Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
In a dieselpunk world where alchemy is a powerful science, Ed and Al Elric are two teenage brothers who became crippled in their failed attempt to resurrect their mother in an alchemical experiment: Ed lost on arm and leg, now replaced by automail prosthetics, and Al is merely a soul bonded with alchemy to a suit of armour he can animate. They have enrolled in the army as State Alchemist in order to investigate the rumours of the Philosophical Stone which could have the power to help them recover their original bodies, but in the course of that investigation they fall onto a huge conspiracy and face the opposition of the strange creatures known as Homunculus who are named for each of the seven (Christian) Sins.
You know I feel kind of silly to summarise FMA's premise at this point. Who doesn't know what the series is about? Oh well.
No less than the second adaptation of a brilliant shounen manga, Brotherhood jumps into the fold in a rushed race to narrate the material already covered by the first adaptation as quick as possible and only hits its stride once it's done so after a dozen of episodes or so, at which point it becomes an absolutely wonderful and enjoyable adaptation of 64 episodes, delivering on the humour, the action and the epic scope of the drama provided by the excellent source material.
FMA is first of all an excellently plotted story, which is dramatic, interesting, coherent and epic all at the same time. It is very dark at times - dealing with such themes as mutilation, the trauma of war, genocide, and abuse of people in the name of "science" - while retaining an optimistic and humanist outlook. Brotherhood has a pretty steady kind of pacing, going with "build up build up build up epic EPIC EPIC
and back to build up build EPIC EPIC EPIC
kind of rhythm that isn't quite breathtaking, but is very efficient nonetheless and without any filler despite the length of the series. The comedy feels a little bit mandatory at times (oh look, an Ed is short joke, it's been a while, I had forgotten how they went), but is good at relieving the tension and preventing the show from falling into excessive wangst (one of the first adaptation's flaw, some would say) and building up the relationship between characters. Most of all, Brotherhood had the good taste to time itself so it could adapt the full of its original material and thus deliver an actually coherent and logical ending (which I
would say was the major flaw of the first adaptation).
It juggles with a pretty large and diverse cast of characters, most of which are very endearing in their own particular way, and gives most of them their due in the course of the story (there are a few I wouldn't have minded to see explored and used more than they were, but oh well). Ed is a spunky, determined, intelligent and a slightly artless kid, and Al is adorable and kind hearted yet just as dangerous when roused. The secondary cast is so large I feel a bit at a loss at how to represent them - but let's just say they come in a variety of age, gender and ethnicity, and that many of them are awesome and loveable. One of the series' big quality was really the quality of its characters, both amongst antagonists and protagonists.
The production values are excellent through out, without really being overwhelmingly so. Most action scenes (though not all) are very well animated, the character designs are endearing with a pleasant roundness, the music is very efficient at underlying the mood of a scene without overpowering it. I'm ridiculously in love with the music of the second ED
though not quite as much as I was in love with Bratja in the first adaptation ;).
The thematics of FMA are ambitious for a shounen series, and it does deliver on most of them successfully. What it does best is talk about the effects of war on individuals, with the Ishvalan rebellion and the ensuing genocide casting a heavy shadow in the past of many characters and their motivations. Unfortunately it does so much better from the side of the military people who took part in said genocide than it does on the (dark skinned) Ishvalans who were the victim of it. Another theme it explores is the responsibility and role of a leader, which is a little bit earnest and naive, but still strikes some interesting chords with how it parallels different characters. It does beautifully talk about human reserve and perseverance to struggle through, recover from and overcome difficult times together - though of course this is standard shounen themes but it handles them well in that it's not ridiculously over the top and mostly realistic, and I love how it does so through the motif of disabilities as well - as well as guilt (and hubris
) and the question of how to take responsibility for it (which is more original and interestingly done).
I could pinpoint to few other things I didn't think worked totally well; bemoan that some flashbacks or scenes were too short or cut from the anime compared to the manga (though some of them would have been difficult to include without hurting the pacing), but overall Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was an anime I absolutely loved watching every episode of and one awesome journey to take.