Monday, April 18, 2011

In progress: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, ep. 1-3

I've decided to start up a new series of postings to provide my thoughts on episodes of anime series as I'm in the process of watching them. I'm going to start off with Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, as I've reached the halfway point or latter in many of the other series that I'm currently viewing (or have put on temporary hold). Part of this decision stems from my love for Full Metal Alchemist, and I'm very interested to see what differences come out of this newer retelling - not only in terms of content (which is a given), but also with regards to the storytelling and character development. Another major part of my decision to begin these new postings is so they might help me better recall the ups and downs of the series when I go about writing my final review. I hope to implement this on other series in the future. As for the 'In progress' title, it will be temporary until I can conjure up a more creative name.

Let me begin by saying that I am not entirely unfamiliar with Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I've watched the 2003 FMA series all the way through, as well as Conqueror of Shamballa, and I absolutely loved that story - so much in fact, that over the course of a few months it climbed to the top of my favorite anime of all time, as well as becoming one of my favorite television series of all time. While I have yet to read any of the manga series, I have caught a handful of episodes of Brotherhood on Adult Swim. Though I am quite familiar with the majority of the characters, there are a few new faces I've yet to learn more about. The episodes that I have seen were never back-to-back in terms of the episode chronology, and so, while I understand the general direction the series takes as a whole, many of its subplots are still unfamiliar territory to me. With all of that in mind, these 'In Progess' postings will not apply ratings to any given episodes, but rather provide my thoughts on them.

Episode 1 - Full Metal Alchemist

The first episode is far more action-packed that that of the introductory episode of the 2003 series. The fateful attempt at human transmutation is not covered in detail, only briefly referenced. Instead, the focus is put on refamiliarizing viewers with the major characters as the state military is trying to stop one Isaac McDougal, a veteran of the Ishbalan war who also goes by the title of the Freezing Alchemist. McDougal's goal is apparently to freeze over military command and susequently kill Fuhrer King Bradley, who he blames blames for committing crimes and atrocities against humanity.

The Elric brothers take point in trying to stop McDougal, all while he attempts to persuade them to help his cause. Ed retorts that he doesn't care what McDougal wants, but he will stop him from causing damage to Central. Colonel Roy Mustang and Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye show up to try and stop McDougal in their own way, but Mustang's gloves are doused in water, and Riza comically presents him with a case full of spare sets of gloves. One of my personal favorite characters in the Full Metal Alchemist story, Major Alex Louis Armstrong makes a return in the only way he knows possible - incredibly graceful but completely lacking subtelty.

The first episode is nothing shy of a love letter to every Full Metal Alchemist fan. The balance of action and comedy is great. And while there is plenty of fun included, the episode also succeeds in kicking off some of the mysteries that surround the Brotherhood story. There is one point that foreshadows perhaps a bit too much and doesn't do much to mask the eventual direction of one character's story. That said, from what I have seen thus far from Brotherhood (the random handful of Adult Swim episodes included) is that, to a certain degree, the series expects viewers to be familiar with either the 2003 series or the manga.

Episode 2 - The First Day

A revisiting of the Elric brother's attempt to bring their mother back from the grave, episode two certainly covers the precursor events quickly. The actual transmutation attempt ends slightly differently than in the 2003 series, with Ed standing before the gate and meeting an entity that calls itself Truth. Truth feeds Ed a vast amount of information, but cuts him off before too long, prompting Ed to plead for more time so that he might be able to learn how to successfully bring a human back to life. Truth returns Ed to the shed, however, and he bonds Al's soul to the suit of armor.

While the 2003 series spent a lot of time focused on Ed's desperation to save his brother and the loss they felt when their mother died, Brotherhood instead chooses to focus primarily on the sense of defeat Ed felt after the whole ordeal, and - after his first meeting with Mustang - the burning desire he had to pick himself back up and find a means of restoring Al and his own body back to normal. This retelling was equally emotional, just not in the same manner. That isn't to say, however, that other aspects of the failed human transmutation can't be revisited further down the road.

Episode 3 - City of Heresy

A revisiting of the events in Liore, Ed and Al confront Father Cornello with hopes that he might be in possession of a Philosopher's Stone. In the same fashion as before, Cornello throws everything he has at the Elric brothers - a chimera, a sholder-mounted gatling gun, his own loyal minions - all while trying to convince Rose that they are evil individuals who seek to destroy what he has created for the people of Liore with his miracles. Ed manages to avoid capture this time around, instead opting to trick Cornello into admitting to his deceit over the microphone in his office. It certainly wasn't as impressive of a display of Ed's talents, and felt a bit lackluster. Cornello then turns into a much larger version of himself, one arm infused with pieces of machinery, and Ed takes him down quite quickly with the aid of his alchemy.

Ultimately, the outcome of Ed and Al's intervention in Liore is the same as it was in the 2003 series. Skipping over some of the less important parts seems only natural, though some of the changes made the overall effect less serious and the goofy cartoonish presentation of Cornello's loss made me want to see the Homunculi more as each moment passed. Ultimately Lust and Gluttony showed up at the very end, their only apparent purpose to be that of dropping Father's name.

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