Welcome to our new weekly feature “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” where each Saturday one of our writers will post a piece talking about one of their favorite animated shows, be it one from their youth or one that they’ve recently begun watching.
As a decently dedicated fan of animated films and television shows, I’m always seeking out ones that I’ve never seen before and that pique my interest–hopefully our weekly picks will help do the same for you!
To kick things off I’ve gone ahead and chosen a biggie, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which, after finally finishing it in its entirety, I feel comfortable saying not only has one of the most uniformly satisfying ending of any series I’ve seen, it also may be one of my favorite shows I’ve ever watched period. It is wonderfully engaging on every level: its sublime action, touching character growth, and philosophical queries all add up to a show that’s one of the best of its kind.
No, I haven’t seen the original Fullmetal Alchemist, and considering how it stopped due to the manga, I’m not sure I want to. But I can’t deny that the want to revisit this world a bit more is tempting.
The show focuses on the Elric brothers, temperamental Ed and kind-hearted Al; the two are alchemists who performed the greatest sin of their craft, human transmutation, in an attempt to bring their mother back from death. Ed lost his arm and his leg, Al his entire body. Ed bonds Al’s soul to a suit of armor and the two spend their lives after the tragic events trying to reclaim the bodies they once had.
If it sounds like a convoluted start to a series, breathe easy, because it’s a slow burn of a series, and it expands rapidly from the exposition dumping in the first episode–which is still action-packed and a lot of fun. The meditative episodes are there, without a doubt, but done in equal measures.
There is just so much this show does well.
The villains, for one, who, along with their father–a fantastically twisted character–personify the seven deadly sins, and all of whom have the ability to garner sympathy. Greed and Envy are highlights, with Envy in particular being one of the more interesting characters in the show’s run. Greed, however, gets to share headspace with Ling, another fan favorite. What makes the villains so easy to watch isn’t just the fact that their agency has been stripped, making their villainous traits easier to understand. It’s also that they’re true threats, upping the stakes each time they battle it out with our leads.
It certainly helps that oftentimes our heroes are as morally complicated as the antagonists.
Take Scar, or Colonel Mustang–both striving to do what they believe is best for their respected nations, both who are corrupted along the way and look to right their wrongs. It’s a delicate line they walk between good, bad, and everything in between, and it makes them that much more compelling.
The animation is also top-notch, with moments of battle showing off some impressive choreography, and the greater “epic” moments showcasing the scope. The score is outlandishly overbearing, but charmingly so, and the voice talent, particularly Al and Colonel Mustang, are better than most dubs I’ve seen.
Have I mentioned the action? Or how sad the episodes can get? I dare you not to be scarred by one of the earlier episodes about a little girl, her overly scientific father, and their pet dog. Try to not to be excited during a fight between Envy and a scorned Doctor, or be emotional when Ed talks Winry off a vengeful ledge. The characters, the stakes that bind them and their relationships, are built so intricately over the five seasons.
Of course there are certain seasons that work best, with season two in top form due to the inclusion of new characters and an overarching plotline, but nothing touches the last act of the show. Season five races at full speed, with each villain getting a grand finale and an incredible look at how expansive the worldbuilding has become as all of our heroes rally for one last desperate battle cry.
Edward and Al Elric, however, are the heart of the show, and their two polar opposite personalities were an interesting way to take it because, fact is, most people are going to be annoyed by Edward’s consistent bad mood.
As a fellow perpetual hothead, I am not one of those people.
Al’s sweetness builds into his willingness to self-sacrifice and Ed’s anger lends itself naturally into being protective. They’re well-drawn characters and the right type of leads not only to build a show on, but also to build characters around.
The show has plenty of comedic moments, somber tones and wonderment. It’s a show I wish I hadn’t finished so soon, even if I purposely took over a year to prolong it. If anime isn’t your thing and you’re looking for a show to get a taste of it, this is worth your while.