FMA Brotherhood is an anime that needs no introduction. In the following paragraphs, I will be reviewing this legendary series and discussing whether or not it truly deserves this title.
SPOILERS for both Brotherhood and 2003 FMA!!!!
The plot takes place in the country of Armestris, which is basically like an alternate WW2 Germany. It is constantly at war for reasons that are less than just and is ruled by a rather nefarious government. What makes this world special is that alchemy is the primary science instead of the much less fun and flashy science of our own reality. Alchemy allows practitioners to transmute material into other useful material, and basically do all kinds of awesome stuff! Our heroes are the Elric brothers, who wish to find the legendary Philosopher's Stone and gain back their original bodies that they lost in a forbidden alchemy ritual gone horribly wrong. In order to search for the stone, they join the military. Unfortunately this means they have to serve under a rather evil government and face strong moral dilemmas. The Elric brothers don't wish to take part in the government's genocidal campaigns, but they need the military in order to accomplish their own personal goals. Of course, things are a bit more complicated by the fact that many in the military are actually good people and are either unaware of just how bad the government is, or feel remorse for their crimes and wish to change the government. This is refreshing for a shonen series in which "good and evil" is too often clear cut. We have all seen Hollywood movies where the German Army is filled with nothing but pure evil monsters with zero humanity. As a side note, eventually Hollywood got MUCH better with treating the Germans this way... thanks to us ethnic Germans making up 40% of the US population, but Hollywood STILL treats the Russians and certain other groups this way!
Eventually, the Elric brothers uncover the frightening truth that the real leader behind the government is an ancient evil being called "Father" who uses his homunculus minions to due his bidding and wishes for ultimate knowledge and power! The Elric brothers also make many allies on their adventures including Scar, the Xingese, and Hohenheim, who all contribute in the fight against Father. The plot ultimately concludes with a very happy ending, which pleased fans far more than the bittersweet ending of the 2003 anime. It should also be noted that unlike the plot of the 2003 anime, FMA Brotherhood mostly stays faithful the Hiromu Arakawa's original manga.
Differences between 2003 FMA and Brotherhood:
Although there are many differences in the plot which I will get to, the most immediately obvious difference is in the tone of the series' narrative. The 2003 FMA has a VERY dark and somber tone throughout the series, which makes it really stand out as the oddball of the shonen world. FMA Brotherhood has tragic moments, but they are balanced out with zany comedy, more happy endings, and less emotional suffering in general. The tone in Brotherhood actually feels like you are watching a shonen anime like Naruto or One Piece. You know going in that there will be sad parts, but all will turn out well in the end. FMA 2003 feels closer to watching Berserk than it does to watching Naruto or One Piece! Whether a viewer prefers lighthearted shonen or brooding seinen is a matter of taste, but let us take a look at the subject matter being dealt with in this series. In both the 2003 FMA and Brotherhood, this is a series about German soldiers serving a genocidal regime and ultimately having to rebel against the government and try atone for their crimes. Does that sound like something that should be a fun, zany comedy? "It is almost certain that we will fail. But how will future history judge the German people if not even a handful of men had the courage to put an end to that criminal?" - Henning Von Tresckow. I can ASSURE you he didn't tell a stupid joke 20 seconds afterwards so that his listeners wouldn't feel sad about the deaths of 17 million civilians murdered by the Nazis as "untermenschen". Was the movie Das Boot a fun comedy? NO! Have you ever wondered why that is? The reason is that making a movie or series about German soldiers reflecting on mass genocide into a delightful romp is fucking stupid as hell! To think that people on MAL accuse Elfen Lied of having bad tone whiplash. FMA Brotherhood thematically achieves a mood whiplash other anime can only dream of.
Now we get to characters and plot differences. Firstly, lets talk about everyone's favorite FMA character, Roy Mustang. In FMA 2003, Roy is the one who murdered Winry's parents instead of Scar. Roy is also MUCH more affected by his guilt for having murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the name of an evil government. In 2003 FMA, Roy actually tries to kill himself in a state of deep depression, but Hughes stops him and instead inspires him to live, so that one day he can overthrow and lead the government. Roy actually manages to kill Fuhrer Bradley and do what he had dreamed of for so long. However, he is too overwhelmed by the emotional stress to simply stay in the military and take a role of leadership like he does in Brotherhood. Roy retires to a simple life with Hawkeye instead and only uses his alchemy again in the movie Conquerors of Shamballa to save the people of Central. Roy is a MUCH more empathetic and truly human character in the original 2003 series. He is actually, truly effected by guilt and stress the way a real person that isn't a total sociopath would be. He doesn't just feel kind of bad for about 5 minutes, then move on. "I killed those people under orders, I don't have to REALLY feel too bad about it." If the point is to make Roy a true military hero that reveals the full horrors of war and shows how even good men will commit evil deeds under orders, then the 2003 anime accomplishes this a LOT better than Brotherhood did!
Now let's look at the Arab anti-hero Scar. In both series, Scar is a survivor of the Ishvalan genocide who is consumed with the desire for vengeance against the State Alchemists that slaughtered his people. In both series, Scar has an elder brother who violated Scar's Ishvalan religion and practiced alchemy, ultimately saving his life and giving him his special arm. However, in the 2003 anime we learn that Scar's brother violated a FAR more sacred law and tried to resurrect his dead lover with alchemy. This was of course a miserable failure that drove his brother mad with grief and furthered Scar's hatred of alchemy. This works better in terms of narrative, because it gives Scar even more reason to hate alchemy as violently as he does and view it as "false". It also better explains why Scar sympathized with Edward Elric, because he could tell he had lost his limbs in a human transmutation and was reminded of his own brother. In terms of objective "writing 101" and constructing a narrative, this extra back story from the 2003 anime was brilliant and felt far more complete than Brotherhood. Scar's end is also WAY better in the original 2003 anime. In Brotherhood, Scar fights his ultimate battle against Wrath, who was only the 3rd strongest homunculi, not the real mastermind behind the Ishvalan genocide, and had no real connection to Scar since they had never met. In the 2003 series, Scar fights his ultimate battle against the pure evil State Alchemist Zolf Kimblee, who murdered his brother and gave him his namesake scar. Which of these makes sense in terms of basic storytelling? Having a character's big fight be against a personal opponent where the struggle actually MEANS something, or have the fight be against a barely connected random character? It is sad that Scar has to die in the 2003 series, but his death is a heroic one and ultimately a much better written conclusion to his story. In Brotherhood, Scar somehow survives in order for a happier ending and we get a quick cameo of him working to rebuild Ishval. Scar is a flawed anti-hero consumed with a desire for revenge. In the original series, his tragic and heroic death makes the audience care a LOT more about him than Brotherhood does. Would it have been good storytelling in Lord of the Rings if Boromir for some reason survived, then we get a quick 2 sentences about how he is living happily in Gondor after the war? No. That would be really stupid and Tolkien being a good writer, realized that and gave Boromir a heroic death of penance that better closed his story.
There are WAY too many examples, so we will make our final one a comparison between Dante and Father. How can I even compare them? You are probably thinking right now. "Dante is just a forgettable Filler Villain and Father is one of the greatest villains in anime history!" The truth is that Father...isn't actually a very good villain. Remember that this is a story about an alternate WW2 Germany and a group of soldiers fighting against an evil government following a massive genocide. Adolf Hitler was not a nice man, but he WAS a human being. Dante is powerful, but ultimately just an ordinary human sociopath who wishes to sacrifice countless people she views as inferior to guarantee her own Godhood and immortality. I think that sounds a LOT closer to Hitler than a fucking ink blot genie from Ancient Persia looking for ultimate knowledge. If you are going to tell a story with OBVIOUS real world parallels, then STAY CONSISTENT! Government atrocities and genocides happen due to ordinary human leaders with extremely selfish desires, NOT evil genies! The Holocaust, Cambodian Genocide, Rwandan Genocide, and Armenian Genocide were not caused by Mr. Popo!!!
FMA Brotherhood is a very well animated series and admittedly does look better in most places than the 2003 original. Is the animation enough to give it the title of greatest of all time? No.
The soundtrack for FMA Brotherhood is once again quite solid, but isn't even as good as the 2003 FMA OST, let alone worthy of the greatest of all time title! Just compare the main theme from the Brotherhood OST to the main theme Bratja from 2003 FMA. The main theme for Brotherhood is a fairly bland orchestral piece with some ominous chanting that sounds like a throw away extra from the Hellsing Ultimate soundtrack. The main theme from the 2003 FMA is a heartbreaking, beautiful song about an elder brother asking forgiveness from his younger brother. Bratja is WAY better than anything in Brotherhood without question! Compare the first opening theme of Brotherhood to the 1st opening of the 2003 series. The 2003 series has Ready Steady Go, one of the greatest openings in the history of anime. Brotherhood has an extremely forgettable opening that wouldn't rank in the top 500 anime openings.
FMA Brotherhood is a good anime overall, but it is ONLY a good anime. It isn't anywhere NEAR the greatest anime ever made! It is actually vastly inferior to the original 2003 FMA and even that wasn't the single greatest anime of all time, although a MUCH better candidate than Brotherhood. Of course the title of G.O.A.T. is a highly subjective and debatable matter, but there isn't a single category where Brotherhood REALLY outshines its competitors. Some people say Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the greatest of all time. I'm not going to say that LOTGH is an absolutely flawless work, because it isn't. However, it actually stays consistent in its tone with the heavy ideas and themes it presents. Brotherhood does not. Brotherhood is WAY closer to Elfen Lied than LOTGH in terms of keeping a consistent tone to respect very dark and serious subject matters. LOTGH has an absolutely EPIC scope with hundreds of well written characters, maybe the most intricate politics in all of anime, and gets viewers to really think about real world problems and issues in terms of government, better than any other anime ever made. In other words, LOTGH actually DOES have areas where it clearly outshines its peers and therefore has a far more legitimate claim to the throne. Cowboy Bebop has almost without question the greatest original OST in anime history, is more accessible to non-anime fans than any other anime, and is an absolute blast from beginning to end. Once again, it has areas where it is clearly the best, so a more legitimate claim. Name just ONE thing that Brotherhood is the best at? Most tearjerking? nope. Best written? not even close. Most philosophical and complex? Hell no. Best art? nope. Best soundtrack? nope. It is solid around the board, but it isn't actually truly great at anything! I would therefore argue that Brotherhood is NOT the greatest of all time, is INSANELY overrated, and you are honestly much better off watching the 2003 FMA. I'm sorry if this review hurt any feelings. My job as a critic is to say what needs to be said.