Reviewby James Beckett,
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Blu-Ray - Box Set 1
Edward and Alphonse Elric live in a world that has been revolutionized by the science of Alchemy, which allows its practitioners to reconstruct matter in all manner of wondrous and deadly ways. Alchemy's fundamental law is that of equivalent exchange, which states that creation cannot come from nothing – if matter is to be created, something first must be destroyed. The young Elric Brothers learned this lesson the hard way when they attempted to break Alchemy's greatest taboo and bring their recently deceased mother back to life. Edward lost his left leg and his right arm in the process, and Alphonse' entire body was obliterated; he survives only because Edward was able to bind his soul to a gargantuan suit of armor. Now the pair work as State Alchemists, using their military connections to search for the mythical Philosopher's Stone, which might contain the power to restore their bodies. However, as their nation of Amestris is becomes embroiled in a brutal civil war with the Ishvalan people, the Elric Brothers also find themselves being attacked by humanoid monsters known as Homunculi, and before long it becomes clear that their quest for the Philosopher's Stone threatens to uncover secrets that could bring the whole world crashing down around them.
There's not much I can say about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood that hasn't already been said over the past ten years. Studio Bones' adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's manga is at least a massive aesthetic improvement over the original anime. The show still looks gorgeous all these years later, and the action-packed animation looks crisp and fluid on Blu-Ray. Edward and Alphonse remain likable and compelling leads, and though my memory of FMA 2003 is a bit fuzzy, Brotherhood's story feels like it has more momentum where the plot needs it, and it's also able to slow down enough to allow for poignancy and horror that brings the Elric's struggles into sharp relief. While I haven't yet seen it yet myself, I've had people telling me for years that Brotherhood's ending is much more satisfying than what we got from the original series and Conquerer of Shamballa. While I didn't hate that ending as much as I know some fans did, it did feel at odds with where FMA originally started out.
I'm already loving the direction FMA: Brotherhood is taking, in part because it feels much more focused on tying the Elrics' personal struggles to the larger conflicts of the Ishvalan Civil War. One of my favorite aspects of FMA was always its world-building – the universe feels like a perfect mashup of industrial European trappings and fantasy manga tropes that works well at facilitating FMA's own story while also offering pointed commentary about the real-world consequences of nationalism, unchecked military fanaticism, and genocide. I also feel like two of my favorite characters, Winry Rockbell and Riza Hawkeye, get a lot more to do in Brotherhood versus the original series.
My only major complaint about the series at this junction is something might betray me as a crotchety old man; I had a much harder time with the show's humor than its drama. Fullmetal Alchemist has always liked to balance its pathos with punchlines, but there were quite a few times in these first thirty episodes where I thought there were too many cutesy gags, to the point where they undercut the drama of any given scene. Hearing Edward freak out about being called short once or twice was funny. By the fiftieth time that gag was run into the ground, I couldn't roll my eyes any harder.
Funimation lost the home video and streaming rights to FMA in 2016, so Aniplex's hefty new Blu-ray box set of Brotherhood is currently the only legal way to acquire the series, which makes it a perfect opportunity for me to fill this regrettable void in my anime backlog. The first of the set's two volumes contains the first 30 of Brotherhood's 64 episodes across six discs, along with two of its shorter OVAs and a handful of goofy little comedy sketches called “4-Panel Comic Theater”. The picture and sound are great quality, and every single episode, OVA, and sketch contains an excellent Japanese and English dub.
The first of the OVAs is a haunting little adventure called “The Blind Alchemist”, and it's very good, though not exactly an essential piece of the FMA puzzle. The second OVA, “Simple People”, delves into Edward and Alphonse's relationship with Winry, with a bit of time spent with Riza as well. It's cute enough, but it feels more like a collection of deleted scenes than a proper standalone episode. The 4-Panel theater sketches range from being decently funny to total duds, but they're there for anyone who desires a break from the show's usual drama.
The whole set is packaged in a sturdy and well-designed box that features some original art from Arakawa herself, and it also comes with a booklet featuring an episode guide and some character profiles. It's nice that some care was given to the set's packaging, especially given the set's steep price (each of the two box sets goes for between $100-$125 at various online retailers). It's a shame that newcomers might be put off by the pricetag, but FMA: Brotherhood has been one of the most beloved shonen anime of the past decade for good reason, and this re-release will hopefully attract a brand new generation of fans.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Thrilling shonen adventure with fascinating world-building, Brotherhood's aesthetics have aged better than the 2003 series, nice Aniplex release
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