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A Case Study in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood


I tricked my boyfriend, who had never seen the original Fullmetal Alchemist (or any anime, really,) into watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The results were both a failure and a resounding success.

Something has been bothering me since I picked up Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on DVD. Did I like Brotherhood as a series? Or was this some kind of Pavlovian response triggered by my love of all things Fullmetal Alchemist? I shelled out money for the OVA collection, for crissakes. As most people would probably agree, once Brotherhood surpasses the material covered in the original series all these lingering cares get pushed aside.

Thus, I give you our subject: D is a 24-year-old male who hitherto fore had only seen a handful of episodes of Pokmon and Dragonball Z (back when I was just learning how to make an on the computer.) He always dismissed anime, claiming it was nerdy (this is a grown man who plays Magic: The Gathering) and he didn't like it (he's never seen any!) In other words, the way I will never watch Star Wars. I guess we all have to draw a line somewhere in the soft sands of Nerd Island.

Fig. 1 Nerd Island

One of his friends mentioned that the Nicktoon Avatar: The Last Airbender was good. (Of course, as his girlfriend and an anime fan, my recommendation hadn't had any merit.) D watched the whole thing, all three seasons worth, over the course of three weeks. He loved it: The world building and the character development, the anticipation of the next episode, discussing it with his buddy who was also marathoning it. Through this whole thing, I just bit my lip and bided my time.

Fig. 2 Gateway drug

He finished it and was sad to see it go. I struck. I reminded him of a bargain we'd arrived at over a year ago but never followed through on: If he watched Fullmetal Alchemist, I would watch every regular season Buffalo hockey game and learn the players' names. The end of Avatar had left such a hole in his life, he agreed with some hesitation.

Fig. 3 You can't tell me this isn't an homage

There was a lot riding on this. If he liked Fullmetal Alchemist, I might actually get him to watch more anime! First of all, no one had been willing to watch anime with me since high school (the overlap on a venn diagram of sorority girls and otaku is not significant.) More importantly, I could share one of my favorite pastimes with a person I care about! If he didn't like it: Back to watching it alone on my laptop with the headphones plugged in, sigh...

With that in mind, I gave a lot (too much) thought whether to start with the original Fullmetal Alchemist or Brotherhood. I watched the first few episodes of both over, trying to get a feel for which was more pungent. The new series seemed less immediately accessible, but there was nothing that couldn't be picked up on as it went along. There was less filler and more bang for your buck in each episode. It seemed slicker and more mature. The original series, in comparison, seemed too slow, too silly. They clearly didn't start the series with a firm grasp on the world and played fast and loose with the “laws” of alchemy, which I knew D would pick up on. Brotherhood it was, then!

“This is depressing,” D said as the third episode, the Liorre episode, was wrapping up. And, being forced to see it through fresh eyes, I could see his point. It must have been like meeting someone for the first time and within minutes he nonchalantly starts gushing to you about his most intimate problems.

A few reviews I'd seen for Brotherhood had bemoaned the highly caricatured gag bits, and here I was silently begging for more of them. Ed spends a lot of that third episode just going on and on about life and God and destiny (what an old friend would call "Final Fantasy Filosophizing.") This was Serious Ed: The Ed we left at the end of the original series who had always been a bit of a smart ass, but was also world weary and a resigned sort of determined. Of course, this felt natural to fans who'd followed the first series. We were there. We were in the shit. The end of this episode, compared to the end of the second episode of the original series feels much more, I don't know, dire? Which makes sense: Brotherhood was trying to get down to brass tacks fast, while the original was just gearing up for some adventure.

Internally, I panicked: The next episode was the Shou Tucker episode. The show was bumming him out now!

I made an executive decision. We followed this with the fourth episode of the original series which is available in its entirety on Funimation's website and YouTube. While there are differences between the two versions up to this point, I knew they were subtle enough that he'd never catch onto them (Flash forward: He didn't.)

"I like the animation in this one better," He said halfway through that episode. (Which I think is ludicrous, but that's what he said.)

He settled into it. He took to Al right away, and Hughes. He didn't like Ed much at first, but eventually confessed Ed was the character he identified most with. It felt like painful filler to me, but to him it was all new and fun. The way they slowly rolled out the exposition kept him intrigued. Like I expected, he picked up on how they were nebulous, at times contradictory, about how alchemy worked and its limits (this stands out in his mind as one reason Avatar was better.) Still, he was really into it and was looking forward to new episodes every night.

He also liked Winry a lot. Too much. He suggested I dress as Winry for Halloween. To clarify I asked if he meant "a black skirt and a white tank top." He did.

Fig. 4 Keep in mind my hair kind of looks like that already and you have the world's laziest cosplay

My only friends who watch anime discovered anime with me, I'd never watched something with the uninitiated and it was so fun. Granted Fullmetal Alchemist is very light on the Japanese culture, even then: I had to explain what eyecatches were. I had to give a briefing on Japanese humor. "Why do they keep saying he's short? It's not funny." Or, after a joke about breasts, "I thought you said this was a show for kids?"

We got to the episode where Hughes is murdered. He cried. Real, wet, hot man tears. I touched his face to be sure. "He was such a good guy," he said out loud. I almost cried too: Tears of pride.

Fig. 5 Pride!

Fig 6.5 Pride...

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not for the uninitiated. Maybe someone who had seen a lot of other anime previously, but not the original Fullmetal Alchemist would take to Brotherhood better (does such a person exist?) D's reaction didn't take away from how much I enjoyed Brotherhood, but it did make me realize how much my enjoying the new series was an extension of enjoying the original so much back in the day.

Fig. 7 Suggestion for future experiment: Find someone who has never seen anime before and see if they find To Love Ru fresh and innovative!

I had faith that Fullmetal Alchemist would be a great series to start D, or anyone, really, on anime. He enjoyed the heck out it and I'm confident he'd be willing to revisit Brotherhood after some time. The start of classes (and hockey season) means he won't have free time to watch another series for a while, but I welcome suggestions: I was thinking maybe Gurren Lagann or Eden of the East?

Anyway, if you've read this far, thanks for letting me share this with you all!
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About Apriledone of us since 9:36 PM on 05.15.2009