Every once in a long while, you discover a show you never expected to like, but fell completely in love with. It happened with Lost, it happened with Battlestar Galactica, and now it’s happened again with Fullmetal Alchemist.
|TBS|2009-2010|64 episodes|30 min.|
Fullmetal Alchemist is the hands down the best anime I’ve ever seen, and one of the best television series period. And before all you weeaboos scroll angrily to the comments section, yes, I have seen FLCL, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the complete works of Hayao Miyazaki.
That right there is one of my favourite anime theme songs of all time. In fact almost all of the music in this series is brilliant. Bravo, motherfuckers.
This won’t be in a typical review format because I’ve just seen the finale, and I’m so overwhelmed that this article will probably end up pretty stream of consciousness.
Before I talk about the series itself, there’s a couple of things to get out of the way. First of all, this is the second Fullmetal Alchemist series, subtitled Brotherhood in the West because our gaijin roundeyes weren’t meant to comprehend two different shows with the same title. I’m not using the Brotherhood bit because I’m just too damn cool.
Another frequently fucked up thing weeaboos do is calling this Season 2. No, this series has nothing to do with the awful, awful 2003 show. It’s not a sequel, remake, or “second season”. It’s an entirely new, much more faithful, adaptation of the same manga.
My first experience with FMA was with the 03 abomination. Almost all my friends in high school were weeaboos of some colour or stripe, and once their fervor over InuYasha had waned FMA was their next obsession.
I was not a fan of anime back then, probably put off by everyone around me acting like utter fools. But, I was around it a lot and I certainly saw my fair share of FMA 03. I hated it. It was very, very emo, the plot made no sense and the animation was downright ugly.
Fast forward seven years, and the second series is getting nothing but praise. I had my serious doubts, but this year, I finally thought, what the hell. I’ll give it a shot. And it was an utterly amazing experience.
In fact, the unbelievable quality of this show just makes me hate the first adaptation even more, because now I know what amazing source material they had to work with and they still fucked up so badly.
Anyway. So there’s these two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric. Alphonse is the younger brother who looks like a robot. Ed is the older brother who does not. Their father’s an absentee douchenozzle who roams the countryside studying alchemy, leaving their mother Trisha to care for them alone.
Trisha dies because of some epidemic or other, and the boys are left to fend for themselves.They miss their mother so much, they crack open the alchemy books their father Hohenheim left behind (hereafter referred to as Hoho) and try to learn the secrets of human transmutation and resurrect Trisha.I should probably stop for a second and explain how alchemy works in FMA. Alchemy operates on the principle of equivalent exchange, meaning in order to get construct something, you have to destroy something else. There’s always a trade-off of some kind. For example, you can’t just magic yourself a sword out of nothing; the metal needs to come from somewhere. The ground, a street lamp, whatever.
Human transmutation is a forbidden taboo in alchemy, since the cost is so high, and whatever it is you raise is guaranteed to come back wrong.
But Ed and Al are two little kids who miss their mom, so they try anyway. What follows is a truly horrific scene where the cost of human transmutation is shown: it took Ed’s leg and Al’s entire body. Not only that, the thing they raised isn’t even close to a person, just a gasping mass of flesh and organs.
Ed is drawn through some kind of magical gate, where he is greeted by a mysterious white being, who proceeds to show him the “truth”. What is the truth? Watch and find out.
Not willing to lose Al as well as his mother, Ed creates a blood seal on his father’s suit of armor, binding Al’s soul to the empty suit, and sacrificing his arm in the process.
The Elric brothers continue to study alchemy, and stumble across the idea of a Philosopher’s Stone. This mythical item supposedly allows one to perform alchemy ignoring the equivalent exchange rule, and the Elrics believe this could be the key to regaining their bodies.
The method of creating such an item is closely guarded by the government, so Ed joins the military as a State Alchemist to get closer to the truth. State Alchemists are largely left to their own devices unless they’re on assignment, so Ed and Al spend their time trying to track down the Philosopher’s Stone. The truth may be more terrible than they even imagined.
Just FYI, but Ed is the eponymous Fullmetal Alchemist. Not Al, all appearances aside. Fullmetal is Ed’s State Alchemist title. Al’s not a State Alchemist, so he doesn’t get one.
As Ed and Al dig deeper, they discover a vast conspiracy lurking under the orderly surface of their country (Amestris) reaching even into the military and the upper echelons of the government. Secrets run deep on Fullmetal Alchemist.
The Elrics encounter the mysterious Homunculi, seven artificial, nigh-unkillable humans, each named after a deadly sin, who are manipulating people and events for some as-yet unrevealed goal and killing those who get too close to the truth. They kinda remind me of the super soldiers from the latter seasons of X Files. Trying to figure out who’s a homunculus and who’s not took me back to the good old days playing Guess the Cylon on Battlestar Galactica.
I can’t really say much more than that about the plot without giving away massive spoilers, which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t really do justice to how wonderful the series is. FMA takes a lot of twists and turns as it goes along, and to ruin any of them would be a disservice to you.
A lot of the popular anime, like Dragon Ball or Naruto have used smaller story arcs that last maybe half a season to a season, and they end, and then it’s on to the next thing. Sometimes the following arcs don’t even build on what came before, other than a newer, stronger enemy.
FMA has one ongoing story. Every episode contributes to that plot. From episode 1, the end goal is clear, even if the way there isn’t. It has a lot more in common with Lost than it does with Bleach. I assure you Lost haters that Fullmetal resolves every mystery it ever poses in a satisfying manner. Faithfully adapting the manga is no doubt to thank for this; FMA doesn’t make use of filler or deviate from its source material, with two exceptions.
The first episode is actually entirely anime original, starting things off in medias res with the Elrics battling a State Alchemist who seems to have discovered some secret about Führer President King Bradley (enough titles?) and is wreaking havoc in Central.
This episode isn’t filler exactly, even though it never happens in the manga. It’s here to serve as a showpiece to get you hooked on the show, which it does quite nicely. It shows off FMA‘s excellent fucking animation, as well as its stunning fights.
The other filler episode comes in at around the halfway point, a very irritating non-linear recap episode passed off as a dream sequence. Yuck. What makes that even worse is that the following episode dealt with flashbacks to the Ishbal War, a significant and bloody event that still haunts many of the adult characters and sets a lot of the plot points in motion. This was severely truncated from the manga version, where it took up an entire volume. So, instead of cutting so much, why not just lose the recap episode and make it a two-parter?
The action scenes are another thing that FMA does better than any other anime. They don’t stop in the middle of a fight to explain our tragic backstory or boast about our power levels. They don’t stand around grunting at each other while we power up. Fights are fast, frenetic, and in a lot of cases, fucking vicious. These are simply some of the best fights I’ve seen on television.Above all, FMA is good at making you care about both the wonderful cast of characters and the plot developments as the mystery unfolds. It’s a shame this is so unusual in anime (I’m looking at you, Elfen Lied), but when something happens it matters. It matters to the characters, and it matters to the audience. MOAR LIEK THIS PLZ JAPAN. kthx.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a big story, and author Hiromu Arakawa deserves a medal for making one of the greatest things in the history of ever. Give that Japanese lady a round of applause. FMA tackles a lot of themes like redemption, loss, sacrifice, and family, but does so in a way that’s not quite as dour as the 03 series. It’s a perfect blend of drama, mystery, action, war, humor, and even just a little bit of romance.
I never thought I could be so completely engrossed in an anime. I’m not ignorant of the great storytelling animation has done in the past, but this was the first one to really grab me, and just knock me right on my ass with how good it is. One of the greatest viewing experiences I’ve ever had. I dare you to watch the final two episodes and not cry like I did. That’s coming from me, Kate, who hates everything.
Even if you’re not a weeaboo, if you’re a person of nerdly caliber at all, please please please check this show out. You will not regret it. FMA is almost flawless. The story is one of the best ever told, the animation is gorgeous, the characters are great and memorable, the steam-punk early 20th Century setting, music, voice acting…everything really came together for this project. I give it my absolute highest recommendation. It’s an outstanding achievement that will not be equaled for a long, long time.