When it comes to intriguing and thought-provoking shonen anime, you can’t go wrong with Fullmetal Alchemist. This Fullmetal Alchemist review will concentrate on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the 2009 reboot series.
The 2009 series mixes together elements of steampunk adventure, intrigue, angst, philosophy, and light comic relief. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth watching.
Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Main Characters
- Major Plot Points
- Voice Acting and Animation
Fullmetal Alchemist Basics
Hiromu Arakawa started the Fullmetal Alchemist manga in 2001. The story takes place in Amestris, a nation where alchemy is real and scientific.
Fullmetal Alchemist revolves around themes of power, abuse of power, and its consequences. For example, in the beginning, the Elric brothers attempt a forbidden alchemy technique, and pay a heavy price for it. After that, they must go on a long quest to fix what went wrong.
The series was adapted into an anime series in 2003. Unfortunately, although the 2003 anime started out well, it deviated too much from the manga. (For one thing, it quickly overtook the manga, which resulted in a lot of non-canon filler.)
In 2009, the manga was adapted into a new anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Brotherhood is more faithful to the original source, and most fans say that it is the better series.
If you want a full-length discussion of the anime series’ main and secondary characters, check out our Fullmetal Alchemist Character Guide.
In any case, Fullmetal Alchemist does have a large cast of memorable characters, from the main protagonists all the way down to the side characters.
Older brother Edward and younger sibling Alphonse Elric make a fun-to-watch and inseparable team, with their contrasting personalities balancing against each other.
Other important names include:
- Colonel Roy Mustang — Edward’s arrogant, ambitious boss.
- Winry Rockbell — Tsundere mechanic and love interest for Edward.
- The Homunculi — Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, and Pride. Artificial humanoids who serve as the primary villains.
- Scar — Ishval vigilante terrorist who hates state alchemists. Also, a sympathetic antagonist with a tragic past.
- Father — Mysterious leader of the Homunculi; and the final boss of the series.
- Riza Hawkeye — Sharpshooter in Mustang’s unit.
- Alex Louis Armstrong — Large, hammy macho state alchemist. Often travels with the Elric brothers.
- Führer King Bradley — Tough, vaguely weird military leader of Amestris. He’s also **spolier alert**.
- Ling Yao — A Xing prince and martial arts master who seeks a Philosopher’s Stone so he can ascend the throne.
Major Plot Points
Unlike most shonen anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood doesn’t really have story arcs in the traditional sense. Although the Elric brothers do travel around to solve mysteries in various places, it’s hard to divide the story up neatly.
Instead, the series flows easily from one story to the next, with secondary plotlines hidden underneath. It contains surprisingly little filler.
So, instead of story arcs, we’ll look at important plot points. Warning: Although we try to be vague when possible, there are spoilers ahead:
- Funnily enough, the first episode is considered to be non-canon filler. If you already know the characters, it’s not actually integral to the plot.
- Episode 2: The Elric brothers’ history is told through flashback. We learn about the experiment which cost Ed an arm and a leg, and which turned Al into a living suit of armor. We also learn how and why Ed joined the Amestris military.
- Episodes 3 and 4: Corrupt Father Cornello provides an early example of the abuse of power. Alchemist Shou Tucker angers and horrifies the Elric brothers with his chimera abominations.
- Episode 5: Scar attacks the Elrics. Scar is a product of the Ishvalan Civil War, which featured Amestris-sponsored genocide.
- Episode 7: The Elrics learn that it takes human sacrifice to make a Philosopher’s Stone.
- Episode 10: A military officer is murdered. Over time, this will lead to an investigation, a cover up, and a faked death to protect a wrongly-accused person.
- Episode 14: Führer Bradley fights Greed. Father makes his first real appearance. The audience learns secrets about Bradley.
- Episode 15: The China-influenced nation of Xing enters the picture, with the arrival of Ling Yao.
By the middle of the story, the viewer will have several intertwined plot points to follow. These include the Elric brothers’ quest, the behind-the-scenes scheming of the Homunculi, and the aftermath of the Ishval genocide. On top of that, Father’s grand plan — which seems to involve major events in Amestris’ history — slowly gets revealed.
In the end, the Elrics and their allies must battle the Homunculi and Father, before finally earning their happy ending.
Voice Acting and Animation
One of Fullmetal Alchemist’s strengths is its interesting cast of characters. Luckily, the voice actors are equal to the task of bringing these personalities to life.
To be honest, Romi Park as Edward reminds me a bit of Naruto, but that’s probably deliberate. After all, you want him to sound like a hotheaded, stubborn, and clever teen. Ed also has some of the funniest comic relief moments in the series.
The animation and scenery are also quite good. The locations look how you would expect a fantasy version of Industrial Revolution Europe would look. It’s not quite Ghibli, but there are some lovely landscapes that Ed and Al travel through.
The Music of Fullmetal Alchemist
The 2003 series had an earworm of a theme song, “Ready Steady Go” by L’Arc-en-Ciel. With its upbeat tone, it wouldn’t fit the more somber Brotherhood, but it is undeniably an excellent shonen anime theme song.
However, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood also had its fair share of good theme songs, including “Again” by Yui, “Uso” by SID, and “Hologram” by Nico Touches the Walls.
Of course, we shouldn’t ignore the contemporary classical pieces from Brotherhood’s soundtrack, including “Trisha’s Lullaby” by Akira Senju. Whether dramatic or sentimental, these songs help set the mood.
Fullmetal Alchemist Review Verdict: 8/10
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the series that the 2003 version should have been.
Although it’s only 64 episodes long, it feels as epic as longer shonen series such as One Piece or Naruto. Partially that’s because it doesn’t waste ink on filler.
It’s also a very philosophical series, which touches on some weighty subjects (war, genocide, scientific ethics, etc.). Still, it doesn’t forget to provide plenty of comic relief, whether it’s Edward’s short fuse or Armstrong’s muscular ham.
When you put the pieces together, the result is a great shonen anime story.
Fullmetal Alchemist Merchandise
ZenPlus has a good selection of Fullmetal Alchemist merch, which you can find HERE. Naturally, ZenPlus has figurines, Blu-ray discs, manga, and even a board game. It also ranks first on our Fullmetal Alchemist pocketwatch list.