If I had remembered what watching this show is like, I would have returned to it a lot sooner.
The first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist had me feeling like I was a middleschooler again, fresh meat in the anime fandom and looking for more mature, complex shows than Saturday morning TV could provide. Now I remember why this episode blew my mind.
Fullmetal Alchemist (which I will call FMA 2003 from now on to avoid confusion) eases us into the series with the episode “To Challenge the Sun.” This episode does everything that a series’s first episode should do. It gives viewers a good first taste of the series that has everybody rushing back for seconds. And what is that taste exactly? A rich flavor of perfect pacing and character defining scenes that encourages you to sit back and savor what you are experiencing. (…Why the food allegories?)
I can’t go into everything this episode does. That would take all day. For now, let’s examine the reveal of the Elric brothers’ physical conditions and the visual style of FMA 2003.
A Great Reveal
“To Challenge the Sun” starts off with 11-year-old Edward and 10-year-old Alphonse performing alchemy in order to bring back their dead mother. Like 83 percent of all resurrection attempts, this backfires in the most gruesome way imaginable. Edward loses his leg and starts oozing blood all over the place, Alphonse basically disintegrates, and all their alchemy materials morph in a lovely pile of pulsating flesh and organs.
(No gory visuals for you. Have a cute kitten gif instead.)
Flashing forward four years presents us with the two brothers standing in the middle of a desert. For the select few who don’t know the anime’s premise, this creates a number of questions, especially after witnessing the graphic trauma that Ed and Al went through. How can these boys be walking around years later after one lost his leg and the other vanished faster than support for the Xbox One? And why the heck is Alphonse wearing a suit of armor now?
The intensity of these questions continues to build up throughout the episode, helped in no small part by Edward continuously dropping strong hints at another character that bringing back the dead isn’t exactly a good idea.
The answers are delivered near the end of the episode in the most shocking and satisfying ways imaginable. One of the priest’s goons shoots Alphonse in the head, but low and behold, Alphonse isn’t inside the armor, he is the armor. Likewise, when two chimeras bite and claw at Edward’s right arm and left leg, it’s revealed that those respective limbs are now automail prosthetics.
Granted, this is exactly what the first chapter of the manga did. However, I think that the anime presented it a bit better. In the manga, the opening scene was a little more vague. All the reader sees is a flash of alchemy and Edward crouched on the ground, screaming that his brother is gone while bleeding out of his mutilated leg. It’s hard to tell if this scene is a flashback or a flash foward because we can’t really tell how old Edward is. We can’t tell how long his hair is, and…well, everyone knows about Ed’s height problem.
The anime, on the other hand, makes it all too clear what happened, causing the afore-mentioned questions and suspense for FMA newcomers. The Studio Bones team did an excellent job with this setup, and all I can do is applaud and say “Well done.”
Judging By Appearances
And now for today’s PSA.
Judging solely by appearances is bad, kiddies. Never judge by appearance alone. That hobo down the street with the sunglasses and x-shaped scar on his face could be a model citizen, or he could be the guy who blew up your neighbor’s dog. Who knows? You certainly won’t, unless you go have a chat with him.
In all seriousness though, you can sometimes get a feel of an animated show’s mood by what it is like visually, and it is at this point that I’d like to compare the aesthetics of FMA 2003 and Brotherhood.
Brotherhood faithfully adapts Hiromu Arakawa’s work to a T visually, giving the characters a pretty stylized look and replicating more of her over-the-top visual humor. While FMA 2003 isn’t the most realistic anime aesthetically, it feels more real than its brother show. It’s hard to explain, but the characters’ movements look more natural. The color palatte is also a lot less vibrant than Brotherhood’s, making too many cartoony designs a no-go.
In other words, FMA 2003’s visual humor basically extends to this:
While Brotherhood’s can go as far as this:
Any depiction of blood and gore in FMA 2003 is also given a pretty graphic treatment, whereas any blood in Brotherhood basically looks like red paint. Again, no gross visuals for you because just looking at those scenes makes me squeamish.
…I can already tell this is going to be a problem.
Next time! “Bodies of the Sanctioned!” Introducing Rose and religion talks! Will I get it done next week despite vacationing in Colorado? Hope I type during the car ride to the hotel and stay tuned!
Bonus Stage: A Mini-Review of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood‘s “Fullmetal Alchemist”
This can’t go without saying: as far as first episodes go, FMA 2003’s “To Challenge the Sun” has Brotherhood’s “Fullmetal Alchemist” beat by a long shot. I don’t want to go into a full out rant, so here is a condensed version of what I don’t like about it.
“Fullmetal Alchemist” (the episode remember, not the series) is chock-full of rushed character introductions and brutally slaughtered pacing, giving the viewer a poor idea of what to expect from the rest of the series.
Edward’s automail limbs? Revealed in the first three minutes.
Alphonse’s lack of body? More or less stated in casual conversation, making Mr. Bad Guy Of The Day’s revelation near the end of the episode pointless.
Mustang and Co.? Conveniently in Central even though it makes no sense whatsoever.
It might have two or three good scenes, but the way everything is crammed together makes this a moot point. Overall, this episode is just a huge mess that fails to show just how great the rest of the series really is.
</brotherhoodepisoderant> (Some HTML humor there. Remember? I’m a web design student!)
Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood © Hiromu Arakawa, Studio Bones, and Funimation Entertainment
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