Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)

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What can be said about a remake? Especially when the original was so good?

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood opens with the kind of grand introduction that seems to claim that, well actually, not much needs to be said at all. It does in fact assume you are already well familiar with larger than life characters of Edward and Alphonse Elric, throwing itself straight into the action – a rogue alchemist wrecking the city and gunning for King Bradley’s head. It doesn’t seem to care much whether you even know what an alchemist is, or a King Bradley for that matter, and proceeds to present all the regular characters the way the season return of your favourite sit-com would. Of course, this is probably a safer bet than Friends; if there’s a single anime fan on the planet who hasn’t at least heard of FMA, they’re possibly one in a billion.

And likely those 999,999,999 fans who have more than heard of FMA will be wondering – what’s changed? After all, no one’s under the illusion that this could have ever been a continuation of the original series, considering what happened. So why the remake? Or, to be more exact, what will the remake involve other than being a more faithful rendition of the longer narrative of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga (which at time of this article is marking its 22nd volume in Japan)?

Well, it’s still a little early to tell. So far, some of the most remarkable differences are in the way the art is rendered. Looking back on the original series, it has a distinctly standard, ‘cartoony’ sort of look to it; lines are blacker and thicker, colours brighter. The new and improved Fullmetal is a little softer, a little lighter, and a lot more grown up. It stays as true – perhaps ever truer – to Arakawa’s style, and it certainly hasn’t lost any of the breath-taking fluidity of its action sequences, but overall, it looks as if it’s already rolling its sleeves up in order to get down and dirty. It wasn’t until the Chimera story arc that the original series started to show how shockingly brutal it could be, but this incarnation has nothing to prove: we already know and we just can’t wait.

But unfortunately, it’s also lost a few things that made its predecessor so great – many of the Japanese cast, for one. Toru Ohkawa’s mean and cynical tones as Colonel Roy Mustang, the cool as a cucumber Flame Alchemist, have been replaced by the smooth vocalisations of Miki Shinichiro, possibly the second most popular voice actor in Japan next to Toshiyuki Morikawa. In fact, the new cast line up is a little like a What’s Out What’s In list – so far in fact only Ed, Al and Mustang’s brother in arms, the irrepressible Maes Hughes (still played by the awesome Keiji Fujiwara) are almost the only main veterans. It remains to be seen whether the studio managed to resecure the talents of Junichi Suwabe as Greed, since he’s known to not necessarily need to work, but if you’re a fan of the manga, you may be pleased to know either way – it’s the pivotal Greed arc where the original anime series departed from the storyline and where this series plans to get back on track.

In terms of execution, Brotherhood can’t necessarily be faulted. Of course, it’s difficult to judge without resetting one’s brain back to before you saw first series, but again in contrast – and I’m arguing here that any attempt at a remake invites critical comparisons to the original – they seem to have sacrificed some of the early narrative tension for expediency. This is a shame, but maybe unavoidable; they’re not speaking to a virgin audience anymore. No, they’re speaking to experience, and heavy expectation. They’re speaking to people who are pretty much going to say yeah we know all this already, just hurry up and get to the good stuff, and that kind of pressure would certainly explain why they speed through the brothers’ background a little, narrating it rather than allowing time and events to punctuate and describe the tragedy of the Elric’s past.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those who loved FMA first are likely to love it again, and those people not all that impressed with the idea of a remake are going to tune back in when the drama starts to ramp up at the original point of departure from the manga (mark my words, oh cynical anime convention goer whom I overheard saying it was “just ” Fullmetal Alchemist). And as for Madman’s awesome premiere coup and this whole live streaming for four days after the Japanese airing deal – how awesome is it to be a) watching something legitimately pretty much faster than it can be subbed and b) not adding to the cram space (or the cost) involved in buying another 4 episode DVD? Very awesome, that’s how awesome.

But not as awesome as the fact that here, finally, is the story the way the creator intended it. It’s like that whole Shamballa thing never happened, like Hughes never, well, you know, and Greed doesn’t… well, okay, maybe later, or like Roy never has to add to his wardrobe (all question of skirts aside). It’s like Fullmetal Alchemist, only better. It’s all the things we loved about FMA, without the part where it ended.

8 trips back to the Gate out of 10.
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