Sunday, September 1, 2013

DaWaRou Posts: Fullmetal Alchemist

Hello again everyone! After FINALLY managing to snag myself a job that pays well, I've finally found the time to return to blogging...on an irregular basis. No point really trying to get something up every week at this point when I know that it's really not going to happen. But I will be getting posts up and that's the point! I'm John Cortez and this is my 25th post for...The Broken Infinite.

Today I'll be going over one of the most beloved anime series of all time. No!!! Not Madoka Magica! I can't review that without spoiling it. No, today we'll be going over one of the first series most of us that grew up in the 90's saw on Cartoon Networks Adult Swim and the personal favorite anime of the brilliant anime reviewer JesuOtaku. This is Hiromu Arakawa's masterpiece, FullMetal Alchemist.

Don't you just love seeing all the characters in one picture? Anyways, just to give you a heads up, similar to JesuOtaku's review of the series, I'll only be covering the very first series, not just because I like it more, which I certainly do, but because I feel that it's a touch more substantial than the very recent anime remake, Brotherhood. I have much fonder memories of watching this than Brotherhood and while I do LOVE it, I like the first series much better so without further ado, let's dive right in.

The plot is this: In an alternate world where alchemy has become the predominant scientific advancement, two young alchemists, Edward and Alphonse Elric attempt the most forbidden kind of alchemy known as Human Transmutation in a desperate effort to bring back their dearly departed mother, Trisha Elric. Things...don't quite go as planned as Ed loses his leg while his brother loses his entire body. Ed then sacrifices his right arm to bind Al's soul to a suit of armor. A few years later Edward becomes a State Alchemist with the title of Fullmetal and he and his brother embark on a quest to find the legendary Philosopher's Stone which is the only thing in the world that can possibly return them to normal.

As most of you know there's SO MUCH MORE to the plot than that, but that's just the bare basics of it. The simplest explanation of the plot of FMA is the two brothers, Ed and Al, trying to find the Philosopher's Stone to return their bodies to normal but there is overall a much larger plot that the two brothers find themselves woven up in even way back at the beginning of the series. But before we dive into any plot related specifics, lets get all the technical stuff out of the way first.

Visually, Fullmetal Alchemist is a great looking show. The character designs alone are impressive for a cast so large and the music is equally impressive in terms of openings, endings and background tracks. I'm being simplistic here because the visuals of Fullmetal Alchemist were never really the part I cared about the most. Of course it looks good, a series this good based on such a great manga would only receive the best looking anime adaption but looking at it, it is slightly jaw dropping. Not jaw dropping like say Madoka Magica which had the benefit of being done by Studio Shaft which normally produces...visually interesting works in one way or another, but jaw dropping in the way that just makes you say, "Wow, this is a really great looking show.".

Now, like with most of the other series I review, I'm going to start off with the negatives of Fullmetal Alchemist because...well I don't want to just start gushing about it right off the bat. So, let's get down to business. Personally, I don't find there to be too many flaws we go. First of all, those who come into Fullmetal Alchemist after previously watching only standard shonen like Naruto, InuYasha and Bleach, you will suddenly be asked to use a lot more brain power than what was called for for other standard shonen fare because Fullmetal Alchemist is not standard shonen fare, it's well above average. And so to some people, who just don't know better thought provoking anime, Fullmetal Alchemist will seem extremely preachy and heavy handed with intellectual, philosophical and even some religious under and overtones. Preachy is also another word that one can use to describe this series. It's very preachy and repetitive with a tendency to repeat and rehash morals from episode to episode. Above all is the Elric's or more specifically Ed's very cynical view of religion and the series takes it's time to paint religion in a not so pretty light. But given the real world use of religion for negative purposes like starting wars and justification of personal vendettas, you can't say that the series doesn't know what it's talking about. And then there are things like the brothers angsting over something for however many episodes or existential crisis's that overall lead to nothing very productive that just come across as annoying and stupid in my opinion. Then there are the sheer number of stupid choices and decisions that the brothers make which do nothing but hinder their cause but then again this can also be excused by the fact the brothers are teenagers and don't always act with the best judgment. Characters can be annoying with certain running gags or character traits or tics but other times these can be rather funny. Another possible "complaint" about the series is it's use of "filler" episodes. Now in this case I say "filler" with the quotes because I personally don't consider any episodes in the first series to be traditional filler meant to pad the series along in the lulls when the anime has caught up to the manga. Like One Piece (and I largely believe that for One Piece this is much more of a subjective personal opinion) the filler episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist add to the characters and serve to flesh them out a bit more. The early filler episodes I especially regard as canon because we have no idea what the Elric brothers did during their travels and this first series serves to show exactly what they have done. A final thought before I get into the real positives about the series is it's attempt to humanize and reform past antagonists and morally bankrupt characters in the latter half of the series. I speak for myself personally when I say that I want my villains and antagonists to remain villains and antagonists. There are exceptions, this show's characters being a few, but overall I think that's what most people want. Once again though, the way that it's handled here is what makes it one of my exceptions to the rule that villains should stay villains.

But let's now move onto the many positive aspects of the show. First of all, Fullmetal Alchemist must have one of the greatest dubs of all time! I'm sure the original Japanese version is great, in fact I've heard it is, but I just can't get over how amazing the dub sounds. Everyone from the minor to the major characters plays their parts well and it just sounds so natural that you'd think that this was real and not least until you hear them talking about alchemy and transmutation circles but even then, the dialogue sounds like things that real people would say. I'm not going to bother listing standout performances in the dub because by this point, everyone already knows who's who. Actually, there was ONE stand out performance in my mind and that was Scott McNeil's performance as Hoenhiem, the Elric brother's loving but absent father. I don't know why I love this character's voice so much but I DO and when he was replaced in Brotherhood with the equally talented John Swasey I was...rather disappointed despite the equally great performance. To me this performance was the one that stood out the most in my mind, despite the stand out performances that most people tend to go on about. Getting into the world itself, Hiromu Arakawa has created a wonderfully involving and interesting world that practically runs on Alchemy, this sort of pseudo magical form of science that breaks down and reconstructs matter into whatever the wielder wishes. From the basics of fixing a radio to the more advanced things that we see Mustang and a later former state Alchemist with a thing for explosives. Ah yes, those State Alchemists, THAT was a very nice touch. I've RARELY seen a fantasy world that openly acknowledges it's military, let alone a military armed with such a sophisticated art like Alchemy and it's handled VERY realistically which is another touch that I really really like. Getting into the world itself, lets talk about the characters that inhabit it. There's not a single out of place or useless character in the bunch here. EVERYONE has a purpose, EVERYONE has a part to play and EVERYONE does it extremely well. There are the main characters, the Elrics and then there's the military, the characters the Elrics meet during their travels, the characters that the Elrics grew up with and a slew of other well rounded and solidly developed characters there's someone here for everyone. The action scenes? Top notch! This series has some pretty solid action sequences and it really shows just how much work and money was put into some of them. But overall, Fullmetal Alchemist has two seriously solid strengths. The first would be it's blending of various things. I'm going to quote JesuOtaku here as she better explains the components of the series.

"Fullmetal Alchemist stands out as that rare creation that tries it's hand at several dozen things; comedy, drama, cold science fiction, inspirational fantasy, political commentary, action spectacle, heartwarming family anecdote, psychological and shock-jock horror and sometimes juggling multiple tones in one episode...and it succeeds at all of these things." (JesuOtaku Anime Review: Fullmetal Alchemist)

It's funny how I want to be a writer and write for a blogging site yet I, for the life of me, am unable to properly cite quotations. And I'm a community college student, go figure. Anyways, as the quote says above Fullmetal Alchemsit is that very rare shonen masterpiece that not only tries but succeeds at doing so many things that many other shonen series not only fail to use but usually rarely even try. If anything most shonen stick to...inspirational fantasy, action spectacle, comedy and drama. Those are usually blended decently but rarely as flawlessly as they come off here and while they can't be considered bad series in that right, they're just not as good as FMA. The next best thing that FMA has going for it are it's more important thematic elements those of sacrifice or Equivalent Exchange as they constantly talk about throughout the series and of family. But above all, I think that one of the things that really stands out to me about Fullmetal Alchemist is that, along with really getting it's universe and characters, it does the Tragic Backstory right. I've seen a lot of anime that try to make characters deep or interesting by pulling the whole "Dead parents" thing but you'd be surprised how often it actually works...from my perspective at least. Hell, FUCKING BATMAN rarely does it right in my opinion but this series does because it gives more than a shit about it's characters, ALL OF THEM. And that stands out the most to me in the handling of the Elric brother's backstory and their mother, Trisha Elric. The series takes a whole episode to demonstrate how deeply the brothers care for their mother and really make her into arguably one of the best...Dead Moms Walking to the point that you're actually rooting for them to bring her back from the dead. And what's more, the brothers actually learn from the failed attempt and set aside different future goals for themselves rather than letting that one single event consume them for the rest of their lives.

There's so much more about the series that makes it great but by this point you either already know what those other points are or there are different parts of the series that make you as an individual like it. Until next time, DaWaRou~!

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