Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

I've been a bit spoilt for choice with my anime lately. After finishing Code Geass and Cowboy Bebop (expect reviews on them in the near future) I drifted away from anime for a bit to catch up on other TV shows. Then I began searching for another anime that I could really sink my teeth into. The draw was too much. Watching good anime can be really addictive. After doing a bit of research, I decided that the next anime I watched would be Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

I didn't really know much about Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood before watching it, other than two facts. The first fact was that the series was adapted from the same manga upon which the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime series was loosely based on. The second fact was that Brotherhood is critically praised. That was all I really needed to know before watching it. I always prefer to know next to nothing about an anime series before watching it, so that I can get completely engrossed in its characters and world.

Made in 2009 and consisting of 64 episodes, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is set in the fictional nation of Amestris. The use of alchemy is practiced within this country. This is an ancient and scientific method that allows its practitioners, called alchemists, to alter and manipulate natural elements in order to use them for their own purposes. These uses of alchemy range from research through to weaponry.

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is centered on the young brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who work for the Amestrian military as State Alchemists. The series follows the exploits of the Elric brothers as they search for clues into undoing the consequences of their past. Along this journey, the brothers uncover a conspiracy that threatens to destroy all of Amestris and its people. Alongside the colorful cast of characters in the series, the Elric brothers set out to prevent this impending calamity.

Director Yasuhiro Irie, writer Hiroshi Onogi, and the rest of the creative team behind the series craft an immersive and intriguing world for the audience to be plunged into. The land of Amestris and its surroundings are explored in a great deal of depth. A lot of insight is provided into the militaristic rule of the nation; the bloodshed and fighting that played a part in the forming of the nation, and the political tension that exists within the military of Amestris. The series doesn't stray away from showing the realities of war and the gruesome horrors that it can inflict. While watching, I noticed many allusions to military regimes and historical events from the past.

The practice and ethical use of alchemy within Amestris is also explored deeply in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. As the series progresses, more and more of the ancient lore surrounding alchemy is revealed, and it becomes increasingly important to developments in the plot.

Extending beyond the borders of Amestris, the foreign lands and empires surrounding the nation are also explored. While most of the series takes place in Amestris, many key characters originate from these distant homelands. The background of these places is explored at multiple points in the story. Even with this deep exploration, not everything in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is explained in incredible detail. There is much that is left up to the imagination of the audience, and this is one of greatest strengths of the series. It draws you in with its rich setting, but still leaves much for the audience to figure out for themselves. I found that this really kept me immersed within the story, and left me constantly wanting to watch the next installment.

This deep and intriguing world wouldn't be nearly as effective if it wasn't complimented with a strong cast of characters. Fortunately, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is full of memorable and likeable characters. Nearly every character throughout the series is given great depth and personality. Hiroshi Onogi's writing really stands out in the series. The backgrounds of these characters and their journeys are handled masterfully.

From the very first episode right through to the final scene of the series, Edward and Alphonse Elric are extremely effective protagonists. The tragic background that these two share is established immediately, providing a clear direction for the series to take the characters. The journey that the Elric brothers go through is excellent, fully developing them and leaving Edward and Alphonse in a place that is fittingly different to where the series began.

This attention to character development is present among all of the characters within Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. As I watched the show and continued to learn more about the interesting cast of characters, I found myself growing very attached to some of them. Even the villains, the mysterious Homunculi and their human disciples, are given a lot of depth that made them entertaining and enjoyable to watch. I found myself particularly invested in learning more about the leader of the Homunculi and the origins of this enigmatic figure.

Even with the great setting and characters that Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood contains, the series does have some problems that hold it back a bit. The biggest problem that I had with the series was the comedy. Brotherhood deals with some very dark issues, and contains a plot that is very serious and mature. The series also has its fair share of comedic moments that occur frequently throughout most episodes. Some of this humor works, and fits into the overall flow of the plot. However, for the most part I found that this injection of humor really broke my immersion with the story. To me most of the humor felt out of place and unnecessary, especially considering the overall dark and mature tone of the series as a whole.

On a minor note, I also felt that some of the characters in the series were, to put it bluntly, very annoying and completely useless to the plot. While I won't name these characters for the sake of spoilers, their contributions to the plot were very miniscule. If these characters were removed from the series, nothing would have changed. While I'm sure many people will feel differently about the characters in question, I can't deny that this did slightly detract from my enjoyment of the series.

In terms of quality anime, you can't do much better than Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. This series really reminded me why I love the anime genre so much. The rich setting of the anime is one that you can really lose yourself in. The creators of the show have done an excellent job of bringing the land of Amestris to life. On top of this, Brotherhood contains an intricate plot that makes the series engaging and addictive to watch. There is never any unnecessary filler material. Each episode is integral to developing the plot. Adding to the greatness of Brotherhood is the detailed characters the series contains. Edward and Alphonse Elric are protagonists that you immediately sympathize and engage with. These characters are masterfully handled, going through journeys that have rewarding outcomes. Most of the other characters are similarly treated with a great deal of depth and development that keeps the series engaging and full of surprises. The only major gripe I have with the series comes from its humor. It just didn't feel necessary due to the mature tone of the plot. Some unnecessary and useless characters also hold the series back from being perfect. Even with these minor problems, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is a fantastic anime series. If you love anime, you owe it to yourself to watch this series.
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