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
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
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
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
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.