An Old Vs. New Review: “Fullmetal Alchemist” vs. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”

Fullmetal Alchemist is an incredibly rich story of sin and atonement, science and faith, and humanity at its best and worst.  It also has the distinction of having two very long anime series based on the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa, with the first starting in 2003 and the second in 2009.  I’ve watched both series and I want to see just how they compare on their own merits.

First Category: The Story

Copyright © 2003 by Hiromu Arakawa.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is essentially a strict adaptation of the manga series, following the Elric brothers as they seek out the Philosopher’s Stone and unravel a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the State Military.  The 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime follows a similar route, but with a different main villain and slightly different characterizations for the supporting cast.

What’s important to note is that both anime have good stories to them, but as far as stories go, the Brotherhood anime tends to move quickly in order to keep up with the manga, while the original anime moves at its own pace, allowing characters and plots to breathe and be more creative.  It’s a strange thing, though, in that I liked the first half of the original anime series better than Brotherhood, but found the second half of Brotherhood to be better than that of the original anime (there being a stronger and more satisfying resolution).

Second Category: The Cast

Copyright © 2003 by Hiromu Arakawa.

Edward and Alphonse Elric are about the same in both series, which is just as well since their journey for the Philosopher’s Stone and atonement is similar in both series.  However, there’s a big difference with the supporting cast for each show.

For example, characters like Rose, Maes Hughes, Shou Tucker, and Barry the Chopper have more extended storylines in the 2003 anime than they do in the Brotherhood anime.  Again, this is in keeping with the original anime having its own plot that allows for such characters to go in new directions than they were allowed in the manga.  The homunculi have different motivations, too, and some, like Pride and Wrath, are switched around from their original identities in the manga and Brotherhood anime.

Third Category: The Style

Copyright © 2009 by Hiromu Arakawa.

For the most part, I think the animation between the two anime series is about the same, although I’ll admit that, being a later production, the Brotherhood anime has a slightly sharper quality.  The 2003 anime does, however, have an interesting trait in trying to assign colors to specific processes and show off a larger variety of alchemical symbols and transmutation circles than Brotherhood does.  This holds well considering that the original anime gives itself more room to explore alchemy and its different aspects before getting to the main plot.

What also interests me is that both series have their own excellent soundtracks.  The 2003 anime has “Ready Steady Go” by L’Arc-en-Ciel as a kickass opening theme and a nice leitmotif for the Elric brothers and their backstory, but overall, I prefer the more bombastic and dramatic melodies used throughout the Brotherhood anime.

Fourth Category: The Theme

Copyright © 2009 by Hiromu Arakawa.

As I said before, the basic plot in both series is essentially the same, at least around the first half.  But there is a slight difference in what issues the different storylines confront.  The 2003 anime focuses a little more on science and ethics, especially given Ed and Al’s zeal to find the Philosopher’s Stone and get their bodies back.  On the other hand, the Brotherhood anime emphasizes the human condition and the struggle to break the cycle of vengeance and avoid sacrificing human lives in pursuit of one’s goal.

On the surface, they seem like similar themes, but again, because the 2003 anime takes its time with the main plot, there’s more room to explore the science of alchemy and the ethics behind its use.  By contrast, Brotherhood has to get right into the homunculi storyline and the nature of the Philosopher’s Stone in order to make its overall point about the value of human beings and innocent lives.

Final Verdict: Both Great Entries, But I’ll Take The Latest Edition

Both shows are excellent on their own merits, providing multi-dimensional characters in a complex and compelling plot with great visuals and music.  Ultimately, though, I’m much more partial to the Brotherhood anime.  As much as I appreciate the 2003 anime for letting the manga characters breathe and the creative new storylines they get, I find Brotherhood much more satisfying to watch, if only because of the immensely powerful impact it has all throughout the second half of the series.  It’s big and bold, and boy, does it deliver!

Bibliography: Fullmetal Alchemist (anime).  Directed by Seiji Mizushima.  Written by Sho Aikawa.  Prod. Bones, Funimation Entertainment.  Cartoon Network (Adult Swim).  October 4, 2003 – October 2, 2004.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (anime).  Directed by Yasuhiro Irie.  Written by Hiroshi Onogi.  Prod. Bones, Funimation Entertainment.  Cartoon Network (Adult Swim).  April 4, 2009 – July 4, 2010.

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24 thoughts on “An Old Vs. New Review: “Fullmetal Alchemist” vs. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”

  1. Excellent write up on the strengths of both iterations. Although the first series made me aware of the franchise in the first place (I didn’t even know about the manga til some time afterwards), the Brotherhood adaptation, I feel, is the superior series, especially once it stays on track where the original broke off. Add in reuniting almost the entire original English cast and an intense and amazing climax that brings the themes of the story full circle, you have an anime that I can’t decide whether or not it tops Cowboy Bebop as my favorite.

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  2. I had the exact same problem trying to decide which I liked more, Cowboy Bebop or FMA Brotherhood. In the end I chose Brotherhood only because it’s got a really strong positive ending in spite of all the horrible, horrible things that the villains achieve. Or to put it another way: Bebop is cool, but Brotherhood is awesome.

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    1. Adi

      Dude Bepop and Brotherhood has no comparison. There simple no basis for it. Those two are completely different animes and a smart guy would actually watch both of them. The comparison is between FMA and FMAB

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Steven

    I liked the original anime better because it stuck with the dark tone and the theme of sacrifice, while never quite feeling forumlaic. Brotherhood I felt just too formulaic, as if the plotline wouldn’t be out of place in any other anime, which can’t be said of the 2003 because the twists feel totally orignal. Also, I’d say looking back on both series, the Homunculus were the true villians of the series, and 2003 just gave them more depth and screentime. For reason I just find Father forgettable. I suppose I find Dante also forgettable, go figure. I guess I had a negative reaction to the ending of Brotherhood as I did with the epilogue of Harry Potter. It was way too sugary sweet, and ugh, Edward somehow grows into a hulking giant and they marry their first crushes and the door is thoroughly slammed on any kind of future adventure. Felt totally wrong with all the dark events that happen in the series, hell, Ed and Al finally together again, traveling in the real world looking to put a stop to the atomic bomb was a better way to end then that.
    Also and odd thing between the two animes, the second definitely had the more epic storyline, but the first one FELT more epic. I suspect the pacing for the Brotherhood was just too quick, felt more like a series of events rather then a story, while a 2003 version took it’s time and had an epic soundtrack and choir, even if the story was moving off in odd angles. The choir scenes surrounding Scar still gives me goosebumps today.

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  4. Sebastian

    Wow ha I may be a little late but I do like to add my thoughts to these things. I personally like Brotherhood better than the original. The original did have much better soundtracks when it came to sad or depressing scenes to make them feel more real, but I think that in overall plot I would put Brotherhood way ahead. Granted the original did have a much more in-depth story, but, as others have put while looking at this topic, the original just seemed like they tried to put so much emphasis and information and emotion into each episode ignoring what was actually going on, and the writers realized they had a limited amount of episodes and just pushed thorough, which is why the ending was so bad. And I liked Brotherhood much more because I had so many more , “Wow I didn’t see that coming” moments. The plot, in my opinion of course, was much more fun and had so many things going on that it seems random, but they do an immaculate job of putting everything together in the end and making everything fit, which is where I think Brotherhood really pushes ahead of the original. But I have to say I loved both!

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  5. Sebastian

    Also I have to say that it seems like people have a big bias to the one they saw first. It’s going to seem better because you already know most of the things and the characters, so it is kinda tough to get the same feel as you did with whichever you saw first.

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    1. Woah, woah. No personal information is to be given out today!

      I am a big Brotherhood fan. However, I actually saw the original 2003 anime version first.
      The reason that I like Brotherhood better was because it seemed like they actually thought it through. What I mean by this is that, although the original 2003 anime wasn’t bad, per say, it did not follow through on all the plot-lines that it had going. There were plot-holes everywhere. I understand that the reason this happened was because they created the anime at the same time that the manga was still going, so when they ran out of material, the production staff of the anime had to come up with their own ending; however, it still was a big problem for me. The Brotherhood ending tied up all of the stories and ideas that had been added in along the way in a nice, tight, visually-pleasing and heart-rendering ending that left me speechless. I in no way hate the original anime, in fact in holds a special place in my heart because of the way it portrayed the characters in a more in depth way than Brotherhood did, but I just feel that overall Brotherhood was much better.

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  6. Kane

    Bias is definitely a huge part of it; both series are excellent in their own right, and when comparing them, it basically comes down to personal preference. Fullmetal Alchemist was actually one of my first anime, and it remains my favorite (granted, I haven’t read the manga yet). There are definitely things in Brotherhood that I prefer (Van Hohenheim’s character, Hawkeye getting more to do), but every time I watch it, the differences in the approach just get under my skin because of the series I saw before. I know it’s not fair, but I just can’t help it. The 2003 series did a better job of setting up the characters, and I think the effectiveness of that setup was enough to carry the latter half of the show for me. On the other hand, Brotherhood introduced a new character about every five episodes, and by the time they go to the Northern Wall of Briggs, Amestris felt more crowded than it did fleshed out. Interestingly enough, on many of the commentaries for the DVD, the actors, writers, etc., say that the new series is darker, and I couldn’t disagree more. Bigger, yes, and definitely more gory,but not as dark to me because frankly, I didn’t care as much.

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    1. jupiterrocks24

      I agree! I definitely prefer the first series to brotherhood. It was much darker.and brotherhood seemed to have too much of a “everyone wins” ending. The first series was bittersweet. And the whole ending to brotherhood didn’t really make much sense to me. The first series did a better job of explaining alchemy and sticking to its principles on the science elements of the show.

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  7. ElDorito

    Or u could be like me and waited around about 5 years before deciding to sit down and watch brotherhood making the experience alot more amazing and stisfiying considering the fact that the original anime was my fav anime of all time :D, was also the first anime i ever watched, FMA will always have a special place in my heart, i really enjoyed cowby bebop but i believe that FMA is better

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  8. Kaimei

    I’ll start this off by saying that I watched the original series a long time ago multiple times, it was without a doubt my favorite series. I watched Brotherhood all the way through last year, and it has superceded the 2003 anime as my new favorite. There are many things that seem to put the original ahead of the new, but the keyword there is “seem.” As the reviewer said, the first series takes its time with its characters and story, and would seem to have those be a stronger suit for it than Brotherhood. But the reality is that the characters and story of Brotherhood are far stronger by comparison even without taking the extra time. Many times I come across things in Brotherhood that I mark as different from the first series, and I compare the two to decide which one is better, with Brotherhood coming out as superior almost every time. I won’t go into every example, but I feel I should list a few. Father is a far greater villain than Dante, and I don’t mean in terms of who would win in a fight (even though he would). I feel many characters who acted differently in both shows did so because the 2003 show used them as tools for far-fetched plot-devices, such as Scar and Izumi. I want to talk about the homunculi too, but that will take a new review altogether I think. (Though if there is one thing 2003 holds over 2009, it’s Sloth, but even that has its downsides.) The point is that in both minor details like which character did what or how what event came about and ended as well as the overall picture of what direction the story goes and how it arrives to its supposed destination, and even the more elusive factors such as emotion, heart and morality, Brotherhood noticably pulls ahead. The first show was very good, but I can’t even put it on a Top 5 list under Brotherhood, since Brotherhood overshadows it. The first show tried to pace itself, but failed in its purpose for this and ended up just being needlessly slow. The first show took characters in moodier directions than that of Brotherhood, but the ultimate reasons for this remain largely unrealized and culminate in wasted potential for said characters. The first show talks about philosophical elements just enough to get the viewers thinking about them on their own, but leaves the posed questions unanswered and thus disjointed as far as the actual polt is concerned. Brotherhood is able to have more brilliant characters that show all of their dimensions as they each take the story along in their own ways, inevitably coming together as a mighty whole, even while having more of them and perhaps not taking as much time showcasing them repeatedly. It has a story that is both complicated and comprehensive at the same time, understanding what it has been and where it’s going, and not a confusing and often pointless path that falls apart the farther it goes. And it brings with it questions and concepts of sin, science, humanity, the unknown, friendship, family, duty, life, and many other themes and elements, without ever feeling the need to tell us that it is doing so. The 2003 anime was thought-provoking, and gave us a window into a world and characters we loved and wanted more of, but did more to them rather than do more with them, leaving its potential just under the surface. Brotherhood is this potential, and it holds the memory of the first show in that sameway I do, shedding of its gloomy baggage and taking it to heights that the ending of the first show made me think impossible. So there you have it, I couldn’t be more biased toward the first show, but Brotherhood is just so good it completely leaves it behind as a fond memory for me.

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  9. Leonard Öberg

    Hi! Really well written reviews. In my opinion, which might not be the most popular opinion, but to be honest, the 2003 FMA had a bigger impact on me, I felt it was more powerful and emphazised the characters deaths better, atleast in the first half of the anime. Brotherhood felt to me as if they kind of rushed the deaths a bit more, meaning they didn’t have as big of an impact. All in my opinion though, would love to hear some responces to this. ^^

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    1. I’ll admit that FMA 2003 definitely played out the whole Shou and Nina Tucker saga a lot more poignantly. The first series focused more on character than on plot, so I think it’s a fair point of view.

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  10. Jonathan Sparrow

    Its easy to criticize both of them for their flaws. Brotherhood falls down on its rushed story and characters who die before they can actually develop (Maes Hughes, Shou, Nina and Lust are just some examples) while the 2003 anime falls down on its lack of a fully explained resolution. However, I think both of them are good, but for different reasons. Firstly, the 2003 anime keeps characters who die early on in the manga alive so their deaths have more of an impact. It also develops characters more thoroughly than Brotherhood did, including the Homonculi who were meant to be the ruthless villains. Sloth is also a much deeper character in the 2003 anime than her Brotherhood counterpart. The fact that she took the shape of the Elric’s mother made the show more conflicted and she was just an interesting character to add into the cast. Brotherhood has a stronger story with more world building than in the original.

    Both have flaws and both have strengths. I’d say both are worth watching and are enjoyable, but most people will say Brotherhood is best.

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  11. Henk

    Well as someone who doesnt like anime, I enjoyed the original better. It really felt like a combination of cartoon and anime. In brotherhood “funny” moments are exaggerated(way too much imo) ,isnt as dark as the original and jeah it felt like a typical anime .

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    1. Michaela

      Hi, I’m not sure if you’ve read the manga, but something interesting about the humor… In response to a question about why she inserted jokes into some of the more serious parts, Hiromu Arakawa said somewhere (I don’t know where) that the manga was entertainment and so she tried to minimize the sad scenes. In the manga, I thought it was really great because it kept the series down-to-earth. It was more realistic. Just when something could become melodramatic, Ed and Al would switch into chibi characters or something in the background with some kind of joke.

      The problem with Brotherhood is they overplayed it in a big way. The funny panels take up the whole screen and is sometimes loud and obnoxious. In the manga it’s a passing thing that makes you laugh at yourself for being all serious, but in the Brotherhood anime I felt like saying like, “Could you please be quiet so I can see what will happen next? It’s just not that funny.”

      The first anime series can get a little melodramatic, and a lot of the time the scenes transcribed from the manga are actually MISSING the jokes. I found this a little annoying too. They needed to lighten up. However, when they were being funny, it was VERY funny.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like your point about the humor. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the manga, but I think I remember it being more in the background like you said. That being said, I still liked how it played out in Brotherhood, even if it wasn’t always appropriate to the dramatic flow.

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  12. In my comment I am going to disregard the ‘follows the manga point’ and there is a legitimate reason for the divergence, and the ‘better animation’ arguement because there are a whole 6-7 of difference between the two, as such, it’s a matter-of-course. When reading please also keep in mind that I love both versions, I am merely making points which I didn’t see above.

    I disagree with the statement that the Elric brothers are pretty much the same in both versions. Sure, true, they are very, very similiar. They’re the same characters after all. But there are most definitely some major differences. For example, their principles, ethics, psyche.

    In the ’09 series Edward is willing to do many things for his brother, but the level of guilt/obsession/devotion/will to sacrifice seems to be less. He refuses to give away his purity for him. While this is a good characteristic for a person, it seems unrealistic from someone who joined the military as a combatant nicked as a ‘Dog of the Military’ during wartime. In the ’03 series, I recall at least 3 people he killed either to protect something or for the military. He even very nearly sacrificed a bunch of prisoners to make a stone. He was a mere millimetre off of doing so. In the ’03 series he was also more accepting and understanding of his role as a soldier and more resigned to his position. ’03 Al was also more vicious. Remember when he tried to rip a kid limb from limb? Ouch.

    Another difference is in the realism of the series. In ’03 Edward has to kill, to make sacrifices, to follow orders he detests, to head into a war zone. He is a soldier in a violent era, led by a warmongering Fuhrer and Generals. I think that while unsavoury, this is a good aspect. ’09 also had it’s advantages in realism. It showed military politics, it showed the relations and world of other countries, sometimes main characters received debilitating injuries, many were more fleshed out.

    One of my favourite differences lies in the psychology. The ’09 series had this. It displayed how the difference of culture affects this, it shows the effect of grief, of dependency, of human relations and emotion. It shows the effects of different values and how events change people. It was good. The ’03 version also showed this but focused more on trauma. Roy Mustang suffers depression, alcoholism and PTSD after the war. There was even one moment when he flashbacked in the middle of a spar, causing him to lose and leaving us to sigh in relief that is was a staged event. Rose goes into shock after the rebellion in Liore, barely reacting to stimulus after witnessing slaughter and experiencing rape. the ’09 series was more negligent and idealistic in this case, as though one can just get magically get better. In FMA ’03 Edward also visibly suffers when his ideals are rocked and conflict and grow. Not to mention his reactions when he kills someone, especially after he kills Greed.

    And I think i had more in mind but I forgot it in the process of writing this so I’ll leave it there. Thank you for reading.

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  13. I truly think that both indeed have their flaws, but overall, despite being a 2003 fan, I truly think brotherhood is the better story. However, I felt nothing for the characters in brotherhood. Legitimately nothing. The chimera scene in brotherhood was not as terrifying as 2003, nor was the transmutation of their mother. If people think addition of characters, animation and following the original manga are actual criteria for saying that brotherhood is better, then not only are they stupid, but they probably never saw 2003 as well. 2003 was heartbreaking, actually funny when jokes were cracked and dealt with as much philosophy, if not more, than brotherhood.
    For a plot that was thought up in a spur of the moment, I think FMA 03 is an absolute masterpiece (except the movie, because that was garbage).

    I think the difference lies in the fact that , as Arkada put it, brotherhood gets you invested plotwise, while 2003 gets you invested emotionally

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    1. Michaela

      Yeah that makes sense, you’re saying the plot in Brotherhood is better. But I feel that a story is more than a plot. I think the story of the two brothers was told so incredibly well in FMA 03 that you can pretty much argue for the story of that one being superior to Brotherhood’s. It depends on how you view story and characters. I don’t think they’re necessarily two separate things. And I think that in some ways FMA 03, though it has a weaker (smaller) plot, has a superior story.

      Liked by 1 person

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