Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the first anime I have completed since -- and not for lack of trying, but because nothing else I watched compared in quality to Monster and, inevitably, my interest would wane.

To be honest, my interest nearly waned with FMA:B as well.I have neither read the manga nor seen the original 2003 anime.I also didn't know anything about the show, other than that it is generally highly regarded.Nevertheless, the first handful of FMA:B episodes did not immediately grab me for 2 main reasons:

* Edward Elric, one of the main protagonists, was -- initially -- the classic hot-tempered, brash hero-brat -- not a character trope I generally enjoy watching.I found his Napoleonic Height Complex to be both tonally jarring and not funny.(I continued to find the Napoleon Complex jarring until the end despite very much growing to love Ed's character.)

* Along those lines, I found the early episodes to be tonally odd.We'd be going through a serious fight, heavy plotting, or important dialogue, when suddenly the show would interrupt itself with a sight gag -- e.g., Ed's Napoleonic Height Complex, or Major Armstrong's gleaming obsession with his own muscles.The humor felt . . . "off."

In fact, a while ago, I started watching the original 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist and dropped the show for similar reasons.

But once I pushed past those initial episodes, I got hooked.And now that I have rewatched the show again, I am only beginning to appreciate just how masterfully -- and subtly -- the show developed its protagonists and dropped hints everywhere of story lines to come.


FMA:B is a highly serialized show about the Elric brothers' journey to find a Philosopher's Stone to restore their bodies to normal after an alchemy experiment gone wrong -- and the conspiracy that the brothers uncover along the way.What I appreciated about the narrative was that the brothers' quest was essentially a personal and selfish one, born of tragedy:their quest for the Stone stems from a failed attempt to bring their mother back from the dead, which resulted in the loss of Ed's arm and leg and Alfonse's entire body.The brothers stumbled across (and embarked on) a Save the Nation quest along the way, but their journey was ultimately a personal one of self-discovery and sacrifice.

On the whole, the show was very well paced.Nearly every episode is critical to the development of the plot.The plot unfolds slowly but deliberately, and later episodes add layers of meaning to (and change your view of events in) earlier ones.The show does drag a bit at the end -- nearly an entire season is devoted to the endgame, which means several battles or conversations last way too long.But overall, FMA:B has a strong story that covers a broad range of themes and develops the characters in interesting and thematically fitting ways.


The show is beautifully animated, complete with gorgeous backgrounds, well-drawn characters, and fluid action sequences.The characters could have used some more interesting facial expressions -- too many characters react to emotion with Stereotypical Shaking Limbs or Quaking Eyes.I also would have preferred if the character designs of the villains weren't so . . . obviously villainous (e.g., Envy's dastardly grin, Kimblee's evil eyes).But for the most part the show is very pleasant to look at.


I found the FMA:B soundtrack to be somewhat . . . lackluster after a while -- not because the music itself was uninteresting, but because there wasn't enough variety.The themes were good, but suffered from overuse.Whenever something dramatic happened, we'd hear the same overwrought dramatic choral theme; during action scenes, we'd hear that action theme with the heavy beats, etc. etc.Having been spoiled by the phenomenal soundtrack in Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, I was a little underwhelmed by the FMA:B music.

As for the voice acting, I usually watch anime in Japanese dub, but this time, I found myself drawn to the English dub voice actors.The voice acting for the leads were all excellent, for the most part.I particularly enjoyed the voices for the Elric brothers, Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye, and the Armstrong siblings.My only complaint was about the kid voices -- Young Ed, Young Al, and especially May Chang -- which sounded too shrill and definitely-a-fake-kid for my tastes.


The series did a FANTASTIC job developing its two main characters, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric.Having watched the entire series twice now, I realize just how far these characters have come over the course of the series.Edward, in particular, starts out as a selfish, cocky brat who declares in the first episode that he "doesn't care" whether his country's leader does bad things, seems narrowly focused on his and his brother's own problems, and arrogantly believes that alchemy can solve all things.But throughout the series, Edward learns humility, the limits and horrors of alchemy, and the true meaning of sacrifice.And by the end, Edward has demonstrated -- repeatedly -- through action that he cares deeply about his countrymen and, indeed, about humanity, and that he is willing to sacrifice everything to protect those he loves.His is a fantastic character transformation that forms the heart of the show.

Many of the secondary characters were also well developed.I enjoyed the way the show handled the relationship between Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye -- one of mutual dependence and great respect, with undertones of a deep love that never physically manifested in the show.Theirs was a perfect demonstration of showing, not telling, that two characters care deeply for one another, and I wish shows would follow FMA:B's example in that regard (and eschew wild but unearned declarations of love) more often.

The rest of the cast is huge.While not everyone gets fully developed, there are quite a few interesting characters with their own motivations, philosophies, and quirks. And, for the most part, the show moves deftly between the characters and gives them space to breathe.Even some of the "villains" -- e.g., Scar, Greed, Envy, Pride -- get character development.Best of all, there were no Annoying Anime Women.

To be sure, a few of the periphery characters (e.g., the chimeras, the Briggs characters other than Olivier Armstrong, some of Roy Mustang's underlings) could probably have been eliminated to make the show more tightly written.But overall, FMA:B gets very high marks in my book for how it handled its large cast and, in particular, for how it handled Ed, Al, Mustang, and Hawkeye.


I got off to a slow start with FMA:B, but ultimately enjoyed it a lot (especially the second time around, when I realized just how far the characters had come).Although I never quite got past the somewhat odd gag humor, I greatly appreciated the character development and the epic, thematically-satisfying story.I don't intend on watching the 2003 series, but FMA:B is now definitely among my favorite series that I have seen.
Full Post

No comments:

Post a Comment