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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
^ The first Opening sequence to the new series, where the animation differences become apparent.
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 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.
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 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.
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!
What do you think? Leave a comment.