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The Anime Backlog
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Art and typesetting by 0tacat

I have a secret. A no-good, embarrassing, shame-inducing secret. I'm the executive editor at Anime News Network but there are, in fact, anime I have not watched. Not just forgettable mid-tier seasonal series, but actual honest-to-god seminal works by respected creators and touchstone series beloved by the fandom at large. There are anime I have never watched that could, perhaps justifiably, get my otaku card revoked at most major Kinokuniya locations.

This isn't to say that I haven't watched anything; I've watched hundreds upon hundreds of series, OAVs, and films since I became enamored with anime in the late '90s. But there was a lengthy burnout period for me in the aughts that continued for several years. Coincidentally, a lot of really great anime came out during a time I was navigating financial independence and other messy issues that tend to crop up when you're living on your own in your early 20s.

Enter The Anime Backlog, a spiritual sequel to Justin Sevakis' "Pile of Shame," where I'll dive into my bloated, mountainous mass of neglected anime twice a month to share what I've learned. I've made an entire Excel spreadsheet for this, so you know I'm serious. Before you ask, no, I won't be sharing the titles in advance. I can only handle being tarred and feathered for my media oversights one at a time. Besides, I thought I'd get one of the most egregious series out of the way first, so we're kicking off this week with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, just in time for its 15th anniversary.


Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Why Is It Important?

Please use this space here for critical finger-wagging and exclamations of disbelief.

First things first, I approached this series having not seen its predecessor either. I had read the first omnibus volume of Hiromu Arakawa's manga back for a Manga Guide years ago but had otherwise missed the boat, bus, and late-night Uber for all iterations of Fullmetal Alchemist. I am privy to the ongoing debate of FMA 2003 vs. FMA:B, but when it came time to sit down and watch, the choice was made for me. FMA 2003 is no longer readily available to watch in the United States. The series' home video release is out of print and is not available for streaming. I inherited Zac Bertschy's season one box set when he passed away, but it doesn't contain the entire series.

It was fortunate in its own way that I lacked familiarity and thus an overall reverence for the TV series for so long, if you can believe it. My lack of emotional connection to show was undoubtedly a benefit when covering all of the Vic Mignogna legal issues in 2019. Obviously, I understand the reverence fans have for Fullmetal Alchemist as a major entry point for anime during its run, but sitting down to watch it in 2024 and knowing its reputation was a very different experience than if I had watched this at a young age (I would have been in my early 20s when it premiered).

That is to say, coming into FMA:B completely fresh while knowing of its reputation set an incredibly high bar. This is the show that, until very recently, dominated "Best Anime" lists on MyAnimeList and Anime News Network's own encyclopedia. Community word-of-mouth often hails it as one of the best anime ever.

Note: This column will routinely include spoilers. Reader discretion is advised.

Does It Live Up to Its Reputation?

FMA:B's reputation precedes itself, and in my estimation, it was impossible for it to leave the kind of impression on me that it did new fans in 2009. That's the cushioning blow for my next sentence: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a great shōnen series that, at times, strains under the weight of its large cast. On the surface level, it doesn't do anything particularly innovative, and I suspect a lot of the audience's long-lasting endearment towards its characters is informed by the emotional beats in FMA 2003. I went in expecting to become deeply attached to Maes Hughes, for instance, because people have been yelling about what an amazing father he is for over a decade, only to find his screen time to be woefully short and lacking emotional impact. Likewise, I wasn't overly invested in Edward and Winry's romance despite their long reign on top anime couple's lists.

Once I accepted that I had been sold on the hype for nearly twenty years, I let go of my expectations and enjoyed the series on its own terms. There are several arcs within the 64-episode run that justify watching the series on its own. Foremost, the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq is a major backdrop, albeit with Ctrl+F and replace fantasy country names. This element alone feels brave in retrospect for a shōnen series, as it's rare that we get overt political commentary in anime, especially commenting on what was at the time a current conflict. Further, the series attempts to take a greyer approach to the conflict, asking its audience to sympathize with the native combatants while many of the main characters participate in invading their country and committing or facilitating war crimes. After the circumstances of the invasion are clarified, the audience has to grapple with the show's heroes, like Roy Mustang, attempting to overthrow what is unequivocally a corrupt government while also knowing he and Risa Hawkeye participated in a genocide.

The arcs of other characters, especially King Bradley, Van Hohenheim, and Envy, were far more interesting to me than those of much of the primary cast. It feels like sacrilege to state Alphonse never particularly grew on me throughout the show, but there were other cast members that outright lessened my enjoyment, namely, anything that had to do with May Chang and Gluttony, who wore out his welcome two or three fights before he was finally put to rest. May felt like she could have been excised from the show entirely, and nothing would have been lost except her pining for Al and some of the superfluous details pertaining to alkahestry.

There are moments of amazing animation throughout the series, but just as many shortcuts as you'd expect from an anime series of this length. Personally, I found the CG used for Envy's monstrous form to be impressive, given the time of the series' release, and there are visuals during the anime's endgame that will stick with me for a long time.

Watch It or Remove It?

I could never rightly tell someone to take FMA:B off their own backlog. If you're like me and haven't yet made the time for this series, now is as good of a time as any. It's important to settle your expectations first; this series isn't going to blow your socks off with striking emotional resonance or left-field plot twists, but it will keep you entertained. The episodes are designed to end on mini cliffhangers, so it's highly bingable with the exception of some slower points. The first opening song, "again" by YUI, still slaps and I rarely skipped it.

Final Verdict: Watch it.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood/鋼の錬金術師 FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST

Media Type: Series

Length: 64 episodes

Vintage: 2009

Genres: Supernatural, Drama

Availability (U.S.) Streaming: Crunchyroll, Hulu; Home Video: A standard 2012 Blu-ray from Funimation is still available, Aniplex USA released two Blu-ray boxsets that include special booklets for about US$180 each.

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