I was going to save writing about this animated masterpiece for my top seven TV shows, but the urge to re-watch it (for the 5th time) has been so strong for the past couple of days that I can’t help but vent my thoughts on it somehow.
I can categorically state that ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ is probably my favourite piece of television ever.
Of all time.
Anime gets a lot of shit thrown at it, and my hands are just as faeces-ridden as the next guy. Because, let’s face facts here, there’s a lot of terrible anime out there. One dimensional characters, over-the-top humour, ridiculous storylines, heavy repetition, and just general poor writing. But ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ (which I’ll refer to as ‘FMA:B’) never delivers anything but quality content.
I’m not saying I watch a lot of anime, and I’m definitely not the guy to give a definitive opinion on the genre, as there are only three anime series I’ll sit down and actually enjoy watching; ‘FMA:B’, ‘Death Note’, and ‘Steins;Gate’ (four if I count the original 2003 series of Fullmetal Alchemist). But I do like to think that I know a good TV show when I see one, and ‘FMA:B’ is certainly a good show. I’d go so far as to say almost perfect. My reasoning, you may ask? Well, I honestly don’t think I could ever put into words how I truly feel about the show, because (as with a lot of my favourite pieces of media) I just feel a connection with it. As left-field as that sounds, ask yourself, why do you like your favourite song? Sure there are things you can list off that make it a good song (which is what I’ll be doing for this in a moment), but when you really reflect on your love for that song, there’s always something there that you can’t quite explain, something that’s not quite tangible. That’s the connection I feel towards this TV show.
Now, where do I begin here? I think the best place, as usual, is the beginning. To give you an idea of the series, here’s a quick summary of the premise-
Alchemy is the science of understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter. However, it is limited by the law of equivalent exchange, meaning that you cannot create something out of nothing; “in order to obtain something, one must sacrifice something of equivalent value”. And there is one alchemic process that is taboo amongst alchemists, Human Transmutation, which involves the creation or resurrection of humans using alchemy. In a horrifically failed attempt to resurrect their mother, Edward and Alphonse Elric, two extremely gifted young alchemists, unintentionally sacrifice parts of themselves. Edward loses his right arm and left leg, whilst Alphonse loses his entire body. With Edward’s limbs replaced with “Automail” prosthetics, and Alphonse’s soul bonded to a suit of armour, the two boys embark on a journey. Helped along by friends and family, including their childhood friend, Winry, and their commanding officer, Roy Mustang (my 2nd favourite character), the brothers attempt to find the fabled ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ in order to regain their original bodies. However, they soon find themselves caught up in mysterious events larger and more dangerous than anything they could have imagined, events that threaten the very existence of everything they hold dear.
I think that summarises the plot fairly well, I was tempted to write about almost every character and event, but that would just spoil it now, wouldn’t it?
First of all, the premise of the show is such a genius idea. Alchemy is a fabled branch of science that is centred on knowing the individual elements of an object, breaking down the matter of the object into its individual elements, and reconstructing it into something else entirely using those elements. This means that the characters can create almost anything they need, out of (what would seem to be) thin air. However, the biggest limitation is the law of Equivalent Exchange, meaning that for something to be gained, something of equal value must be sacrificed. The show never breaks these rules, and if a character gets around this theory, they do so in a very careful and explained way. There’s no Deus Ex Machina here. Which is why the boys’ attempt to resurrect their mother is such a horrendous event, as the show puts it, “What could equal the value of a human soul?”.
Which leads me onto the themes the show explores. This isn’t the bog-standard, pure entertainment, cartoon that never gets into talking about anything serious (although the entertainment value is really high). This show goes to some pretty dark places. Really freakin’ dark. The themes it broaches are serious debates, and it handles them better than any other show I’ve seen. It talks about the importance of family and friendship, the morality of science, the morality of soldiers and the things they have to do, genocide, the ethics of terrorism and revenge, the quest for immortality, love, the battles between good and evil (on large and small scales), and also the dangers of totalitarianism and the bravery of those who oppose it (heavily referencing the structure and nature of Nazi Germany, and the attempted 1944 military coup). These aren’t things to be taken lightly, and the show never takes them for granted. All of the issues I’ve listed here are just a few out of a whole multitude, and while it may seem like this show sounds a little too preachy for its own good, it never strays into the territory of a lecture on life. The characters and their relatable storylines always make it an enjoyable ride, even when some people don’t make it the whole way (The reason Roy Mustang is only my second favourite character is because the top spot is taken by one of the most lovable but tragic characters I’ve ever come across).
Which leads me onto the characterisation in this show, and it is simply masterful. There is no character who doesn’t have depth and soul, even if they appear for little more than an episode. Here’s some of the main characters, and how they grow as the show goes on-
- Edward (an arrogant hot-shot who grows both physically and emotionally over the course of the story)
- Alphonse (a young boy without a body who has to grow up much faster than he should)
- Winry (a pseudo-sister to the boys, who is forced to see them get hurt over and over again during their quest, and who never lets them forget their purpose)
- Roy Mustang (the cool and calculating military war hero, but a young idealist at heart)
- and his “subordinates” (a group of soldiers who are as hilarious as they are professional badasses)
-They really are impeccable. As the years and months go by you get a real sense of growth and development in the people involved. They mature as both they and the situations they find themselves in develop, becoming more than they could have possibly imagined. It’s this realistic and thoughtful process that makes them the most relatable and human characters I’ve ever seen, despite the fact they’re animated
One of the things that immediately attracted me to the show is the storyline. It starts out with the boys just trying to get their own physical bodies back, not letting anything else get in their way. However, it soon escalates to a full-blown conspiracy that threatens everyone they know. It’s a classic story of personal tragedy and redemption, and an epic adventure. I’ve said this about most aspects of this show, but I can’t think of a story that is as well-thought-out or well-constructed as this one. It’s believable (as believable as fantasy can be), hugely relatable, and completely immersive.
I haven’t gone into too much detail in this piece, purely because I don’t want to spoil too much of the show for you. However, I hope I’ve given you an idea of just how good it really is, and maybe convinced you to give it a try, even if you don’t like anime. Because, I’ll let you in on a secret, I didn’t like it until I watched the original series of this show, and this version is the ultimate incarnation of the story. As always though, the first few episodes are purely introductory, but bear with it because it really takes off around episode 4.
So give it a try, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
“The power of one man doesn’t amount to much. But, however little strength I’m capable of… I’ll do everything humanly possible to protect the people I love, and in turn they’ll protect the ones they love. It seems like the least we tiny humans can do for each other”- Roy Mustang
Do you love ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’ too? Or have you tried to watch it and just couldn’t get into it? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear your opinion. (Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic. I promise)