A mere four years after the Conqueror of Shamballa movie concluded the storyline of the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, it seems a little early for another television adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's manga.
As is often the case with anime based on ongoing manga titles, the first Fullmetal Alchemist series caught up to its source material about halfway through. Then, instead of leaving things unresolved, or attempting to ride it out with filler arcs while waiting for Arakawa to produce more manga, the animators chose to come up with their own ending, dealing with the common dilemma as elegantly as any anime I've seen. Conqueror of Shamballa seemed to rule out any further stories along that continuity, so, when this new series was announced, the speculation was that it would be a reboot in the interest of producing a more faithful adaptation of the manga.
My problem with that approach, as someone who has read the manga, is that the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime was actually very faithful to the comic, up until it was forced to diverge about thirty episodes in. Six weeks into the new series, we do indeed have a reboot, but it will be many more overly familiar episodes before we'll know whether it's really more accurate to the manga, which is still running and again unlikely to conclude before the show runs out of episodes. In the meantime, as if in concession to the fans who may be justifiably impatient at witnessing these events for potentially the third time, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is progressing at an accelerated pace, cutting out all of the self-contained incidental stories, and barely compressing what remains. So far, they've managed to squeeze about eighteen episodes into just five, with mixed results.
Once again, it's the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two young brothers who used forbidden alchemy to try to resurrect their departed mother. They failed, and, in the process, Al lost his human body, while Ed gave up an arm and a leg. Now, as the brothers search for a way to restore their bodies, Ed must also loan his skills out to the military in exchange for resources to help them on their quest.
As much as I enjoyed it the first time around, it's all still a little too fresh in my memory for me to be watching essentially the exact same story again in weekly episodes. It's certainly not better the second time around. In fact, where it differs, I'm inclined to say that it's worse. The production values are no improvement. The melodramatic music is largely forgettable, in contrast to the fairly stirring score of the first series. While the animation, again handled by Bones, is mostly the same, there's a pasty softness to the characters that makes it feel just slightly cruder. And, so far, in excising many of the minor episodes and subplots from the manga, it's actually a less complete adaptation that feels more like a complement to what came before, rather than an effectively self-contained work like the first series.
The first episode, an anime-only filler story, has been the only new stuff. Pitting the Elric brothers and their friends in the military against a rogue alchemist of no importance, it's basically a hyperactive gag reel and a really lousy way to show off the entire cast of characters without actually telling the viewer anything about them. It almost seems to assume that viewers will be already familiar with the characters, yet it then proceeds to waste our time anyway with the next five episodes of practical reruns.
Hopefully, when the show finally gets to the old branch point, the new manga-based material will be worth it, but, personally, I wish they had just gone ahead and started in the middle of story, picking up from the point where the first series originally deviated. I realize that would have made for an awkward beginning, especially for new viewers unfamiliar with the first series or manga. Maybe they could have done a clip show of footage from the first series, ending with an explanation that the new stuff overwrites the second half. Really, I guess I wish they had waited a few more years before selling us the same story again. Still, there's not much else of interest on right now, so I'll stick with it for now and report back when or if it gets better.