If you've been following our reviews here at DVDTalk for any length of time, you probably already know how John and I feel about Fullmetal Alchemist. The series is one of our favorites and across the board we pretty much agree on everything regarding the series (or at least I'd assume so from comparing our reviews). Personally, when I heard Brotherhood was being released I jumped for joy.
What's Brotherhood you may be asking yourself? First of all, it's worth noting that it's not a sequel in any size, shape, or form. Instead, this 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist series is something of a revision to the original. It's going to last longer (IE: More episodes) and it's going to be closer to the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa. Now that the first release of 13 episodes is upon us, how does the Blu-ray edition stack up to the original?
In more ways than one, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is going to be familiar to anyone that has watched the original series. The origin of the Elric brothers is the same, all the same characters return, and these beginning storylines run parallels to the opening episodes of the original. Subtle nuances separate this version from the former, though the real differences won't hit until further down the road. Read one for more detail, though for newcomers to the franchise I'll help catch you up to speed.
Basically Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in an alternate history where magic called alchemy rules the land and the world is very militaristic. The show focuses on Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are alchemists that committed a taboo that cost them dearly. The laws of alchemy revolve around equal exchange, and in order to create life, well, I think you can figure out what the cost is. Edward lost his right arm and left leg, and Alphonse lost his entire body. It was only through quick thinking that Al was able to retain some semblance of life, as Ed used alchemy to affix his soul to a giant suit of armor.
Now that a couple of years have passed, Ed and Al are upstarts for the military and live in the capital known as Central. Ed has become a state alchemist, which basically means he's top of the line and respected by everyone, though he tends to find himself being picked on for his short stature. The story in the show basically follows the brothers as they use their influence to try to learn more about the Philosopher's Stone and get their bodies back. There's a great mystery surrounding the Stone and the quest proves to be much more difficult and costly than they originally thought.
In the episodes here the show introduces the concept and basic background, though it presents a few early adventures, which do prove to be familiar. There's the abandoned building guarded by a pair of murders, the Elrics meet up with Dr. Marco who sends them on a path to the Philosopher's stone, and of course Winry, the Elric's longtime friend, has to fix Ed's automail. Scar also becomes a major storyline in this first collection of episodes and the Ishvalan plot is every bit as important as it was the first time around. All the steps are virtually identical here, though the plus side of Brotherhood is that the animation and presentation are far superior to the original.
Personally, I can't wait to see where the series goes from here. I've only read a few volumes of the manga, and have watched the heck out of the original anime, so beyond what has already been established is new turf for me. What's here is familiar to anyone who watched the first series, but it's solid and necessary. This is quality anime from top to bottom and Brotherhood is already shaping up to be better than the original. Consider it highly recommended!
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show has been enhanced for a 1080p presentation with an AVC codec. In many ways this Blu-ray transfer is on par with expectations that have come from watching other anime that has been upconverted. The original resolution wasn't anywhere near 1080p and as such some of the quality just isn't quite up to the high definition standard. With that in mind it's worth noting that the show still looks very good. Colors are sharp, details are abundant, and there's little to nothing to complain about. Sure the picture features edge enhancement and the occasional rough looking line, but these elements weren't that distracting. All around this Blu-ray transfer is a step up from the DVD; it's just won't produce the "oo's" and "ah's" other shows do.
Dolby TrueHD tracks are present here in the form of English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0. The quality of both tracks is solid and on par with expectations for those looking for a lossless track. Fidelity is good all around, there's some nice LFE, and by and large the quality is sharper and cleaner than the DVD presentation. The track of choice here is the English 5.1. The quality of the dub is astounding and the selection offers a more immersive experience with some nice use of the rear channels and decent directionality.
For bonus features, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 1 comes with two audio commentaries, clean animations, and trailers. The commentary tracks are very good here and offer some nice insight into the production of the dub for the series. The cast gels in these commentaries and you really get a strong sense of their relationship during the production of the show.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a fantastic release for FUNimation. The show is packed with humor and action, and it features a wholly immersive story. Whether or not you've seen the first series, consider Brotherhood a "must buy". The tale of the Elric brothers never gets old, and the future of the series holds a lot of promise. This Blu-ray is arguably the better of the two editions, with slightly improved video and audio, but in all honesty whatever format you watch the show in will leave an impression on you. Highly recommended.