Fullmetal Alchemist. You may recognise the name? Does it ring a bell? Seen the artwork in numerous comic/videogame magazines? It's a name often thrown about when talking top tier Anime releases, and always a guarantee on any 'best of' Jap animation list currently available, in fact limiting it only to Anime is doing the show an injustice, rightfully belonging in the 'top ten' best (any and all kinds of) animation list. Regardless, it's hugely popular and currently spanning a few different iteration's. I'll make this easy for you, stop reading, don't worry about my endless drivel, all you need to know is, get it! Like right now, seriously, it's that good. Do you like beautiful Japanese animation? Memorable (and lovable) character's? A believable, realistic steam-punk world, currently being torn apart by opposing factions. Mature and at times downright depressing, the series often raises deep philosophical questions like what it is to be human? Are some actions plain irredeemable? How far would you go to help those closest to you? Who is really the enemy? Consciousness or soul, and what's the difference? Like I said, it can get heavy quick.
It tows a very fine line, a line I honestly never knew even existed before this landmark release, and it tows it exceptionally. A strange concoction of pure fantasy escapism, full of wonder and whimsy, it's deceiving really, at times featuring (very Japanese) breakouts into pure comic lunacy. Scenes of crazy, slapstick, chibi styled comedy, almost always immediately followed up with a dramatic, hard turn into more darker, oftentimes tragic and depressing territory with all the appropriate seriousness, the comedy masking, somewhat, the heavy hitting issues underlying the series. This makes it a terribly hard show to categorise? A steampunk-sci-fi/fantasy/comedy/horror/war/political drama Anime series? Did I miss anything? More than likely. While at first a little jarring to get you're head around, take for instance a humorous scene where main character Ed literally fly's off the handle, eyes popping, tears streaming, raging anger, bellowing insults after being called short by one of his peers for the umpteenth time (an ongoing joke throughout the series regarding Ed's small stature, oftentimes being mistaken as the younger sibling, much to his chagrin) Scenes like this are commonplace and oftentimes hilarious, but for the viewer it's a strange feeling going from laugh out loud one minute, then suddenly faced with themes of mass genocide and child death literally seconds later? I can see how this kind of thing may possibly turn away some viewers, my advice, don't let it, just go with it, it's all part of the strange charm that set's this apart from almost every other anime release. The clashing of genre styles somehow working harmoniously together is a work of pure genius and something to be admired, while also ensuring the show's cult status for many year's to come.
An alternate take on history where steam is the main source of the world's energy. Magic is a science and, in this world, commonplace, mastered by Alchemists the world over. With the very best master's of alchemy employed to fight as State Alchemist's by the corrupt State Military, oftentimes being used as unwilling pawns in their effort to rule over all with an iron thumb. Caught in the middle of all this political upheaval, are two young brother's on a much more personal mission. This show pulls no punches, we are shown the war for what it is, unnecessary death and destruction. Good people on both sides, all being manipulated by an unseen evil in power with it's own nefarious plans, inciting a war for it's own personal gain.
It's A fascinating story about the unbreakable bond between two brother's, forced to grow up too quick. After suffering great tragedy with the loss of their mother, the two young boy's foolishly try playing God and it all goes horribly wrong almost instantly. Committing the biggest taboo in alchemy, human transmutation, the grieving children unknowingly mess with forces beyond their control. In the process Edward the elder of the two, had his arm and leg torn from his body, and as he lay bloody on the floor he is forced to watch his little brother Alphonse, fade away to nothing. In an act of sheer desperation, showing his brilliant alchemic skills, especially for a child of his age, he is able to rescue his brother's soul from the great beyond, and transfix it to an old suit of armour. Despite committing such a huge crime, his talents were undeniable and Ed is soon enlisted by the army as a State Alchemist. With his new metallic limbs representing his namesake the Fullmetal Alchemist. Not interested in the ongoing war or political agenda, Ed reluctantly agrees, figuring it a means to an end, using the government resources to figure a way of restoring Al to his former body. Enlisted by Colonel Mustang, the Flame Alchemist, the boy's soon uncover hushed whisper's of a mythical philosopher's stone, an all powerful, magical item that they believe could be exactly what they need to achieve their one goal, naive to the horrific cost involved in achieving said stone, thus begin's their journey across a war-torn countryside, passing from town to town, following clues, making friend's and helping people, while unfortunately also at times bearing witness to humanity at it's absolute worst, experiencing firsthand the true evil mankind is capable of.
So that's the gyst of it. A plot heavy, dark, adult fantasy with horror overtone's and political intrigue, with an added injection of crazy-ass comedy... interested? With that description, surely you must be thinking it's at least worth checking out? But where do I begin you ask? I can help you figure it out.
So the original Manga books are all currently available with English translation's at a reasonable price, usually 10-15 bucks a novel, though spanning 27 book's the cost does add up, and trust me when I say purchasing the complete boxset is no less expensive. I have only read the first book so far, so can't say too much other than I enjoyed it a lot, and one day plan on buying the entire catalogue. So if you want to start by reading the original Manga, sure I won't argue, but if like me, you're content to just dive straight in to the Anime, there are a couple of thing's worth mentioning. First the Anime and Manga differ greatly. Manga fan's will argue the Anime isn't nearly as good, I disagree and I'll explain why, but first I'll explain the reason for the changes, which should put the drastic differences into a better context. The animation was released while the comic book was still running. The series was hugely popular in Japan and the show's writer's quickly realised they needed an ending for this adaptation that didn't actually have an end yet. So they set upon writing it themselves, ending with a very different take on proceeding's. Having only seen the Anime first, I was blown away. The final season ending with a shocking cliffhanger, and the feature length film Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie Conqueror of Shamballa, serving as one giant, big-budget, epic farewell to such an amazing series. So why don't people like the Anime ending? Well I think it has a lot to do with it not being truly official, in the way it deviates from the source material, it's not like it's poorly written, or bad in any way, it's just unfortunately victim to elitist scoffing because it differ's so greatly. Another reason might be the plot, with Ed now finding himself lost in another world... ours. Munich 1923, to be precise, during the Nazi's rise to power. I know, it seems outlandish, and some will argue it is, but to me it never felt that drastic, it actually felt fitting. Thematically the show had always drawn parallels to Nazi Germany, with the totalitarian army, mass genocide, soldier's following suspect orders, it seemed right to me, the idea becoming an actual plot point in the film. What was also interesting was seeing Ed adapt to this new world of science, where alchemy doesn't exist, and how he dealt with that. I also liked the role reversal aspect, Al now the one tasked with saving his brother from another world, I loved seeing Al get a chance to shine with the spotlight solely on him for much of the film. So that's that, difference's aside, think you have made you're final decision on where to begin? Well allow me to burst you're bubble. There are now actually two iteration's of the Anime series. What? Yes in more recent years the show was remade, with the original manga comic firmly set as the template, titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the series had all the expected theme's and lovable character's us fans had become accustomed to, with all the added bells and whistles afforded by today's technology, and it look's incredible too (HD Bluray only way to watch it) So should you watch the original or the remake series? I say both. I watched the original series and fell in love, and was rather disappointed upon hearing news the follow up wouldn't further the story but instead start it again. I'm happy to say my concerns were alleviated within the first few episodes when I saw how truly different this was, yet still retaining everything that made the first series so great in the first place. Yes this is one remake that could never be accused of being lazy. So in my opinion, I would watch in order of release, with added film's and OVA's it may get a little overwhelming so I will draw up a timeline at the end of this piece for reference :)
Hopefully I have presented enough information for you to make the right decision on whether it's you're type of show or not? It is hugely popular, and has become quite a lucrative franchise, spanning action figure's/statues, numerous video-games (with nearly all unfortunately not making it to our shores) clothing, jewelry, not to mention invading goth culture, it's dark themes obviously responsible for the embracing, hell I used to date a girl with a transmutation circle tattoo too haha Most Anime falls by the wayside due to lack of audience appeal, only really getting noticed by fan's of the art, but occasionally a title transcend's it way in to popular culture, gaining more attention through word of mouth than actual marketing. Show's like Deathnote, Cowboy Bebop, AfroSamurai, Akira etc are all example's of Anime breaking into mainstream culture. This show is one of them too, a show that any Anime noob could easily pick up, watch and love as equally as the diehard Manga nuts. Being such a massive fan of Anime my whole life, I can sometimes be a sucker for obscure, so when trying to convert friend's, this is my go to title, along with Deathnote and Attack on Titan. It's easy to see why too, yes it has all the obvious tropes associated with Anime, but at the same time, forges it's own path, through meticulous world building, character development and original ideas, it's deep and yet accessible.
Feeling a little overwhelmed and just want to watch in order of appearance? Got you covered...
Fullmetal Alchemist Manga (Comicbook) v.1 - v.27
Fullmetal Alchemist s.1 - s.2
Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie : Conqueror of Shamballa
Fullmetal Alchemist Premium OVA collection
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood v.1-5
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood The Movie - The Sacred Star of Milos
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: OVA collection
and that's everything covered, you're welcome :)
If you are interested in checking out more Anime in the same vein as Fullmetal with dark themes and interesting, original stories be sure to check out: Fate/Stay Night, Attack on Titan, Deathnote, Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, Tokyo Ghoul, Darker Than Black, Paranoia Agent, Akira, Black Butler, Princess Mononoke etc
Oh by the way, "Full Metal" is a saying in Japan, as in "Whoa that's full metal man!" so don't confuse this show with others like, Full Metal Panic, Full Metal Panic: 2nd Raid or Full Metal Fumofu, they are not related at all, completely different series, while also being quite good, share no similarities with Fullmetal Alchemist, an easy clue is 'Fullmetal', is used singularly for Fullmetal Alchemist.
I do hope you enjoyed reading and hope I went some ways of convincing you to take a peek if you haven't already. Thanks so much for taking the time to read, as usual hit me up in the comment's section for feedback and any issues or thoughts you'd like to mention.
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