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.

Iron-Clad Heroes And Their Friends: Fullmetal Alchemist

Copyright © Copyright © 2004 by Hiromu Arakawa, Funimation (USA), and Square-Enix (international). All Rights Reserved.

Fullmetal Alchemist originally began as a manga series about ten years ago, and only recently came to an end.  It has spawned two anime series, the most recent and faithful adaptation being Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

This story is wonderful.  It’s set in an alternate world, around the early 1900s, where a form of alchemy coexists with then-modern science.  Our tale follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who in their zeal to study alchemy committed one of its greatest taboos–attempting to resurrect their mother through human transmutation.  The experiment cost Edward his leg and arm, and Al his entire body, reducing him a soul bound to a suit of armor.

The boys are on a never-ending quest to regain their original bodies and atone for their mistakes through service to the State military.  But as they travel and fight for what’s right, the brothers and their friends find themselves locked into the middle of a vast and ancient conspiracy at the heart of their very nation.  Yet the sheer scope of their battle does little to daunt their hopes of success and their refusal to compromise their values in the face of annihilation.

One thing I should point out is that the cast for Fullmetal is huge.  No, I mean, really huge.  But every character has something to offer, whether it’s Roy Mustang and his heroic band of subordinates, the revenge-driven Scar, the Homunculi lurking in the shadows, or the comedic prince Lin and his implacable servants.  Their various relationships are what define this story of war, loss, despair, and redemption.  The very brotherhood of human beings is the heart of this story.

So how to sum up this tale?  When it’s not being hilarious, it’s heartwarming.  And when it’s not heartwarming, it’s just plain awesome.

Bibliography: Fullmetal Alchemist (manga).  Written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa.  Tokyo, Japan: Enix (2001 – 2003), Square Enix (2003 – 2010).  August 2001 – June 2010.

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.