If I can be honest before hopping into a review, let me preface this with an explanation of some of my biases. Anime for me has always been a hit-or-miss genre; there are some films and series' that I truly enjoy and proudly put on my shelves. Then there are others, sometimes, series' beloved by more knowledgeable and devoted fans to the genre than myself that either bore me to tears or annoy me more than a bad Jerry Lewis movie (ok, I'll be fair, I actually like Jerry Lewis). That said, the more anime I've watched in recent times, the more I can put these biases aside to see what largely makes a film or series work on a storytelling level. Such is the case with "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" a series widely revered by fans as being one of the best of the genre.
In a situation similar to "Dragon Ball Z: Kai," "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is a second run at going back to the original source material and offering fans a more faithful adaptation. Whereas "DBZ: Kai" merely went back to the original 200-plus run of "Dragon Ball Z" and trimmed the filler (amongst other, more technical enhancements), "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is a completely new series, that was actually launched as the original "Fullmetal Alchemist" was ending. Having neither watched the original nor read the mangas, the intro to the series was jarring, but incredibly satisfying. Things quite literally start in the middle of the action with brothers Edward and Alphonse on the trail of a rogue alchemist. The debut is a catalyst for the series' overarching quest for the fabled Philosopher's Stone, an item that could be deadly in the wrong hands, but is of grave importance to Edward, who seeks to rectify a terrible mistake.
Albeit a bit clichéd, the series embarks on your standard epic-quest saga, complete with a flashback episodes to fill viewers in on the back-story of our heroes, because, well, when one of your characters looks like a giant metal robot and is the *younger* brother of the hero, there's some serious explaining to do. Thankfully, with 64 episodes in the entire series, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" finds time to answer pertinent questions without ever grinding the forward quest to a halt. The world in which our characters inhabit is fairly generic in appearance and structure, but the mythos of the series is incredibly engaging, taking the concept of magic and presenting it as an advanced science, similar in the way "Thor" did on the silver screen. This allows our hero, Edward to standout from the crowd as he doesn't rely on the physical use of transmutation circles, which allow alchemists the ability to control specific properties. Edward's unique gift though nearly costs Alphonse his life and it's through Edward's skill alone, his soul is bonded to a giant metal suit. As a long-time "Hellboy" fan, I loved this allusion to the concept of homunculi and was thrilled to see the series bring in the mythical figures by later on as foes.
While the overall art design of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is eye pleasing, it's not the best I've ever seen and on the surface, looks childish at times. This isn't a knock against the quality of the series, which strays into some very dark territory, but the contrast is as jarring as some of the forced, irritating humor. At times the series feels like it tries to reach out to younger viewers with some broad humor and Edward can be blatantly annoying at times; other times, the series reaches pivotal emotional moments that can leave the oldest viewer feeling the wind stripped from their sails in one fell swoop. It's this contrast where my personal bias comes in and on a wholly personal level, makes the series something I don't mind experiencing once, but could have honestly done without ever seeing. Still, I refuse to deny its quality as a top-notch series that makes no false presentations to viewers as to its nature. The occasional light-heartedness breaks the tension of a well-crafted, solidly paced, character motivated epic. When this first batch of 33 episodes came to a close, even though I didn't feel as emotionally attached to the series as some, I needed to see how it ended. "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" earns its praises fully and is a solid piece of animated entertainment.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is an incredibly solid, but not perfect offering. Fine detail in the animation is noticeably absent for objects in the background of shots, but up close, things are quite remarkable. It's a clean image with consistent color reproduction and minor compression artifacts. Whether artistic in intent or not, one can't help but wish the colors were slightly more vibrant than they are, but ultimately, the show offers a competent visual offerings from start to finish.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 track is a nice offering as well, with adequate usage of the surrounds, good low-channel usage at appropriate times and a relatively balanced sound mix that makes sure the dub sounds quite natural alongside effects and score. That said, sometimes voice work can be slightly shrill and just tad, artificially removed from everything else, but these instances are only noticeable under careful scrutiny; chances are the story will engage you enough that you'll quickly become unaware of it. The Japanese stereo track offered is well balanced, but obviously lacking in the dynamic range of the dub. English subtitles are included.
The only extras are five commentaries throughout the release's 33 episodes and textless openings and closings.
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" may contain elements of the genre that annoy me to no end, but I won't hold that against its overall quality as a quality story. It's a unique blend of old ideas made new, populated by interesting characters who are constantly moving forward. Highly Recommended.