note: i watched brotherhood before this, but i have not read the manga. feel free to check out my review of that show as a standalone, and also skip to the end of this review to see my thoughts on brotherhood after watching FMA 03.
a gestalt is something that is more than the sum of its parts.
the human composition, for example, could be bought for a few bucks at a flea market. but cook it in a pot, bake it in an oven, pop it into a microwave, and you still won’t get a human being; it’ll just be an incomplete puddle of shit.
in other words, that shit ain’t a gestalt. it’s ONLY a sum of its parts, nothing more.
in human composition, specifically, it lacks a soul.
that was what i experienced when i watched FMA: Brotherhood for the first time.
don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bubbling pile of shit, per se. in fact, i enjoyed my watch all the way through. but at the end, i just couldn’t help but feel that something was missing. so in a desperate attempt to fill that void, i watched FMA.
and boy, oh boy, did i find myself a motherfucking gestalt.
but more importantly, i found the soul that, for me, Brotherhood DESPERATELY lacked.
that soul permeates the entirety of this show, it holds everything together, makes every minute of FMA feel compelling and weighty and entertaining no matter how dark it gets, and yes, no matter how lighthearted and comedic it gets.
no matter what happens, it’s all for the purpose of showcasing the show’s characters, and their noticeably flawed, noticeably human traits. none of the main cast have actions that feel plot motivated, doing things that were obviously written in to push along the pace (lookin at you, Brotherhood!).
no, actions are done as direct extensions of character flaws, of character motivations, and most notably, character obsession.
as fellow MAL user Archaeon pointed out, FMA revolves around that singular theme and STICKS with it.
from the Elric brothers to the Homonculi to characters like Winry, Mustang, and Frank Archer, every main character throws caution to the wind and dedicates their entire self into their dream, their passion, their obsession.
it’s not a good trait to have, and definitely isn’t healthy. but hey, here we are, with a show revolving around two teens obsessed with fending off the demons of their previous obsession of resurrection.
obsession is a trait that has a way of brushing the line between good and evil, and it was extremely compelling to see all of these characters clash with each other, not shouting shonen diatribes, but firm questionings of what’s “wrong” and what’s “right” when at the end of it all, everyone is on the same side and different sides all at once; everyone is out to fend for their own dreams, no matter the cost.
it’s a point of contention that’s brought up multiple times, and is the very reason why the main antagonists of the series were born in the first place.
everyone and everything isn’t connected through a thread of fate, nor for the sake of an overarching plot, but by the result of their own obsession, their own impulsive actions to achieve what they want.
as a result, there’s a BITE to this show that just gives it a very mature edge.
subtle little moments like Al crying after helping delivering a baby and wondering how soft he used to feel, or the race relations that were brushed over in Brotherhood between the Ishbalan’s and Amestrian’s, or the 03-exclusive revelation of where alchemy’s power is derived from, this show really doesn’t hold back any punches. if you think it’ll go there, it GOES there, without being too edgy.
God, ik i’m sounding vague af right now and rambly, but that’s what i look for in a show: i look for themes, seeing how those themes materialize into characters, how it wisps into threads of plot, how it becomes the soul of a story.
FMA’s key strength in allowing this soul to really seep and marinate into the show’s writing is its pacing.
my biggest problem with Brotherhood (sorry i keep bringing it up) was that the pace was too fast, too slick.
sure, many problems and issues and themes were brought up and just as quickly solved, but that’s the problem.
Brotherhood never gave a chance for those themes and its characters to just
to just pause and really let the audience marinate on themes presented, to let the impact of big revelations to really SETTLE in before just moving on to another big revelation or another heavy idea.
that’s where FMA triumphs.
with the slower, more episodic framework, the soul and themes that are brought up are given time to truly settle into the characters’ minds, and subsequently, ours.
we are given time to digest everything before yet another plot thread, character, or revelation is shoved down our throats.
it’s telling that the main plot twists of FMA are revealed throughout 40+ episodes in FMA, and in under 20 in FMA:B.
it makes for much more fleshed out characters that are presented and studied in intimate detail, makes for a much more compelling battle of morals that culminates into a muddled mess of “so was everyone wrong?” instead of a trite and vanilla “at the end of it all, it’s FRIENDS that are the answer!”
sure, there ARE some issues with the show. but those issues for me stem from how fucking GREAT everything is.
like how i wish there was just 20 or 30 more episodes to really explore character dynamics that were untouched or were introduced without any further exploration (winry and mustang or hoenheimm and dante, in particular.
or how, ironically, the pacing speeds up a bit too quickly in the final 4 or 5 episodes, plopping revelation after revelation into our laps and we’re left dragged along in the show’s wake as it lunges towards the finish.
but in the end, the flaws don’t detract from the experience much.
after all, the writers were given the daunting task to adapt an unfinished popular manga and they took it as an opportunity to insert their artistic license whilst building off the themes that were the foundation of the source material (themes that were, ironically, cast to the wayside in said source material), weaving a story that in many respects, SURPASSES the quality what they were supplementing, a work of art that’s wholly its own.
now, with all that being said, what do i think of Brotherhood after completing this?
well honestly, i like it even more AS supplementary material.
for me, Brotherhood as its own work is, as i stated in the review i posted of that show, fine. it’s clean, polished, slick, entertaining, and fun. but that’s it.
however, as a work that is to be watched AFTER watching FMA 03, i think it’s great! it brushes over the main revelations that 03 took 40+ episodes to really mull over, and because we know the characters so well from watching FMA, there is justification to set aside screentime for new compelling characters.
there’s also a lot of cool contextual subtleties in Brotherhood in relation to 03 that totally flew over my head during my first time watch; it’s obvious that the creators of Brotherhood were writing and pacing that show with the assumption that the audience watched FMA 03 or at least have some passing knowledge of it.
for me it’s like NGE and the Rebuilds.
don’t get me wrong, i do not think for a second that the Rebuilds are just as good as NGE and subsequently EoE.
BUT, as supplementary material, those three films (3.33 in particular) are fantastic watches just for the spectacle of seeing characters and settings you know and love remixed with a bigger budget and more action-oriented storytelling.
just as NGE was more about deep character studies and The Rebuilds more about flashy visuals and thrilling action, i think the same goes for FMA 03 and Brotherhood.
in the end tho, i can see why people would prefer Brotherhood over FMA 03; it’s much more shonenlike, and, despite my misgivings and distaste for it’s all-too-polished fast-paced plot, the writing keeps things moving at a consistent nonstop pace.
as with all things, different strokes for different folks.