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Anime Reviews > Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

A review by ruffles
Added on Apr 8, 2016

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  Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

In this world there exist alchemists, people who study and perform the art of alchemical transmutation—to manipulate objects and transform one object into another. They are bounded by the basic law of alchemy: in order to gain something you have to sacrifice something of the same value. The main character is the famous alchemist Edward Elric—also known as the Fullmetal ...

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hi im ruffles today im going to review Dimitri Kirsanoff's latest anime "Ménilmontant". this guy basically makes a silent film about two sisters. he communicates with the audience through his flawless blending of soviet editing strategies, heart-punching melodrama and symphonic compositions which results in a cinematic masta---

preface (a brief overview)
So, fullmetal alchemist is what you all wanted. Well, I was feeling a bit generous this month, so I'm going to review the CORRECT anime this time. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or Hagane no Renkinjutsushi details the story in which two young boys set off on a journey to find the legendary philosopher's stone and use it's magic to reunite with their bodies. How did they lose their bodies, you ask? Well, their mommy died and their dad was an asshole so he f*** off, so they tried to resurrect her by unsuccessfully executing an illegal taboo in the world of alchemy. Throughout their journey, they end up joining an army and figure out that they involved themselves in something much bigger.

In my previous review, I analyzed what made the moe masterpiece K-On so good. The great thing about Fullmetal Alchemist is that you don't even need to understand all of the philosophical implications to have a pleasurable viewing experience. The show is jam-packed with masterfully crafted action scenes and engaging characters, and thus all the references to philosophy aren't a necessity to enjoy the show. Anyone who is familiar with the works of Kant or Schopenhauer would be able to appreciate this show just as much as your average dudebro. Fullmetal Alchemist has a lot more to say than it initially let's on,but that doesn't mean that you have to do extensive digging to unearth it's philosophical implications. It's blatant about existentialism, the nature of reality, morality, and humanity's limitations. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't aspects to FMA that can't be caught/understood. The majority of anime throw in random philosophical ideas to convince people that it's intelligent (The Book of Bantorra, Ergo Proxy, Karas) but it doesn't actually do anything with those ideas and it ends up just trying to convince you that it's saying something intelligent. But FMAA:Brotherhood doesn't just take pages out of Nietzsche's books and plaster it all over the screen. It establishes philosophical ideas that actually relate to the show's themes and each character have their own beliefs. For example, Edward Elric is an atheist. If you know the context behind his character, one would instantly understand why he is an atheist. He isn't an atheist just because the writers decided it would be a cool thing to do. He's an atheist because of his personal experiences.

Aside from all the philosophy mumbo jumbo, the series seems to be fully aware that the concept of alchemy (and how it could be used as a form of combat) is nonsense. In this show, water could be turned to wine and dirt could turn into weapons. Concepts such as these are explained through basic levels of understanding. The series journeys into the uncharted territory of science and utilizes it to excuse itself. For example, when Edward softens a diamond-hard encapsulation of one of his opponent's bodies, it is explained by our protagonist the properties of carbon and how he was able to use his opponent's carbon-based body against him, and thus the strategies utilized by a character follow some sort of logical thread that extends beyond "my power level is higher than your's". The fundamental problem with the majority of anime involving superpower's is that the characters never seem to use their powers to the extent that they truly could. The characters of this anime never seem to have this flaw. The characters never overuse their powers to the point where they're defined by a signature move. Sure, characters like Edward may reuse a spear or preform a transfusion throughout the series on a consistent basis, but there is actual strategies there, and the characters expertly interweave their alchemy with their hand-to-hand prowess. Yes, there is dialogue throughout battles, but the characters never say something that isn't necessary to the predicament at hand.

FMA: Brotherhood takes it's time, but there's very few episodes that actually feel like filler/unnecessary fluff. The 64 episode length actually feels justified, considering that everything almost feels as if it moves in real time. If a character wants to get a sodie pop, they go into the refrigerator and grab a f*** sodie pop. It doesn't take up 5 episodes, a prose or a soliloquy, and their hand doesn't move in slow motion. There was hardly a moment in the show where I felt as if something was just thrown in there to take up time. Also..f***, i ran out of s*** to say. Goddamn it, just go onto the next section
"All is One, and One is All." (Breaking Apart: FMA:Brotherhood, Part 1)
The symbol of the Ouroboros is marked on each of the homonculi. The image of the ouroboros ("tail swallower" in Greek) is tat of a serpent in a circle swallowing it's own tail, sometimes with two triangles forming a six pointed star as we see here. The ouroboros is a mockery of the flamel (which may have multiple meanings in itself) since both involve snakes and hovering wings. This depiction of the snake, however, is something more sinister--sordid. The snake is depicted with fangs and two rows of spines along it's back with bat-esque wings. This ancient symbol, like it's counter part, is often associated with alchemy. It symbolizes infinity/eternity, and is an apt symbol for the homonculi, considering that with the correct amount of stones, could theoretically achieve immortality.

The ouroboros is symbolic for a few things; both the unending cycle of life and death, and the process of alchemy, as it has no beginning or end. A parallel could be drawn between Ouroboros and The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra (also known as "the gold-making" of Cleopatra). The drawing comes from the aforementioned alchemical text, enclosing the words "Hen to Pan" (one is all).
It's black and white halves represent the Gnostic duality of existence. As such, the Ouroboros could be interpreted as the Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol.
(from the wikipedia entry)

The ouroboros is a visual representation of the quote, with the star within a circle representing the firmaments (the universe) which is also contained within the snake's ring. However, the snake is also a part of the universe. The two respond to their teacher with "All is the world. One is me." This marks the beginning of their "true training". These concepts fall in line with Edward's personal beliefs (the conclusion that he comes to is along the lines of this concept of eternity, or wholeness) and his unyielding faith that all things could be explained through alchemy, or science, rather. This concept of everything being connected is further enforced by things such as Quantum Entanglement. This will lead into the next point: The Übermensch.
The Übermensch. (Breaking Apart: FMA:Brotherhood, Part 2)
The Übermensch, in basic terms, is one who acts as his own GOD. One who lives their life according to their own personal philosophies and sense of morality. The Ubermensch is neither slave nor master. He does not impose his will onto other's. He is an independent entity who rejects herd mentality from his mind and becomes a master of self discipline. The Ubermensch was a concept forged and endorsed by Friedrich Nietzsche. This idea of the Ubermensch is founded upon the assumption that God does not exist. His solution is not nihilism, but rather, the Ubermensch. This idea that we can become our own personal Gods and give our own lives meaning. The ubermensch idea is founded upon the assumption that the idea of objective morality and inherent value are impossible, since there is no being that exists to create morality and inherent value to begin with.

Father attempts to become an Ubermensch but ultimately fails. An ubermensch is not one who dogmatically forces his perspective onto other's. He attempts to ascend beyond that of humanity only to have his humanity lead to his downfall. The ubermensch, as I previously mentioned, is a master of self discipline. Father ends up being the living embodiment of what an Ubermensch is NOT. He becomes entraped by his own lust for power and inferiority complex. This concept of Father feeling inferior would not be foreign to one who has watched the show. The feeling of being superior to humanity in itself contradicts the idea of the ubermensch.

So, what does Izumi's "all is one and one is all" comment have to do with the ubermensch? Well, as previously mentioned, we are all our own God's. If we follow the philosophy of both the ubermensch and Izumi, then we can come to the conclusion that "God" is not a separate entity from anyone in FMA. He is simply the flow of the world. He is all of us. Both this idea and the concept of us being our own God's are now beginning to align. This idea is evidenced by the fact that whenever a person meets God, they see themselves within him. So when Father see's God, he see's a tiny sphere which is analogous to his own physique. When Edward see's God, he see's a young man. On Youtube, there's an excellent analysis video made by GoatJesus, in which GoatJesus also explains why Father is not the ubermensch, and why Edward is.

Other Philosophical Ideas in FMA: Brotherhood (Breaking Apart: FMA:Brotherhood, Part 3)

Existentialism is the idea that our existence is the only life we have, not a pre-destined soul that will go to heaven or hell. Throughout the series, The Elric Brothers bear this existentialist view of the world (and Edward flat out says he's an atheist, or secular, depending on the translation). They don't believe in heaven or hell, and yet they struggle with the idea of harming other's. They repeatedly state that they would prefer to avoid killing or harming other's in their quest to finding the philosopher's stone. To some, this may be paradoxical, or contradictory to their existential beliefs. If there is no afterlife, then why worry about harming others? Well, I posit that the Elric Brother's would subscribe to the idea of positive and negative rights. Here's an excerpt from the wikipedia article on the subject:

Under the theory of positive and negative rights, a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another person or group—a government, for example—usually in the form of abuse or coercion. As such, negative rights exist unless someone acts to negate them. A positive right is a right to be subjected to an action of another person or group. In other words, for a positive right to be exercised, someone else's actions must be added to the equation. In theory, a negative right forbids others from acting against the right holder, while a positive right obligates others to act with respect to the right holder.

The Elric Brother's subscribe to this idea that one should do what they want without harming other's, which is exactly the role that the Ubermensch plays. He lives according to his own rules, but he doesn't impede the right's of others in the process.

Equivalent exchange

Alchemists can not create, they can simply transform. This is why Edward can create swords from pools of blood and things of that sort. If he repairs Alphonse's armor, the metal becomes thinner because he must use that very same armor to repair it. When the Elric Brother's go to Youswell, Edward trades the deed for the town from the military guy who ran the town for practically nothing. Edward informs the townspeople that he was going to extract a heavy fee for their freedom, and his price was a night's room at their local inn. So what does this mean? Edward Elric, and all alchemists in general, exemplify this idea of equivalent exchange in everything they do, even outside of alchemy. Albeit, the idea that a night at an inn is an equivalent exchange for the deed of the town is an absurd one, but it's a personal philosophy that Elric adhered to, nonetheless. This idea of equivalent exchange could be applied to practically anything. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The idea of "Karma" supports this. To get better grades, one must sacrifice a few hours to study. For muscles, one must exercise. If you want a bag of Doritos™ and a Blu-Ray copy of Batman™ Vs Superman™: Dawn of Justice®, one must pay a cheap fee of 19.99.
Addressing criticism
There are bizarre moments throughout the show in which the show goes from a totally compelling character moment to a side-gag. This abrupt transition ruins some character moments, but I don't feel as if the side-gags are so derailing that the scene in question becomes impossible to take seriously. I personally feel as if a grimdark approach was not required in order for the philosophical mumbo jumbo to still make an impact. The world of FMA is not bereft of joy. Actually, it's too the contrary. The set up calls for a story that's inherently adventurous, and for the story to subsist past jubilation and embrace darkness would be missing the point entirely. A world of darkness is not a world that Edward and co would want to live in. Moments of calm are needed to emphasize the moments of darkness and introspection.

Studio Bones have established in my mind as one of the best animation studio's currently out there. Not only do they have an extremely solid filmography under their belt (FMA: Brotherhood, Sword of the Stranger, Eureka Seven, etc), but even their worser shows still always maintain that same quality of animation. For example, examine the fight between Scar and King Bradley.

There's an incredible sense of urgency in this fight alone. King Bradley is established as an incredible threat and has a domineering aura throughout the entire show. This dominance is exemplified in how despite the fact that Scar pretty much rekts everyone throughout the show, he still only barely manages to defeat Bradley, and without the upperhand that Scar gains by the end of the fight, it's entirely possible he would've lost. Bradley's incredible sword play manages to leave Scar overwhelmed, despite how he flawlessly maintains an equilibrium between his hand to hand prowess and alchemy. He manically switches between both on a regular basis throughout the fight, and despite the fact that Bradley is fast, he never does anything without reason. Thus, Bradley ends up evading and ceasing anything Scar has to throw at him, and Scar only wins by the skin of his teeth. And even this fight isn't even an artistic zenith for Bones, which only further demonstrates their magnificent grasp on sakuga animation.

Like in most Studio Bones productions, the fights end up being the visual highlight of a series that's already gorgeous. The rest of the anime is drawn with confidence and utmost precision and is beautifully rendered. Personally, i jerk off to it every night.

The ost is possibly the anime's weakest component when taking into account the series' production values, which is peculiar considering that Akira Senju typically makes wonderful music, specifically for the Lord of the Rings. The soundtrack is pretty formulaic, often beginning with a catchy melody for violins, surrounding said melody with orchestral harmonization, repeat, crescendo into climax and abrupt ending. Impressive when building atmosphere in the context of the series, but makes for boring listening. Regal battling music is obviously not his strong suit, while drama seems to suit him. Tracks like "Tribute to W.C.I" seem to transcend this cliche and reach a new level of pathos and intensity, but alas, that is short lived. The score isn't bad by any means, in fact, it's pretty good, and i'd recommend it over most of the f*** horrible j-rock scores that permeate most shonen anime. But that isn't to say it could be better.


my sanity is slowly slipping away and i want to die The cast of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is rich and incredibly entertaining to watch. You get the impression that all of the characters are consistently progressing, even at the most superficial level such as changing their clothes. While there are some characters that have less development than other's, there are characters like Armstrong who are just incredibly entertaining to watch. They never overstate their welcome and while one may argue that they're characters that are defined by personality quirks, they still feel like tangible human beings who have undergone their own s*** and developed their own personal philosophies. Everyone in this show has incredibly consistent character goals which sometimes even change and evolve. Everyone is constantly growing and they never make the same mistake. Small details like when Mustang instantly knew that Envy was simply shapeshifting as his friend alone give insane amounts of insight into him as a character. It shows that Mustang isn't some emotionally stunted autist who's bound by tragedy by his shitty baggage like some middle school tumblarina. Mustang in this scene has a very clear goal that he wants to fulfill and he does not falter. In DBZ, yamcha would've stopped in his tracks and get stabbed through the heart.


Even all the unimportant cast members such as the generic military guys show extreme amounts of resolve and courage in the final battle, and contribute greatly against Father. The small fry actually contribute something instead of standing around and screaming! How refreshing!


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