just as memorable, like Major Armstrong and Colonel Hughes.
The sound effects are also top notch. Everything is really clear and sharp and there are a lot of impressive moments. There are plenty of explosions and clanging weapons that sound brilliant and really realistic. The sheer variety in sound effects is a joy to behold. The world Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in is similar to early 20th Century Germany and the mix of guns and swords adds real diversity while the same can be said for the sound effects that go with the various alchemists and their abilities.
Besides the episode commentaries there isn’t really much in the way of special features in this first collection. It was a little disappointing but I imagine they’ll leave the special features out until they release a complete collection of all the episodes.
It’s hard not to recommend Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. There’s a great story, superb animation that looks fantastic in HD, a varied and well recorded HD soundtrack and plenty of action. It’s also different enough than the original anime to please existing fans of the series, while new fans will find a lot to like and I look forward to watching the rest of the series.