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.