Review for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part 5 (2 Discs)
Obscure reference for you… Do you remember Keith Harris and Orville, and Cuddles the Monkey? Whenever Keith Harris had an idea, he'd ask Cuddles to be an assistant in his plan. Boy did that monkey get excited about being an assistant! He'd go on and on about being an assistant, you could see the thrill rush to his obnoxious little head. That's how excited I am at the advent of the final instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. This is the second series of Fullmetal Alchemist. The first got halfway through the manga story, then when that ran out, it developed its own, very spectacular ending. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is the second telling of the story, this time in glorious widescreen, and made at the point where the manga story was complete, and it could be adapted in its entirety to the screen. The first thirteen episodes of this series shared material with the first half of the original animation, but everything since then has been completely new to the screen. It's been one hell of a story, I've been glued to every frame of the show, and now we come to the conclusion. A story can live or die on the quality of its ending, but it would take a monumental effort to screw this up.
Alchemy is the art of the transmutation of matter by means of an incantation, a mystical circle, or sheer willpower alone. For centuries charlatans and the deluded pursued the creation of gold by alchemical means but to no avail. But in Full Metal Alchemist, alchemy is a realised science. Set in an alternative world during the early years of the twentieth century, the transmutation of elements is indeed a reality, and the state regards such talent highly indeed. Full Metal Alchemist tells the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two precocious alchemists who are on a quest. The young brothers had attempted the unspeakable, resurrecting their mother. But the Law Of Equivalent Exchange cannot be flouted, only objects of equal mass can be transmuted, and the dead cannot be brought back to life. The attempt failed disastrously. Now, Alphonse is a disembodied spirit bound to a suit of animated armour, while Edward has replaced his leg and arm with metal automail, but it's his prodigious facility with alchemy that has earned him the name, Fullmetal Alchemist. Now they search for a means to restore their bodies.
This fifth collection of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood concludes the story with 12 episodes across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment.
Previously on Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, it appeared that the elements of the conspiracy had fallen into place for Ed, Al and their allies, that they finally understood what was going on. They also realised that time was running out, that the plans of Father and the Homunculi were about to come to fruition, with the entire nation of Amestris to be sacrificed for their grand ambitions. To counter that, Ed's allies put into action their counter plans, they moved against the puppet government itself, and Father who pulls the strings, beginning with an assault on the Fuhrer King Bradley. While Al faced off against Pride and the Crimson Alchemist Kimblee, Ed and the others snuck into Central, at the same time that the Flame Alchemist Roy Mustang, and Brigadier General Armstrong's forces from Briggs launched a coup d'état. But at the same time, the beleaguered generals in Central unleashed their secret weapon, an army of immortal soldiers, while Envy had returned to the capital, and regained his powers.
Up till now, I have been writing episode synopses for the show, useful as Fullmetal Alchemist is such a fast-paced show with a complex and multi-stranded narrative. Admittedly it was as much for myself as a memory aid as it was to the reader. The DVD releases for Brotherhood have been spaced far enough apart for memory to begin to fade. But as this is the final volume, and the conclusion of the story, I'll forgo the episode synopses this time around. Minimal spoilers from hereon out.
53. Flame of Vengeance
54. Beyond the Inferno
55. The Adults' Way of Life
56. The Return of the Fuhrer
57. Eternal Leave
59. Lost Light
60. Eye of Heaven, Gateway of Earth
61. He Who Would Swallow God
62. A Fierce Counterattack
63. The Other Side of the Gateway
64. Journey's End
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood now gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which at long last for anime, comes to UK shores in native PAL flavour. The image is clear, sharp and colourful, the detail levels are high, and Studio Bones makes sure that the full widescreen scope is put to good use, and the animation is vibrant and energetic. Of course I can't help but compare it to the first series, and you'll have to take my bias into account when I say that I feel something is lacking in this second series. The action animation is better, especially given these five years or so of technical advancement, and I must say that Brotherhood is a much prettier anime to experience. However, I do feel that the show doesn't compete when it comes to detail. Backgrounds seem more generic, character animation is a little simpler and lacks nuance, while the actual character designs are subtly different, a little stockier and broader and not quite as elegant as before. There is also a far greater prevalence of comedy deformations.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese with translated subtitles and a signs only track as you would expect. But, just like with the video, I feel a little disappointed in the audio for FMA: Brotherhood. My choice as always is for the Japanese audio, and it is certainly an acceptable way to watch the show. I'm beginning to find a comfort zone with the Japanese audio, especially as the story diverges from the first series completely, and characters new to anime are introduced. I still prefer the Japanese to the English dub by the way. These are small issues, as by far the greatest disappointment in Full Metal Alchemist's audio is the music. Admittedly the themes are good, and the new opening and closing themes that debut in this volume are certainly catchy. But the incidental music takes a hit that doesn't do the show any favours. For the first series, Michiru Oshima created a score that was grand, theatrical, and operatic, and very much a character in the show. For Brotherhood Akira Senju provides the background music, and the most I can say about it is that it is bland and forgettable.
Just the one audio commentary this time around, on the final episode Journey's End. The Elric brothers, Vic Mignogna (Ed), and Maxey Whitehead (Al) join ADR director Mike McFarland to deliver the best audio commentary yet for FMA:B. It's a look back on the series as a whole, as well as a commentary on the conclusion, it's interesting and insightful, and well worth listening to.
There are also outtakes on disc 2, 7 minutes of goof-ups and goofing around, none of which managed to make me smirk, let alone laugh,
You also get the textless credit sequences here, although not the textless ending for the final episode, which would have been far more useful.
I can't believe that Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood has come to an end. It's the kind of show that you just want more and more of. However all good things, as they say, and even a story as long running and as involving as Fullmetal Alchemist has to conclude at some point. Actually, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood's conclusion began six episodes into the previous volume. The final arc that resolves the story, fashions a worthy conclusion for this epic series, the confrontation between Ed, Al and their allies and the forces of Father and the homunculi that takes place over a few hours in Central, actually stretch over some eighteen episodes of screen time. That's close to seven hours of anime, and makes the butt-numbing conclusion of Return of the King look like amateur hour.
There's nothing at all butt-numbing about the conclusion of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood though. It is brilliant, amazing, stunning storytelling, a conclusion that will have you glued to the screen for every single frame, will deliver in every possible way when it comes to wrapping up the story. It makes sure to follow every character arc through, that no loose ends are left dangling, and wrings as much drama, action, and excitement out of the story as is humanly possible. Oh, and plot twists and reversals… just when you think you have something tied down and understood, just when you think that there couldn't possibly be any more dimension to this rich and complex story, Fullmetal Alchemist unveils a new revelation that will have you gasping at its audacity, and its ability to remain true to the core strengths of the story. Of course I'm not going to tell you one damn thing about the ending. You really have to buy this set and find out for yourself.
So which do I prefer, the original Full Metal Alchemist anime, or the definitive manga adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? Well, it turns out that I'm just like Greed; I want it all. Both shows are spectacular anime, stunning storytelling, and utterly compelling, albeit in different ways. The original series is a little smaller, not quite as cohesive, but the worldview that it constructs, dramatically different to how Brotherhood plays out, really does get under the skin. The original series isn't as hot in its narrative, but by God does it get the emotional strength right! It has poignancy, angst, pathos and tragedy in extremis. Just when you least expect it, it will break your heart, and it will do it again and again. The origin of the homunculi in that first series is a case in point (the result of the sin of the alchemist attempting human transmutation).
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood goes a different way in its origin story, and it takes a little longer to develop its characters to the point where you can empathise with them. Certainly by the end of the show I was seeing the homunculi in a different light, whereas for most of the run, they seemed more like stock villains. But Brotherhood has the space to be leisurely in its character development, even if it isn't leisurely about telling its story. And it's the story that is Brotherhood's strength. It's a far grander, magnificent edifice of a narrative. Emotionally not as robust as its predecessor, it's when it comes to spinning a yarn that this series triumphs. For 64 episodes it holds the attention like nothing else, it pulls you in and drowns you in a rich and vivid fantasy tale that just builds and builds to a tremendous, earth-shattering crescendo of a climax. This is the best storytelling I have seen in anime form.
As mentioned in the commentary on the final episode, you now have the best of both worlds. If you want an open-ended conclusion, which leaves everything in the air, questions unanswered and rich with possibilities, go for the first series, which had a cliffhanger of a conclusion. That cliffhanger was resolved in the Conqueror of Shamballa feature film, which itself was somewhat open-ended. If you want a conclusion that is as final as possible, signed, sealed, delivered with a kiss, with all the ayes dotted and tees crossed, then you want Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which has as satisfying and as well constructed a conclusion to an anime series as I have ever seen. Incidentally, there's another Fullmetal Alchemist movie in the pipeline (it's been licensed by Funimation) that appears to be a side story to the series, so this isn't the end of Fullmetal Alchemist just yet.
The Greatest Story Ever Told isn't a patch on Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. In a somewhat disappointing summer of anime this year, Brotherhood has been just what I needed, a reminder that great anime shows do indeed get deserving conclusions. If you're torn between getting Brotherhood and the original, I'll make it easy for you. Get both!