Series review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually picked up an anime series that has held my interest from start to finish. I’ve largely tired of anime as I find that there are only so many good ideas it has produced, but I decided to give Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood a try.

Admittedly, the reason I chose to pick the series up was for two main reasons. First, I had access to Hulu, which streams for free all 64 episodes of this series. Second, I watched the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime when I was a little younger and it aired dubbed on YTV, back when it used to devote its Friday nights to anime.

Brotherhood is the second adaptation of the manga. The first series had to sort of make itself up as it went along, because there wasn’t enough manga to support the story. The second series follows the manga much more closely, and is thus a very different adventure, despite starting out somewhat similarly.

The series follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric as they embark on a journey to regain their original bodies back. The series fuses a lot of different elements into it; a bit of historical drama (the series is set in the early 1900s, though in an alternate world. The country in focus is called Amestris, with numerous other countries like Drachma and Xing bordering it); some political conspiracy, philosophy, and of course, as many anime try and show, the power of the bonds of love and friendship. Alchemists, in this series, are people who can change things based on the law of equivalent exchange: to obtain something, something of equal value must be lost.

While the first series tended to drag things out a little bit, Brotherhood starts out with a bang and introduces Edward and Alphonse in a much more dynamic way. A lot of action happens in the first few episodes. But as the series moves on a bit, around episode eight, it stalls for several episodes to set up other important plot points. The series does get itself out of this rut, though, and it eventually mixes a good blend of contemplative scenes with scenes of amazing alchemical recreations.

The storytelling device here works well, particularly in the back story of Hohenheim, Edward and Alphonse’s father. He appears near the beginning as a largely enigmatic figure, but slowly and surely little bits of his story are revealed, enough for interested viewers to want more and more.

The story also builds a great cast of supporting and main characters. Some are given a little more personality than others, but many will attach themselves to viewers who get easily invested in characters. Some of these characters will die, fair warning, but after a particularly tragic death within the first fifteen episodes of the series, the creators seemed determined to not let anything like that happen again.

The one main drawback to this series is that, despite its intensity and ability to slowly siphon out details, it does suffer from the occasional overused anime trope. A prime example is something like the following, which happens a lot in this series:

Character A: [Says something unexpected]

Character B: [Surprised gasp]

There are also lots of emotional, dramatic speeches proclaimed in a loud voice, something that never really happens in real life.

But the storyline is engaging enough to somewhat alleviate the problem that these tropes pose. There’s quite a bit of comedy in the first few tens of episodes, and the animation used in these scenes makes things pretty funny.

The last ten or so episodes are really action-heavy as all of the disparate plot lines weave closer and closer together. Lots of battles will be had, lots of intrigue will happen. The series ends with an entire episode that feels like a monologue. While it is a little stereotypical, there’s one scene near the end that will make shippers (internet term for people who like to imagine characters in a relationship) really happy.

Series rating: 4/5

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