Fullmetal Alchemist is nearly twenty years old, and if that doesn’t rattle your bones you probably weren’t around for the original series. That’s okay, newer fans that got into the series with Brotherhood when that aired years after due to recommendation from their older otaku peers are totally valid! However, that means you did miss the time when Fullmetal Alchemist was the anime. At its peak, it may have even eclipsed the likes of Naruto for a time as the show western fandom was most invested in. Thankfully, unlike that ninja series or most of the other big shonen shows, it doesn’t require you to watch hundreds upon hundreds of episodes to ‘get it’. Plus, you have two different ways to experience the magic, or if I’m being canonical, the science of alchemy! The 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist that started it all or the true to the manga 2009 Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. You have to watch at least one, and either way you can’t go wrong.
An Argument for the Original Fullmetal Alchemist
Yes, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood exists, so why watch the original show? We actually have a few answers to that question, depending on how you want to look at it. First, it’s a matter of history; it was the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist that introduced the Elric brothers and the FMA craze to the world. Brotherhood would never have been made if its predecessor didn’t work its magic in the first place. More importantly though, the original Fullmetal Alchemist is something of an accomplishment. Lots of shows have awful filler and original content not created by the original manga author that’s tedious at best and dreadful at worst to sit through. That’s why these days most long running anime now air in seasons, taking breaks whenever they run out of material.
For our money though, Fullmetal Alchemist is probably the best instance of making someone else’s story their own. Out of its 51 episodes, only the first third or so follow the manga. After catching up, director Seiji Mizushima and prolific writer Sho Aikawa managed to create a story that, while much different from where the manga ended up, was just as intriguing and true in spirit to the comic as the original. Instead of creating a ‘filler’ 30 or so episodes, the team crafted its own alternate version of events and an alchemy mythos that’s at the very least equal to the ‘real thing’. It was more individually character centric too; without spoiling why, the added layers to the Homunculi made them stronger characters.
The Genius of The Fullmetal Alchemist Movie: Conqueror Of Shamballa
Perhaps though the best reason to go down the original Fullmetal Alchemist timeline is because Conqueror Of Shamballa awaits you at the end. Unlike the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood movie The Sacred Star Of Milos which pretty much reads like your average Shonen Jump tie-in movie (maybe some cool fights but otherwise throwaway) Conqueror Of Shamballa was an extremely daring and ambitious project. A full on sequel to the original show, the 2005 film decided to throw out the status quo and give you an FMA experience that, while true to the intentions of the original, blindsides you with its shocking narrative choices. We’re not talking about cheap twists or some R rated exaggerated version of the story. The movie tells a focused story that picks up where the anime ended to just be ‘more Fullmetal Alchemist’. It’s successfully its own entity; so very rare when it comes to shonen manga based original movies.
Why Most People Regard Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as the Superior Show
A majority of fans who got into anime in the 2010s probably haven’t bothered watching the original Fullmetal Alchemist now that Brotherhood is so frequently cited as one of the all-time greats.
Aside from the reasons presented in the paragraphs painstakingly written above, we can’t really blame younger fans for not wanting to watch through what’s kind of the same show twice.
Especially since both shows clock in at over 50 episodes, people just don’t have the time or the attention span and we understand that. With the fandom at large swaying towards Brotherhood, it’s the obvious choice for a new fans and there are quite a few reasons why fans have connected with the second version of what many people consider to be 2000’s greatest classic.
When it comes to two of the most beloved anime ever, ‘better’ is a largely subjective term. However, thinking outside that framework, we think it’s fair to say that Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is the definitive FMA adaptation. It actually adapts the manga for starters.
Brotherhood was made as both a response to fans desperately wanting more Fullmetal Alchemist and due to the original TV show coming out so early into the manga’s run, so much of the actual story was left unadapted. This time around, fans got a version of events true to Hiromu Arakawa’s vision, and a great looking one at that.
Knowing the franchise was a huge moneymaker, Studio Bones wasn’t shy about dishing out cash to make sure the animation they produced was some of the best ever seen in a TV anime. Seriously, just about every episode in the show’s 64 features near movie quality animation and it’s a treat each time. No wonder many have sided with Brotherhood.
How about that live action Netflix FMA Movie?
Unlike the surprise Death Note movie that’s been haunting Netflix, the live action Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t a white washed Hollywood nightmare adaptation. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t automatically make it better. In 2017, well after Brotherhood and Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga ended, Japanese filmmakers produced a live action adaptation of the series, which has become very common in modern times.
Not being part of the industry Hollywood, Japanese films have small budgets in the lower double digit millions considered big budgets across the Pacific. Of course movies don’t need big budgets to look good, but when you set out to make a CG action blockbuster, a few million dollars generally isn’t enough to suffice.
The mediocre visuals of the movie aren’t the only thing people find disappointing about the Netflix Fullmetal Alchemist. Sitting at Rotten Tomatoes with a low 31%, not many people go to bat for the film. In fact, we’d wager that some of the most diehard FMA fans aren’t even aware that it exists. Basically the movie takes the very beginning of the series, like what happens with Father Cornello and of course the infamous Shou Tuckers, mashes it up with elements that came later in the story and tried to present a whole story out of the thing. Granted, they set up a sequel at the end, but we’re not sure who’s waiting to continue this abbreviated, remixed edition of their favorite that offers nothing new. It’s no Dragonball Evolution type situation, but that’s honestly all we can say about it.
The Most Beloved Cast of Characters in Anime.
We’re not sure if there’s a cast of characters who are more universally liked than the Fullmetal Alchemist gang. Hiromu Arakawa somehow stormed up alchemist after alchemist and homunculus after homunculus who non-stop resonated with audiences. Shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and films like Spirited Away have iconic casts that remain in viewer’s memories for years to come, but what FMA has over nearly every other work is how large and consistently likeable its people are. No matter how many times you see it, you’re guaranteed to end up with tears streaming down your face as you slump on your couch when ____ _______ dies despite only being a secondary character. With multiple dozens of actors in the show, we can’t cover them all, but let’s at least touch on the Elrics themselves.
Edward Elric Makes up With Spirit What He Lacks in Height
Yes, we had to make a short joke (watch the show to know why). Ed proved to the world that shonen heroes didn’t all have to be simple-minded Goku clones to make an impact. On the contrary, Ed’s quick to get angry and even putting aside the missing arm and a leg he’s a complete half pint. He does have some sick alchemy skills and the determination to see his goals through till the end, even if it means defying orders and getting his hands a little dirty. Barely concealed under his spunky exterior, the lad carries enough guilt to last someone a lifetime so buy him a glass of milk when you see him.
Alphonse Eric Has More Heart Than Anyone… Despite Lacking One
Ed lost his arm and leg, but his younger brother Alphone lost his whole darn body. That’s what happens when you tempt fate by trying to resurrect your dead mother. Having spent much of his adolescence in a giant suit of armor, Alphonse is much more contemplative and introspective compared to his smaller big brother, usually better at hand to hand combat too. Our half jokes aside, Alphone often acts as the emotional center of the series, and his personal tragedy is especially palpable.