Some thoughts on Full Metal Alchemist

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So, over Tuesday evening, the H and I finished up Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. Having watched both animes, and read the manga, I thought it would be fun to post some thoughts on the various versions. Insofar as I can remember, the FMA:B anime follows the manga pretty closely (if there are divergences I haven’t spotted, feel free to yell at me in the comments).
(spoilers below the cut. You have been warned)

The first anime, of course, is a different beast altogether. It’s darker and edgier: FMA:B mixed up a fairly dark plot with a fair amount of silliness, and while I appreciated the “relaxing” moments, which were great for developing the characters, I thought some of the balance between the creepiness and the sheer silliness was… off, I guess? It might just be me in the wrong demographic (simply put, I’m not Japanese: I know the mixture of funny and creepy jars for me, but it might just be ol’Westerner me).

The first anime made some changes to the characters compared to the manga, and not all of those were successful: I hated Dante as the main villain, and generally speaking I thought the plot went downhill after she took the stage. I really, really loved Olivia Armstrong in the second anime–she’s a formidable woman who knows what she wants, and got where she is by sheer force of will and talent (as opposed to alchemy, which gave a boost to quite a few of the characters). Likewise, Selim being Pride was a creepy choice (though the ending on his side, him being raised by his mother again, was just plain weird given all we’d seen of homonculuses). And I didn’t expect to, but I did end up loving Kimblee, who is a total psychopath and yet so weirdly honest about it that it’s refreshing (instead of being a plain mad psychopath as he was in the original anime).

I was less convinced by some of the choices made by the second anime/the manga in other regards, particularly the glibber way the Ishbal Massacre is handled, with (I thought) less emphasis on the guilt of the alchemists who took part in it, and a tendency to shrug off war as something bad caused by homonculi rather than an inherently human problem. Perhaps the worst difference in that regard was to have Scar be the killer of the Rockbells instead of Mustang. Having Mustang be the killer in the original anime brought an edge to the character and a fount of guilt that I found too easily glossed over in the second anime and in the manga.

In fact, my main problem with both the second anime and the manga is that they tend a little bit too much to the sweet for my taste: barely anyone save the bad guys die (OK, and Hohenheim, but he was borderline as those things go); and even though the characters are in jeopardy, you soon get the sense that nothing serious is ever going to happen to them, no matter what jam they might be in. Even Mustang’s band of subordinates gets off with nothing more than flesh wound (and a paralysis that ends up cured by the philosopher’s stone); and even Marcoh, who quite frankly was earmarked for death more times than I can count, manages to be still alive come series’ end.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think FMA: B and the manga are superior offerings to the original anime. The ending in particular is very strong: I kept fearing they’d botch it like they botched the ending of the first anime (which was a bit of a frustrating rush, and the “wow” factor of alchemy being fueled by the dead of WWIII just made me go “uh, where did that come from?”). Having the answer to Truth’s riddle be the abandon of alchemy was a neat and satisfying solution that tied up together all the thematic arcs from the series; and I love that everyone finds closure of a sort (even if, as I said above, I did find this way too neat and tidy).

So, for those who have seen both versions (first anime/manga or first anime/second anime): how did you think they stacked up? What’s your favourite and why?

2 comments

  1. I’ve only ever skimmed the manga in bookstores, never read it, but I loved the first anime series. I’ve been watching Brotherhood as it’s been airing, but I’ve picked it up in the middle. I have to confess that after learning the rules in the first series, that I’m often very confused by Brotherhood, because they are quiet different. Philospher’s Stones seem a dime a dozen, how homunculi come about is very different. The little girl and her panda seem distracting from the story at large.

    But I do love the story. They made Hughes a very likable character and then killed him off to good effect. And they do things that would be controversial in other venues: Tucker making a Chimera from his daughter and the family dog–very creepy! The characters are so angst-filled, that by comparison, the angst in Marvel comics seems like a joke. I do like the message about how futile and horrific war is–it is in no way glorified.

  2. Oh, no, the story is great, and I do love the guts of making unlikable choices (I actually liked Mei and her panda, even though they were utterly extraneous to the storyline). And it’s very creepy in a way that comics tend not to be, which makes it very effective.
    Japanese anime, generally speaking, tend to have an easier time of making war a bad thing than American comics. Probably partly a cultural thing, but I’ve never seen quite so much glorification of war as there was in the comics…

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