BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM, ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST
Author’s Note: In 2003, Bones animation studio adapted Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, “Fullmetal Alchemist” (“FMA”), into an anime series. One problem: the author had not finished her story. So in 2009, Bones rebooted the show as “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (“Brotherhood”) to stay true to the manga. Let the battle begin.
Plot: “FMA” has one true plot arc, focusing on Edward and Alphonse Elric’s quest for a Philosopher’s Stone. This leads to episodes with characters talking more than is necessary to advance a plotline, and some episodes—10, 26 and 37 for example—aren’t vital to the arc itself. The stakes are constrained to the Philosopher’s Stone’s influence, so when the secret behind the Gate of Truth is revealed, it feels contrived. “Brotherhood” deviates from the Elric brother’s quest, and the Philosopher’s Stone is a small part of a more intricate plotline. Even in the first episode, which appears like a mere introductory adventure, it’s important to pay attention to the alchemy symbol encircling the city.
Writing: “FMA” is better at having meaningful yet subtle conversations, such as the moments between Colonel Mustang and Lieutenant Hawkeye. Comparing what they say—or what they don’t say—“FMA” plays it more guardedly, providing the audience a better appreciation for their relationship. “Brotherhood” has tendencies to overly explain information and thoughts. “FMA” is not infallible either, but “Brotherhood” is more culpable. After “Brotherhood’s” first 10-15 episodes, these tendencies diminish substantially, but occasionally still overshadow the animation or mood to convey explanation.
Animation: Both animes have animation tropes like the giant teardrop on the head or red diagonals across the face, but “Brotherhood” uses this stylization far more and sometimes disrupts the series’ somber tone. As far as technical aspects, “Brotherhood’s” six-year advantage leads to heightened fight scenes, superior landscape textures and sharper character designs. Interestingly, “Brotherhood” has a different color palette, using brighter and bolder colors while “FMA” uses muted tones and desaturation. This category is preferential, but “FMA’s” animation best fits the weighty themes that accompany both animes.
Characters: In “FMA”, the creation of a homunculus is a greater struggle between their morality and humanity. Yet in “Brotherhood”, the homunculi better represent their namesakes, and “Dwarf in the Flask” is a brilliant origin story. The Elric brothers mature more in “FMA,” though in “Brotherhood” Ed and Al are forced to become independent from each other. In “FMA,” a character’s death—episode 25—is more startling and heartbreaking; the same death in “Brotherhood”—episode 10—has a greater significance. Overall, “FMA’s” cast is more eerie and ominous with Shou Tucker, Dante and King Bradley, while “Brotherhood’s” is more morally ambiguous with General Armstrong, Lin Yao and Scar.
Emotional Resonance: Each show has different aspects that try to reach the audience emotionally, though some strike a chord better than others. There is a genuine companionship among the homunculi in “FMA” that is missed in “Brotherhood.” The backstory with Winry’s parents in “FMA” is underdeveloped and not given the same value “Brotherhood” has. Rose and Wrath are more sympathetic characters in “FMA,” though the same can be said for Hohenheim and Scar in “Brotherhood.” The finale in “FMA” is incomplete and there was actually a movie made to end the show properly. “Brotherhood” wraps up all the arcs, though it eliminates the “God” issue rather abruptly. Unfortunately, neither adaptation gives the best romantic couple in anime their happy ending due to fraternization laws.
I highly recommend both “Fullmetal Alchemist” and “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” to anybody who loves dramatic, high-intensity television. In the end, for its ability to create original and complex plotlines as well as demonstrate the global impact each character has on others, the winner of this Animation Corner Battle is:
FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD.