Should You Watch Fullmetal Alchemist Or Brotherhood First?

Alchemist Merch

Fullmetal Alchemist was easily one of the most popular shonen anime of the early 2000s, with many associating it as the foremost example of steampunk anime. This popularity also allowed it to get an early jump on a recent trend. Beginnings with the remake of Fruits Basket, several franchises have received new anime adaptations that more accurately adapt their manga source material. Such was the case with Fullmetal Alchemist, with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood being the more accurate of the two anime shows.

Given its nature as a better take on the manga, many fans debate which anime series to watch, and in what order. After all, both are roughly the same length and follow somewhat similar storylines, making it potentially repetitive to watch them both.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist manga from Hiromu Arakawa began in 2001, with the series not concluding until nearly a decade later in 2010. Despite this, the first anime series began in 2003, which created a bit of an issue in terms of adapting the source material. Most anime – namely shonen – run into this problem where the anime quickly catches up in production with the manga’s story. The usual solution to such an issue is the controversial implementation of filler episodes.

 These pad the series out with side stories that aren’t based on anything in the manga, with the idea being to work on these anime-exclusive episodes in order for the manga creator to write more material to adapt. Of course, a lot of this filler is of notably questionable quality, usually adding little to the purpose of the episodes. Thankfully, Fullmetal Alchemist didn’t really have to contend with this issue, though it did have another one.

Arakawa was involved in the anime’s production, but she was also fine in allowing anime studio Bones to work independently and diverge from the anime when necessary. This fate became inevitable given the fact that the show only ran for 51 episodes throughout 2003 and 2004. Since the mangaka didn’t want the anime and the ongoing manga to have the same ending (as it would make her beholden to the material of others), she instructed Bones to instead take the story in another direction for an exclusive ending.

 The Fullmetal Alchemist manga would continue running for over 5 years afterward, and this created the desire to more accurately adapt the entirety of this source material.

Whereas the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime diverged from the manga by its middle section, the second series – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – was meant to more faithfully handle the original comics. Running for 64 episodes and receiving 4 OVA specials. Brotherhood was a far better adaptation of the story, namely due to said story having more material to adapt. Its last episode also aired when the final chapter of the manga was released, and it makes for an altogether far different series.

For instance, the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime focused a bit more on certain side characters and villains, whereas Brotherhood only featured them whenever they were relevant to the plot. Conversely, there are other characters from the manga that don’t show up at all in the first anime, though their presence is restored in the second series. Classic FMA would also add to the story a bit by featuring characters from the light novel spinoffs, making even its earlier episodes fairly different from the manga. Various themes, symbols and morals would even be handled differently in each anime. This manifests mainly in the melodramatic nature of the first series, which sometimes wallows in the harshness of reality.

Homunculi act as the main antagonists in both versions of the anime, though there are still notable divergences. Compared to the manga, the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime redefined Homunculus, which characters became them, the aims of the Homunculi, and who created them. Of course, with all these differences in the story, it’s no surprise that Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood had far different conclusions. Brotherhood faithfully recreates the manga’s ending and wraps up everything by its final episode.

To this end, the later spinoff movie Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos isn’t even considered canon. On the other hand, the ending for the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime was somewhat poorly-received, leading to its movie spinoff – Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa – being the true conclusion. With all these major changes in between the two, it’s no wonder some anime fans are confused as to where to start with the series.

As many fans of the franchise have noted, it’s best to watch Fullmetall Alchemist and its movie continuation before reading the manga or watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Beyond the older animation and somewhat slower storytelling, it simply isn’t considered quite as good as the remake, albeit still being highly-regarded in its own right. Likewise, the many changes made to the story and the divergent paths that it takes are actually easier to appreciate if they’re watched first instead of watching the “real deal” in Brotherhood first.

Also, because it expands upon the beginning of the story a bit more, it gives more insight into the series’ world and alchemy itself. For this reason, Brotherhood notably hastened the pace in its earlier episodes to zoom past the material that the first anime already adapted. This is arguably similar to what was done in the 2021 Shaman King series, though to a much more successful degree.

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