Funimation // 2009 // 325 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // July 1st, 2010
It is impossible to create something out of nothing.
In what surely must be one of the quickest turnaround times for a reworking ever, five years after the hit anime series Fullmetal Alchemist, someone decided it was time for a reboot. Like many anime adaptations of a manga still in progress, the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime series found itself quickly out of material and had to generate new, original storylines to allow creator Hiromu Arakawa a chance to catch up. The end result was a storyline that was faithful in spirit to the manga, but took many creative liberties with plot, character development, and storyline progression; something many fans took umbrage with. Now five years after the fact, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is here to put things right: a reworking of the popular franchise with a narrative that adheres faithfully to the original manga.
People speak in hushed tones about the genius of the Fullmetal Alchemist. In a world where alchemical transformations are possible, he is world-renowned for his skill and prowess in the transformative arts. Most are surprised to realize he's only a fifteen-year-old kid. Along with his younger brother Al (a gigantic suit of armor), they harbor a terrible secret from their past -- a failed attempt to save their mother resulted in losing their bodies to equivalent trade. Together they scour the land for clues to the legendary Philosopher's Stone: a mythical item that allows alchemists to circumvent the laws of physics. It is the only chance to restore their bodies. Unfortunately for them, State Alchemists are part of the State Military of Amestris; Al soon finds himself dragged into political intrigue and conflict that threaten to destroy the entire country. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part 1 contains the first thirteen episodes, spread across two discs.
In the original Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation, the plot veered
relatively quickly away from the original manga, carving out a narrative that
recycled some of the key plot points, modified and shuffled. Secondary
characters were given the chance to grow and expand, while others were entirely
new creations. After about two dozen episodes, the differences in the manga and
the anime became noticeable; a narrative chimera gaining sentence and running
off to pursue its own destiny. Fans are divided as to how successful a venture
the original adaptation was. Either way, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
is a leaner, more concise telling of the tale, taking thirteen episodes to move
the plot as far forward as twenty-four in the original.
If you haven't seen the original series, the transition into Brotherhood will be smooth, but you'll miss some of the subtleties and some of the nostalgia in seeing beloved characters making reappearances. All you really need to know is that Ed is short, and he doesn't really like people pointing this out. As the title suggests, the show is about brotherhood -- Ed and Al, victims of their own malfeasance at the hands of alchemy, each living to restore the other to their natural bodies. After a disastrous attempt to bring their dead mother back to live as ten-year-old kids, Ed lost his arm and leg and Al lost his entire body, his soul bound into a gigantic suit of armor as a last-ditch method to save his life by Al. The show is surprising in scope, incorporating elements of drama, comedy, religion, spirituality, and philosophy in an adventurous steampunk romp through a land of mechanized auto-limbs and alchemical transformations. As the plot unfolds, the political intrigues and spiritual ruminations convalesce into a singular conspiracy that threatens to unravel the land. The scope of Fullmetal Alchemist is impressive, and grabs you quickly into its web.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood wants to be the definitive adaptation of the franchise, and I'd say it's on the right track; the storytelling is tight, the narrative moves quickly, and the production values are magnificent. The downside is that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part 1 never really gets to see the promised improvements in authenticity. The liberties taken by Fullmetal Alchemist were necessary simply because the manga had not generated enough content. Ironically, the point in which Fullmetal Alchemist diverges from the manga occurs just beyond the point in which Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part 1 ends. To translate: you've seen these episodes already. Once Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part 2 appears, you'll really start to see the shows divide into two unique and distinct narratives. A fat lot of good that does us here, I realize, but definitely something to look forward to.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Part 1 looks great on DVD. Colors are vibrant and striking, black levels are rich and whites are crisp and clean. There is very little in the way of aliasing or any jaggedness. The artwork is magnificent; clean and detailed character designs overtop sweeping hand painted backdrops. Audio comes in an English 5.1 surround dub and a stereo Japanese track. The English dub is clean and crisp, with respectable bass and pleasantly active in the rear channels -- every explosion and fight comes through perfectly realized. The Japanese track isn't quite as impressive, which is unfortunate; it would be nice to see the same treatment on both. Many voice actors return from Fullmetal Alchemist to reprise their roles here, but fans may notice some substitutions here and there. Bass response is reasonable -- not quite as good as the surround track, but it gets the job done. Extras are thin; we get a commentary track with the English production cast and crew on episodes one and ten, textless opening and closing, and the obligatory trailers.
As reboots go, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a good one. It improves on the authenticity to the source manga while still preserving the elements that worked well in the original adaptation. Alas, we don't really see the payoff here in Part 1, but for hardcore fans of the manga, there will be big dividends down the road. Stick with it.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated