The snowy nights and racing trains of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Choosing the best anime of 2009 is no contest for me, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood wins it hands down every time.

Scar and Kimbley face off

Choosing the best anime of 2009 is no contest for me, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood wins it hands down every time, but we’re past any stabs I could make at being objective about this, the show has everything I look for in anime, yet still manages to keep getting better, so much so that earlier today I even started comparing it to Legend of the Galactic Heroes! I mean, what the hell?! All this was again brought to the surface by episodes 32 and 33.

Firstly there is the unending expansion of mangaka Hiromu Arakawa‘s story into newer countries and climates. She achieves the sheer sense of distance usually exclusive to great fantasy, of creating a living, breathing world, which is why I’m now comparing it to Legend of the Galactic Heroes, because even though it’s now over half way through, FMA continues to introduce exciting new characters into the mix.

The "Ice Queen" Olivier Milla Armstrong

The latest is the “Ice Queen” Olivier Milla Armstrong, older sister of Alex Louis Armstrong; she guards the snowy border between her country (Amestris) and the mysterious Drachma, her base carved amidst a freezing mountain range, the stone walls as imposing as her cold glare.

I need a map; Amestris, Drachma, Ishbal and Xing; four different countries, cultures and landscapes. There is no end to this world, only distance to be covered and wonders to be found.

Kimbley's about to do something bad

Secondly there is the pure spectacle of watching something so consistently dramatic and exciting. In episode 33, we see a battle fought out on a moving train between Scar and Zolf J. Kimbley. Suddenly, nostalgia; I felt like I was watching Baccano! all over again, with Kimbley’s smart white suit and insane bloodlust reminiscent of Ladd Russo‘s own unique brand of enthusiasm, all cramped within a train racing through the dark countryside.

Kimbley removes his hat and off it flies, carried by the wind into the forest’s snowy night. The wooden carriages are torn apart as the two men trade blows, yet it ends bluntly when Scar picks up a metal-pipe and literally spears it through Kimbley’s abdomen. The pain felt, not to mention blood lost, is a reminder that FMA remains as violent as ever.

The total rush of adrenaline one gets from a scene as beautifully animated as this, combined with Arakawa‘s world building, is not ephemeral; this is a show that wrenches my heart out of place, time and time again.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

23 thoughts on “The snowy nights and racing trains of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”

  1. FMA:B the best of the decade? I’m still not even convinced it’s better than the original yet. These last few episodes have been a bit lacking, if admitadly only in comparison to the amazing last 10 or so episodes. Even the train fight between Kimbley ans Scar was a bit anti-climactic.

    You know, I’d be genuinely interested to see what the general anime viewing population thinks in the FMA Original vs Brotherhood.

    1. I never said decade, Scamp. But we’ll see. I loved the original series too, but the things I loved most about it were in the first half; things that have also appeared in Brotherhood.

      Nostalgia is always a factor when comparing something new with something old, but time will tell; suffice to say I’m confident in Brotherhood’s quality.

  2. I’m also having a hard time enjoying this a whole lot mostly because the timing of the comic moments are so off. A manga reader told me that the execution of the comedy is generally not that great and the first series managed to be noticeably better even if neither are as good as the manga.

    1. Hmm, I’ve never really had this problem (as in, it’s never really registered on my radar), but you’re talking to a die-hard One Piece fan here. Humour is so subjective and FMA has a very particular brand.

    1. I’m with Kim on this one. Following the manga definitely ruined the series for me…it just somehow does everything so much better. The further you get from Arakawa’s direct touch, the more the magic is diluted, I guess. Still, I’m glad to hear so many people are enjoying the new anime version lately, considering it does follow the manga’s story much more closely this time around.

      I’ve fallen behind a bit lately, simply because there’s too much to do and too much to watch. But seeing that pic of Olivia Armstrong (my favorite character in FMA lore) standing all badass-like is awfully tempting to get caught up again. :)

      1. The thing is, I’m an anime fan, so I can’t really reconcile choosing manga over anime, know what I mean? These are two totally different mediums that offer two totally different experiences, so to say the manga is better than the anime (still) seems a bit wrong to me.

        It’s like how in Baka-Raptor’s comment below, he’s alluded to a certain scene in episode 26 where so much of its power is delivered by the seiyuu, soundtrack and physical animation of Ed desperately dragging himself back through the gate to point at Al. It’s an absolutely spine-tingling moment but I’m not sure I’d get the same feeling from the corresponding manga chapter, it just wouldn’t hit me in the same way.

        1. Episode 26 corresponds with my favorite chapter of the manga (chapter 53) and I was very impressed with that particular episode. But so many other episodes just don’t have the same feel as the manga. Either scenes are cut, rearranged, or drawn out that it just makes the whole thing feel less epic to me. What they did with the Ishval arc was especially disappointing. The anime isn’t bad and it does have some great episodes (like 19 and 26) but trust me it could be even better.

        2. You see, I’m actually more of an anime guy myself as well (in fact, I’m probably not even following more than 3-4 manga titles atm). I get what you’re saying about the differences in medium, but there’s something about the experience in the manga that just works on a whole ‘nother level than the anime series. It sorta transcends the need for seiyuus, music, color, and “moving parts”.

          Maybe I was a bit out of line to call it “better” given the apples-to-oranges comparison, but the experience is noticeably different and, at least to me, noticeably more epic/intense/awesome. I’m not saying it’s wrong to like FMA:B or anything, but I just highly recommend those who love the series to check out the manga as well. It just might make a convert out of you, if you give it the chance.

          1. Thanks for explaining guys, I might give it a shot. I’ve never really had much of an appetite for manga, which is why I’m usually on the anime side of things. One Piece, Naruto, FMA, Death Note, DBZ, etc.

  3. i trust your judgement. we’ve always had the exact same taste. from when very few of us were touting the greatness of kemonozume back in the day to terra to wolfs rain to bebop. Im going to give this a shot when its finished so i can marathon it. Speaking of sharing the exact same taste, i finally started watching Hajime Ippo and i am so ashamed i did not listen to you yrs ago! i just dl the first episode of new challenger and was so enthralled i blasted thru the entire thing non stop. I just finished dl the 1st season 70 episodes and im having a goddamn blast!

    p.s. holy shit bro, i saw ninja assassin last night!! movie is insanely awesome. No hyperbole can do it justice. puts 300/naruto/bleach/whatever action movie/anime to shame. you have to watch it!

    1. Congratz, mate. Hajime no Ippo is definitely one of those. Make sure you check out the OVA and movie, too; the only thing better than Ippo TV is Ippo with a movie’s animation budget!

      As for Ninja Assassin, I’ll check it out. To be honest, I’m still basking in the afterglow of Sword of the Stranger!

  4. Ninja Assassin? does it go with another name?

    as for FMA,I didnt read the manga,thanks to ep,23 ,24,25 and 26
    and yeah,specially the pointing scene,that was amazing
    those 4 episodes are the reason why I won’t read the manga

    I’m enjoying FMA but not at the level I expected

    1. Yeah, the story has now expanded into areas I never imagined it would touch, which is why I’m enjoying it so much, because at this point, I’ve literally no idea what’s going to happen next, yet I’m desperate to find out. Usually with shonen anime it follows a fairly predictable framework, but FMA is different. It reminds me of watching something like Gurren Lagann or Berserk, has that same feeling of ‘epic expansion’, literally no limits.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. The animation truly gives a new life to the manga. For the most part, it’s been receiving a lukewarm reception. Half the people like the original anime series better and half maintain that the newer adaptation isn’t living up the manga.

    The Roy-Lust episode hit all the right notes, but the war flashback episode didn’t manage to capture all of the emotion that should have been there. Little things like that don’t really bother me because the latter half and the movie sequel to the first series register as some sort of a terrible debacle in my mind. It mixed in all sorts of strange historical non-sense (seriously, Hitler?) and the plot seemed too generic compared to Arakawa’s intricately weaved storyline.

    1. Hi Xerox, nice to see you on here again! I don’t think I’ve ever known a fanbase that’s been more split than that of FMA. It’s quite bizarre how everyone seems so strong in their opinions of which version is best, and it’s a shame too; taken individually, all three are superior examples of their medium, yet all this debate about which version is best I think detracts from their individual qualities. I mean, I’d recommend any new fan of anime check out Brotherhood, but they may not want to after reading “how it isn’t as good as the manga” or whatever, which I think is just a shame :(

      1. I think it’s a shame when someone doesn’t read the original work that author intended to tell their original story idea in. I get the whole different medias have their different merits and are good in their different ways. And I get the whole changing the storyline of an anime adaptation of a manga and it not being a bad thing. But I think it’s a damned shame if people don’t decide to know the story the way the original creator who thought it up in the first place intended for it to be told. They decided to make this story to get their idea out to the world and so many people dismiss ever even looking at it because there is an “anime adaptation” that may even follow the exact same story as Brotherhood is doing but the original creator doesn’t get their full credit and chance to tell their story which they fully deserve. It really hits me in a sore spot being a story-teller myself.

        1. I think it’s just a matter of whatever version you find first. I’m not snubbing the FMA manga because I think the medium’s inferior or anything like that, I suppose I’m just enjoying what I’m getting out of the anime enough to not want to spoil any future plot twists. I realise this sounds backwards because the anime is an adaptation of the manga, but it’s the just way I tend to work. It’s the same for me with One Piece.

  6. I don’t know, Bateszi, I really wanted to love Brotherhood, I wanted it to be everything it could be and more, watching the original anime back in ’05 and then reading the manga (Which I would consider far superior in every aspect) then finding out it’s getting adapted again by BONES. Such things as Envy’s true form and Manga Wrath, I could only begin to imagine how amazing it’d be to see them, but Brotherhood just did it all wrong, I just can’t lie to myself after reading the manga and seeing everything getting changed, shortened or cut altogether. It’s not the same experience for you, you’ve never seen it before and so you don’t know what to expect, so you can’t say it’s bad, and reading the manga after Brotherhood, well… I can’t say what that would be like myself. It’s too far you to go back, but I do hope you consider the manga one day, I know your preference, but I hope one day you will pick it up and experience it all from the original source and not a ruined true form Envy, most disappointing thing for me in a long time.

  7. If you go into it knowing the manga and anime are going to be different, that they’re going to have to change and leave out entire sections, maybe you can enjoy it a little more (or you can just have fun screaming at the changes!) :-)

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