What is Fullmetal Alchemist?
In the story of Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Rekinjutsu-shi), or FMA for short, Alchemy is a scientific tradition that can decompose matter and alter it into different substances under the Law of Equivalent Exchange. This action is known as transmutation. Also, the Philosopher’s Stone is a legendary red stone that is said to have the power to change a substance into anything, such as changing lead into gold, or humans into immortal beings. The protagonist Edward ‘Ed’ Elric is a boy who is highly talented in using Alchemy and works for the military as a State Alchemist in his home country of Amestris. With his brother, Alphonse ‘Al’ Elric, Ed goes on a long journey in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. During their journey, the two brothers encounter and battle with homunculi, artificially created humans; chimeras, creatures created from two or more different animals via Alchemy; and other alchemists who get in the way of their goals. Ed and Al are willing to do anything, even fight against the whole country, in order to fulfill their dreams.
Both the original manga and anime adaptation are adventure stories full of action scenes; and yet, they also include serious messages related to life, death, and senses of ethics. When Ed and Al were still very young, they attempted to bring their dead mother back to life by violating the taboo of human transmutation. However, the transmutation fails. Because of this forbidden action, Ed loses his right arm and left leg. Alphonse loses his whole body, and only his soul is left in this world. Since that day, Edward wears special prosthetic limbs called automail, and Alphonse’s soul is connected to a large suit of steel armor. From their severe experience, the two brothers learn the true value of human life. However, one day during their journey, they find out a disturbing secret about the Philosopher’s Stone. Fullmetal Alchemist is a story with thrilling battle scenes that teaches the readers about the value of life, the meaning of human revival, and the fearfulness of understanding these themes.
The Popular Manga
Fullmetal Alchemist started out as a manga written by Hiromu Arakawa. Her illustrations are quite distinctive, and she is also known for the manga Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji). If you think the 2015/2016 anime The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki) looks similar to FMA that’s because Arakawa wrote a manga adaptation of the novel, and so the anime uses her designs. The Fullmetal Alchemist manga ran from 2001 to 2010, and the manga has been collected into 27 volumes in total. The first half of the story is about how the Elric brothers go on a journey in search of the Philosopher’s Stone and how they meet and become friends with many people in different towns. The two also encounter a character who becomes a major enemy in the story later on, and also experience the death of a close friend. One character who strongly supports Edward is Roy Mustang, who is also known as the ‘Flame Alchemist’. Mustang is a State Alchemist and a military officer for Amestris. With the other members of the military, he gives information and helps the Elric brothers. The latter half of the story becomes more difficult as it illustrates the battles among many different groups: the Military Headquarters, the Central Military Command, homunculi, chimeras, the prince of a neighboring country, and many more. They each have their own desires that they wish to fulfill with all their might. With the support of many military members and friends, the Elric brothers fight in this grand battle which involves the whole country.
The Two Anime Series
Fullmetal Alchemist has been adapted into anime twice. The first season aired in 2003, and the second season in 2009. I’m sure we can all agree that the coolest part about the FMA anime is the battle scenes using Alchemy! The transmutations are amazing, and Edward’s powerful movements and amazing voice acting from Romi Park make the scenes even more exciting! Of course, Ed and Al are very important characters, but we cannot forget about Mustang, who is very popular with female fans. His action scenes are also something to watch out for in the anime!
Anime Version 1: An Original Route
Although the first half of the 2003 anime follows the manga, it goes off in a completely different direction in the second half and concludes with an original ending. Call it ‘an alternative FMA’, if you will. As the manga was very popular from the beginning of its serialization, it got an anime adaptation even when there were not that many manga chapters out. In fact, it was planned from the beginning that the anime would have an original story, so there are many characters and settings which only appear in the anime adaptation. Season 1 makes a drastic shift from the story of the manga
Nevertheless, many aspects are also faithful to the manga, such as the relationship between Ed and Al, the scenes with the important characters, and the basic storyline. Therefore, you can enjoy this first season the way it is, even if some things are quite different from the manga. Of course, the anime adaptation includes many of the best scenes from the manga, such as the story about the Elric brothers’ past, the sad episode regarding Nina, and the funny scenes of Mustang.
However, the character settings of the homunculi, Edward’s enemies, and the story about the Gate of Truth are illustrated differently in the anime adaptation. The Gate of Truth is the place that anyone who conducts human transmutation reaches. At the beginning, the anime is faithful to the manga, but as the story proceeds and many new characters appear, the actions of the enemies start to change compared to the manga. For example, in the manga each homunculus has pride in their own actions, but in the anime they call themselves ‘failures’. If you are a fan of the original manga, you may feel puzzled by these lines in the anime. Also, because each homunculus has their own complicated desires, the viewers may start to feel, ‘Wait, I forgot. What are they trying to do again?’
The anime’s first season strongly focuses on the dark-fantasy aspects of the manga, and it uses many animation techniques unique to Japanese anime. It also includes many original elements which were not included in the manga. Although the manga gives the readers many hints about the secrets of the homunculi and the Gate of Truth, the anime changes some of this information in order to slightly simplify the story. It also may bother some viewers that many characters die in the anime, but I believe the death of the characters is what gives depth to the story of FMA.
Anime Version 2: A Faithful Adaptation of the Manga
In 2009, studio BONES, who produced the first series of FMA, began to air a new series. In order to make a clear difference between the two versions, the official title of the second anime is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Trivia: Fullmetal Alchemist is known as Hagane no Renkinjutsu-Shi in Japanese. The Japanese title of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is actually Hagane no Renkinjutsu-shi: FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST. Pretty interesting, right?
Although some people may call it a ‘remake’, it is simply an anime that chooses to follow the story of the manga, instead of branching off into an original story. While the first series had to go into original territory after catching up to the manga, FMA: Brotherhood was timed perfectly to run parallel to it. The manga ended in June 2010 and FMA: Brotherhood ended less than a month later. FMA: Brotherhood not only has a different staff roll to the first series, but the voice cast is almost entirely different. However, and most importantly, the voices of the Elric brothers went unchanged. Romi Park and Rie Kugimiya did an absolutely amazing job as Ed and Al, respectively, in both versions of the anime. It is very difficult to imagine the Elric brothers with different voices.
The second FMA anime is very faithful to the manga. It is not a sequel to Season 1; the story starts from the first chapter of the manga. It also includes aspects which were not included in the first series, such as the truth about the homunculi and the Philosopher’s Stone and the encounter with people from the neighboring country of Xing. FMA: Brotherhood has a very high quality in all its aspects, and is definitely an anime series that Japan can be proud of! The anime includes many exciting things: Alchemy, fires, Xing’s Alkahestry, chimeras, homunculi, and many more. Just like the manga, the anime has many powerful battle scenes which get the viewers pumped up! It is almost like a Marvel movie!
The second season is very faithful to the manga, and most of its new aspects have to do with the battle scenes. Although they are not superheroes, characters such as Ed, Al, Mustang, and Xing’s prince Ling each battle against their enemies by sticking to their own beliefs. Apart from the battles, it is also impressive how the characters’ way of living and thinking are illustrated in great detail. However, one thing that I want to point out is that the themes of life, death, and ethics are not clearly illustrated in the anime as strongly as in the manga. Although the anime sends the message that ‘we need to fight, even if we have to sacrifice something’, the message was not as strong and serious as in the manga, and it just had a strong sense of justice.
Nevertheless, FMA: Brotherhood is an amazing anime which would satisfy the manga fans and would entertain viewers who have never read the manga!