Reviewby James Beckett,
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Blu-Ray - Box Set 2
Edward and Alphonse Elric's quest to restore their bodies with the power of the Philosopher's Stone has unearthed a terrifying truth about the nation they've sworn to protect: Führer Bradley is secretly a Homunculus, one of the artificial beings created to serve a dark purpose that the Elrics are only beginning to understand. Atop this mountain of secrets and lies stands a cunning figure known only as Father, the master of the Homunculi who also happens to share the same face as Edward and Alphonse's father, Van Hohenheim. When the real Hohenheim returns from his long absence, he reveals to his sons that the man known as Father has been developing his master plan for the better part of a millennium, and it jeopardizes the lives of people the world over. As the fateful Promised Day of the Eclipse swiftly approaches, the Elric Brothers join forces with friends and foes alike, raising an unlikely army to take one final stand against Father's apocalyptic horde.
While the first volume of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood contained plenty of deviations from the anime-only material of the first adaptation, this second volume is where I was really able to appreciate just how different this version of the story turns out. There are many new faces to round out the cast, in addition to a bunch of characters who get much more time in the spotlight and in many cases, develop entirely different character arcs. One of the biggest and most infamous changes the original FMA made was linking the Elric's universe to our own, revealing that the energy that fuels the process of Alchemy came from the terrible explosions of violence that accompanied the outbreak of wars on our Earth. I don't think it's too big a spoiler to say Brotherhood goes in a completely different direction, sticking to its own universe and wrapping up its ancient conflict in a decidedly more traditional manner. Bad guys are challenged, battles are fought, and the conclusion is more concerned with tying up loose plot threads than indulging in morally ambiguous metaphysics.
When Hohenheim steps into the picture and the disparate forces of good and evil finally begin to collide, FMA's story achieves a sense of scope and scale that the original series struggled to wield gracefully, especially when it ballooned to encompass the fates of not one but two entire universes. The nation of Xing has several key characters that play a role in the final act of the story, such as Mei, the princess who develops a crush on Alphonse, or Ling, the prince of a rival tribe who has a fascinating relationship with the Homunculus Greed. Ling and Greed's respective character arcs ended up being among my favorite in all of Fullmetal Alchemist, and it's easy to see why fans of the manga would balk at any adaptation that could exclude them completely. Likewise, Scar's journey and the whole of the Ishvalan conflict get a lot of room to breathe compared to getting lost in the shuffle of the 2003 series' ambitions.
For me, the chief pleasure of finishing Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was in seeing all of author Hiromu Arakawa's many puzzle pieces fall into place with thrilling precision. Each of the heroes and Homunculi have individual arcs that pay off dozens of episodes worth of buildup, and Father makes for a classically diabolical antagonist. Where the original Fullmetal Alchemist eventually honed its focus in on the two Elric Brothers specifically, Brotherhood feels a lot more like an ensemble war story. There are whole stretches of episodes where Ed and Al are just two cogs in a larger machine, and while the show never loses sight of them fully, it also isn't afraid to devote its final minutes to the emotional journeys of Mustang, Hawkeye, Scar, or the other dozen characters that all have a stake in the fight against Father.
However, if I'm being honest, I rather missed the brazen, no-hold-barred weirdness of the 2003 series. The final act of Brotherhood is routinely entertaining, but it veers close to being too straightforward at times. Many of this box set's episodes are spent ramping up to The Promised Day, when a solar eclipse will blot out the sun and Father will carry out his genocidal plot, and Brotherhood spends no less than eighteen episodes playing out this final battle in systematic detail. I found myself somewhat exhausted by the end of it and somewhat underwhelmed by how few surprises there were to be found in the its final episodes. Say what you will about the Conqueror of Shamballa, but it wasn't afraid to go unexpected places with FMA's story, and I can't help but feel that Brotherhood's version of events loses some spice in its bid to play things relatively safe and wrap its plotlines up nice and neat.
It's still an excellent series from top to bottom, so it's no wonder that this is the version that warranted a big box set release from Aniplex. Like the first set, this Volume 2 contains some exclusive artwork, a nice booklet insert, and some OVAs and comic sketches to round out the bonus features disc. The sketches continue to be amusing little trifles, and I enjoyed the two OVAs included here even more than those in Volume 1. “A Master's Tale” is a ten-minute short that delivers an amusing flashback to the early days of the Elric Brothers' master, Izumi Curtis. More substantial is the fifteen-minute “Yet Another Man's Battlefield”, which crams a lot of backstory for Colonel Mustang and Maes Hughes into a brief runtime. It's a well-done story that packs quite the emotional wallop.
Now that I've finally experienced this venerated piece of anime history, it's difficult for me to say if Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is one of my favorite anime of all time, but I can absolutely see how it has earned that status for so many fans over the years. I will always appreciate what the 2003 series was going for in its themes and plot, and I wouldn't mind seeing a third version of FMA that mashed elements from each of the two shows together. Still, this is a finely tuned shonen fantasy adventure executed with style and confidence, and it sticks the landing better than many of its peers in the medium. The collection might still be a little pricey for the average fan, but if you shelled out for the first set, there's no reason not to complete your collection with this one.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Rousing and emotionally satisfying conclusion to an epic tale, expanded cast and more cohesive storytelling improve upon the 2003 adaptation
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