Hey guys, it’s Naru, giving you yet another gift for the December season! Yeah, it’s kind of a thing on this blog, I like to do higher profile projects throughout the month of December, to make up for the minimal christmas related offerings in the anime medium, as well as to avoid having to review Itsiudatte My Santa(maybe next year). I hope you liked the last two reviews, because today, I’m giving you a top ten list that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. After pissing people off with my last FMA piece, I’ve decided to even the scales up by doing a positive post about Brotherhood. That’s right, today, I’m giving you a list of the top ten things that Brotherhood did better than the original series!
Now, before we begin, I’d just like to clarify that this list is entirely based on my opinion. These are the things that *I* like more in Brotherhood than in the original series. Secondly, when I refer to the 2003 adaptation as “original, I *AM* ignoring the manga. And no, I’m not forgetting anything. If I left it off of the list, then I don’t think Brotherhood did it better. This includes the ending. Sue me. And finally, I’m going to apologize in advance for this, but in order to even have ten items, I had to cheat a little bit. The first few items… Well, I hate to say this, but they don’t really ‘count.’ With that being said, let’s get on with it!
10: Wider scope of story
So this first entry isn’t necessarily something that Brotherhood did better, but something they did differently from the first show, but just as good. While both stories begin in the same place, the first one focused primarily on the Elric Brothers, and everything else happening in the world around them was either backdrop, plot-related, or some sort of dark parallel of their own journey. Yes, there were quite a few of those. What Brotherhood did instead was weave a much wider tale, with the Elric Brothers’ quest being painted as what it realistically was… One single story going on in a tapestry of different stories.
I say it’s just as good because both approaches have their initial pros and cons, but both shows execute their paths with far more pros. In the original, with such a tight perspective on the brothers, you feel far closer to them by the end… They don’t feel like characters, but real people who’ve struggled, suffered and grown. In Brotherhood, by casting a wider net around Amestris and the things going on around the boys, you gain a much better understanding of the social, geographical and political aspects of the area, making it feel like a far more immersive environment. They’re both great perspectives, although depending on which one you take, you’re ultimately sacrificing what the other has to offer. To do it so drastically different but still turn out just as good, it deserves a mention on this list.
9: No Robo Archer.
Okay, this is a bit more of a cheat than the last one, but you know what? I am so glad Brotherhood didn’t go along with this ridiculous plot twist. The original series had it’s flaws, sure, but none of them were as embarrassing as when the pointless character of Frank Archer got nearly killed by the creation of a Philosopher’s Stone, he came back alive, well, and full of new robot parts.
I understand this wasn’t a part of the manga, so of course Brotherhood wouldn’t include it, but I still have to give them special credit for not including a rogue military agent with rotating gun arms and a cannon that pops out of his mouth. Oh, and also Psyren, that entirely pointless cat-burglar who never got mentioned again and was only there for cleavage. So good on ya, Brotherhood… You dodged those bullets.
8: Riza’s character
I’ll be honest, I don’t get Riza Hawkeye’s popularity. She was voted by Watchmojo as the #1 female TV anime character, which boggles my mind, because while I get the ‘cool girl with gun’ appeal, she’s not that interesting a character. She’s the secondary counterpart to a more important male character, and beyond the obvious pairing fantasies that could come from that, she could be replaced by a gunslinging genderless robot without anything really changing.
Well, the same kind of applies to Brotherhood, at least for the most part, but the new series did manage to give her more to work with. We get a much more explanatory glimpse at her backstory and why she’s so loyal to Roy, and we also saw way more emotion on her face throughout. When she was fighting Gluttony, I really believed she was in danger. Her relationship with Roy is also way more explored, the peak of which comes into play when she talks him down from killing Envy after he/she got downgraded into a slug. The reason this entry is low on the list is because, towards the end, she DID get dragged into that old “Shelving” cliché, where female characters get killed or injured for the sake of a male character’s development. That kinda sucked.
7: Casting Maxey Whitehead as Alphonse
Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me… I’m not saying Aaron Dismuke did a bad job. He did a phenomenal job, and having been cast when he was a kid, not only to mention being a great actor back then, he was the perfect choice for the job. Having grown, he’s only become… Well, hit-or-miss, but the point is, he was too old to return to the part, which left Funimation in a delicate position.
The reason I consider this casting better than the original casting isn’t because the actor was better, but because the expectations were even tighter. The first time around, they had to find a talented child actor. This time around, they had to find a talented actor WHO SOUNDED EXACTLY LIKE AARON. They had an actual precedent to follow this time around, because Aaron’s performance is now the iconic performance for the role, and they couldn’t just hire any talented actor off the street. In comes Maxey Whitehead, who’s not only managed to match the original voice, but was able to put on just as good of a performance. Finding Aaron was good luck… Finding Maxey was a miracle.
6: It’s very existence.
Okay, it’s another cheat… Kinda… But I really mean this one. It’s common knowledge that the original series diverged severely from the source material. Whether you believe it surpassed or fell short of the original manga… You know damned well which camp I’m in… You can’t deny just how little chance Brotherhood realistically had of existing. There was already a very successful series out in the world, and any sane mind would have bet that Bones wouldn’t bet their money on lightning striking twice.
There have been plenty of anime that diverged from their source material, but Brotherhood is the only anime that I’ve seen try again, and be just as successful and popular the second time around. Berserk tried to release a version that was closer to the source, but personally, I think those movies were awful, and they don’t include THAT much extra. Brotherhood is proof that an anime CAN be made twice, from two different perspectives, and still be a smash hit. That makes it pretty so damn impressive in my eyes. Now if only Bones would take the hint and remake Soul Eater, too…
5: World building
As I mentioned earlier, Brotherhood’s expansive environment was just as good as the original show in terms of story scope. but in terms of world building, that environment blows ‘03 out of the water. Even before I start talking about the outer areas, let’s just take a second to point out that in the first show, we were never even told the name of the land the story took place in(unless they did and I’m just forgetting something). Brotherhood took care of that, calling it Amestris. Not a hard thing to do, right? How hard is it to sneak the name of the freaking setting of a story into some point of the story?
And outside of Amestris, that’s where the magic happens. Well, not magic, but Alkahestry, a new form of alchemy that works under different principles. Just the idea that there’s another form of alchemy out there is mind blowing enough, but Brotherhood gave us a whole other country, based more on eastern aesthetics and culture to counter the more western design of Amestris. Granted, I didn’t entirely love the characters that came from this area… Mae was annoying, and the pair of Lin Yao and Lan Fan, while likeable, are basically just Mustang and Hawkeye under a different coat of paint, but the expansive world-building of this series was well worth it.
Generally, I find the homunculi from the first show to be way more interesting than the ones in Brotherhood. I know, big shock, right? I like the fact that they all have their own motives outside of just being henchman, and the fact that father didn’t create them gives them much more enriched backstories. The only homunculi that you can’t really compare with their direct counterparts are Pride and Wrath, because… well, because each one contains a fuhrer. If we compare the fuhrers to each other(‘03 wins just by virtue of not giving away the twist in episode 1), then you’d have to compare little kids Wrath and Pride. In this one match-up, and this one alone, Brotherhood wins in a landslide.
I didn’t hate Wrath in ‘03, but let’s be honest, he could be a little annoying. Pride in Brotherhood is a bad-ass mutha. Actor wise, if you’re going to get rid of Luci Christian, you’d better be replacing her with Brittany Karbowski… Which they did. Brotherhood turns the tables on the Fuhrer’s relationship with his son, who is now the REAL Pride, and is the one really calling the shots and telling Daddy what to do. He’s smart, he’s calculating, and when he needs to be, he’s a legitimate threat, thanks in no small part to Karbowski’s ability to sound scary as fuck when called upon. He loses some ground on this list due to his baffling transformation into a human baby, but even with that crap weighing him down, he’s still pretty damn awesome.
3: Olivier Mira Armstrong
Let’s just be honest here… When it comes to female representation, neither show has much to offer. The female characters aren’t bad… for the most part… But they fall short of useful in many ways, for reasons that aren’t entirely their fault. They perform their roles, helping or hindering from the sidelines, while more important male characters use them to push the story forward. While the strongest female character in ‘03 may have been Lust, she still failed to impress beyond her smart development and complex motivation, dying too son to make much of a difference.
She died even quicker in Brotherhood, but was replaced in the story by one of the most bad-ass, empowering female characters I’ve ever seen… Major Armstrong’s sister, Olivier Mira Armstrong. She’s not just a soldier or a cool character, she’s the leader of her own Fortress, full of much larger male soldiers who show nothing short of respect and loyalty to her. Her battle against the simple-minded Sloth is easily one of the most adrenaline-fueled fights in the entire franchise. Powerful, fearless, and yet still gentle and responsive to her subordinates, The Major’s true sister is not the pretty girl with freakish strength in the first show… She’s the General you don’t ever want to cross.
2: The openings
Yeah, I know, this one’s kind of obvious. But hey, that’s exactly why it’s so high up on the list… Because it’s so obvious! While I generally liked the openings from the original series, it was only really Ready Steady Go and Rewrite that stuck with me… Respectively, it was because one of them was cool as fuck, while the other one had a lot of energy in it. I found Melissa to be a bit on the generic side, and for some reason, I always hated Undo. Even my favorite of the four, Ready Steady Go, felt like more of an awesome earworm than a true theme.
I’m not the first person to make this observation, but it needs to be said as much as possible… The first series used openings that they knew would sound good and sell well. Brotherhood used songs that would sound great, sell well, and fit in PERFECTLY with the FMA universe. They got off to a wonderful start with Again by Yui, easily one of the most beautiful anime songs I’ve ever heard, and obviously sung from the perspective of Alphonse. They never got quite as good as Again, but every single opening that followed was at least better than the best opening that ‘03 had to offer. I haven’t seen the series in years, and yet I still get feels when I see and/or hear Hologram and Period. Seriously, the opening notes alone are enough to do it, and none of the original openings can claim that.
The closings… I’d say both shows are about even.
1: The Nina Tucker Reveal
I watched Brotherhood several years ago, and my memory of it isn’t exactly fresh, but my number one entry was pretty much guaranteed from that time forward. Now, I am specifically talking about the reveal itself… The execution was way more subtle in the ‘03 version, which lent far more weight to Shou Talker’s words after he’d been caught. you know, before Grande busted in and shat on the moment.
My main gripe with ‘03’s use of this scene was that in the manga, Ed’s discovery of what had happened to nina was supposed to be a pivotal moment in his development… It was his true loss of innocence. It was the moment that he threw out the idea that what had happened to him was divine punishment, and had to accept the idea that horrible things happen to even the most innocent among us. in ‘03, he suspected what Tucker had done before it happened, which makes no sense! He let it happen just to prove himself right? What the hell, hero?
In Brotherhood, the scene was left as it deserved to be left (minus the subtlety, of course). Ed had no idea what Tucker had done until Nina said the right thing, at which point we can see the look in his eyes change as the truth suddenly dawns on him. This scene hits much harder in Brotherhood than it does in ‘03, because not only was the reveal a surprise to the viewer, it was a surprise to the boys as well. As much as I like the fact that Tucker stuck around to become one of Ed’s dark parallels in the original, for my money, Brotherhood knocked this one right out of the park.