Reviews of Yesteryear: Fullmetal Alchemist & Brotherhood Comparison

Anyone who’s familiar with anime has likely heard of Fullmetal Alchemist. The manga and the two anime based off of it have both become powerhouses in the industry both by themselves and with merchandise: plushies, video games, wall scrolls and so on. When I received a review request for Brotherhood I wasn’t sure how to distinguish what I have to say from what’s already been said. That’s when I was given a helpful suggestion from one of my lovely fans (I just assume that all my fans are lovely people.) A comparison review discussing the differences between FMA and Brotherhood and which is the stronger anime. It’s been quite a while since I got the request since I needed time to re-watch both anime, but let’s take a look at FMA, the original compared to Brotherhood.

The overall story starts out the same: two alchemist brothers attempt to bring their dead mother back to life and one loses an arm and leg the other loses his entire body. The two go on a journey to find the philosopher’s stone in the hopes of regaining their bodies. On the way they run into artificially created humans called homonculi who are planning something nasty for the entire country and the brothers have to find out what it is and how it can be stopped. The stories diverge at that point, but I can’t really go into too many details without giving spoilers. Which is better? Well, both have some intriguing ideas presented and both are well-paced with good action and character moments. That being said, Brotherhood is better overall. The story holds together a bit better and it doesn’t have the filler that weakens the original. In Brotherhood, everything is relevant. You couldn’t take out a few episodes and lose nothing. That being said, I’d like to take a moment to address the endings. Both anime have pretty weak endings. FMA because it’s rushed, Brotherhood because it’s cliche and kind of stupid. FMA actually has a more satisfying ending as a result. It may be rushed, but at least there was an obvious effort that went into it. Brotherhood’s ending is just lazy.

Let’s move on to the characters. This is a bit more difficult so I’m going to split it into four categories: protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters and military characters. Let’s start with the protagonists. Edward and Alphonse are pretty close to identical in both anime. They’re a bit jaded since they had to grow up too fast, but they’ve also got a naive idealism about them which creates an interesting dichotomy. Both anime put them in moral dilemmas that build their characters. Really, it’s difficult to say that one anime handles them better than the other, but if I had to choose I would say that the original handles them better. The main reason being the underground laboratory scene. I won’t go into too much detail but it’s a really powerful scene in the original that really pushes Ed into a serious dilemma and forces him to make a difficult choice. In Brotherhood, that choice doesn’t exist and the Brothers’ decision as a result seems much stronger in the original. Now, let’s talk about our antagonists. The Homonculi and their creator. There actually is a pretty substantial difference with them in the two anime. Three Homonculi are completely different, their leader is different and the way they’re created is different. Which one is better? It has to be Brotherhood in this case. FMA’s homonculi could’ve been much more interesting, but they never develop them and the logical conflicts that should arise from the way they’re created are never fully explored but rather, only briefly touched on. Their leader is also severely under-developed in FMA and comes off as more of a one-dimensional cartoon villain than an interesting character. Brotherhood does a much better job of fleshing the antagonists out as characters and making them interesting. Brotherhood also does a much better job of connecting the attributes that they’re named for to their characters. Now, let’s move on to supporting characters. Both anime have massive casts and both do a lot with them. Neither of them get the chance to fully develop their supporting casts but both manage to do quite a bit. Which one does better with them? I would have to say it’s the original. There are two reasons for that. The first is that Brotherhood has one really annoying character (May) that the original doesn’t. The second is that FMA does a bit more to develop the ones it has. Now for the military characters. The reason that this is its own category is simply that there are so many military characters in both anime and they take on various roles. Which one is better? That would be Brotherhood. Again, there are two major reasons. The first being that Brotherhood has some interesting characters that FMA lacks most notably the Briggs soldiers. The second is that Brotherhood does a much better job of showcasing the cleverness of these characters, especially Roy Mustang and his group. The original does a lot less with them and, as a result, they come off as much less interesting. So, which series does better with characters overall? I’d have to say Brotherhood. FMA does slightly better with the protagonists but Brotherhood does much better with the antagonists. FMA does more with the supporting characters, but Brotherhood does more with the military and they’re more important to the plot.

Now, let’s talk about the art. This is a difficult one since both anime have nearly identical art styles, and they both do look great. But there is one major difference and that’s the comedic effects. These are moments where the art style changes temporarily for comedic impact and Brotherhood does it a lot more than FMA. Honestly, I think that they work on occasion but that they detract from the flow of the series when they’re over-used. Brotherhood doesn’t just over-use them, it downright abuses them. As a consequence, the original really does have a stronger aesthetic sense.

Some of the actors are the same. Paku Romi, Kugimiya Rie, Utsumi Kenji, Shibata Hidekatsu and several others do really well in both anime. Even the actors who change give roughly equal performances. As a result I’m going to have to base the sound competition on the music. In this case, FMA is superior to Brotherhood. It might have one really stupid and annoying song (Ready Steady Go) but overall it has much more memorable and better done music. This isn’t to say that Brotherhood has bad music, it’s just pretty forgettable. There are one or two really good songs but they can’t really compare to Melissa, Shounen Yo Shinjiru Nakama Yo, or Hagane no Kokoro.

Let’s quickly look at the yuri factor. FMA has more les-yay than Brotherhood. The major reason being that FMA mostly avoids developing het romances, although it does give some hints at them, and concentrates on developing relationships between the characters some of which read as a bit homo-erotic. Particularly the dynamic between Sheska and Winry. Brotherhood has a few homo-erotic moments, but not to the same extent. I’m giving FMA a yuri factor of 3/10 and Brotherhood a yuri factor of 1.5/10.

So, when all is said and done, which anime is stronger? I’m going to have to say Brotherhood. They’re both great anime, but Brotherhood has the more cohesive story and superior characters. FMA has better art and music, but those aspects simply aren’t as important. My final ratings are an 8/10 for FMA and an 8.5/10 for Brotherhood. You couldn’t go wrong with watching either of them but if you’re only going to watch one, make it Brotherhood.

Reviews of yesteryear: Kore wa Zombie desu ka?

I’ve always suspected that sometimes people request anime reviews from me because they want to see how I’ll react to a particular really bad anime. That suspicion has been confirmed. Today’s review was requested specifically because “Ive seen Ktulu review some real crappy stuff (I think I saw Baka to Test somewhere), so I thought this would be ‘right up his alley’ reviewing-wise.” Yes, that is an actual quote right down to the lack of an apostrophe in “I’ve”. Is it really that bad? Let’s take a look and find out.

Kore wa zombie desu ka follows a magical girl zombie who lives with the necromancer who brought him back to life, a magical girl and a vampire ninja. It’s every bit as stupid as it sounds. There is an over-arching story but it’s really basic. An enemy shows up, the group has to fight him. You might think that, as stupid as the premise is, it has to get some good humour out of it. Nope. The humour is as weak and imbecilic as the story. Most of it is simply the same joke repeated. Ayumu is a zombie, watch as he gets abused. The series tries to mix comedy and seriousness but it fails at both and the mixing of the two just makes it more pronounced. The last episode is a pointless fan-service episode and the relationship developments are just grody.

The characters are the same one-dimensional cliches that pop up in pretty much every poorly written harem anime. The clingy jealous girl, the quiet but kind girl, the tsundere girl, and the girl who gets pulled into the situation through an absurd plot contrivance that makes her feel like she has no choice but to pursue the main character and, of course, the completely unremarkable and utterly boring protagonist who can’t make up his bloody mind. It doesn’t help that all of the characters are idiots. We’re told that Haruna is a genius, but she acts like a complete and utter twit so it’s as much of an informed characteristic as the great marksmanship skills of Imperial Stormtroopers.

The art is mediocre. It could be better if not for the strange art decisions at some points and the over-reliance on fan-service. Yeah, there’s a massive amount of fan-service. Since it’s a harem anime, this should come as no surprise.

The voice acting is pretty dull. The only actor who seems to be putting in any effort is Nomizu Iori, the rest of the main cast sound like they’re bored most of the time. And she exaggerates to an absurd degree. If I wasn’t familiar with the cast from other series I might suspect that they just made bad casting calls, but I’ve heard all of the main cast and most of the secondary cast in roles where they gave much better performances These aren’t incompetent actors, this is incompetent directing. The music is the best part of the series. It’s actually pretty good. It’s got a lot of energy and the performances are well done.

The yuri factor is a 3/10. Seraphim and Haruna have some moments, and there’s one moment with Haruna and Eu. But they never go anywhere and the series is quick to dismiss them.

My final rating for Kore wa zombie desu ka is a 1.5/10. It’s not one of the absolute worst anime I’ve seen, but it comes pretty close. The story and humour are rubbish and the characters are completely unsympathetic with no redeeming qualities. The only thing worthwhile is the music and you don’t have to watch the mind-numbingly stupid series to hear it.

K-on: The Movie: Light and Fluffy times in London

It’s been a while since I looked at the first series of Kyoto animation’s K-on. The final verdict for the series was that it was really good. Having a great sense of humour and being fun to watch. Someday, I’ll undoubtedly get around to reviewing the second series but, for the time being, let’s look at the film that came out in December of 2011.

Story:

The film is set near the end of the second series. Graduation is rapidly approaching for Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. The four of them decide to take a graduation trip to London, taking Azusa with them even though her graduation isn’t for another year simply because they enjoy her company and a trip without her wouldn’t feel right after all the time they’ve spent together. The film covers their trip to London complete with various misadventures as well as their graduation.

I only have one criticism of the film’s narrative, the graduation scenes do repeat information you already got in the series proper, except they don’t do it as well. I will give it credit for actually doing new animation for it instead of recycling the stuff from the series verbatim, but presumably the people watching the film are largely going to be fans of the series. As such it would have made more sense to keep the focus on the trip and dispense with the part we’ve already seen. That complaint aside, the film has all the charm and good humour that makes the series such a joy to watch. The narrative flows well with events progressing very naturally. The details of the creative process are woven very well into the story and it does lead to some good scenes even if the payoff is something we’ve already seen.

Characters:

The cast possesses all the charm and light-hearted fun that they had within the series. The interactions among them are great and a lot of fun to watch. Just don’t expect the film to alter the way you see them as characters. They still aren’t the most complex group of characters, but they are a lot of fun and more than adequate for a comedic slice of life story.

Art:

The art is really nicely done with well detailed backgrounds and a great attention to details. Really, my only minor complaint here is the lack of noses. Which, to be fair, is a valid stylistic choice for the medium, but it’s also kind of an inexplicable one. Are noses really that difficult to draw? I should also briefly talk about the concert scenes which are really spectacular in this with great energy imbued into the animation for them.

Sound:

The acting I well done with Sato Satomi, Hikasa Yoko, Toyosaki Aki, Kotobuki Minako and Taketatsu Ayana all giving strong performances. I also have to compliment the music, which is excellent.

Ho-yay Factor:

There are some homo-erotic scenes among the girls, although not as many as the main series. The two who get the most in this are Azusa and Yui. The ho-yay factor is going o be a 5/10 for a fair amount of les-yay.

Final Thoughts:

This movie is a great deal of fun and it has a lot of charm. There are some minor issues, but nothing that should affect your enjoyment too much. Unless you just don’t like slice of life stories in which case it’s certainly not a film for you. My final rating, however, is going to be a 9/10. Next week, it’s finally time, Dragonball.

Reviews of yesteryear: Spice & Wolf

Spice and Wolf was originally a series of light novels written by Hasekura Isuna. The original novel won him the silver prize, or third place, for the Dengeki novel prize. The novels ran for seventeen volumes and the series quickly got manga, anime and video game adaptations. The first anime was done by Imagin, the studio responsible for Strawberry Panic among others. Spice and Wolf is really popular, but popularity doesn’t equal good. Is it both? Let’s take a look at the anime and find out.

The main story begins with an ordinary merchant named Craft Lawrence. He’s going through a small village that’s holding a festival when he finds a naked woman with lupine ears and a tail napping in his cart. She identifies herself as Horo the wise wolf, about a half a dozen times, and claims to be the deity that the villagers used to worship. She’s grown weary of dealing with the people of the village and wants to return to the north. Lawrence agrees to take her. The series follows their journey as they go through several villages trying to make a profit. Let’s dive right into the issues. The biggest issue is that there are a lot of moments that just drag on and get boring. Particularly the moments where Lawrence exposits about the economy of their fantasy world. They could have easily lost two or three episodes worth of content by cutting these speeches and lost nothing of value to the narrative. Really, it reminds me of the overly long descriptions, lists and chapters about the Parisian sewer system, (Why would you even do that, Victor Hugo?) that Victorian era literature included. The main difference is that this is worse since it’s only thirteen episodes and the time could have easily been put to better use. The chemistry between Horo and Lawrence is really hit and miss. Some moments work others just come off as forced. That being said, there are some interesting ideas and I did really like what they did with the church in this. While there are some boring moments, there are also some really good, tense moments. Unfortunately, those moments tend to get resolved far too quickly and have no apparent impact beyond the immediate. That might be fixed in the second season, but it is an issue with this one.

Let’s move on to the characters. Most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional and under-developed. A lot of them even share the same vague motivation, making profit. Lawrence himself is a pretty stock character with very little personality or development. There is one great character. I loved the character of Horo. Horo gets some great dialogue, she’s very interesting and she shows a lot of great development as a character. Spice and Wolf might be worth watching just for Horo. That’s how awesome she is.

The art is really well done. I can certainly see the visual similarities to Strawberry Panic. The various villages are lively and the backgrounds are very well done. The only real issue I had with the art is that the action scenes are kind of boring. They tend to end very quickly with Horo just kind of barreling through everyone. I know that action scenes with wolves can work, I saw Wolf’s Rain, they just don’t in this. You probably expected me to complain about Horo being shown naked so frequently, but there actually are valid story and character reasons for it, and they refrain from using them for mindless fan-service, mostly. Which is surprisingly classy on their part, so I didn’t really have much of a problem with it.

The voice acting is a little bland, but that’s probably due largely to the character issues. Most of the characters just don’t have any good dialogue so it’s not surprising that the voice actors couldn’t give their best performances. The only exception is Koshimuzu Ami who gives a very strong performance as Horo. The music is weak, especially the Engrish closing theme. And it’s not Engrish in a hilarious way like Red Fraction.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There are all of three important female characters and they don’t interact that much with each other.

My final rating for Spice and Wolf is a 6/10. It’s a decent anime that could have been much better. While there are some good ideas, the writing is weakened by a lot of padding and stilted dialogue. Horo is the only character worth mentioning. Although she is a spectacular character, she can’t carry the entire anime by herself.

Reviews of yesteryear: Tsumiki no Ie

Tsumiki no Ie is a twelve minute long animated film. It’s an art piece about life and memories. The basic structure is that an old man is living in a town that’s slowly flooding. He builds an extra layer onto his house to stay above the waters, but he drops his pipe in the process. He gets a scuba suit and goes through the layers of his house, reflecting on his life.Even though his life’s events are familiar, they’re shown in a way that’s actually engaging and interesting.

The only real character in this is the old man. There are some people who appear in his memories and who he interacts with, but you get almost nothing about them except how they appeared to him, since there’s no dialogue. The film does do a really good job of giving the viewer insight into his thoughts and character just by showing you snippets of his life. In that way, the film is also a character study in addition to being a reflection on life and memory.

The art is more reminiscent of a children’s book than anything I’ve ever seen in an anime. And no, that isn’t an insult. It has a unique and vibrant look. There might be better artwork out there but it still looks really good.

As I mentioned earlier, there is no dialogue. As such, there’s no voice acting to judge. The music and sound effects are used very specifically to create and maintain the tone throughout the film.

The yuri factor is a 1/10, just in case you couldn’t figure that out from the character description.

My final rating for Tsumiki no ie is a 9/10. Given the length, they couldn’t have done much to improve it. It has more substance in its twelve minutes than a lot of anime manage with a full length series. Really, it’s easy to see why it’s won so many awards. Take twelve minutes and watch it

Angel Sanctuary: The Exiled Return

Angel Sanctuary was a manga written by Yuki Kaori from 1994 to 2000. At the tail end of its run, in 2000, it got an OVA from Hal Film Maker. The same studio that brought us Princess Tutu and… Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-Chan. The manga is dark and disturbing with a lot of screwed up events and circumstances. It’s also really good, provided you don’t mind media that takes liberties with Judeo-Christian mythos. So, does a three episode OVA manage to capture the spirit of the manga?

Story:

Our tale opens with our hero, Setsuna, fighting against a group of thugs. He’s winning handily, until his sister, Sara, interrupts the confrontation, angry at him for forgetting about their date. Turns out their parents divorced and they decided to meet up once a month to keep in touch. Don’t have a sigh of relief yet, it’s quickly revealed that Setsuna has more than a familial love for his sister. Yes, this series features incest. Although I will give it credit over everything else I’ve reviewed with that kind of content. There actually are good narrative reasons for it and the reactions they get are largely realistic. It’s also a screwed up element in a series that is deliberately full of screwed up elements. So it does kind of work for this story. After separating from his sister Setsuna encounters demons who tell him he’s the reincarnation of an angel, Alexiel, who followed in Lucifer’s footsteps, rebelling against God. He finds himself dealing with his feelings for Sara while both angels and demons try to reawaken Alexiel, which could very well bring an end to his life and identity as Setsuna.

Let’s begin by looking at the negative aspects of the series. The most obvious issue is that it doesn’t stand alone by any means. It’s like Battle Angel or Fire Emblem and serves more as a teaser for the manga rather than as a self-contained story. Which, to be fair, is kind of to be expected when you turn twenty volumes of manga into a three episode OVA. There are certainly other issues too. The pacing isn’t very good. The series throws major scenes at you one after the other with no time to take anything in and with very little explanation for any of the supernatural elements aside from “it’s magic, they don’t have to explain it.” As a result exactly how this world works is kept kind of vague. Again, to be fair to the OVA, these are all problems present to some extent at the beginning of the manga.

On the positive side, the premise is really solid. There are lots of good ideas and the setup leaves a lot of room to further delve into the world with lots of intrigue to build upon. Pacing issues aside, the events themselves also unfold very naturally with plenty of foreshadowing for important plot points. Which does give the narrative a pretty strong flow. It does provide a solid opening for a series.

Characters:

A lot of the characters in this series aren’t particularly likeable. They’re largely complex and even interesting, however. The problem with the OVA in particular is that the complexity for the characters is heavily limited since there’s a lot less time with them. As such you get traits that are far more basic for the secondary characters, who are largely the strongest characters in the manga. It does spend sufficient time with Setsuna, Sara, Rosiel and Sakuya to give you a good feel for their characters. The rest of the cast develop and become important at later points than the OVA reaches and they come across as quite flat and you would question why some of them are even there if you haven’t read the manga.

Art:

The art is really good. The action sequences are very well animated and the character designs look really nice. I especially like the way they draw wings. The art does get absolutely brutal at times and the violence can be disturbing. The backgrounds are well detailed.

Sound:

There are some very strong performances in this. Nojima Kenji, Psycho Pass’s Nobuchika, gives a great performance as Setsuna. You also get powerful performances from Miyamura Yuko and Koyasu Takehito. The biggest weaknesses are Kawasumi Ayako, who seems to be decidedly not trying, and Chiba Susumu who over-acts as though he’s been training with Brian Blessed. The music is just okay.

Ho-yay:

The ho-yay factor is a 3/10. There’s some stuff between Setsuna and Sakuya that seems suspect, but nothing big.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Sanctuary definitely has things to recommend it. It also has significant issues. By itself, it really doesn’t hold up. Really, I would only suggest it for fans of the manga. If the premise sounds interesting to you, I’d look at the manga first. As a supplement to the manga, it does work okay, providing a nice little look at the first story line. My rating for it is going to be a 5/10. Next week, K-on the movie.

Reviews of yesteryear: Rec

Rec is a romantic comedy about an aspiring voice actress. The manga was written by Hanamizawa Q-Tarou in 2002 and is still ongoing. In 2006 it got a nine episode anime adaptation. I’ve never read the manga, but how does a long running series translate into nine twelve minute episodes? Let’s take a look at Rec and find out.

The plot is very simple. A guy, Matsumaru, gets stood up for a movie date. As he’s about to throw the tickets away he’s approached by a girl, Aka, who tells him not to waste them. They go to the movies and then drinking together. After they part ways her apartment burns down and she doesn’t have any family or friends whatsoever so she ends up moving in with Matsumaru, how very convenient. Actually, convenient is the wrong word, contrived would be more accurate. The series is about her and Matsumaru living together and trying to keep their connection a secret for no adequately explained reason. It’s every bit as stupid as it sounds. Does the comedy work? No, there are no funny moments in Rec, not one. Just the contrived, poorly handled romance.

The characters don’t help matters. Aka and Matsumaru have no chemistry which makes the romance aspect just seem even more forced. They’re also complete morons, as are all of the minor characters. Which makes them just annoying to watch.

The art is the best part of the series. It’s pretty well done with some good details. There are some moments where the sound is out of sync with the characters’ mouths but that isn’t a major issue.

The voice acting isn’t bad. It’s not anything spectacular or with any stand out performances but it’s decent. The actors probably could’ve done better if they’d had decent dialogue. The music isn’t bad but it’s not good either. It’s pretty forgettable.

The yuri factor is a 1/10. There is no yuri in this.

My final rating for Rec is a 2/10. It’s a terrible anime. The decent art and average voice acting can’t make up for the terrible story, failed humour or moronic characters.