show review

Show Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I’m not really an anime person for a number of reasons. While anime can contain some beautiful and/or interesting art, all too often they just do the weird faces (I know, chibi is the term) way too much. Just as often there characters simply become annoying (Naruto). They also have a tendency to be pacifistic to the point of madness, which I suppose is principled, or go too far with the Eastern version of moral relativism, a sort of ’embrace your sins as a part of yourself’ in a way that never existed in Western thought. To cap it off, the genre tends to just go off following the histories of people I don’t care about (Bleach).

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood does none of this. It is the best anime I have ever watched and I recommend it to anyone who likes Brandon Sanderson (or just good fantasy stories) and Babylon 5 but finds Naruto annoying.

There’s something Sanderson-esque about the world. The magic system, alchemy, is more like science, which fits with Sanderson’s magic systems. It has limits and requirements. The climax is straight up Sanderson. Dramatic, twisty, weirdly mystic, lots of cool stuff going on. There are other things that are very much right out of a Sanderson series, but I won’t mention them because you really should not be spoiled for them.

Unlike many other anime I have seen, almost every character was an adult. The three who weren’t- -well, two, the third’s their childhood friend– make sense for why they’re there, risking life and limb. The adults acted like adults, too. In many ways, this show is a military fantasy, and most of the characters are career military and they act right for it, too. The camaraderie among Roy Mustang’s team is awesome, as is he, as is his adjunct, Lieutenant Hawkeye, with whom he is in loooove. The ambition seen in other quarters, good and bad, is spot on- with maybe one exception, the most disturbing one in the whole thing. You’ll know it when you see it.

The two main characters, Elric and Alphonse, are likable and interesting. I think they are the only characters who do the chibi thing, which does not happen all that often. I’m someone who has gotten to the point in my life where I want the raptors to eat the kids in Jurassic Park, so child characters do not appeal to me often. These boys are believably really good people and really interesting. Both of them! Considering that one cannot make facial expressions, this is saying something.

Bad is bad in this show. Human life has intense value- individual human life, as an individual thing. Every individual life. Those who slaughter wantonly for power may have sympathetic aspects, but it does nothing to reduce the horror of what they’ve done. The final victory comes from the strength of individuals who have been thought to be stripped of their selfhood.

This does not make it a Randian fantasy. Relationships are also vital. Friendship, love, brotherhood, these offer a strength and comfort that the villains cannot understand and dismiss- mostly. The villains are not uninteresting and they are doing things for reasons.

While my boyfriend seems to think FMA:B is pacifistic, I don’t. It does seem to preach against war, as much Japanese media does. The big war in the backstory was horrible, not because it was war but because it ended up being genocide. I get no sense of an attempt to create equivalency.

Disturbing stuff happens in this show. Really dark stuff. The imagery can be brutal, but I don’t find it gory for the sake of gore. The most awful thing, the one I mentioned above, is absolutely horrific but not in any way bloody.

The show isn’t flawless. There’s some pacing issues that bother me as a writer. The one that bothers me most: Mustang’s big decision point is badly placed (the character one, not the plot one). That really wasn’t the time for it.

If you want a story with worldbuilding, conspiracies, characters you really actually like, and a plot that begs you to binge watch, you should give this show a watch. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood can be found right now on Netflix. No doubt it can be bought off Amazon and maybe even rented from your local library,

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