At the beginning of the year I made the commitment to read all the volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist. After reading the first couple volumes I have decided that I want to do a comparison of the manga and the two anime series it gave birth to. At first I was going to do a couple volumes at a time, but after some contemplation I’ve come to the conclusion there is just too much to address in each of these volumes to do more then one. I’ll likely begin to combine volumes as we get further along and in depth comparison between the 2003 series and the manga less feasible due to the divergence in story.
Here is my comparison/analysis/review of Fullmetal Alchemist Volume one. There will spoilers for the first volume, Fullmetal Alchemist episodes 1-5 and 9 and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood episodes 1-3. There are also minor spoilers regarding future events in each of these.
For simplicity’s sake I shall be referring to the manga as the manga, Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 as 2003 and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as Brotherhood. At times I will refer to the universe as a whole, outside of all three of these, then I shall use the term FMA. (Confusing isn’t it. Just remember Manga, 2003, Brotherhood and then FMA for overall.)
For volume one will mostly look at how FMA handled its various introductions and the compare the differences in versions and mediums.
The Manga is easily the simplest of three introductions, in my opinion. We open up with the very compelling image of a young boy who has lost his leg by some means of his own doing and the words “A painless lesson is one without any meaning. One who does not sacrifice anything cannot achieve anything.” I believe it is the most compelling moment in the entirety of the first volume.
In the first four chapters that make up volume one we cover various things that are important to the story and the universe overall. We don’t get too complicated as of yet, we simply cover the basics.
We begin by introducing the characters, their dilemma in brief and their goal. The atmosphere is interesting as are the villains we meet, like Father Cornello, Lust and Gluttony. We are also given a brief mention of ‘Father’ who we will later learn is very important.
The main characters, Edward and Alphonse Elric are presently passing through a desert town called Lior, that is run by a man named Father Cornello who claims to be the messenger of god. The brother’s witness him performing Miracles, which Ed and Al theorize is really just boosted Alchemy, a science that Ed is adept in and has earned him a position in the military despite his age of 15.
Alchemy, the brothers explain, is limited by one simple, or complex depending on your view, rule; equivalent exchange. Equivalent exchange means that in order to create something using alchemy, you must have an equal amount of the same substance. To make a statue you need a rock and you can’t make more then what you started with.
Father Cornello is boosting his alchemy with a philosopher stone, something the brothers have been looking for, and they enter into battle with him for it. Through this they discover Cornello is corrupt and attempting to raise an army.
Through the following fight we learn the secrets of the brothers in interesting ways. Al’s helmeted head is knocked off when someone shoots him through the helmets eye socket, revealing that Al has no body. Ed is attacked by a chimera, a creature made of various animals that is created by alchemy, and it is revealed that his right arm and left leg are made of metal auto mail. We are also given a flashback that explains they became this way because they attempted to resurrect their dead mother, a taboo action which ended in failure and caused them to become as they are.
In the end Father Cornello is defeated and the stone is revealed to be imperfect or a fake because it breaks. After this we are introduced to two of the main villains of the series, Lust and Gluttony, who mention the mysterious ‘Father.’
While there are two more chapters in volume one, lets look at this same story as it unfolds in 2003.
In the anime we are given the same basic set up. The startling opening reveal of the failed transmutation and the introduction of the brothers as they visit Lior and defeat Father Cornello. All the basic pieces still remain, in fact more is added then in removed.
A greater emphasis is placed on the story, its location and its characters. We will later learn that the reason for this is due to the fact that Lior will later become far more important to the overall plot. Its more then just an introductory story, in this version it is laying down the foundation for specific things in the climax.
I believe the greatest change is the emphasis that is placed on the character Rose. Rose appears in the manga, but is a character who is souly present for the readers sake. She is the character that asks questions and gives the Elric brothers a reason to explain things that the readers otherwise would not know.
While her purpose is still to provide the viewers of the anime with more information, her role and story are expanded upon and we are given a chance to sympathize with her dilemma. She is follower of Father Cornello who has lost her lover and she is hoping that Cornello will be able to resurrect him. Like the setting of Lior, she will be returning in this version of FMA.
The other important change that is made is the removal of the mention of ‘Father’, who does not appear in this series.
Since the manga was unfinished at this time, 2003 makes a good and fairly logical choice by tying the ending to the beginning of the series. It is a choice that I believe spurred Brotherhood to create an altogether different opening episode that will also tie back into the conclusion.
Brotherhood makes the choice to relegate this opening chapter of the manga to a far less important position. Instead of being the opening of Brotherhood it is now placed in episode three. While it is still a great way to provide the viewer with information it doesn’t truly have an overall effect on the story as a whole. We will briefly return to Lior at the midway point, but it is not important to the conclusion (unless I’ve missed something, which a part of me always suspects).
Instead we are given an entirely new episode that takes place in the city of Central. It focuses more the military aspect of the series and the characters that operate in the military. It is also focuses on the use of transmutation circles, the means by which most alchemists perform alchemy, the soul exception, being Ed, who performs alchemy after clapping his hands together.
The most interesting thing about this episode is that it, in its own way, ties back into the conclusion of the series. Its location and characters are far more important to the conclusion that will eventually be laid out. Here we meet the Fuehrer Bradly, the leader of the country, Colonel Mustang, Lt Colonel Hughes, Lt. Hawkeye, Major Armstrong and various others. It works well, but would be completely out of place in 2003.
Since Brotherhood has covered the introduction of the military aspect of FMA in a completely original opening, I’m sure that you have come to the conclusion that the manga and 2003 introduce this military aspect in a completely different way. Indeed they do. Chapters three and four of the manga cover the more militaristic topics of FMA and both are adapted for 2003. They work in their own way, but due to brotherhoods introductory episode are no longer necessary.
So, as I said before the manga’s introduction is the simplest, a quick background story and brief introductions of characters, concepts and events amidst the interesting opening story. 2003 follows the same basic formula, but then goes on to establish extra elements that later link to future events. 2003 also uses the episodes that follow to focus very heavily on the world building of FMA along with some background for the Elric Brothers, which more or less continues through till episode thirteen. In these episodes we are introduced more thoroughly to Ed and Al’s Mother (which I will talk about more in the next installment) the basic concept of homunculi, and we learn there are multiples types of alchemy beyond just the manipulation of earth and flame.
Beyond its first episode Brotherhood basically sticks to the events established in the manga, though it does take some of its early character development elements from 2003(again, I will discuss this more next time).
A bit of all three versions
Now, too end this, I want to quickly look at the final two chapters of volume one in comparison to the two series.
Chapter three, the Coal Mine Town, doesn’t really add much to the plot in the manga, other then the fact that Alchemists are supposed to be ‘for the people’ but rarely are and thus have gained the disdain of the people and the nickname “the dogs of the military.” Ed and Al enter a town where the people are being over taxed by the government and thus the brothers are discriminated against for their government status as State Alchemists. In the end Ed helps the people out by buying their town with fake gold and redeeming himself in their eyes by giving it back to them.
I felt that overall Ed acted selfish and immature throughout this story and his change of heart at the end to help the people felt forced and fake. It was adapted in 2003, but I think they handled the characters much better. They also used the episode to introduce a new form of alchemy using wind and the character Lyra, who later becomes more significant.
Brotherhood made the decision not to adapt this chapter, a descision that I applaud. The only reason to do so would be for the sake of the character Yoki, who is the corrupt military official taxing the town. Brotherhood chooses to instead tell a condensed three minute version of these events later in the series when Yoki is reintroduced, which works to great comedic effect. Indeed, when I read the chapter it felt more like a joke then anything else.
Even with the addition of the character Lyra, the story isn’t necessary to the plot of 2003, in fact even less so then brotherhood, as Lyra could have been introduced through many other means and Yoki, who is the reason for its inclusion, is never seen again.
Chapter Four, Battle on the train, serves to be a little more important then the previous chapter. This chapter more fully introduces the military aspect of the series along with several of the main characters that are part of the military. In this chapter Ed and Al save a general from a terrorist while on a train, but that’s about it.
Again, since Brotherhood has already introduced the concepts and characters that are featured here in their opening episode, it becomes clear that an adaptation of this chapter isn’t necessary.
I think that 2003 puts it to good use. After the first opening two episode, 2003 changes the time period of events. We are now looking at how the Ed began his journey to become a state alchemist and as a result he is now 12 in the following episodes, while Al is 11. It is an interesting choice and it opens things up for more character development, without having to move too far into the main plot, which allows for the extensive world building I mentioned before.
In this version of events the brothers are traveling to Central for the first time in order to become State Alchemists. Here Ed saves the General from the terrorists and it opens the door for him to take the state alchemist exam at the extremely young age of 12. In the manga how he achieves this isn’t explained and in Brotherhood Ed takes the exam on Mustangs word alone.
The episode also introduces Maes Hughes, which I think was a good move. Brotherhood uses the first episode to also introduce Hughes early on. In the Manga he isn’t introduced until chapter six and we don’t really learn much about him at that point, which is sad considering how important he is.
It really is quite incredible how each of these different versions handle their introductions.
I am assuming that at the time of writing the opening chapters, the mangaka, Hiromu Arakawa, had not yet finalized the details of the ending. Thus, it is not so surprising that the beginning and ending would have less to do with each other specifically.
Since 2003 had to complete its own version of FMA within a year, it makes sense that they would use the beginning to come up with a logical ending. They relied on established events and characters to create the ending, which allowed for a more circular story, without having to change how the series began.
Brotherhood, upon its start, already knew how the manga was going to end, even though the series had yet to publish its conclusion. This allowed for them to alter the beginning, which in effect created its own circular story and allowed for a more succinct introduction in comparison to 2003.
Wow, I really enjoyed writing this. I think its one of the longest posts I’ve written as of yet, which isn’t all that long, just over 2,000 words. If you sat down and read this, I really appreciate that you took the time to do so. My guess is that this is something that’s going to find more of niche audience. If you decide to follow along as I write these, I applaud you, especially if you haven’t experienced all three versions of FMA.
Next time I’ll be covering more of the background story of the Elric’s, looking at the different ways in which Nina’s story is handled and looking at the introduction of Scar. I’m really looking forward to it.