Not only is it a classic, it’s a classic that demanded to be remade into another classic, similar to each other, but very distinct. See, they based the first anime on the manga, but soon passed it and proceeded in a wildly different direction. Thus, not entirely unlike Digimon, we have separate series which share the same name, environment, and characters. Now, where I did a very basic summary of the entire Digimon franchise in one short post, I will be doing two for this one franchise, because, unlike Digimon, there are only two series to review. 😉
Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric. Born in a country reminiscent of, say, Germany, around the time of the World Wars, the young Elric brothers are hard-working geniuses when it comes to alchemy, this world’s magical system. But they made a terrible, terrible mistake once, and so they set out into the world looking to undo it. Thus begins their journey, wherein they have many adventures, help people, fight monsters, and inadvertently walk into the very heart of a nefarious, deadly conspiracy.
It’s a blending of science fiction and fantasy with adventure, action, comedy, and a bit of horror. Alchemy provides the fantasy, the automail provides the sci-fi (seriously, how do these people have such advanced cybernetics?), the Elrics’ journey is the adventure, the fights and other crises they navigate makes for quality action, their various hilarious antics are the comedy, and as for horror, well, there are a number of horrific things which happen, such that it’s easy to see why they put this on Adult Swim at first. It is meant for a slightly more mature audience, at least at the teenaged level.
Easily the best part of this show, as with many others, is the characters. There’s enough of them that I can’t go into all of them individually, but they’re just a lovable bunch of humans! Their personalities are diverse enough that they balance each other out, and the moments they all share together are heart-warming and endearing, not to mention how they make us laugh. The way they face down danger together, with competence and unity, is enjoyable, and speaks to the spirit they share as comrades. Meanwhile, the villains and antiheroes all feel unique and human as well, most of them acting out of the horrible pain they have been forced to endure.
The story could do with a little refinement, perhaps, but, then again, they were pretty much making it up as they went, and that shows. They still managed to cobble together something fairly intricate and riveting. Though the pacing might have been better, it was entertaining even when they needed to fill out some time, and it was exciting when they were delving into the meat of the plot.
There are various themes throughout the show, which add to the weight it carries with the audience. There are questions of God and the natural world, and how fair or unfair things are. There are quests for justice and revenge, and the fight to save lives from an evil which is centuries old. There is a discussion of what is a justifiable response to acts of cruelty and evil, and how much bad one can do while hoping for some redemption. And there is the question of what price is worth paying for what we want, because there will be a price, always.
There’s also the struggle we mortals have with death, and loss, and whether or not we will accept it. That got a bit annoying for me, actually. The Elrics made their huge mistake because they refused to accept the death of their mother. Then they go all over looking for ways to get back what they lost in that mistake. That was fine, but then they kept refusing to accept what they lost. By the last episode, it got to the point where I was actually screaming, “Just accept that death is a universal, permanent thing and deal with it already!”
If anything, the theme of loss and sacrifice might be overdone. It annoys the heck out of me that so much is given and so little is gained, in the end. Especially at the end of the movie, which is the actual conclusion of the series.
Outside that, there’s also how so much of the background cast ends up dead. We don’t always see it, indeed it became a common thing for characters to die in ways and at times that we did not see. Then again, maybe that was just to cut down on the tragic bloodshed, because the deaths that we do see are definitely both tragic and bloody.
And if they don’t end up dead, they end up nearly insignificant. Even when they do something important, they’re still just playing second fiddle to the Elrics. This is definitely their story, and everyone else is just waltzing through it at various intervals.
So, I have some qualms with the outcome of the show, but not really with the show itself, if that makes any sense. It has action and adventure aplenty, and it examines serious questions seriously. It does not shy away from horror, but it does treat it with a certain kind of tact. It pushes things, but it never overdoes it.
The animation, artwork, and design are all beautiful and appealing. The music is nothing short of fantastic (this is another soundtrack I have been listening to ever since). The world around the story is rich and vibrant and alive. The moments of humor really are funny, and the tragedies are immortal, such as one of the most famous character deaths in all of anime.
In short, Fullmetal Alchemist is a fantastic anime. There’s a reason it’s such a classic. 🙂
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Grade: solid A.