Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part One, Episodes 1-13 (anime TV series), on DVD

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a fantasy anime set mostly in the year 1914 of a sort of alternate universe. It's based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The manga had been made into an anime before, but because that anime aired before the manga was completed, it was forced to go in its own direction. FMA: Brotherhood is a reboot that's supposed to follow the manga more closely.

(A quickie note: I watched this boxed set with the English dialogue turned on, because I happen to love the English-language track for this series. I may rewatch the whole thing in Japanese later.)

The series is about two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who lost their mother when they were only 11 and 10 years old. The brothers trained themselves in alchemy, secretly intending to perform the ultimate alchemist's taboo: using human transmutation to bring their mother back to life. Unfortunately, something went wrong. Al lost his whole body, and Ed lost a leg. A distraught Ed gave up one of his arms to bond Al's soul to a suit of armor. From that point on, the brothers' goal shifted. Ed became a state alchemist at the age of 15, so that he could more freely do research on the Philosopher's Stone, the one thing that might be able to get the brothers their bodies back.

I'll start this off with a little info about my FMA: Brotherhood collection. I own three FMA: Brotherhood boxed sets. As I was binge-watching Part One, it occurred to me that the three parts I owned only amounted to 39 episodes total. I thought I recalled the series being longer than that, so I looked around online, thinking that there were at least another couple boxed sets I needed to pick up. It turns out that the series is 64 episodes long, but there's no way to finish it up with the 13-episode boxed sets I started with (or there is a way, but everything's out of stock?). Instead, I'll have to rebuy some episodes and pick up the second half of the series in one boxed set. Which is cheaper than what I originally thought I'd have to do, but also aggravating, because I may find myself rebuying the first half of the series so that my sets all match up. This kind of thing is how the library I work at ends up getting anime donations from me. ::sigh::

Okay, moving on. I tried to watch this series several years ago, when it first came out. I still haven't finished the manga, but I absolutely LOVED the original anime and was excited to see a reboot that followed the manga more closely. Unfortunately, the creators of FMA: Brotherhood were faced with some difficult decisions, and I wasn't a fan of what they chose to do. Rather than retell the first parts of the story that followed the manga but were also covered in the original anime, they opted to do a sort of super condensed version. Many of Ed and Al's early adventures were either cut out, condensed, or mentioned only in a few lines of dialogue. The thing I found particularly painful was that one character's death happened earlier than I expected. I stopped watching the series after that.

This time around, I was more prepared. It was still a little painful to see so many of the brothers' adventures reduced to a single episode or a few lines, and it still hurt when that one character died after what felt like only a handful of appearances, but I was able to keep going. I'm still not sure how well this version of the story would work for newbies, but it wasn't as bad as I remembered it being during my first attempt at watching it.

The fight scenes were still great, and I liked the character designs, which seemed to have been tweaked to match Arakawa's later drawing style. I missed getting to hear Aaron Dismuke as Alphonse, but the reason for the switch to Maxey Whitehead was perfectly understandable (puberty – Dismuke was a kid when he originally began voicing Alphonse), and I felt that Whitehead did a great job in the role. The first episode was a little odd, but, after that, my ears adjusted to her voice and she felt more like Al.

While I liked these early episodes more the second time around than the first, I can't help but see them as stepping stones to the episodes I really want to watch, the point at which the original anime was forced to move away from the manga's storyline. Based on the images on the boxed set, I should be getting to those sometime in the next 13 episodes. I'm looking forward to it. This first set reminded me how much I loved these characters, their world, and the story as a whole.

Extras:
  • Disc 1, Episode 1 commentary with Mike McFarland (ADR director, voice of Jean Havoc), Colleen Clinkenbeard (voice of Riza Hawkeye and Rose Thomas), Travis Willingham (voice of Roy Mustang), and Maxey Whitehead (voice of Alphonse) – This commentary was wonderful, even if some of the voice actors had a little difficulty keeping themselves from spoiling later episodes (I loved the bit where Mike McFarland very pointedly reminded Travis Willingham that this was the commentary for the first episode). The actors who had been part of both Brotherhood and the first series talked about the ways their characters differed in the reboot. Maxey Whitehead, who was entirely new to the series, talked about what it was like voicing Al, and there was a little discussion about the bowl (used to make it sound like Al's voice was coming out of the suit of armor). It'll be interesting watching the OVA DVD, knowing that Dismuke's parts were actually a collection of old sound clips that had been painstakingly selected and put together.
  • Disc 2, Episode 10 commentary with Caitlin Glass (voice of Winry Rockbell), Sonny Strait (voice of Maes Hughes), and Laura Bailey (voice of Lust) – This commentary was very random and wacky, much lighter on behind-the-scenes info than the commentary for episode 1.
  • Disc 2, Textless Opening – The opening credits are beautiful, and I love the music.
  • Disc 2, Textless Closing – I'm not as big of a fan of the closing, but it's still great.
  • Disc 2, Trailers for Tsubasa, Kenichi, X, xxxHOLiC, The Slayers, Soul Eater, One Piece, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Since Funimation isn't shy about including lots of trailers, I wish they would stop putting unskippable trailers at the beginnings of all their DVDs. There is not a single unskippable trailer for Dragonball Z that will ever convince me to watch it.
  • Four collectible illustrations - Not bad, although nothing I'm tempted to hang up on my walls. These are referred to on the box as postcards, but they're really only postcard-sized - there's too much printed on the backs of them for anyone to use them like actual postcards.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Pandora Hearts (manga) by Jun Mochizuki; Pandora Hearts (anime TV series) - Oz Vessalius is cast into the Abyss on the day of his coming-of-age ceremony. He manages to escape, but things have changed in the time he's been gone. He now hunts for the group that cast him into the Abyss, and tries to find the scraps of memories belonging to Alice, the "chain" he contracted with. This is another fantasy series with a hero who's on a possibly deadly quest - Oz's contract with Alice will eventually either kill him or drag him back into the Abyss. I've written about the anime and the first three volumes of the manga.
  • Chrono Crusade (manga) by Daisuke Moriyama; Chrono Crusade (anime TV series) - Another fantasy series with historical-ish trappings (New York in 1928). If I remember correctly, the main character, Rosette, is on a quest to rescue her little brother, who has been taken over by demonic forces. In order to accomplish her goal, she has contracted with a demon who shortens her lifespan each time he unlocks his powers. This might be a good one for those who'd like something else with sibling bonds and high-stakes decisions.
  • Blue Exorcist (manga) by Kazue Kato; Blue Exorcist (anime TV series) - I haven't read or watched this series, but it came up while I was looking for something else featuring a strong brotherly bond. As far as I know, it's also another fantasy series with lots of action.

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