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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 1 Anime Blu-ray Review

10 min read

Two boys find themselves starting off with a huge problem, only to realize the world is at stake.

What They Say:
Edward and Alphonse Elric’s reckless disregard for alchemy’s fundamental laws ripped half of Ed’s limbs from his body and left Al’s soul clinging to a cold suit of armor. To restore what was lost, the brothers scour a war-torn land for the Philosopher’s Stone, a fabled relic which grants the ability to perform alchemy in impossible ways.

The Elrics are not alone in their search; the corrupt State Military is also eager to harness the artifact’s power. So too are the strange Homunculi and their shadowy creator. The mythical gem lures exotic alchemists from distant kingdoms, scarring some deeply enough to inspire murder. As the Elrics find their course altered by these enemies and allies, their purpose remains unchanged – and their bond unbreakable.

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
The bilingual presentation for the series is solid across the board as we get two Dolby TrueHD audio tracks for it. The original Japanese language track is in stereo as that’s how the show was broadcast while the English language version gets the 5.1 upgrade which is no surprise. Both mixes are very good as the stereo mix has a very strong presentation to it with a fair bit of placement and depth throughout while coming across as very clean and sharp. The 5.1 mix naturally bumps things up a bit with a more full sounding effect, particularly in the opening and closing sequences with the music, but it makes good use of the overall soundstage throughout and prominently during the various action scenes. Both tracks are good and having them both in lossless is a very good thing.

Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this HD native TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a nine/four format with the first disc being dual layered. I’ve read comments by some that have seen this disc and they tend to be very disappointed in the release. After watching this via streaming and comparing it to the DVD, I came away very pleased by it. The vibrancy of the animation shines through beautifully here as the colors are rich and generally free of gradients outside of a couple of scenes that almost look intentional. Backgrounds and character animation is solid with no visible noise and just a layer of natural high definition grain that’s very minimal overall. By all appearances and comparisons, this release looks identical to the Japanese Blu-ray release outside of being slightly brighter which is a common occurrence.

This release has a standard size Blu-ray case inside of a cardboard slipcover that has some nice metallic elements to it. The slipcover and the case use different artwork which is a nice thing to see as it makes it worth keeping the slipcover. The front is solid with a good serious image of Ed wielding his alchemy power in his metallic hand as he’s set against a hazy blue and black background. There’s a good simplicity here that works very well. The back of the slipcover has a lot of white space to it with a nice strip of rough red along the bottom which contrasts the Blu-ray logo strip along the top. There’s a small two column summary of the show which covers a fair bit of the setup and a clean listing of how many episodes and the basic extras, including the collectables. The top has a nice box of some images from the show, though nothing that really stands out strongly, while the bottom has a clean yet stylized technical grid. I was very pleased to see that in the video section they denote that this is an “HD Native” program. Inside the slipcover we also get four postcards that are numbered which have some very good pieces of artwork from the series.

The single Blu-ray case inside holds the two discs on either side of the interior while the exterior features another good piece of artwork. Al gets to make an appearance here as he dominates the cover while Ed is along the lower right with a small logo overlaying the bottom that denotes the disc numbers for this release. The back cover is kept painfully simple with just a full red piece with the number one in the middle and the series name below it. I’d have preferred more artwork to be sure. I like the reverse side artwork a lot more as it has a very serious shadowed image of Mustang and Hughes together in East City while the back cover is simple but actually useful with a breakdown of what episodes are on what disc by episode number and title.

The menu design for the show is of the very simple stripe as the only actual menu aspect is the small navigation strip along the upper left, which is what the pop-up menu doubles as well. The rest of the menu is given over to some decent clips from the series that highlights its action and intrigue pretty well and with the music it sets the atmosphere nicely. But the only real menu aspect with the design is that tiny strip and it’s got a little bit of style to it to fit with parts of the cover, but it’s pretty minimal overall. Unsurprisingly, the discs don’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles. Navigation is a breeze and everything loads very quickly which is a big plus.

There aren’t much in the way of extras here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and two English language dub commentaries by the people behind this production.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a gateway anime. I had watched and truly enjoyed the original series from several years ago, but I knew it wasn’t the full real story since the manga was still running. With the manga set to end this year, a new series was kicked off last year in order to tell it more faithfully, something you don’t often see happening in the anime world. You might see an OVA redone as a TV series or even a movie that adapts differently, but a whole new TV series from essentially the same material? It’s not something that you’d think would draw a lot of attention. But this show became a gateway for me since I wanted to see the differences and I decided not to wait for the disc release as I opted to make it a show I’d watch weekly via the streaming service that FUNimation has. I hadn’t streamed much at all before that so it was definitely something new. I do recommend checking out those reviews if you want an episode by episode breakdown of the show.

Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in an alternate world that’s a familiar setting as it has a early 1900’s feeling but with the key difference of alchemy existing. Certain people have the ability to create things through it and many of them end up working for the military as State Alchemists. The show has a large cast that only gets larger as it goes on, but at its core are the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. The two lost their mother at a fairly young age and they barely knew their father as he had left for an unknown reason, though their mother always felt he’d come back and always loved him. The young boys were intent on bringing their mother back and because of the powers their father had, they were able to study hard at alchemy so they could perform the ultimate taboo; transmutating life. They attempted to bring her soul back to a body they’d create through the key ingredients but instead they brought something else back. And they lost so much more, as Al’s body was lost entirely and Ed lost his arm and part of his leg. Ed’s skill and quick thinking saved his younger brother though as he was able to bond his soul to a suit of armor through which Al could live and continue on as an alchemist, albeit technically a bodiless one.

The series runs through a bit of flashback as it establishes what happened in the ten years prior to where the brothers are now as they do their research on how to get their bodies back. What they seek is something called the Philosopher’s Stone which should give them the power they need to fix their mistakes. Those stones and people with unusual powers are starting to appear more though and that brings in a whole set of issues. What makes it more complicated is that as the brothers start to get a feel for what they’re looking for as new clues arrive, something else arrives that really alters their plans. And that thing is a man called Scar.

When the brothers were young and living in the outlying town of Resembool, the country of Amastrea had taken over the small country of Ishvala, but that was not progressing well and a civil war ensued. The Ishvalan’s were pushed to further violence through events there and one man is now on a mission to kill the State Alchemists who were responsible for so much damage there, even if they weren’t State Alchemists back then. So that puts Ed right in Scar’s sights as Scar has come to the city to eliminate as many as possible as he views this as God’s work that he’s been assigned. It’s through this that we get a better feeling for what happened all those years ago and the relationships that several members of the military have with it that will be explored even more.

Watching the series in this form just over a year since it first started airing, and is still airing as of this writing, is certainly fascinating. While I had gotten some of the things talked about in these early episodes which play heavily into events later in the series, much of it went over me since it was never covered in the previous incarnation of the series. Seeing how much was hinted at here, how much foundation was laid down in these early episodes, really does elevate the show and adds greatly to its replay value. Being able to see the ties here shows just how layered all of it is. And watching this while dealing with the new episodes highlights just how much some of these characters have changed, which is definitely a very welcome element.

With anime studio Bones taking on the production of this series, they’ve done an amazing job of capturing the manga and adapting it into this form. While there are changes here and there and some rearranging of things to start off the series, the majority of what they’ve done here is very pleasing. The character designs are faithful and have a very detailed feel to them and the animation for it is generally very good with a nice fluidity when required. One of the differences between this series and the previous one is that there’s a bit more humor to it, which was in the manga as well. More moments where they go out of character and just act kind of silly. This is a bit jarring at first but as the show progresses, some of the gags lessen (such as the height ones with Ed) and the wild take moments become better placed. Still, I found that I liked the balance between them and the way it slightly changed my perception of the series as it didn’t take itself too seriously all of the time.

In Summary:
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was the gateway show that got me to watching a whole lot more streaming series. Watching this set again while watching the series slowly wrap up with new episodes is definitely something that has made me really take stock of the show. They do so much more here with these earlier episodes that I had missed the first time around that I wonder what else I might have missed. Taking these episodes in as a full set also changes the way it flows and feels. Everything connects in a much better way, though I’ll admit that I miss the anticipation because of the weekly wait. This set really worked very well for me overall and it’s proving to be a solid gateway for new fans of anime as well, as I’ve been watching this with someone who has seen very little anime and it’s setting a high bar for quality right out of the gate. Definitely easily recommended as most fans will adore this release.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Audio Commentaries

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 25th, 2010
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 320 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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