Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone back to the classic anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, showing it to my girlfriend who has never seen it before. When I’d first watched it a few years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a fantastic adventure with Edward and Alphonse Elric with amazing powers of alchemy as they search for a way to recover their original bodies after a set of very unfortunate circumstances. But when I first watched it, I watched it very passively, not paying a huge amount of attention and just watching the fight scenes. So I wasn’t reading into the themes that this show presents. And there are a lot.
I’m just going to start with what everyone knows about this show, It’s good! Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is regarded as one of the best anime series’ of all time, but what is it that makes it so timeless? Its aesthetic certainly helps. The setting of Amestris is very post World War 1 in style, with most of the cast we encounter in very 1910’s fashion or early military garb. Given that in our timeline World War 1 was about 100 years ago, it’s easy to fantasize it and given how recognisable the style is, it’s become timeless. Also factor into the fact that not a lot of popular anime adapt this style it certainly makes the show as a whole a lot more recognisable than most and it’s easy to see why people remember it.
For the sake of this review I’d like to point out that I’m watching the English dub from Funimation and I think they do a spectacular job with almost every line delivered sounding natural Stand outs from the cast include Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric, Travis Willingham as Roy Mustang, Ed Blaylock as King Bradley and special props to Wendy Powell as Envy. She made a character that does a multitude of horrible and despicable things across the entire season so enjoyable to watch, so kudos.
Now we’re going to dig into the plot and what makes this show really stand above the rest, but before I go anywhere I have to put up a big SPOILER WARNING here as I will be discussing some of the major plot points of the show. And seriously if you haven’t watched it yet, close this review and go watch it now, it’s on Netflix, you have no excuses.
As I mentioned earlier, this show follows Ed and Al as they try to get their bodies back after losing them trying to bring back their dead mother. They try this using the art of alchemy, a magic which uses a law of equivalent exchange. This means exchanging something for another thing of equal value. This is, to this day, one of the most original concepts for magic use I’ve seen in really any show or movie and is a breath of fresh air. It’s also fascinating how dark this show gets. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has a very vibrant colour palette and is quite light in tone a lot of the time, with plenty of jokes about Ed’s size sprinkled in, but when this show hits you it hits hard. And it starts early with the boys trying to bring back their mother. This entire sequence of human transmutation is horrifying and heart breaking at the same time. After the Ed comes back from witnessing the truth and realising Al was taken his plea’s to get his brother back are incredibly moving and I’m even welling up thinking about it.
But this is balanced out by some of the most outright awesome fight scenes in anime, and when the good guys are victorious after all the despair it is incredibly satisfying. Most notable of these is the scene where Mustang finds out it was Envy that murdered Maes Hughes. The fury in Mustangs eyes is incredible and his unrelenting force when attacking Envy is almost scary and Envys condescension towards the situation just digs his grave deeper. After everything Mustang has gone through to find Hughes’ killer and the despair his murder brought this scene was incredibly satisfying to watch.
I suppose the biggest theme Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood digs into is political relations between warring nations, most notably the relationship between Amestris and Ishval. It mimics the relations between America and the Middle East, a topic that was relevant when the original manga started its issues in 2001, when the series was first released in 2009 and even is still relevant to this day. It does a great job and even showing the Ishvalans as a very peaceful people at heart, just pushed to the edge by rising political tensions, multiple Amestrian settlements and then the mindless killing of a child. Much later in the series when the Ishvalan refugees are helping build the anti-transmutation circle around Central they are very apologetic to anyone they’re inconveniencing and use entirely non-lethal force. These are simply a people who want to live peaceful lives in their home country.
Even the character of Scar who is seen as the extremist searching for vengeance has entirely redeemable qualities and his motivations are clear. He wants vengeance on the state alchemists who ravaged his homeland. But he still feels remorse for murdering the Rockbells and when Winrey has the gun pointed at him he accepts that this is his fate for what he has done. The simple fact that this Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood can weave all of this seamlessly into a plot about two boys with magical powers trying to get their bodies back and defeat an ultimate evil is a testament to how good the show’s writers are.
And that’s not all. I’m not even mentioning the religious undertones this show hammers home where the lead antagonists plan is to literally absorb god! But that’s the thing, this show has so much in it. As a 64 episode series stands it is jam-packed and no episode feels at all wasted and every time you watch you find out something, no matter how minor, that you didn’t notice last time. With all of these reasons and more to mention, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a defining anime to be remembered for generations to come.