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. ยฉ 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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28 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
    3

    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 ๐Ÿ˜€

    • battledash

      gonna have to agree here, anyways it was a good article overall. Wynter is my writing heroine/idol. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  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
    1

    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.

  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
    0

    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.

  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.

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