When bringing up Fullmetal Alchemist, you're almost immediately going to see two groups show up: the diehard fans and fangirls that'll squee over every little "Edward Elric is short" joke, and those that hate it. Obviously not everyone falls into those two categories, but they're certainly the most vocal. Suffice to say, I've made my distaste for FMA's annoying fans clear before.
But to ignore anything FMA would be a mistake. It's hard to deny the impact the series has had over its serialization, which has lasted almost a decade. With the manga coming to an end, BONES announced that it would produce a second animated series to match the manga's storyline, as well as end around the same time. There's a chance you've been watching it on FUNimation's online streaming site, which has been keeping up with the Japanese episodes, but if you're the type of fan who watched the original series on Adult Swim, you've probably been awaiting the English dub. Well, after a bit of a wait, the first volume is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Let me begin by saying I'm not a big FMA fan. Those who visit the site frequently might say "but Ben you absolutely rave about each episode in Annotated Anime." True. But this is why: the FMA that is finishing is different from the FMA that begins here, in this Volume One. It also helps that BONES is putting forth their best efforts into the animation and general quality of the show to give it the finish it deserves. Let's face it -- not many series have lasted and had the influence that the Elric brothers have had (especially in its seeming dominance of con cosplay). But enough about the changes the series has gone through (that could be an article in itself), let's focus on the beginning of the series that FUNimation has brought us.
Given that FMA has baggage like the first series and the manga, it's tough to judge the initial episodes on their own. In fact, these first thirteen episodes rely on the fact that you've probably seen the first series. Rushing through story arcs that roughly twice as much time was spent on previously leaves newcomers bewildered and wondering where the character development went. That's not to say there isn't any, but instead it's clear that BONES wanted to get through what they've already covered before and move on to new material. But at the expense of getting to new stuff faster, many moments that were more touching or memorable in the original are over quicker in Brotherhood.
Also to note would be the darker tone the series takes the further it progresses. While FMA always had a dark beginning with Edward and Alphonse Elric sacrificing various limbs or whole bodies to bring back their dead mother, the original series enjoyed a hearty dose of humor to keep things light amid all the angst. This is true of Brotherhood in the beginning, but by the time you're at episode 40, you'll rarely see a short joke show up. After the brothers leave home to become State Alchemists, the storyline slowly begins to widen, spreading the focus across the many secondary characters as well.
Part one contains up to episode thirteen, when Ed and Al first meet Greed. As far as content goes it's pretty standard and the $30 price tag for the Blu-ray version is a better deal than usual. As far as special features go, there's two commentary tracks -- for episode one and episode ten, as well as the usual textless openings and endings and trailers. If you're interested in technical specs (like I often am), the Japanese audio is Dolby TrueHD 2.0 and the English audio is in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.
Now for last I saved the most "fun" part: the dub. The original Japanese cast is great, and I don't think much more needs to be said there. As far as the English dub goes, it's virtually the same cast as before aside from the new voice of Alphonse, Maxey Whitehead. I'll say upfront: I'm not a dub person. We've made more than a few jokes about our good friend Vic Mignogna. I can count the number of dubs I watch willingly on one hand. But, FUNimation has put a lot of effort into this dub, and given that 90% of the voice actors have taken on these characters before, they fit comfortably back into their roles. The only thing that makes episode one bearable through all its horribly overdone "Ed is short" jokes is the appearance of a new favorite of mine, Brian Massey, as new character Isaac MacDougal (only for the first episode, though, as a vehicle to introduce the main characters).
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a worthy remake of the original series and a fantastic adaption of the manga. While these initial episodes are rushed and will appeal more to current fans, the series still can attract news ones through its sheer tenacity. However, you'll still probably end up with a feeling like it depends to much on its own fanbase, relying on the existence and knowledge of previous iterations. While I'll complain all day about the ridiculous and annoying fangirls, the truth is FMA is still a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
Plus, that Greed versus Bradley fight was pretty awesome, wasn't it?
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