Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Alright, I got a .38 Smith and Wesson Special in my hands right now.  I really don't want to review "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood", but I've gotten a few requests which kinda forces me to write something up for it.  I'm easily manipulated.  So let's clench this .38 in my jaw, bite down, and grin and bear it, because we're going into this sucker.

If you're wondering why I don't want to review "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood", the answer can be found in the fact that I really did not like this show.  And if you're somebody begging me to review this, I'm guessing you really liked the show, meaning as a corollary, you won't like this review.  I'm not enjoying writing it, so now we've created a perfect rip tide of unhappiness.  Friggin' "Fullmetal Alchemist: Bro Version", look how terrible you're making the world.  Somebody should put a stop to you!  By the way, I don't hate "Brotherhood" because I hate "Fullmetal Alchemist", I happen to love the original anime.  Yeah, "Brotherhood" follows the plot of original comics a lot more faithfully, but is that necessarily a good thing?  I haven't read the manga, but its pretty clear to me that the story Studio BONES came up with was a heck of lot compact, coherent, and all around better than the comics.  Its a sad thing.  On its own, "Brotherhood" probably would have been a perfectly serviceable anime, though definitely not a member of my Top 10.  But with "Fullmetal Alchemist 1"'s shadow hanging over it, its just mediocre.

Okay, "Brotherhood" is a lot better than "Bleach", at least.

However, by comparing it to "Bleach", I think I'm onto something.  They're both animes made for kids, though "Fullmetal Alchemist" is significantly more mature (good guys actually can die).  But both "Bleach" and "Brotherhood" have huge bloated stories with giant casts full of superfluous characters (look at the picture here, its a goddamn mess), they both have action climaxes that so complex and long as to last for weeks without any sight of conclusion, and they both have too much goddamn talking!  Its like the authors just drew up a billion characters and threw them all against the wall, without any real appreciation for a character's purpose in the story or even if they add anything at all.  Its "Bleach"-lite.  The original show was something special, every character was a cog that fit right into the grand plot machine, "Brotherhood" is a big pile of rusted gears and parts sprawled across a garage floor.

For this review, I'm assuming you know something or other about "Fullmetal Alchemist".  Here's a brief runthrough to start:  its a world filled with magic called alchemy, the Elric Bros tried to use Alchemy to resurrect their mom, and paid the price for it with pieces of their bodies, or in Al's case, his entire body.  Now they're working for the fascist government to try to find the Philosopher's Stone, a mystical artifact that might bring back their missing pieces.  Weirdness and action ensues.  (And I'm going to try to avoid spoilers here.)

Alright, let's go into positives.  I'm guessing there are several sniper rifle sites aiming at the back of my head right now, so maybe I can convince you to not execute me under the review is over.  "Fullmetal Alchemist: Fraternity" is a lot better animated than "Fullmetal Alchemist: Classic".  Its a very fluid, pretty show, showing exactly the diversity and brilliance of the original manga author's character design.  There are hundreds of characters here, but all of them have their own unique faces.  Akira Toriyama wishes he had this kind of diversity, Tite Kubo probably doesn't care either way.  The action scenes all around are probably better choreographed.  Though there are a few fights that are simply bad, these are extremely rare.  Its a pretty show, with good voice acting, decent dialog, and good music.  In terms of pure presentation, this is well above the bar of average anime.  And unlike 99.9999% of anime shows these days, it doesn't take place in any way, shape, or form in a fucking high school.

Oh, and for some added positives, there are two new characters who I really liked.  Major General Armstrong was the master of badassary with sexy lips - though sadly she was actually a relatively weak character power-wise, and New Greed had a great voice and attitude.  Unfortunately, these were the only additions I felt weren't completely pointless and legitimately added something to the "Fullmetal Alchemist" world.

I started "Fullmetal Alchemist: Broness" with actually a very positive viewpoint.  I rather liked the show up until the second season, because the fights were cool, the characters were decent, and the villains were really good.  Unfortunately, around the time Adult Swim put the show on a half-year hiatus, I went ahead and watched the original "Fullmetal Alchemist", and absolutely loved it.  That was a show with a slower pace, but considerably more emotion, a more contained story that kept the focus on the heroes, the Elric Brothers, and really dealt with their character evolution a lot better.  Most of the villains were foils in some way to them.  The climax might be smaller in scale and length, and the main villain might be weaker power-wise, but it pulls the story together into a single moment of drama.  Ed and his boss, Mustang, actually have a relationship of some kind.  Minor characters like Rose* and Sheska actually matter to the story, when before they add next to nothing - Sheska disappears without any explanation at all in "Fullmetal Alchemist: Broniggity".  Every character in the first anime, even folks from episodes I thought were simply filler all play a role, no matter how minor, in the final storyline.  Its one of the most tightly-crafted anime storylines I've ever seen.

"Fullmetal Alchemist: Broitude" does not have anywhere near that level of tightness.  This became deathly apparent to me in the second season, when all of a sudden four half-monster people just joined the main cast for no particular reason.  These chimeras add nothing to the plot, have barely any character, and two of them are actually Bebop and Rocksteady from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".  Why are they here?  The show can never supply an explanation, and they all just sort of hang around with the cast for the rest of the story, appearing to do minor things like maybe punch a villain once, but really never being important.  Then I noticed that most of the villains were falling into the same trap, seemingly existing just to give the bloated cast of heroes somebody to fight in the climax.  That is not good plotting!  If a villain exists just to give a character something to do in the ending, then cut out both the villain and that character, they're clearly unnecessary for the larger story and you're wasting the audience's time.

In the first show, all seven of the Big Bad team, the Homunculi each contributed some kind of major plot twist or added something to the final conclusion.  In this show, I could have removed Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, and probably even Envy without losing a single beat.  In fact, Pride doesn't do much either, he starts out scary, but certainly doesn't hold up all that well either.  Only Wrath and Greed are actually needed.  It gets worse, when villains like Kimblee are made significantly less important.  Kimblee was a crazy motherfucker in the first show, probably the most unpredictable and nuts person in the show who enjoyed blowing people up for the fun of it.  He was crazy and awesome - and his actions helped bring along the climax.  Kimblee in "Brotherhood" is just a minor villain, completely sane, somewhat boring, and actually does nothing in particular.  You could have cut dozens of good guys, several bad guys, and ultimately ended up with a show that was maybe thirty episodes long.  No big loss.

What happened to Edward's slow acceptance of killing on the battlefield?  His transformation from a cheerful naive kid to a hardened cynical warrior?  That's gone.  Ed and Al paying the painful price for their attempts to bring back their mother in numerous character-building ways?  Gone.  Winry, the main heroine and love interest actually getting to do something in the climax?  Gone.  Lust's relationship with Scar?  Gone.  Scar's entire backstory?  Gone.  Major Mustang's entire playful side?  Gone.   Izumi Curtis's own difficult character journey?  Gone.  Envy's backstory?  Gone.  The entire character of Izumi's son??  Gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Gone.  This isn't as good of a story, by a long shot.  I basically named all the things I loved about the first show, and they're all gone!

The only new thing, honestly, is Wrath.  Wrath is fucking awesome in this show, and he gets a backstory.  I was rooting for him so bad this entire time, I didn't care who he killed.  Near the end of the show, he rushes into the heroes camp with nothing but two swords and a grenade on his belt, how the fuck do you not root for him?  Wrath is the main.

Plus, the first "Fullmetal Alchemist" was scarier.  Yeah, "Brotherhood" has a few good moments of juicy horror, like Sho Tucker's experiment.  But there are some great scenes missing, like Rose's boyfriend.  "Fullmetal Alchemist: Bromambo" has this way of showing something extremely disturbing, then turning it into a huge joke.  When you see Envy's true form, its a thing of nightmares.  But then Envy walks around like that for a long time, and eventually its no longer a Hellish spawn of darkness, but instead a regular casual thing.  "Hey, Envy, how are the damned souls doing?  Oh good.  I'm doing fine myself, bye."  Gluttony used to be this fat child-like monster that just ate people, he was a fat shark.  Later he finds himself hanging out with the Elric Bros, and leading them into the main villain's chamber (in a fake climax).  An army of zombies are introduced, you think they might be something actually threatening, then they wind-up looking like cartoon ghouls you'd see on a Kindergarten class's Halloween decorations.  Plus, a lot less people die in "Brotherhood", I think.

Finally, the villains aren't all... good.  I realized by the final climax that the list of heroes had grown to such an absurd number that the villains tactically did not stand a chance.  This gets worse when "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brosbeforehos" introduces nightmarish characters with all the powers of Alucard from "Hellsing"... who can't even beat Ed in a one-on-one fight.  Its embarrassing.  I realized mid-way through that actually the author didn't like killing off heroic characters, and an amazing number of them survive in ridiculous ways.  The pointless chimeras, all four of them, get the chance to be killed off, and they all survive to continuing doing nothing as they always have!  At least use these motherfuckers for cannon fodder, jesus!  Let them do something, even if its just dying, its something.  It got to the point where I wasn't even watching this show regularly, I fell asleep during the very last battle between the main villain and everybody else.  I assume the heroes won, because the final episode was an epilogue.  I had long ceased to care by that point.

"Bleach" is a worse show, there's no doubt.  But it has this kind of innocence to it.  Clearly the people behind it don't care, or else the episodes we're seeing now would be impossible.  Its like a SciFi Original Movie, everybody knows it sucks, we're around just to celebrate the awfulness.  "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is made by people who do care, considerably.  And yet still, it has all these massive faults.  Its a lot harder trying to watch something that was supposed to be a masterpiece and fails than watching something that was supposed to fail and still fails.  That's hard to take.  Its very sad.

So ultimately, watch the first anime.  But don't watch the movie, "Conqueror of Shamballa", that one sucks.  Its almost as bad as the "Eureka Seven" movie.

* Rose, who inexplicably was turned White for "Brotherhood" when before she was shade of light brown.


  1. No comment on Wrath's voice? Because I loved his voice. Ed Blaylock needs to be in more shows.
    Also, if you take requests, how come you still haven't watched Noein?

  2. I read the manga first, so I was put off by the changes the first anime made and never really watched it.

    @Nick: You don't give up, do you :p

  3. Seriously, why do you continue to refuse to watch it? I'm sure that you'd like it. It's got Crispin Freeman in it!

  4. Hey Blue, I’m a first time commenter, but long time reader.

    Although I don’t agree with you, I believe most of your criticisms are reasonable. I wasn’t an anime fan until I saw my sisters watching the beginning of Fullmetal Alchemist. I really enjoyed the exciting storyline and the interesting characters. Since then, I’ve only seen a few other episodes of the show, but it got me to watch more anime and read lots of manga. I read the FMA manga fully and loved every minute of it, definitely one of my favorite series. I love Brotherhood because it has so many epic fight scenes and beautiful moments.

    From what I’ve heard about the 1st anime, it’s darker and more philosophical than the manga. One of the things I like about Brotherhood and stories in general (such as Star Wars) is how they tell exciting, interesting narratives while subtle, deep themes lie naturally in the story rather than pushing the deeper meaning in your face. (like the philosophy in Ghost in the Shell 2). My friend once told me the ending to the original FMA anime and it sounded completely stupid. Something about Al sacrificing himself to save Ed, then Ed doing the same to save Al, and both of them ending up in the real world. I don’t know if that’s the ending to the movie or the show, but either way it goes completely against how FMA should end in my opinion.

    I also think we as people have a bias towards what we experienced first in a franchise. You pointed out all the storylines not in Brotherhood, but I would point out all the stories missing from the original anime that were in the manga. Where was Hoenheim’s backstory and his connection with Father? Why is Ed’s hair brown? Where was the enigmatic Truth and the gateways of the planets? I myself prefer the Trigun anime, which I saw first, over the manga (the confrontation with legato alone makes me love that show).

    I know this is a wall of text, but I hope I made my point. As a reviewer, one can’t avoid some comparisons between the two shows, but I love Brotherhood for what it is, not as a follow up to a highly acclaimed show. Too much hype or expectation can hurt any show, especially one that clearly has a vision very different from the first series.

  5. @Alex: Hoenheim actually has a completely different backstory in the anime, and he has a different connection with the main villain, who isn't Father. The Gate of Truth isn't a character so much as a door to dimensions - though the character itself can be seen partially in that series' Wrath.

    Also, brown? Where?

  6. @Blue: I was wrong about Ed having brown hair. I was looking at pictures of Alphonse from the 1st anime. He looks quite different than he does in Brotherhood.

  7. You should never expect a good ending from BONES, ever.

  8. Blue, why would you do this? Just... why...