If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably aware that there are two separate versions of the anime ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’. The original manga version was first published in Square Enix’s magazine Shōnen Gangan between August 2001 and June 2010. The first version of the anime was broadcast from 2003 to 2004, and since the manga wasn’t completed at this time, the anime was free to develop it’s own plot separate from the source material. In 2009, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was premiered and this was designed to more closely follow the plot of the manga.
There are a lot of debates within the fandom about which adaption of the story is best and which version should new fans start with, so I’m going to outline the main advantages and disadvantages of each and hopefully come to some conclusion.
(Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead!)
The plot of Brotherhood makes a lot more sense and is a lot better thought out, which makes sense as it’s the plot which was created by the original author. The 2003 version got a bit weird and tried too hard to come up with an interesting ending for the story, taking far too many liberties with the science behind the universe. Dropping Edward in our world in the middle of World War Two was certainly original, but also pretty absurd and a lot of the rules of the Gate weren’t really established. Whereas Brotherhood made sure that the rules of equivalent exchange and how they were applied by the Gate would be fully understood.
Winner: Brotherhood. Hiromu Arakawa is a queen. Her plot is far superior and it’s clear why people felt they needed to make a new series to follow what she wrote.
2. Character Development
The first episode of Brotherhood got a lot of bad reviews saying that repeating events lead to a lack of suspense and because of this, a lot of key events in Brotherhood were glossed over because they assumed that their audience had already watched the 2003 version. For example, in Brotherhood Maes Hughes pops up briefly three or four times before he dies, whereas in 2003 the audience is given time to see his relationships with all of the other characters before his death and his character is developed in a lot more depth. This means that his death is a lot more hard-hitting in the 2003 version, because they’ve allowed the audience to become attached to him, whereas in Brotherhood, it’s just assumed that you already know who he is and how important he is to the other characters. Therefore, anyone who has only watched Brotherhood won’t find Hughes’ death nearly as traumatic as the 2003 viewers would.
Winner: 2003. I will never get over Hughes’ death.
3. Unique characters.
I will always love the 2003 version of Wrath. He was adorable and you really felt for him and sympathised with him regardless of what he did. But I have to give this one to Brotherhood. If you missed out on Ling and his guards, then you really need to give Brotherhood a watch.
Plus, 2003 missed out the Armstrong sister Olivier, a high ranking military officer with a great deal of power who isn’t once sexualised (a rarity for any form of media).
4. Character Design
Brother definitely has an advantage with the character designs. For one thing, Edward actually grows up and it has a much more realistic grasp of time and aging.
There’s also the way that the two animes deal with the restored version of Alphonse. In the 2003 version, his body hasn’t aged since he performed the human transmutation, and he dresses like a miniature version of Ed.
Whereas in Brotherhood, there’s a much more realistic depiction of what happened when Al’s body was left at the gate, and he initially appears incredibly malnourished, which better ties into the theory that Edward eats and sleeps so much because he’s providing the nutrients for both of them.
Winner: Brotherhood. A far more realistic depiction of how the characters would look.
5. Hohenheim’s Back story
Both plots heavily rely on the reason behind Ed and Al’s father Hohenheim abandoning them while they were young.
In the first anime, Hohenheim used the Philosopher’s Stone for hundreds of years to switch from body to body in order to prolong his life with his lover Dante. After meeting Trisha, Hohenheim decides to stay in his current body but as his body started deteriorating, he realizes that he can’t lead a normal life and has to leave his family.
Whereas in Brotherhood, Hohenheim is originally a slave from Xerxes, known as “Slave Number 23”. Hohenheim was used for an experiment by his master who his blood to create a Homunculus. The Homunculus helps Hohenheim to raise his status and teaches the King of Xerxes how to achieve immortality. The attempt backfires on the king, and the immortality goes to Hohenheim and the Homunculus (now known as ‘Father’), sacrificing the citizens of Xerxes in the process. Hohenheim is possessed by half of the citizens of Xerxes and after discovering that Father plans to sacrifice Amestris, Hohenheim leaves his family to travel around the country to leave shards from his Philosopher’s Stone in strategic places around the city.
The 2003 version is certainly more sympathetic, he physically couldn’t stay with his family without his skin rotting off so him leaving is pretty justified. But Brotherhoods version better ties into the plot, and is a better depiction of the emotional struggle that Hohenheim goes through and his intense survivors guilt.
Winner: Brotherhood. Sorry Dante.
6. The Homunculi
In the 2003 anime, the homunculi are presented as being the results of failed attempts at human transmutation. This allows for more human characterization, especially with Lust being bombard with flashbacks of her past life. It also presents a very obvious weapon for dealing with the homunculi, as they’re vulnerable to their own human remains. It also means that the Elrics mother Trisha became a homunculus since she was also the product of a failed transmutation. This plot development doesn’t really make sense. Trisha is designed the sin of Sloth, and given the powers of water, which doesn’t match her sin.
Whereas in Brotherhood, the homunculi are the manifestations of Father’s sinful aspects, which he removes from himself. This better explains why the homunculi are named after the seven deadly sins, and the designs of the characters better match their aspects. For example, instead of having the power of water, Sloth is a towering creature, bulging with muscle mass, who has absolutely no desire to do any work, but is forced to against his will. This is far better suited to the characterization of the sin, and just makes more sense. We also get the same human/homunculi moral dilemna, as Ling freely chooses to become the homunculi Greed, and constantly switches between the two personalities.
As far as I’m concerned, the best part of the original openings was the repetition. You could always reply on Alphonses’;
“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only, truth.”
And for that quote alone, I’m giving a point to 2003.
2003 ended with it’s sequel film Conqueror of Shamballa, which kind of ended on a cliff-hanger. The film ends with Edward and Alphonse trapped in Germany, trying to figure out how they’re going to demolish a portal to their own world without the use of alchemy. It basically ends with the pair never seeing their friends again. Which is pretty depressing and doesn’t actually feel like an actual ending.
Brotherhood kind of has the same feel. The brothers are going to go their separate ways to travel and amalgamate the worlds knowledge about alchemy. This also feels like it deserved a sequel, however it was far better at tying up loose ends, and giving the characters their happy endings, something sorely missing in the 2003 version.
Winner: Brotherhood. “A heart made fullmetal.”
Each of the series has an accompanying film. For the 2003 version, we have the sequel ‘Conqueror of Shamballa’, in which Edward attempts to get home after finding himself in Germany. Whereas after Brotherhood, we got the mid-quel ‘The Sacred Star of Milos’.
The 2003 movie wins hands down. As odd as the premise was, it was well executed and built up to an impressive climax. Whereas Star of Milos was by far the worst thing produced by the company. The animation is crude in comparison to Brotherhood, and the plot doesn’t really fit into the overarching storyline.
Final score: 2003-3. Brotherhood- 6.
So Brotherhood wins!
Now, this is all just my opinion, so feel free to argue with me in the comments. Let me know if you think I’m right, or if you think that I’m missing some of the advantages that the 2003 version had. I’d love to hear from you guys.