Fullmetal Alchemist is often considered an essential viewing for any anime fan and a stepping-stone for many newcomers to the world of anime. It's received universal acclaim and if you were to ask any anime fan about Fullmetal Alchemist, chances are, he/she probably has some knowledge of this series.
*Review may contain minor spoilers, may hint at things, and will not be reviewed as an adaptation of the manga and how it compares, but as a standalone anime*
The basic basic synopsis of the story is about "The Fullmetal Alchemist" Edward Elric, and his brother, Alphonse Elric, and their quest of searching for the Philosopher's Stone in order to bring back what they've lost and fix a mistake made in the past.
From the synopsis that you might read on the back of a DVD cover or so, an anime about a quest and a siblings' search for a treasure sounds something light and fun, but in actuality, the story of Fullmetal is very dark. Right from the beginning, we're introduced to a gruesome nightmarish scene depicting what would be the major mistake Ed and Al make with Ed screaming in horror; it's almost as if the director wanted to point out "This isn't going to be some happy nakama anime about fighting, this is a dark anime about redemption, tragedy and the story of two brothers who will do whatever it takes to fix the mistake they've made." The story knows where its going and there's a good sense of direction, though the series does lose a bit of focus as it reaches its end, it still manages to finish strongly with what I think to be one of the most creative and nicely done anime-exclusive endings to an adaptation of an on-going manga. They could have just dumped it like Inuyasha, but they didn't, and actually formulated their own anime ending, which I think is commendable.
Art and Animation: 8/10
The character design is simplistic and kind of quirky, but decent. Character designs vary enough that you can clearly differentiate who is who and most of them have their own sense of individuality versus 'slap a different hairstyle on the same model' designs (ex. Gundam Seed). And having one of the main characters as a walking suit of armor is definitely a unique idea and the Homunculi are just great antagonists, design-wise.
The animation quality for the series is top-notch. The colors are vivid and characters are detailed with no shortcut taken in the animation and the fights are fluidly animated. Unless you pay extra attention, shortcomings in animation is something you won't find in this series.
The music fits so well in conveying the emotion and feelings of the characters and scenes, and invoking the atmosphere and sense of wonder in Fullmetal, its music is what ultimately captures the spirit of the show, and brings the world of Fullmetal to life. With pieces like "Brother" "Homunculus" and "Dante", Fullmetal easily has one of the best OST's I've heard in any anime series.
For such a large cast, Fullmetal manages to characterize most of the characters to a decent extent. But the most well-developed characters are without a doubt Edward and Alphonse, and their selfless brotherly relationship. What I see Ed as, is the Shounen archetype ( Loudmouthed, hot-headed, and proud), but done right, and with more depth than any of his counterparts. Despite his quirks, and his stereotypical Shounen characteristics (Acting arrogant? Check. Hot-blooded personality? Check. Childhood romantic interest? Check.), Ed has proven to be an extremely mature character, with the resolve to do whatever it takes to protect his brother.
Besides Ed and Al, Mustang also has a very well-written background to his character and shows that, in actuality, his arrogant personality is just a facade to cover-up for his doubt in what he did in his past.
Now the main quirk I have with the cast of Fullmetal is the lack of development for the antagonists. They're such a colorful cast of characters, and yet we know little or nothing about them. Yes, we have Scar, who's pretty well characterized, but what about Lust? Greed? And Gluttony? They may be artificial beings but they should have their own history and character right? The series only manages to touch on those characters and give us a small taste of the stories of the Homunculi.
Aside from that, overall, the "good" side of the cast is pretty well-developed while the Homunculi are developed to only the minimal extent. Which is passable considering this was an adaptation of the manga when it was still in its early stages. And while I do commend the anime team that worked on Fullmetal to cook up its own original villain, I find her to be extremely uninspired, incompetent, generic and just a poorly done villain in general.
Not much to say besides the fact that Fullmetal is very enjoyable, it's one of those series that keeps your eyes glued to the screen from the start and manages to keeps you entertained through the whole ride with its revelations and twists, and ends leaving you speechless.
Is Fullmetal Alchemist an essential viewing for every anime fan in the whole wide world? No. But is it a good stepping-stone for newcomers, or just a very enjoyable anime for anyone who wants a good equilibrium between great action and a well-written story? I say hell yes. For such a critically-acclaimed anime, it isn't anything that's overly groundbreaking nor does it escape the clutches of standard Shounen cliches. But for what it is, it's a bloody well done anime.
Too long didn't read version:
Story (A) : Well-crafted, intriguing, original and overall, very enjoyable and intelligent.
Art and Animation ( B+) : Good character designs, fantastic animation. Homunculi are interestingly designed.
Sound (A+) : Wonderful soundtrack, conveys the mood and scenery perfectly.
Character (B) : Military cast is developed nicely, Homunculi gets the short end of the stick and the main villain is disappointing.
Overall (A) : An enjoyable anime that has a colorful cast, fantastic story and great music. Would recommend.