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.

My Top 10 Favorite Anime Series

Last year, I did two back-to-back posts on my Top 10 Favorite Moments From The Star Wars Saga and SW Expanded Universe.  And since then, I’ve wanted to do more lists like that, and since I watch a lot of anime for the sake of this blog, I’ll do my (at-present) Top 10 Favorite Anime.

10. Noir

Copyright © 2001 by Bee Train.

What It’s About: Two female assassins in Paris attempt to unravel a centuries-old religious conspiracy and their ties to one of the assassins, a sixteen-year-old girl with instinctive fighting skills and no memory.

Why I Love It: Besides the intriguing and subtext-laden relationship between the two main characters, I love the beauty of the show itself.  It treats Europe with a lot of dignity, paints a beautiful picture of Paris, and has some pretty cool action scenes made better by the “Salva Nos” theme music.  The show isn’t afraid to slip in a few educated references either, so at least it respects the intelligence of its audience.  It’s both good for the mind and good for the eye.

9. Hellsing Ultimate

Copyright © 2006 by Kouta Hirano.

What It’s About: An OVA series remaking the original Hellsing anime, which details the three-way war between the vampire-hunting Hellsing Organization, the Catholic Church’s Iscariot brigade, and the Nazi revivalist Millennium group.  Also, the powerful Alucard turns young Seras Victoria into a vampire and helps her and the Hellsing Organization fight other vampires and slaughter minions.  A lot.  In lovingly rendered gore and brutality.

Why I Love It: For the most part, it’s the animation of this series matched with the raw charisma of its voice acting (at least as far as its English dub goes). You have the bloodthirsty Alucard voiced by Crispin Freeman, an equally good match in the Major (voiced by Gildart Jackson), and lots of epic scenes of Catholic priests quoting Scripture as they slaughter Nazi vampires (and with a sentence like that, who wouldn’t love it?).

8. Welcome to the NHK

Copyright © 2002 by Tatsuhiko Takimoto.

What It’s About: A college dropout and shut-in tries to come to terms with his bleak reality through the help of a seventeen-year-old girl, gets into some antics with his old friend from high school, and struggles in reconnecting with society and the outside world.  And occasionally hallucinates a conspiracy that’s holding him back.

Why I Love It: This is one of the first slice of life anime I ever watched, which took some getting used to, but was well worth it.  I really sympathized with Saito’s plight and liked how he slowly matured over the course of the series.  I like a lot of the atmosphere in this show, shifting from comical to tragic in less than a heartbeat.  And ultimately, even its ending is a bit strange but enjoyable all the same.  No big dramatic resolution, but a series of small and meaningful changes for everyone involved.

7. Samurai Champloo

Copyright © 2004 by Manglobe.

What It’s About: An ex-samurai, a part-time bandit, and a young girl travel across Edo-period Japan in search of destiny, trying to survive and succeed in a world where samurai and their prestigious way of life have all but died out.  The story is told is an anachronistic fashion, allowing for such modern things like rapping, graffiti art, and gangsta fashion to exist alongside the traditional scenery.

Why I Love It: Besides the fact that it was made by Shinichiro Watanabe (the same guy who made Cowboy Bebop), the show is well-animated, with vibrant colors, quick-paced action scenes, and some clever blending of historical and modern images and styles.  The show is also nicely blends some comical and tragic elements, with more emphasis on drama toward the end as we get into Fuu’s heritage and the power held by the Shogunate.  Also, the fact that Steven Blum was the English voice actor for Mugen sold me on the series right away.

6. Black Lagoon

Copyright © 2006 by Madhouse.

What It’s About: Both this show and its sequel (Black Lagoon: Second Barrage) detail the adventures of four thieves and gangsters in the fictional island of Roanapur.  An ex-salaryman lives among the criminal element of East Asia, trying to maintain his integrity and his sanity despite his surroundings and the very sinister people his crew encounters during their travels.

Why I Love It: The entire show is an affectionate homage to the crazed action films of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, full of epic gun battles, comedic psychopaths, and non-stop swearing (Revy, as voiced by Maryke Hendrikse in the English dub, provides most of the above just by herself).  But beyond the devil-may-care attitude of the show, there is also a lot of serious thought given to the price people have to pay for power and success, especially when it means leaving behind the “light” and entering the darkness of corruption and war.

5. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Copyright © 2002 by Production I.G.

What It’s About: In future Tokyo, a team of government security agents attempt to curb acts of terrorism and cyberbrain-hacking by an elusive figure known as the Laughing Man, while attempting to tie him to a conspiracy between government officials and medical corporations.

Why I Love It: I got into GITS: SAC because, at the time, I had finished reading Neuromancer by William Gibson and was really getting hooked on the whole cyberpunk genre (which has become a huge inspiration for my writing).  Essentially, what Neuromancer started for me, GITS delivered on.  It gave me a very complete world of the future, looking at so many issues regarding cybernetics, data security, and the evolution of the Internet and society.  It also delved into some fantastic philosophical issues about identity and social progress, which I like in anime when it’s done well.

4. Death Note

Artwork by Takeshi Obata. Copyright © 2003 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

What It’s About: A young Japanese student receives a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill people by writing down their names in it.  He begins a campaign to cleanse the world of evil and become its benevolent god, which turns into a fierce duel with the world’s greatest detective, an enigmatic character named L.

Why I Love It: Death Note is very dark, very bloody, and very good.  It’s rich for its ethical questions about power and the nature of justice, its haunting score and Gothic visuals, and its brilliant struggle between Light and L for supremacy.  I also liked Brad Swaile‘s voice acting for Light Yagami and the entire character of L, although not as much toward the end.  This series both horrified and enchanted me, and still does to this day.

3. Fooly Cooly

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

What It’s About: A young kid in Mabuse thinks his life is boring and the adults in his life are morons.  Then he gets run over by a madwoman on a Vespa, hit in the head by her electric guitar, and now has to deal with both her and the giant robots that emerge from his forehead to terrorize the city.

Why I Love It: For six episodes, this show is packed to the brim with insanity.  From guitars that double as weapons to giant robots, from a J-pop soundtrack to epic baseball games and high school conversations, this show is all about coming of age in the most colorful, anarchistic, and melodramatic way possible.  It’s a coming of age story on steroids–coated with raw sugar.  Not to mention, the animation is fantastic and the characters are likable in their own quirky, somewhat pathetic way.

2. Cowboy Bebop

Copyright © 1998 by Sunrise.

What It’s About: In the future, a trio of bounty hunters, their resident kid genius, and a sentient dog explore the solar system in search of hot new bounties and easy money.  However, they all have to come to terms with their past sooner or later, and for some, the ending is bittersweet.

Why I Love It: Besides the fact that it’s another Shinichiro Watanabe product and features Steven Blum as the English voice actor for the lead character, this show was the very first anime series I ever watched (thanks to my college roommate and WordPress colleague, DJ McNaughty).  The show is a brilliant blend of science fiction, Westerns, and jazz, giving us slapstick comedy with some very dark storylines involving Spike’s past.  It’s a series I can watch over and over again and never once get tired because it’s just so damn cool.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Copyright © 2009 by Hiromu Arakawa.

What It’s About: Two brothers study the science of alchemy in the hopes of restoring their original bodies after a failed attempt to resurrect their mother.  However, their journey brings them to the heart of a terrible conspiracy that puts the entire country of Amestris in peril, as the brothers and their friends must find new ways to fight an enemy older than their own civilization.

Why I Love It: This show is just brilliant.  The characters are not just fulfilling, but there’s also a large number of characters and they all  have something to contribute.  The use of alchemy–and science in general–is both clever and consistent, meaning there’s less chance of plot holes and random contrivances for the benefit of the heroes.  The story is epic in scale and delivers a monumental impact by the end.  The themes of redemption and atonement are powerful and handled very well over the course of the series, and by the end, you’ll feel proud to be a human being, no matter how small we might seem as individuals.  It’s a big story, a rich story, and a wonderful tale of hope in the face of adversity.

I originally wanted to split this list between my favorite anime and manga series, but in all honesty, I haven’t read a lot of manga (although Fruits Basket would totally be on that list).  Needless to say, as time goes on, I will hopefully one day be able to compile a “Top 10 Favorite Manga Series” list.  But I hope this list was satisfactory enough and I’d be more than happy to hear what kind of anime my readers enjoy, too.