By Joe Strange
Last week I wrote a Watch List on Justice League Doom, and mentioned how, while Doom wasn’t one of them, there were plenty of animated shows and features out there that aren’t childish and are incredibly mature. The 64 episode series Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is one of them.
Following the Elric brothers, and based on the Full Metal Alchemist manga, Brotherhood was released in 2009 and is actually the second series based on that source material. The original, named simply Full Metal Alchemist, was released in 2003 and followed the manga’s storyline, but only to a certain point, from there it takes a different path.
It’s this divergence that made me pick Brotherhood for the Watch List. After the original series diverts from the manga the storyline becomes ropey and convoluted, compare this to the feeling of completeness in Brotherhood and it’s easy to see why Brotherhood is considered the better series.
So, what’s it all about? Well in the world of FMA, alchemy is the act of taking one thing, and using all its atomic components to make something else like turning a metal pipe into a sword. Those highly trained in alchemy work for the government as ‘state alchemists’.
Alchemy is all about equivalent exchange, and giving something for something else of similar worth is a common theme. It’s also where the story kicks off from; after their mother dies, the Elric brothers attempt to bring her back from the grave using alchemy. But of course, humanity and the human soul isn’t so easy to exchange and it all goes horribly wrong, leaving the eldest, Edward, missing two limbs and the younger, Alphonse, with his soul trapped inside a suit of armour.
The storyline then focusses on Alphonse and Edward’s quest to find the secrets of the philosopher’s stone, which is allegedly able to bypass the need for equivalent exchange, so that they can get their bodies back.
Now you’ve got a brief idea on the plot, why should you watch Brotherhood? Like I said earlier, it’s pretty damn mature, dealing with some very heavy themes and topics, from what makes us human and the price of life, to genocide and whether your past deeds can ever be forgiven.
It’s full of fantastic action scenes that will make you long for the ability to pull a sword from the ground, or make a door in a wall which is all aided by very clean and crisp animation. The plot is incredibly well paced, especially compared to its predecessor. However, the script, like most animes, can be a bit heavy handed and exposition filled, but when it’s not it’s great fun.
Brotherhood has the great ability to make you laugh and cry in the same episode, with running jokes that accompany the entire series always ready to lighten the mood after you’ve been shell shocked into sorrow (and you will be, this show is not all sunshine and rainbows.)
But the thing that really sets this show apart from the others and the one reason, if there is only one, that you should watch Brotherhood, is the characters.
With most shows, it’s the side characters that are the best part, what with the main characters carrying the burden of the plot, it’s the job of these characters to lighten the mood, or to be unprecedented baddasses, sometimes both. I just want to run over a few of these to give you a taste;
Winry Rockbell is the Elric’s childhood friend, and becomes Edward’s mechanic when he replaces his lost arm and leg with automail, this series’ prosthetic limbs. Winry is incredibly skilled in her craft, and very proud of her work. She also acts as the foil to Edward’s gun ho, determined, attitude and often humanises the situation and characters. After all, she’s known the brothers longer than anyone else, having seen all the crap they’ve been through.
Earlier I mentioned State Alchemists, and it’s these guys that really bring the the thunder, especially early on. Roy Mustang, known as the Flame Alchemist, due to his affinity with making fire with a click of his flint lined gloves, is a hot head (quite rightfully) who’s done some awful things, but has earned the trust and respect of his team of soldiers, who would, and do, do anything for him. He’s also a total dude who at one point uses his own alchemy to cauterize his own wound so that he can carry on kicking ass.
The second State Alchemist is possibly the greatest character ever conceived; Alexander Louise Armstrong is known as the strong arm alchemist, probably because it’s a fun pun on his name, but also he’s stacked to the roof. He’s got a heart of gold though, and you’ll soon find out that he comes from a long line of very accomplished artists, builders, long distance runners and a heap of other things. But really, he’s something you have to see for yourself.
To say any more about the show would be doing it a disservice when both you and I could be watching the show right now. It’s a great show, full of both laughter and heartbreak, with everyday people doing incredible things and ideas that will undoubtedly make you think. A fantastic and engaging storyline coupled with excellent animation should be enough to put this right at the top of your Watch List.