When I heard that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was being created, I wasn't all that excited. Don't get me wrong, I loved the original anime, Fullmetal Alchemist. It was my favorite series back when it was released. This new series wasn't going to be a continuation or a sequel, but a retelling. They were going to do the same story over again, but this time they were going to stay closer to the manga series on which it was based. That's all well and good, but there didn't seem to be too much to gain. If it turned out to be worse than the original series, what's the point? And if it turned out good, we'd just get another version of something that we already had. It sounded like a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of the franchise, and I wasn't going to be fooled.
I was wrong. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is excellent, and in some ways better than the original. It's not just telling the same story once more; it expands the tale with new characters and situations. I was floored after watching this first collection. Both fans who enjoyed the original anime and those who are who are new to the series should strap themselves in for a great time.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers who live in a quite village in the country of Amestris alone with their mother, their father having left them years before. The two brothers, especially diminutive Edward, excel at the science of alchemy, and are able to change the shape and function of objects using this ancient art. When their mother takes ill and dies before either boy reaches their teens, Ed makes a disastrous decision: although it is forbidden, they'll use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead.
Gathering the elemental components that will form their mother's body and adding a drop of their own blood to make her soul, the two boys perform the ritual they've worked out only to have it backfire horribly. The thing that they make, a zombie that bears little relation to their beloved mother isn't human, but what's worse is that Al's body is disintegrated along with one of Edward's legs. Thinking quickly, Ed uses his own blood to draw a binding circle onto a suit of armor and links his brother's soul to the metal form. Something has to be given for the spell to work though and Edward gives up the only thing he has available: his right arm.
The binding spell works however, and the giant suit of armor carries the wounded alchemist to the village healer, Pinako, who is able to save his life. Though alive, Edward is wracked with guilt over imprisoning his younger brother into a suit of armor while his brother feels responsible for the loss of Edward's arm. Edward falls into a deep depression.
Soon after the accident, the brothers receive a visitor from the capital city. It's Col. Roy Mustang, a State Alchemist, part of the Amestris Military. He's heard of the two prodigies, but not that they tampered with forbidden alchemy nor the tragic results. He wants to recruit Edward, and he still does. He makes his pitch and dangles something irresistible in front of the young man: access to the great alchemy library in the capital. Edward knows that only State Alchemists are admitted and that great source of knowledge might just hold the key to the one thing that he's promised himself: To bring his brother's body back.
Pinako, with the aid of her talented granddaughter, Winry, crafts a metal leg and arm for Edward and he passes the State Alchemist exams with ease, impressing the judges and becoming the youngest member ever. Along with admittance comes an official codename given by the ruler of Amestris himself, King Bradley: Fullmetal Alchemist. Now Edward and his brother Al travel across the country doing the military's bidding while they also look for the philosopher's stone, a powerful relic that may be able to bring Al's body back.
The first episodes were much like the original series and told basically the same story. Less than a third of the way through this collection however, things start to diverge and new characters enter the stage, such as Ling Yao a prince from the
There aren't just new characters. The existing ones are fleshed out a bit more as well, and that makes the whole series richer. Of course they focus is still on Edward and Alphonse, and they're still as enjoyable as ever. The pair act like true brothers, they fight and bicker at times, but their bond is extremely strong due to the tragedies they've experienced. Even the supporting characters are more than just stereotypes. People like Alex Louis Armstrong, the muscle bound military officer who is constantly crying, and if not he's bragging about his (impressive) physique, starts off as a cliché comic relief but slowly develops a personality. Over the course of this show he turns into almost a father-like figure for the boys. Mustang, Ed's immediate superior is the same way. He seems to be a subdued officer who enjoys putting Ed in dangerous situations but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that he has hopes and aspirations and that there is a reason for everything that he does.
The first 33 episodes arrive on four Blu-ray discs housed in a single-width quad case. There's a slipcover included with the first pressings.
This set presents the show with the original Japanese Dolby True HD 2.0 soundtrack or an English dub in Dolby True HD 5.1. While I really wish the Japanese track had a Dolby True HD 5.1 option too, both tracks sound very good. People who prefer dubs will be happy with this one; the voices aren't artificially high for the women or filled with fake accents. The English actors did a good job and brought their characters to life. The Japanese track sounds a bit more 'natural' to me however and the optional subtitles offer a nice translation without any glaring grammatical errors.
The 1080p 16X9 image looks great. I really don't have any complaints. The colors were vivid and strong (and they used a wide palate too) and the blacks were nice and dark. The level of detail was fine, what you'd expect from an anime series that's only about 2 years old, and the lines were nice and tight.
There are several commentary tracks with the English voice actors to selected episodes along with clean opening and closing animation and trailers for other FUNimation releases. I have to admit I'm not a fan of commentary tracks on anime by English voice actors. Unlike director or actor commentaries on movies, I just haven't heard any that add to my understanding or appreciation of the show. I spot checked a few of these and they generally left me cold.
This is a great, great, show. Whether you've seen the original anime series or not, you owe it to yourself to check this show out. It comes highly recommended.