meet alphonse (left, 14) and edward (right, 15) elric, two brothers and alchemists working for the state military government of their country. a few years prior to the beginning of the main story, ed and al attempted to bring their mother back from the dead using alchemy, with devastating results: the attempt did not work, because you can’t bring people back from the dead, and the brothers lost parts of their bodies as punishment for committing the ultimate taboo. al lost his entire body, ed lost his left leg, and in an effort to keep alphonse alive he also gave his right arm to keep al’s soul attached to that there armour. the series follows them as they join the military in an effort to research how to get their bodies back, but they get entangled in a dark political game where the lives of millions of people are used as pawns in the quest for the biggest philosopher’s stone ever made… and their dad may or may not be directly involved.
very obviously, my fave anime sub-genre could be classified as ‘super happy fun times’.
naturally, i spent a lot of time comparing this to the 2003 anime, but the similarities end relatively early, and the rest of this show is honestly so different that it felt like reading alternative universe fanfiction
. (i suppose, one could argue, that’s what the 2003 series was in the first place.) it didn’t take long to pull me into its gripping narrative, which is a lot more sprawling than what i expected, and features a huge cast of well-rounded, flawed characters i genuinely came to love by the end. brotherhood
does a much better job of exploring subplots and character storylines that don’t have a direct connection to the elric brothers; the focus of the 2003 series was on the brothers and their quest almost exclusively, with a much more personal, much less political conspiracy at the heart of the plot.
i will admit i enjoyed the intricate ways in which these multiple subplots come together eventually in brotherhood. the elric brothers are still very much in the centre of everything, but their involvement sometimes feels accidental. they aren’t ‘the chosen ones’ as much as the heroes who just happen to be there at the right place, at the right time (or the wrong place and time, depending on your outlook), and that can be refreshing. the animation was upgraded too, as can be expected from a six year gap, although the designs and aesthetic was pretty much the same. there were also some strong neon genesis evangelion vibes about the last boss fight, which i found really amusing given that it’s athena’s favourite anime of all time. some tropes and aesthetics never leave us, it would seem…
speaking of tropes, remember the comedic-purpose screaming that was absolutely fine (nay, commonplace) in the aughts? it is so out of vogue in 2020 that it felt jarring to watch an anime with this much screaming in it at times. not that there isn’t screaming in current anime; it’s just not the main comedy relief trope anymore, even in the most popular action-heavy shonen titles, like my hero academia. i, for one, am very grateful for that.
(in an effort to find you guys a compilation of examples, i stumbled across an explanation video as to why anime characters scream so much
, which was surprisingly interesting and educational. i still don’t like the screaming, but i understand a little better now.)
lastly, like i mentioned in a previous edition of this newsletter, i loved the soundtrack of the 2003 series way better than brotherhood. nb: i don’t mean the opening and ending themes, but the score of the anime proper. there were several moments in brotherhood where themes would play on the wrong emotional cues, to the point of ruining a scene for no good reason. in contrast, the 2003 series had golden themes like this: