Fullmetal Alchemist: Differences between the 2003 Version & Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist is an iconic anime that has been recommended countless times over the past decade. If you are new to the anime scene, you may be wondering: “What’s all the fuss about? Is it really that good? Which version should I watch?” This is what I hope to decipher for you. I will try not say which one is “better”, but point out the key differences and leave the decision up to you.

FMA Chibi
The whole gang in chibi form. © Fullmetal Alchemist. BONES.

First thing is first: this is a great show for anime newbies. The franchise combines science fiction, action, drama, comedy, mystery and a hint of mushiness here and there – it is almost guaranteed to entertain, no matter who you are. The subject matter is incredibly interesting and this universe has been extremely well thought out – almost to Harry Potter standards.

Let’s look at each show section by section, shall we?

ANIMATION

2003 Version

For it’s time, the 2003 version had quite good animation. The artwork was the strongest part, and choice of colors. Backgrounds were nicely drawn, and action scenes were smooth. Its downfall would have to be the number of stills. There is a lot of ‘talking heads’, with little happening in terms of body language or in the background. The action scenes rarely have speed lines and short cuts, but they appeared once or twice. It varied a lot – from mediocre to excellent.

Brotherhood

Even 6 years later, anime can sometimes have hideous visuals. Let’s just be glad BONES only improves on its trade, and Brotherhood was the 2003 version with a visual make over. The artwork is just as strong, but with more focus on animating things in the background, making the action sequences flawlessly smooth, with lots of movement. The sense of simply ‘a bunch of talking heads’ is less obvious here. Colors are more vibrant, and at times more varied and richer. There is little to no drops in quality, and even when it does drop it doesn’t get to the ‘mediocre’ point.

SOUNDTRACK

2003 Version

Both Fullmetal Alchemist soundtracks are of high quality – movie quality orchestrated compositions, with a few key themes here and there. The 2003 version had a main theme “Bratja” which was played multiple times – a vocal version, violin and piano solo. It is considered one of the great anime themes. They even made an English version with Vic Migogna! It seems that this theme is still a highlight of the original, and Brotherhood didn’t come up with something as memorable as this, even if it came close!

Song wise, there is a variety of Jpop and Jrock, of male and female artists of different styles. It is a highlight of the anime, rarely will you see such diversity in the songs. It is really debatable which was the best opening and ending, because they are all so different! They are animated beautifully, though.

^ The first Fullmetal Alchemist ending sequence – one of the most unique of them stylistically.

Brotherhood

While the 2003’s soundtrack was good, I found myself liking the overall sound of the BGM here a lot more than the original, despite Bratja of course! The style is darker, with a greater variety of instruments.

In terms of songs Brotherhood also brings a great group of artists together, while the animation to go with the sequences is more impressive, it is hard to say who did better in this regard.

The English dub has the same cast of the original, which I am very happy with, even though Edward sounds way too old!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H21QsH6jPKw

^ The first Opening sequence to the new series, where the animation differences become apparent.

STORY

2003 Version

This version was made when the manga was half finished – so it went on a completely different tangent to the source material. No doubt the story was still complex, with twists and turns matched by few. Since I watched it on TV, the cliffhanger experience was intense – when each episode ended my sisters and I shouted “No!!” and were super excited to see the next one when it came out. There was little to no filler – every episode revealed something new – quite an amazing feat for a 50 episode series – it renewed my faith in ‘long’ anime. Many have noted the ending has a lot of holes and is generally confusing – however, the series remains solid. Episodes 4 and 5 of the anime made me cry afterwards! My own personal gripe with Brotherhood is the Nina arc didn’t make me cry, but perhaps its because I had already seen the original!

Brotherhood

Brotherhood is longer than the original – 64 episodes long, but was more reliable to the manga (2001-10). It was released when the manga was finishing – so in a way ‘Brotherhood’ could be seen as the ‘true’ Fullmetal Alchemist story. For that reason I believe it should be seen first. It does go in a very different direction and is unrecognizable after the first 8 or so episodes. Perhaps it was because I didn’t see it aired on TV that I didn’t feel the same cliffhanger experience – to me, while there is still a story, and it is entertaining, it didn’t grip me as much. It seems the general consensus is the Brotherhood ending is superior to that of the original though.

FMA

CHARACTERS

2003 Version

For 50 episodes, FMA has a chance to introduce a huge cast, and it does – and nearly every single one is given some backstory and detail. You remember all their names, and that is a great achievement. They are memorable and lovable – this is mostly the reason you can follow the show for so long, you learn to care about all the characters.

Brotherhood

Brotherhood is quite disorientating in terms of the characters, because a lot of them (especially the bad guys) have different roles – however, once you get used to the ‘changes’ they are still just as likable as ever. Some new faces make the scene – which is a nice extra.

FMA

THE VERDICT

I would recommend Brotherhood simply because it is the “original” in terms of source material. It makes more sense to see what Fullmetal Alchemist was intended to be first- and then after, if you like you can see the ‘spin off’, which is the 2003 version. However, those who have little patience may find it suits their schedule better to see the 2003 version first. Both are good, it’s just a matter of preferences. I have fond memories of the original, but I think part of which decides your favorite depends which one you see first!

Happy viewing!

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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32 Comments

  1. Mike G

    Watching the 2003 version on Netflix and I’m about five episodes in. Loving it so far! I was confused as to what Brotherhood was, so thanks for clearing it up.

  2. Questinno
    6

    Thank you Wynter for this, exactly what I was looking for. Saw the 2003 version back in the days and it remains one of my all time favorite animes. It kinda made me not want to watch Brotherhood as I was resistant to reboots of sorts. But I will give it a go now! Will comment once Ive watched the first few eps..

  3. Kai

    I had to admit, when I watched Brotherhood at that time, (think it was around 2009), I had completely forgot most of the older FMA series, but from what I can remember, as compared to when I was watching Brotherhood, I still like the latter more, especially characters-wise, Brotherood has quite a better character cast overall, new characters like Ling Yao kicks ass 😀

    • battledash

      gonna have to agree here, anyways it was a good article overall. Wynter is my writing heroine/idol. 😀

      • Jordan

        Aww X-x thanks – I didn’t think I was that good at writing! I agree with Kai though, Ling Yao is epic!!

  4. I actually saw Brotherhood first and I agree that it is the better one. The plot is riveting, the characters compelling, and the music is incredible.

  5. Mrs.Elric
    0

    The story just made much more sense & the elements tied together much better in FMA:B than in FMA. I watched FMA first but the storyline lacked for me, things didn’t add up completely or make much sense. The story seemed as if it was being written as they went. The character development was good in FMA for the beginning, but I feel like that’s why they didn’t need to go through all of it again in FMA: B & you still had enough background. You understood that Ed & Al were driven by their resolve to return each other’s parts. Some ppl say FMA: B lacked emotional attachment, but I beg to differ, I still felt the stings of their pain & it didn’t take tons of backstory to get it across. Ed was also more whiney in FMA & in FMA B you got to see him be a bit tougher or grow into being tougher & stronger even though he still had his moments. The story just tied together better in my opinion in FMA: B, but FMA had some good ideas, they just didn’t tie together well to me. Plus I feel like Hohenheims story was also much more interesting to me in FMA: B. Not to mention all of the characters good or bad were much more badass.

  6. I watched FMA 2003 first and I liked the story, but it got me real confused after the introduction of Research Lab 5. I didn’t quite get the whole existence of Dante and his/her relationship with Hohenheim. I still watched it through the last episode but my enthusiasm for it dropped considerably.

    Now Brotherhood is an entirely different matter. I enjoyed it immensely from start to finish. Every episode ends with something to be excited about for the next, and that pace was kept for the entire series. I was also able to follow the story of Brotherhood more easily than FMA 2003. In the end, everything was made clear and there were no loose ends. Needless to say, I find Brotherhood’s final episode completely satisfying. 🙂

  7. I still love the original but have to agree brotherhoods ending made more sense and felt more complete. I love the music and the deep story of both. However, for me I felt Brotherhood was more rushed and about the world where the original I felt was about the true love the brothers had for one another. Either way I love them both.

  8. ayami302

    I loved Brotherhood so much more because it kept me interested. I didn’t care about the other characters and their backstories. Sure, I wanted backstories on the main ones, the ones that actually mattered to the storyline, but when they introduced so many characters in the original series, it bored me to the point that I almost didn’t want to continue watching it. Brotherhood was definitely an improvement all across the board.

  9. Jill

    I think FMAB is better just cause it how Arakawa visualized the story. There were more fighting that felt like how it was supposed to be. FMAB is, shall we say, more “shounen”. I loved 2003 FMA, but I think a lot of it was sensationalized, very dramatic, the touch with sloth as their mom was super sad but I thought it was too much of stretch in terms of the storyline. Like because the story was foundationally tragic, the writers just found the saddest route they could go… even Scar being in love with Lust’s original… it got too sappy. I think FMAB delved more into philosophy, war, alchemy which was what FMA was about, imho.

  10. SANAFABICH
    2

    Holy shit… “For its time, the 2003 version…” … so much ignorance in that sentence. The best animation is found during the 80s-90s period, FMA being a rare and pleasant surprise. The author of this review talks as if animation has gotten better with time, which only shows his ignorance in the matter. The original FMA has more consistent animation overall. Brotherhood only has a few episodes wortb noting.

    • Jordan

      Hi there, I’m a female for one. Also, I think it depends how you are defining animation – it sounds like you are referring to the entire show in general? Could you expand on what you mean?

    • Jutor

      Just why? There is no reason to rage that hard at someone. Did you make an account just to insult her? Plus, you can’t make such sweeping generalizations like this. I am cringing so hard at this post.

      • manu
        2

        cringe all you want loser, her review was shit, without any decisive ending. wow great. “both are good” yea right keep sitting on the fence all your life losers i’ve seen brotherhood and it sucks when compared to the original. fucking boring but noones coming out and saying it

  11. Donna Rose Busa
    0

    Oh wow. Nicely explained. I was still in elementary when my bro lent me his series for the FMA 2003. I loved it. And then there was all the hype about Brotherhood and I got confused. Really nicely explained. (Love both anyway.)

  12. Tatijana

    I’ve liked all versions/seasons of this show. Good review.

  13. I think Brotherhood is better although it seems to show a little bit more about Mustang and the politics of Central a lot more than in FMA, but FMA is a little better than Brotherhood in length wise with explaining the story. Also forgot to add watched Brotherhood first! And i agreed with your point of view on it.

  14. so is it there are any different between in manga and the both anime? i still quite confuse in the stories timeline and plot

  15. william
    0

    i noticed a couple episodes in the beginning were a bit different but after that it seems like they are all the same so far. im half way threw brotherhood after watching the whole 2003 version.

  16. risingstar3110
    1

    The main difference, FMA Brotherhoods stuck in its shounen genre, where things are black and white. Good and evil. You know which side is bad and there is little empathy toward they enemy nor toward the death. It’s hence make the plot much easier to play out as simply a battle between our good guy vs the bad enemy.

    FMA 2003 however skirted toward the seinen genre, where everything were all grey in between. Every character story is a tragic in itself, where both alchemy and ultimately the seven sins were just the corruption of all good. But that’s why it make the two brothers so stood out, because the two were alone (and dependent on each other) in their struggle against everything else.

    2003 also have much superior soundtrack. But the OP and ED of both were quite even out.

    • LITIUP
      0

      I agree with you totally. I read the manga first before the FMA was aired, then I saw the FMA and the movie, finished the story with FMA:B at last, however, I’m still fond of the FMA where the relationship between Ed and Al was developed stronger. There was more “brotherhood” compare to FMA:B because one of the reasons is that there weren’t too many support characters around Ed and Al. Which brought the brothers relationship centrally and loyal.

      The relationship of Ed and Van was true to their personality and history in FMA. How can one easily accept a long gone father where you missed his love from the childhood, the misery of losing mom, and the suffering of the journey to pay off the karma? So Ed was kinda douchy towards his dad even in the first movie makes sense.

      On the other hand, the little bitter end without those cheesy love relationship of Ed and Winry was actually made pretty to the story, so to the pure brotherhood. Ending matched perfectly with the classical music and the “brothers” theme song. It might not be what everyone wants, but that made me the urge to see the movie as well. (Cliff hanger til the end)

      Yes, FMA:B might finished what it started with the plot and the Equalvilant Exchange thing and loyal to the manga, but I prefer “There’s no perfection in this world.” from the FMA, which makes everything you see from the world more beautiful and precious. Afterall human still looking for an answer of how the world is created, so I don’t mind if the plot wasn’t well explained in FMA. Just as I wouldn’t expect an anime has a perfect action packed, developed characters, soundtrack, and story every time, makes it less expectable.

      FMA:B might have a further explanation of the plot and has a happy ending, though it seems to be light weighted, as the sacrifice of Ed and Al for “making mistakes by bringing mom to life” was only losing the power of alchemy at the end. Regarding the brothers in both series all went through pain, loss of blood and sweat, but the lost in FMA appeared to be greater.

      These are what I like about FMA more.

  17. I am not much of an anime fan, but as a current pharmacy student, I’ve always had an interest in alchemy. The very real concept of making something potent out of almost nothing is fascinating. Alchemy in the show is of course very fantasy based, but the core concept is still there. Years ago I watched a handful of episodes of the original series as they aired on tv and found it interesting but a bit cartoonish and overly dramatic. This is why I preferred Brotherhood which I finished last year. Like some previous posts mentioned, Brotherhood focuses more on action elements and the overall story was very easy to follow with a clear and concise ending. I will be giving the entire original series another go soon to see how it stacks up.

  18. Hohohoheinheim
    0

    I agree with gpdc (above comments), I’m watch Brotherhood first than the 2003. In existence of alchemy that using logic, newbie should watch Brotherhood because it shows more logic. In 2003, there is Cornello who can alchemy weapon, and i think it was no logic (in equivalent exchange, even after that we know he can do that because of Philosopher Stone). But in brotherhood, they skip it to make it more logic, they make the first epispde with ice alchemy and other basic alchemy. And make the existence of homonculus more reaaonable. I enjoying logic in Brotherhood than 2003 series in many aspect.

  19. Dadadadada dadada dieeeaaaa da!
    1

    Hell with both. Read the manga xD Buy the manga box set, it’s awesome.

  20. 4859
    0

    Saw Brotherhood on Netflix and started thinking about FMA all over again, and lookie what I stumbled onto. Fun read, thanks.

    Here is my perspective: I saw FMA first, then I read the completed manga, and then I saw brotherhood. Brotherhood indeed is a near exact match on the manga in animated form. It is indeed true to the manga authors original vision, in that sense it would be the ‘true’ FMA story.

    That doesn’t even begin to touch on whether brotherhood is better than FMA, that’s not even an argument, its an observation, a statement, the argument hasn’t even begun, yet so many people are content to stop thinking there. The argument begins at, which is the better story, the one laid out in the manga, or the one FMA 03 came up with.

    Brotherhood, being made so many years later, and with the benefit of the manga and the FMA 03 being so successful has certain advantages the original just didn’t have.

    1. Better production values.

    The success of the original and the manga meant that the makers of brotherhood had a far easier time geting far more money for production than FMA 03, and it showed.

    2. Better technology

    Media creation technology was movingbat warp speeds in the early 2000’s, a year was an eternity, but 6…. This clearly showed as well…. Although using this technology was faster and far cheaper than FMA03’s hand painting, it did not always look better, particularly in some of that background and environment art during certain lighting conditions…. Although that may just be to me being overly sensitive due to having pretty extensive experience with the software used, and often being bothered by the same artifacts appearing in what I did.

    3. Returning cast.

    The vast majority of VA from the original FMA 03 dub came back to reprise their roles, this means that from the very first recording session, these actors were already familiar and comfortable with their roles, foregoing that awkward phase pretty much ALL shows go through where the actors learn to settle in to the characters.

    That being said, brotherhood also benefits from the halo effect… However, this isn’t a part of the list, because it in itself is not a real tangible thing. Brotherhood is a direct adaption of the manga, and thus triggers the halo effect. Anyone worth explaining this too is already googling halo effect, so…. Moving on. This particular halo effect has to do with the common observance of source material so often being soooooo much better than derivitives . The book is often vastly superior to the movie, the manga is often vastly better than the anime, etc. A great guideline to keep in mind, but letting that itself be the sole decision making process is indeed a logical fallacy and one that’s bound to mess up.

    Because the original FMA 03 story is one of those exceptions to the rule.

    I don’t think I have ever been so disappointed in reading a manga after an anime more than I was with FMA.

    I was expecting the manga to be a better written version of the anime, (well, this is at least true for brotherhood) smoothing out the rough spots and going more in depth on all the themes brought up in the anime. It did the polar opposite. At first it didn’t dawn on me, I was too excited by all the new characters and places FMA 03 didn’t have access too. But when it can!e time to go back around and see then consequences of your actions, to see how the world REALLY responded to our heroes efforts, and what effect that would have on them… The manga never tried. It just kept going, new characters new places zero introspection, turn and burn.

    The new characters were fun, but depthless, compared to FMA03, there was zero character development in the manga (and even less in brotherhood) some of the characters were super cool (like the ishvalan in the military, what want his name… Read the manga or watch the show!) The worst is they were oozing potential, but just never went anywhere beyond their gimmick. I call it The Chrono cross effect, where you go from having a small cast of well done and explored characters, to a huge cast of cardboard cutouts.

    Brotherhood/Manga ed: naive child who believed he could get everything he wanted if he tried really hard and nothing bad would ever happen to good people, nobody needs to die, I’ll protect them all! Very naruto/shon’en. Not that that’s a bad thing, its just one of the reasons FMA got so popular was because it lampshades all these anime tropes we were sick of at the time. This is how Al stays throughout thenseries, up to the happy ending.

    Ed FMA 03. Starts out the same as in the manga, but develops and changes his worldview throughout the series. Some of the ones that left an impression on me:

    1: Ed experiences his mortality. Barry the butcher is at large and kidnaps Winrey, Ed screws up and winds up Barry’s next victim, tied up, his automail disabled, the powerful alchemist is now just the child that he is, at the hands of violent brutal death. By the time Ed is rescued in the nick of time, he is severely traumatized.

    This pairs very well with the lessons in Izumi’s training. Things die and the world keeps moving on, even without him. However being taught a lesson, even out in the field, and experiencing the brutal reality first hand, are two very, very different things, which this Ed found out first hand, he carried that weight.

    2. Ed, the soldier/dog of the military, kills.

    Ed is in a life or death battle with greed, and ends it with a brutally lethal strike in the heat of the moment…. And takes it pretty hard. He wanted to stop greed, he had the means to stop him… Maybe up to that moment he thought he could pull it off without killing greed, perhaps he thought that faced with the possibility of death greed would become reasonable… Ed learned the hard lesson that day as well. You can’t save everyone. Some people can’t be reasoned with, and if they aren’t stopped, others will die. Ed understands, truly understands what it means to die, and what it means to kill. Brotherhood Ed is a child in comparison even at the end of the series.

    3. Your best, or even the best that could possibly be done in a given situation, isn’t going to be good enough every time. This is a lesson learned the hard way when we go back and see all the places that were ‘saved’. Something brotherhood skipped over. FMA 03 likely only did this because they ran out of material when they caught up to the manga, so they decided to explore the ramifications of what they had available to them. Turned out for the best.

    Then there are things like mustang being the one who killed Winrey’s parents because he was practically broken from learning how to survive the horrors of war. A far greater consequence than what he had to deal with in brotherhood.

    On top of that, the fundamentals are just better in 03 than in the manga.

    In FMA 03 Alchemy is bound by ‘equivalent exchange’ which turns out to be a take on the laws of conservation of energy…. You know energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but transferred (transmuted) to different forms. That energy they use comes from human souls from a paralell dimension (ours) The philosopher stone is a corruption of that process, actually killing people for their soul energy and storing it in a capacitor instead of letting it go back through to the other dimension to continue the cycle.

    Brotherhood Traditional alchemy also talks about equipment exchange, but comes from the earth power. Whoo. Amestris’s is different, since father is so alchemically powerful, Alchemest there actually just leech off his latent ambient energy. As such, as they have been so reliant on fathers easier to use power, they can’t even use actual alchemy, and father can cut them off at his whim. Kind of cool, but the fantasy take on real grounded science is just much better.

    Homunculi:
    FMA03 Tortured artificial sentient existence the result of an alchemist that has the immediate knowledge to do something, usually acquired at the behest of burning driving motivation (such as the death of a loved one), but not the knowledge or experience to know what it really means to do such a thing. (Or they would have never done it.)

    This results in two sets of complex characters, the homunculi, and the ones that made them. Character development is literally the driving force of the series.

    Manga/Brotherhood Homunculi

    Evil beings split off from an evil artificial dust ball, with a groovy grin. Turn into really cool monsters. Brotherhood has almost no character development, the vast majority of characters are exactly the same at the end, as they were when they were introduced. No lessons learned, bad guys gone and now everyone has a happy ending.

    On top of that, 03 has blatantly better scene composition, foreshadowing, and pacing, most notably with the characters who died, as they were given the time to be actual characters the viewer just expected to be a part of the series from then on, as opposed to being introduced and killed off in the same episode.

    Brotherhood also skimps out on the extremely important beginning, which establishes ssoooooo much, assuming people were already familiar with it… Which many who saw the show, were not.

    So, yeah, FMA is literally the only anime I have come across I feel is superior to its manga, and thus, superior to the anime that directly follows it.

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