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04 March 2006 @ 02:56 am
The Top 10 Reasons Why the (First) FMA Anime Rocks  
Note: I am not putting this list up looking to start a battle. As such, I will not be responding to any comments made on this post, positive or negative.

Everyone agrees, more or less, that Fullmetal Alchemist is truly a masterful creation, a story universe that borders on a work of art. It began life as a manga series, went on to become an anime, then a movie, and even several games.

But although the universe, many of the characters, and much of the storyline is the same from one aspect of canon to another, there are also differences, sometimes significant, between them. The devil is in the details, they say, and the details vary from one version of Fullmetal Alchemist to another.

The manga and the anime are, as they always have been, two distinct entities, in completely different formats. Comparing details and trying to judge quality between them is like judging apples and oranges. It's ridiculous to say that an apple is bad because it doesn't taste enough like citrus, or that an orange is the wrong color because it's not red enough. I'm of the opinion that people don't take enough time to stop and appreciate the things, completely independent from Arakawa's original work, that make the Fullmetal Alchemist anime great.

And so, I present to you:

The Top Ten Reasons Why
the (First) Fullmetal Alchemist Anime

in and of itself


Please keep in mind that these aren't the top ten reasons why Fullmetal Alchemist, the story, rocks, although it does. These are the features which are unique to the anime, which make it, as an example of its media and format, magnificent.

1) the art. Concentrating on the characters and action taking place in the foreground, we often tend to forget what lies behind them. Indeed, good background art should fade into the background, and not intrude on the viewer's consciousness except to contribute to an overall impression. But the FMA anime works extremely hard to create beautiful art and scenery as its backdrops.
The usual cost-cutting animation techniques, of using blank colored backgrounds or long, still pans whenever possible rather than redrawing a full background, is almost unknown in FMA. The landscapes are gorgeous, rich with color and shading and full-shade rendering. The cities, if you stop and look at them, are minutely detailed to give as much background flavor as possible, as are the interior scenes. Keep in mind that while architecture and scenery designs and impressions may have been adapted from Arakawa's work, the pictures themselves were built from the ground up to provide a stunning backdrop to the series.

2) the animation. The number one difference between easy, cheap animation and more careful, conscientious animation is the frame rate, which determines how jerky or smooth the overall picture is. FMA's frame rate is extremely high, which gives a smooth, more realistic feeling to the movements and the actions as the animation progresses.
There is no stock footage in FMA; outside of the beginning and ending credits, every second of active animation time is fresh and new. Recaps, too, are kept to a minimum, with the episode relying on the memory of the audience and the coherence of the story itself rather than filling up dead time on the air by replaying scenes from past episodes. The excellent animation quality becomes more obvious the better the media in which one views it; and in comparison with too many other lower-budget (but still beloved) classic anime series the contrast is painfully sharp.

3) the voice acting. The voice acting is a dimension of the anime that is entirely separate from anything that might have come before it in the manga. Anime relies on its voices as its primary actors, to convey through tone and inflection everything that can't be shown even through the most realistic of animation.
The voice acting industry in Japan is larger, better funded, and more professionalized than its American counterpart, offering up a large pool of talented and experienced voice actors to give life to the roles, but the FMA voice performance was exceptional even by Japanese standards. From the velvet-lined, seduction-filled performance of Lust (Satou Yuuko) to the grim, concealed anguish and fury of Scar (Okiayu Ryoutarou) to the peppy, warmth and humor-filled voice of Hughes (Fujiwara Keiji) and the astonishingly versatile voice of the protagonist, Edward (Paku Romi,) the actors show exquisite handling of complex, multifaceted characters whose expression requires a full range of acting and emotive ability, each from the beginning to the ends of their individual journeys.
The most challenging role of all, that of Alphonse, whose forbidding and expressionless exterior conceals a kind and gentle heart, is handled with astonishing aplomb. The role of Al relies almost entirely on voice expression for the establishment and development of character, since facial expression and body language are restricted, but Rie Kugimiya portrays this lonely young boy in such a profound and touching performance that there can never be any doubt of the human being inside the golem's heart.

4) the soundtrack. Like the background imagery, the mark of a quality anime soundtrack is how well it fades into the background and does not distract or overwhelm from the action on-screen -- and yet also how well the pieces interest and entertain when listened to independently. The FMA soundtrack and music holds up both of those standards. The stately full-orchestra pieces, ideally suited to the atmosphere of the time and place of the series, go off with perfect timing in the anime itself to create and enhance powerful moods. Listened to on their own, the pieces range from the upbeat, to the stirring, to the haunting, with the star musical piece -- the Brothers theme -- taking its place as one of the most beautiful anime theme songs of all time.
The opening and ending themes, four of each in all, are equally well suited and well chosen. The mood and attitude of each opening theme mirrors the mood of the arc at each point, while the closing themes are often wistful and reflective. Several times during the series, at the end of key episodes, the closing theme is woven in with the episode itself to amplify the mood.

5) the choreography. A live-action film uses camera tricks and angles to set up a narrative and control the flow of the story. In anime, frame angles and lighting choices serve the same purpose, and they are masterfully rendered in the FMA choreography. Each frame captures a wealth of information, without being overly cluttered or overwhelming to the audience; and the simulation of camera motion to set mood and convey action is marvelous. Possibly one of the best examples of this is in an anime original scene, early in the series, where Edward confronts a serial killer. The choreography beautifully captures the killer's insanity, the very real and immediate danger he presents, and Edward's terror and desperation as he struggles to first escape, then overpower the killer. Hitchcock himself couldn't have done it better.
Not only the choreography of the 'camera,' but also the movement and fight coordination is magnificently handled. Another common cost-cutting technique in anime is to animate as little movement during a fight scene as possible, relying instead heavily on speed lines, panning backgrounds, and brightly colored flashes of light to carry the energy and violence. Fullmetal Alchemist takes the time and effort to plot out the movement and action of a fight scene, whether it is a friendly spar between the brothers, a suspenseful showdown with a serial killer, a battle with the physics-defying homunculi, a harshly delivered lesson from Izumi to her students, or a bloody grapple between Major Armstrong and the chimera. The supernatural effects of the fight, when some variant of alchemy is brought into the battle, is not allowed to replace or overshadow the action but instead is blended in to intensify the energy of the scene. One of the most memorable and breathtaking action sequences in the series, Edward's showdown with the homunculus Greed, keeps the audience breathless as Edward is forced to combine his three greatest strengths -- fighting ability, intelligence, and alchemy, to bring down the invulnerable.

6) the villains. The Fullmetal Alchemist anime storyline sees the rise and fall of some of the strongest and most engaging bad guys in an anime series, in the sense of being full human people, not merely plot devices to thwart the heroes. It's possible to be a good villain, in the sense of being convincing, frightening, and loathsome, without ever developing beyond a flat two-dimensional portrayal as evil, and some of the villains of Fullmetal Alchemist are of this variety. But there are also villains -- or rather antagonists -- who follow their own quest and their own journey, who grow and change even as the heroes do without at any time becoming less dangerous. The killer Scar, the homunculus Lust, among others, provide counterpoints of struggle and change throughout the series until even the heroes themselves no longer know for sure what is right and what is wrong.
Particularly in the anime, too, the bad guys carry powerful connections with the good guys that lead our heroes into quagmires of emotional and moral doubt. The ideas of sin and suffering, the absence of innocence, and the issues of guilt and blame are not merely symbolic or abstract in Fullmetal Alchemist; their are fully embodied, painful and real.

7) character design. Anime character designs, while taken from the character designs of the original manga characters, are necessarily adapted to the artistic style of the anime. Too often, this results in a host of characters drawn and rendered virtually identical, with only a change in costume or hairstyle to distinguish them. This is not the case with the FMA anime. While not as religiously realistic an art style as some anime features, such as Jin-Roh or Tokyo Godfathers, FMA nonetheless sticks to the worldly side of the anime spectrum, eschewing many of the stylized or exaggerated features of character design. Despite that, they manage to produce an ensemble cast of characters each with a distinctive, immediately distinguishable character profile.

8) character expression. Similar to the question of character design, an animated medium uses different methods of character expression than a manga will, driven as it is by the necessity of conveying a change of emotion and expression in a single snapshot rather than by motion over time. Particularly in Arakawa's FMA manga, expressions are usually displayed either as comic, totally over-the-top and exaggerated stylizations, or as serious, dark and angsty emotions displayed by almost grotesque expressions and changes in scene lighting.
The anime, not limited to a single frame in which to show powerful emotions, tones down a lot of the exaggeratedness of the manga art, taking a more subtle approach and relying on music and voice acting to carry more of the burden. Enough of the strong, clearly displayed visuals remain in the expressions and the body language of the characters to clearly communicate powerful, realistic emotions on the screen.

9) character growth and development. Manga is, comparatively, much cheaper to produce and publish than anime; for that reason, animes are usually self-contained stories, shorter than the manga versions which may continue on indefinitely. That shortened timespan, however, means that a story can be set up, brought to its denouement, and finished; and given a set period of time to work in, the growth and development of the characters can be much more clearly defined.
The main characters of Fullmetal Alchemist grow and develop in the confines of the storyline, following a journey not only external but internal as well. Edward and Alphonse face trials and obstacles in their path that cause them to doubt first their methods, then their motives, their own identities, and finally, the very structure of the world. Their experiences change them, reform them into people very different from the young and idealistic selves they set out in the world as, and yet at heart, fundamentally the same. The friends, enemies, and companions they meet along their way all contribute, in one way or another, to the journey, until they finally reach the end and overcome their trials -- and are overcome by them.

10) the plot. Some of the most highly disputed issues of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime are the changes that the anime plotline made to the plot of the manga. The transition from one media to another is never entirely smooth, and the FMA anime suffered the unfortunate fate of inheriting all of the manga's plot holes and inconsistencies while simultaneously creating its own. Changes to plot and story details, and the holes and problems that come out of these changes, are among the most frequently cited problems with the anime.
Yet despite that, the Fullmetal Alchemist anime creates a powerful and compelling story, with an intricate and complex plotline, whose strengths are not solely descended from the manga. Many of the changes were changes of focus, changes of priority, deliberately made to build an overall picture rich with themes that are all its own; they were deliberate and cohesive and succeeded -- despite embarrassing plot mishaps on the side -- on orchestrating a story that held together until the end.
One of the most powerful and positive changes made to the plot, in my personal opinion, was the rearrangement of the anime timeline so that the brothers met the Tucker family, Shou Tucker and his daughter Nina, much earlier in their quest. Instead of just another stop on an endless journey, the Tucker house was home to them; Nina was not just a friend but an adopted sister, and Tucker became a replacement parent, a trusted adult and figure of authority. Tucker's subsequent betrayal, and Nina's suffering and death, then becomes not only one in an endless series of upsetting but passable events, but a pivotal, life-defining tragedy equal in force to the death and horrifying resurrection of their mother. Although Tucker dies and is disposed of very quickly in the manga, in the anime he stays around, growing more and more gruesome in form to reflect his twisted spirit as he -- just as the brothers themselves-- seeks an escape from his self-caused torment.
Another of the most important changes made to the anime were changes in the cast of homunculi. Two of the homunculi have different identities in the anime, based on the second important change: a difference in the way that homunculi are made. That change deliberately worked to tie questions of the homunculi, the Philosopher's Stone, and human transmutation together in a horrifying, extremely intimate way. Many of the individual twists and events of the second half of the anime -- largely an independent story of its own -- worked to build on these themes of personal responsibility, intimacy, and free will.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: Yuukoku (Patriotism) - Full Metal Alchemist
Kyrareikah on March 4th, 2006 11:08 am (UTC)
*Pets the poor orange*
Mari: Mr. Brightside - prediliconskaitou_marina on March 4th, 2006 11:45 am (UTC)
Interestingly enough, Arakawa's favorite part of the anime was the changing of how homunculi are made. She said that she looked forward to how each individual would have to deal with the confrontation of the thing they created.
theydontloveyou on March 4th, 2006 04:11 pm (UTC)
and i totally agree with her. i thought it was actually really ingenious on how they made the switch. :)
Mehistoryblitz on March 4th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC)
I agree with the fight scenes. My absolute favorite fight scene is Ed vs Greed. I was so impressed with it. Especially after seeing other anime where images are just repeated. I noted that as well--the lack of stock footage. The fight scenes are shorter--but they're so much better that it makes up for it.

And I completely agree about the music and the voice acting. When I first started watching subbed anime--all the voices sound the same at first but now I've watched enough of it to grasp the good and bad and I loved all the voices. They fit perfectly. And wow on the comment for Al's voice! I hadn't even considered that but you're absolutely correct! And the music, of course, is exquisite.

The character growth and development was another. I always think of how Ed was at the beginning of the series and how he ended in the movie and I always stand a little stunned at how he's changed. At first I thought he was kind of obnoxious...but as he changed I began to like him more and more and now he's one of my favorites. Winry was another who just annoyed me at first but when she finishes she's ended up as a mature young woman.

And on character expression--yay. One of my favorite points is when Ed kills Greed...and when he realizes Green is dead...he starts screaming. It was a good, intense moment. Another when he discovers Nina has been pasted all over the walls of that alley--or when he sees Sloth for the first time and realizes how much she looks like his mother. The overall impressions of the characters are subtle sometimes--but they are wonderful. Like the relationship between Roy and Hawkeye. No one ever says anything. Neither of them ever act on the feeling there---but the audience knows it's there. The strange little moments they have are telling and well thought out. One of my favorites is when Roy takes off Fuery's glasses and puts them on Hawkeye and she just blows him off....but she doesn't remove the glasses which made me stop and go, "Aw! Hahaha!". Another is when Roy comes out from his meeting with the Furher and company and he's covered in sweat and he's smiling and Hawkeye doesn't say a word. She just gets out a handkerchief and wipes his face off. It was excellent. :]

So, kudos to you. I dig the list--and maybe it's because I saw the anime first. But I'm in the process of reading the manga and I've found that I really like both of them--which hasn't happened before...and usually when I read manga and watch an anime--I end up liking one over the other.
Number One Spoon: scar- xoherongale on March 4th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
Ya know, sometimes I wonder how the series would have worked if they'd used a flashier score: for instance, one composed by Yoko Kanno or Yuki Kajura. FMA has a few pieces that are really stand-out show stoppers, but the rest are exactly as you said... songs that support the storytelling, which blend in so well with the action on the screen that you don't always remember that they are separate music pieces that can be listened to on their own.

This brings me to a related question, one I've been pondering for a while... how come there are no fan-created scores? The technology is certainly there. My conclusion is that music created for an anime series by a fan would STILL be considered original works, and could be sold freely on the market, and would be copyrightable in its own right.

Anyway... Mikke, this was a wonderful essay! I really appreciate all the effort you put into it. And you mentioned Scar's voice actor! Scar's voice is certainly one of the underrated masterpieces of the series.
theydontloveyou on March 4th, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
lol. Whenever I heard a flashier score I usually end up listening to the music instead of what the characters are saying. I'm really glad they didn't do that, because without us being able to understand exactly how alchemy works, it's good to be able to hear people explain everything and not distract us who get uh.. distracted easily :)
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 10:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mikkeneko on March 4th, 2006 10:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Kat Davislostindeath on March 4th, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
Awwwww tell your icon that I like oranges best cause they're SUPER TASTY!
teenage wasteland: kanedauntangles on March 4th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
One thing I really liked about FMA was how it could keep me interested when there wasn't much physical action going on. The character and plot drama was enough and when they did have fight scenes they were exciting and not drawn out.
lord_pachi: ed_blocklord_pachi on March 4th, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
....but the English dub gets not love for the part of voice acting? D=

Other than that, I pretty much agree with all that you said.
Kyra: [Doctor Who] Trust mereikah on March 4th, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
While I am not speaking for Mikke, I can say from what I know of her that she does not watch the dub.
(no subject) - reikah on March 4th, 2006 07:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lord_pachi on March 4th, 2006 09:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Toby: Utena and Wakabat3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 04:08 pm (UTC)
You rule. That is all. :D
theydontloveyou on March 4th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
Okiayu Ryoutarou, the voice actor for scar, does the voice for Kuchiki Byakuya in Bleach, and I'm sad to say, that I really can't tell that much of a difference between the two character expressions through voice. Not to say that he isn't a good VA, it's just that I felt your argument was weak and could be stronger for scar. But I do love the others :).

Otherwise, this is a really strong essay and I really enjoyed reading it :) Thank you!
Kimkirarakim on March 4th, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
If you want to hear Okiayu Ryoutarou in a much different role from Scar he also plays Shigure in Fruits Basket.
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - idly on March 4th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mikkeneko on March 4th, 2006 10:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - theydontloveyou on March 5th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - herongale on March 5th, 2006 04:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - theydontloveyou on March 5th, 2006 05:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
__ame__ on March 4th, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
I think the anime's pace is a little annoying; they spend so much time saying the same thing over and over. Well, that's how I feel at least. And voice-actors does not apply to the dub, I'm hoping? O_O

I agree with you in everything else though. ESPECIALLY animation. As much as I love InuYasha, I must compare it with FMA. THe InuYasha anime style varies from this sort of "chubby" look and then this cheap not as pretty look. D:

And lastly, major icon ♥.
Раиса "パポコ"papoko on March 4th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)
And voice-actors does not apply to the dub, I'm hoping? O_O

I agree.

The voice acting for the dub really, really sucks. :]
(no subject) - glass_houses on March 4th, 2006 09:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lord_pachi on March 4th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - papoko on March 5th, 2006 08:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
Kimkirarakim on March 4th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC)
Well Done! I will admit I prefer the manga but that does not mean that I do not love the anime. I enjoyed the fact that instead of getting just one incredible story I got two. When I think about it the only thing I was really disappointed about the anime was the movie and I can even enjoy that since it was still FMA.

If the anime would have followed the manga exactly then eventually we would of had to endure filler and that would have just been dreadful.
Раиса "パポコ"papoko on March 4th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
Plus, if the anime had followed the manga, it would have been a huge spoiler for things that hadn't yet happened in the manga.
Acidic Angel: Ooooh Shiny!qara_isuke on March 4th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
Can I just say that I adore you for posting this?

Personally, the way the anime handled the key villains is one of the major selling points for me. Scar and the Sins manage to be sympathetic and understandable characters with very real emotion.....while remaining effective enemies for the Elric Brothers.
Toby: Slapt3h_toby_chan on March 4th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
You know, I'm in the middle of writing a full review of the FMA anime series, and you have already perfectly stated the positive points in the best way, and took the words out of my mouth.

Now I feel funny about finishing that review, for fear of slipping into plagiarism. =3=
Mabis: Roy4mabis on March 4th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
*pets you so much*

As an anime lover, I'm getting rather tired of people saying "OMG anime sucks!!!" because the plot is different.

The anime does have truly genius character development at times, which I personally think is the strongest point of the show.

(And the pretty. Yes, the anime can be very, very pretty at times.)
The Glass Sword: Going To Hellcon for this~sannask on March 5th, 2006 01:14 am (UTC)
this is going in memories. thank you for writing this out. it is... absolutely gorgeous.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - sannask on March 5th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 5th, 2006 03:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shediao on March 7th, 2006 08:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - t3h_toby_chan on March 7th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zrana on March 7th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)