Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Entire Series) on DVD

My husband and I just finished watching the very last season of the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. We had to watch all the episodes on the last disc in one go because the end is just crazy!

I was hesitant to even review this TV show (based on a Japanese manga book series) because of its violent and gruesome content, and I wouldn't recommend it for most of my readers here. As far as anime goes, it's pretty tame and clean on the sex (there isn't any, and about the most you see is cleavage). There's a bit of language, but not the worst kind. In fact, I don't think the F-word is used at all, but don't quote me on that. Still, I would rate the show R (it's actually rated TV14) for violence and disturbing images of evil.

The premise is rather complicated, so if you are already a fan of the show, you'll notice how much I leave out here as I try to make it as simple as possible. Ed and Al Elric are two young brothers who live at the turn of the twentieth century in an alternate version of our world where certain humans can use alchemy to achieve inhuman feats, such as reshaping metal into a sword or creating flames with the snap of a finger. When the boys' mother dies, they try to bring her back to life through alchemy, but what they "bring back" is an abomination that costs the older brother, Ed, an arm and a leg, literally, and costs Al his entire body. Ed binds Al's soul to a nearby suit of armor, thus saving his life in some form. Determined to get their original bodies back, the two boys, barely in their teens, one with a metal arm and leg, the other apparently an empty suit of armor, set off to find out all they can about alchemy and the fabled, powerful philosopher's stone. But the journey leads them through unexpected twists and turns, and evil lurks around every corner, waiting to destroy them or, worse, use them for its own nefarious purposes.

Just a side note here (but it's important!): Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not quite the same as Fullmetal Alchemist, in case you look it up. The original TV anime is simply called Fullmetal Alchemist, and it ends very differently from Brotherhood because it caught up to the manga books and had to veer off on its own and make up an ending. Once the manga was finished, the show was rebooted with Brotherhood, the ending following more closely to the book. Where the two TV series diverge from each other, they become completely different shows. I've seen both. From what I can remember of the first, comparing the two, Brotherhood is darker and bloodier with a completely different thematic focus. Note that this review is about Brotherhood.

So, interesting as it may sound, if the show is so graphically violent, why am I reviewing it at all? Amazingly, this is a show about right and wrong, about morality, about how far is too far, and about the value of a single human life, among other large-scale moral questions. In other words, it's actually perfect material for this blog.

In Ed and Al's world, alchemy's greatest rule is that everything must be traded for something of equal value: equivalent exchange. In the attempt to raise their mother's body back to life, the boys lose parts of their bodies. What they try is not permitted among alchemists for good reason. The show explores what equivalent exchange looks like throughout every aspect of the world and whether or not it is a decent rule to live by.

(Minor SPOILERS) Later, when Ed and Al realize what the philosopher's stone really is, they refuse to use it to get their bodies back, and they become the voices of reason and right in the show. At times, they stray, but ultimately, they choose right. It's not easy for them. They have to make hard choices, and again and again, they prove that the easy, obvious choice is not always the best. They refuse to cave before evil, and they refuse to use evil means to get their way. They are the counterpart to the adults on the show who think they have to kill sometimes for the greater good; the Elric brothers are always looking for ways around that, looking for the good in people. Several times, they spare their enemies, which sometimes leads to surprising benefits later. Equivalent exchange at work again.

The religion on the show is not just a little hokey, and religion mucks things up a bit at the end. But at the same time, some Christian values creep in there: redemption; the value of giving more than one receives (not equivalent exchange!); compassion, even for the vilest of creatures; loyalty; and giving up what makes us who we think we are. The series also tackles heavy themes of loss and grief, sacrifice (both forced and freely given), and choice (do we choose what's right, even after we've messed up and redemption seems hopeless?). It's rather beautiful, after the dark.

And that sums up the show for me: beauty amidst despair, hope in the darkest places, pure goodness breaking apart the forces of evil. Despite the violence, this is a show that is overall uplifting and deeply moving. It's not for everyone, and I certainly don't agree with all of its message. But for what it is, it has value and merit. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the series and look forward to every disc in the mail, but I really want to emphasize that this is not typical fare for this blog, nor is it something I recommend you watch. Also, it's definitely not for kids. Anime is not animation, though both are animated (I may be speaking to the veterans here, but you never know).

If you do choose to watch it, knowing full well what you are getting into, I hope you appreciate it as much as I do because there is certainly entertainment and worth here.

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