Title: Fullmetal Alchemist aka Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
Format: 51 episodes
Dates: 4 Oct 2003 – 2 Oct 2004
Synopsis: After their mother has died from a sickness, the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric try to resurrect her using the magical art of alchemy. But the attempt fails, and Edward loses an arm and a leg while Alphonse’s entire body is lost and his soul is bound into a set of platemail armor. To regain their original bodies, the brothers set for a quest to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone which is said to allow even impossible alchemistic transmutations. Their search leads into an adventure of epic proportions…
Suspense: Hardly a dull moment.
Plot: Brilliant storyline.
Characters: Believable in their motivations.
Comedy: Awkward slapstick humor.
Logic: Some illogical plot details.
Long anime series often suffer from several flaws at once: due to the length of the production, the budget for each individual episode is limited, and the quality of art and animation decreases. The scriptwriters have to come up with “filler episodes” to artificially lengthen the plot, taking away the pacing of the series. Finally, with a fixed set of heroes and villains, the same people will fight one another again and again without a decisive victory for either side as that would end the series prematurely.
Fortunately, Fullmetal Alchemist is the one exception to that rule. Even at a hefty fifty-one episodes, it retains a high quality standard during its entire length. Not only do art and animation consistently fulfill modern standards, the pacing of the series is nigh-perfect. Except for one side story focusing on a few minor characters, there are no filler episodes whatsoever. Many episodes end on beautifully crafted cliffhangers, and the steady development of the plot will keep everybody excited and waiting for more.
The plot itself is also a masterpiece. From an initially highly personal goal, the adventures of the Elric brothers soon start to take a turn for the bigger, culminating in war, death and destruction on a large scale. Characters you’ve known and loved for twenty episodes will suddenly die, and no one will bring them back. There are many different factions fighting for control of the Philosopher’s Stone, and every single one brings a new aspect into the story. Surprisingly, despite the overall larger-than-life plot, all motivations behind the characters’ actions are very down-to-Earth, making them believable and even understandable. I’d even go so far to say that Fullmetal Alchemist has the most realistic set of characters of all contemporary anime.
It is beyond me why the creators of such a dark and serious series chose to spice it with lots of awkward and often inappropriate slapstick humor. Even in the most dramatic situations, characters will suddenly transform into their chibi forms for a short laugh, and all too many conflicts end like a Roadrunner cartoon. Were they trying to make the plot more attractive for kids? Another (albeit minor) flaw is a slight lack of logic in some details of the script – one episode features the outbreak of a dangerous disease, and in the end, we learn that the disease was intentionally created by a group of people. But there is no explanation for how these people would have the skill to create a new disease, and it even comes out that they shouldn’t have such skills at all. While these details are not that important to the main plot itself, it’s still unsatisfying to find them.
Even with these drawbacks, Fullmetal Alchemist is still one of the best anime series of the new millennium. An enthralling plot, believable characters you will care for and a perfect pacing are a guarantee for good entertainment from the exciting beginning to the powerful ending. If you haven’t seen this series so far, make it the next one you start watching.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Taleweaver