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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Collection 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

16 min read

Retooled, reworked and ready to retake its place at the top of many anime fan’s favorites list.

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.

The Review:
Audio:
The release of this television series contains two language options with the Japanese track having a 2.0 mix while the English one gets a boost with a 5.1 mix with both tracks being presented in Dolby TrueHD. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a really strong track that makes full use of the space the Blu Ray format provides as it runs a broad spectrum from some quieter moments that help build suspense to some loud action scenes without dropping dialogue, effects or background music in order for it to allow for the inclusion of getting another aspect in. Despite the inherent limits of a 2.0 track, the series manages to draw in the viewer with its mix and shading to provide a feeling of depth to the images presented which helps to sell the events on the screen.

In addition track was found to be almost without flaw or distortion, though there was one moment in one of the next episode segments that left the question as to whether it was a distortion or not. Normally in such a situation a check of the English track would be in order to see if it was replicated there and thus more likely to be intentional but the language tracks on this release are locked once selected as it was with the initial release and those selecting the Japanese track will discover that the subtitles are locked to the Japanese track as well.

A note for fans who had trouble with the original releases subtitles- FUNimation did go back and do a re-authoring of them as the subtitles print is now slightly larger and surrounded by a bolder black line which does make them stand out better than on the original release.

Video:
Originally airing on Japanese television beginning in April of 2009, the series is presented here in 1.78:1 ratio 1080p using AVC codec. The video is a fairly good one that makes strong use of colors while showing off fluidity in the various action scenes which really allows the budget that was used on the visuals to take a prominent place in the spotlight. While the discs are largely strong, there are a couple of issues that do present themselves. The biggest issue present is an obnoxious and varying level of jaggies that at times smooth to almost nonexistent while at other times they are so prominent they look like tiny stairs running up some of the animations. To top this off there are scenes where the inconsistency of some jaggies where lines are close together can cause light to almost appear to flash between them, which calls attention to areas of the screen where no action or motion is supposed to be taking place and distracts from the main focus.

Additionally here is also a very fine level of noise present, though watching the screen from an appropriate distance should make this practically non noticeable though some of the grain that is present isn’t always flattering to all the colors used regardless of sitting distance. Finally there is some occasional and minor ghosting as well as some spots where the background can be seen through foreground characters and some very minor banding, though given where this is seen there is a strong probability that it is intentional, but that is more assumption on my part than something I can ascertain through an impartial source.

Packaging:
The release arrives packaged in an almost PS3 sized case that is thicker than the standard Blu Ray case and is used to house the four discs inside and rather than using hubs on the case itself the case contains two “flipper” trays which each house one disc on each side so that there is no disc overlap. The discs themselves use a primarily red color with various alchemy symbols from the series present in a varying red/black shade which give the images a subdued and slightly faded look. The discs are dual layered Blu Rays with the episode being present in a 9-8-8-8 fashion across the four discs.

The cover for the release uses a somewhat simple in nature yet still striking image that has Edward sitting and facing straight at the audience while Alphonse sits on some rubble at a higher point behind him while facing left as the sun is coming up behind him letting rays appear like a glow around him and lighting the clouds in the background. The back uses a red stripe on the left that takes up about 25% of the side with alchemic symbols for the background as 6 stills from the feature are placed over that. The remaining roughly 75% of the back is a clean white which includes the copy (which kicks off with a very fancy and archaic styled letter) with the copyright information and technical specs at the bottom. Also included with the release is a simple O-card style slip cover which mirrors the disc’s cover though the shrink wrap was placed over this which cases minor bending in the card at the top and bottom. FUNimation does make use of the transparency of the Blu Ray cases though as it includes an image on the reverse side which contains collected images of four characters in the series which almost certainly counts as a spoiler in one case but is a rather interesting piece if one factors that out.

Menu:
The menu is probably best described as “simple but effective” as it consists of a small area at the top of the left side of the screen set against a white background that looks like a torn piece of paper and selecting any sub menu causes that menu’s options to take the place of the one’s currently in the small window. While very basic in appearance the menu is fast to respond to selections and implement them, be they engaging an episode or a submenu, so the functionality is a plus even if the intricacy isn’t there. The remainder of the screen uses clips from the series, many of which play well against the background music but a couple are of fights I personally wouldn’t have chosen as they reveal some action at times it probably would have been better to let a viewer experience naturally in the course of events of watching the material.

Extras:
Fans of the English dialogue side of the release are the clear winners here as this release contains a total of five episodes with English commentary tracks for them to visit. Unfortunately that is close to the only remarkable extras as other than those commentary tracks the only other extras present are three clean open and closing song segments for the themes that cover the episodes on these discs which are practically an industry standard.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fullmetal Alchemist was already one of the rare properties when it comes to anime in that it was not only a hit in its native Japan but it also managed to capture that same crest of popularity in other parts of the world including America where it rode the height of the early 21st century anime bubble with the help of having aired on Cartoon Network. But all things end and the TV series finished out its run and it seemed that fans would have to be content with what they had already gotten and move on to the next thing as the years between the series and the present grew and the conclusion of the movie left less wiggle room for a sequel, though a feature film did appear a couple years later and was then followed by an OVA release.

The thing was that while the television series started in basically the same place as the original manga series created by Hiromu Arakawa its creation while the manga was still in full swing left the show’s writers having to decide what they wished to do once they ran out of the original material on which the series was based. With the manga series a long way from finished at the time the writing team decided that they would take a (rather typical) step and create their own story from the point where the manga material at the time ended rather than just make an unfinished series or try to filler the story to death in the hope of hanging on for more material.

Normally this is the end of anime series as once tales are completed studios move on to their next work as fans are often hungry for fresh material and the pattern repeats. And yet the series managed to stay popular enough in the hearts of fans that it was able to pull off a rare feat- it actually managed to be resurrected almost 5 years after the last television episode had run and given a second chance at life, and this time it would adapt the entirety of the work that Arakawa had created rather than just the earliest points.

Set in an alternate early 1900s like world and centered in the country of Amestris, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood presents a reality where alchemy has become a major science and whose principle of Equivalent Exchange is seen as the ultimate limit of its practice. Those skilled in the use of alchemy are able to ply their craft through a number of different venues to make a living, though no small numbers of the more gifted practitioners seem to gravitate either toward service in the countries military or in opposition to the military as its members have come to have a very bad reputation under the countries current king and his multiple campaigns.

The focus of the series follows a pair of brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who were born in a small village in the country of Amestris and raised by their mother in almost single parent like function as their father was rarely around. This didn’t seem to be a major problem though as the pair’s mother was able to be the center of their world and the village was one that provided them some additional support in raising them in the form of some family friends the Rockbells, one of whom was a close friend of their father.

The Elric brothers father was an alchemist of no small measure and it turned out that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as both brothers were also gifted and able to learn a good deal through a form of self study as they were able to pick up a good deal of knowledge from the books he had in his study and they showed an exemplary aptitude for the craft. Everything seemed to be going fine until a pair of tragedies rocked their world.

The first time their world runs into a glitch is when the parents of their friend Winry Rockbell are killed during a civil war in which the pair had gone to try to use their skills as doctors to save as many people as possible. Worse though is that not terribly long afterword the Elric’s beloved mother got sick and passed away leaving the young boys essentially orphans due to their absent father. In their grief they become living examples of the adage “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing” as the boys concoct a plan using some forbidden alchemy knowledge to try to resurrect their mother. To accomplish this though they need more than just their father’s books and self study and they luck out when they manage to find a skilled teacher (Izumi Curtis) to bring their skills up, though they are careful not to tell her of their ultimate goal.

When the pair finally thinks they have the requisite knowledge they attempt the forbidden act of trying to bring their mother back but discover to their horror the reason that human transmutation is taboo when the attempt backfires horribly as Alphonse disappears and Edward loses his left leg and all that happens is that an inhuman monstrosity is briefly created rather than the resurrection of their mother. In the midst of his pain though, Edward manages to sacrifice his right arm in order to bind his younger brother’s soul to a suit of armor in the study. In order to try to undo what he has done Edward relies on the Rockbell family whose matron is skilled in creating artificial limbs known as automail to create for him some replacement limbs so that he can join the military in order to gain access to resources that may allow him to return his younger brother to his body. This will prove to be a daunting task though as the job comes with a number of determents, chiefly revolving both around the use of State Alchemists in wars and the public’s disdain for them as they see such members as dogs of the military.

Most of this information should be familiar to those who have watched the previous animated series and the twelve of the first thirteen episodes or so contain many of the same encounters as the first half of the original animated series from the introduction of the Elrics and their mission to Liore in search of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone up to their reunion with their mentor Izumi (though the series does kick off with a new original, high action, episode that introduces many of the characters faster than the manga and first series did).

From this point after meeting Izumi though the series breaks off the path the previous series created and follows the path of the original manga as it introduces a pair of characters from the Eastern country Xing in the form of the enigmatic Ling Yao who brings two servants in his tow and a young girl, May Chang, and her even more diminutive panda. Both travelers and their companions have come across a major desert in the hopes of winning favor with their countries dying emperor by obtaining a Philosopher’s Stone and the secret to immortality which will prolong his life. Along the way the Elric brother’s will meet new hazards and pitfalls as they come up against a formidable opponent in the form of Scar, a man with a sizable hatred of those who practice alchemy in general and State Alchemists in particular. The pair will face sizable dangers in their encounters with the man but worse, they discover he may not be their biggest problem as they encounter both homunculus and their creator, a mysterious character known only as “Father” and whose appearance will shock the Elrics and, even worse, he may be able to nullify the one card that Edward has become rather dependent on.

And just in case things aren’t bad enough, the Elric’s erstwhile commander/ally Roy Mustang discovers just how deep the homunculus threat has dug into the country he has sworn to protect and just how many strings there are which they have been using to control much more than anyone could guess. With so much going against them, will the Elrics be able to find the strength just to maintain their current existence or will they find themselves helplessly out powered as a dark conspiracy seems poised to collapse on top of them?

It seems like ages ago since I initially discovered the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime and as I waited between hearing it had been licensed and finally having the original collector’s tin (complete with blasted sticker on the tin) in my hands. I enjoyed watching it so much that it was moved to the top of the stack of things I shared with a friend who then wound up getting the series as well. The wait between volumes seemed much longer than it was as I had to endure the space between to get my hands on a few more episodes of an anime that had enthralled me with its mix of action, drama, suspense and fanciful imagination as I watched events play out with this cast that seemed united by tragedy and mistakes as well as a powerful desire to set things right. I admit I did feel the series went a little odd as it went on in its later half and the movie was something I enjoyed, though felt a bit hollow but by the end I was prepared to put the series on the shelf to be revisited from time to time but otherwise be most done with.

Then the announcement came out that the series was getting a second chance at life with a reworking that would bring the adventures more into line with the original manga storyline. For some reason the excitement just didn’t translate as well this time for me as I opted not to follow the adventures as they were streamed and even passed on the initial home video release opting to wait, which I am both kind of glad and kind of sad that I did. On the positive side I’m not sure that the initial reworked episodes that traveled much the same path as the original would have kept my attention in a weekly format or that come the end of them in roughly the first home video set would have had me waiting with the same fervor for more like I did all those years ago now.

The negative side though is the part of me that feels like I missed a bit of the boat and the ability to enjoy these adventures along with other fans as they played out within days of the Japanese television airing and I could have shared at the time some of the excitement these episodes provide. And there is a good deal to be excited about as the series really pays off as many of the early hints and situations that occur start to be echoed more with some of this newly animated material than what existed in the first run.

This new endeavor captures much of the same feeling that the first series had as it initially adapts the same material, though the new series does make a few changes with a new first episode adventure as well as omitting a few adventures that happen during the run. That isn’t to say this is necessarily bad though as the new pacing also allows for the series to jettison some parts that the first series added to help pad out the run time. When these changes are taken into account along with the rather high production values the end result is an initial intro that is both eye-catching in its animation as well as one that is able to engage its audience on a more cerebral level as it keeps events flowing.

This situation is then increased even further once Brotherhood gets past the material that the audience has seen before (at least the audience that has seen the first series anyway) as it then it embarks on the material that previously was found only in the manga. With these episodes the series really comes into its own as the action is raised along with the stakes as events move beyond just the Elric brothers encountering the pain of mistakes that they aren’t alone in having made but as they start to come across hints that their desired path will bring them closer to both conspiracies but also the heart of the very science of alchemy itself. The audience will also discover as they follow the pair just how deep some of the various relationships between some of the characters are as the drama and danger build, though there is a frequent appearance of comedy to keep events from growing too overpowering and toppling the whole setup under its weight.

The series largely works though it isn’t flawless as the difference between the pace of a manga chapter and an anime episode can create some moments of disconnect as the timing can swing between seeming to be somewhat fast at times and other times a bit dragged out. There is also the minor issue that the new series abandons one of the encounters that the Elrics have with a character that seems like a throw away initially but that later the character becomes a (rather secondary) addition to the cast and his lack of previous introduction stands out a little as a bit of discrepancy with events, though more so for those who don’t remember or who hadn’t seen his appearance in the original series. Over all though the set is a phenomenal collection of episodes that bring action and intrigue to a fantastic premise and which allow for a new exploration of some beloved characters.

In Summary:
The term “reboot” has gained more than a little notoriety in the past few years given some of the ways it has been used in American pop culture but Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood shows that not everything falls under the same cynical umbrella. With its return to following the original manga, the new series actually manages to make strides over its predecessor as it is fully able to make use of some of the foreshadowing that exist early on but which the previous series couldn’t deliver upon with its departure from the source material. What one gets here is an even more layered account than the original animated series was able to provide though admittedly the first 13 or so episodes which are largely shared with that work might cause eyes to glaze over a bit as they are a bit rushed in order to get to the new (to animation) plot lines. It is definitely a work which those who enjoyed the original series should give a go as one will find that many of the changes between the two series work to the betterment of the series.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episodes 1, 10, 14, 23 & 28, Textless Opening Songs, Textless Closing Songs

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 24th, 2012
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 825 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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