After a December release in Japan, the new live-action adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s legendary manga Fullmetal Alchemist slipped onto Netflix this past President’s Day along with both anime adaptations of the equally beloved manga.
Much like we did for Death Note last summer, we’ve put together a guide looking at the various versions of Fullmetal Alchemist out there and how they tell Arakawa’s epic story. Let’s get cracking.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (manga) (2001-2010)
Arawaka (whose pen name is the male variant of her real name, Hiromi) began publishing Fullmetal in the pages of Monthly Shonen Gangan, a monthly magazine published by Gangan Comics, an imprint of Square Enix (and home to other series like Heroman and Corpse Princess), in 2001. It ran for nine years. Collected in 27 volumes, the series was translated, adapted and published in print by Viz Media and published digitally by Yen Press.
In an alternate world where alchemy is a legitimate branch of science, alchemists are able to create almost anything they want through a process called Transmutation. But they must obey the Law of Equivalent Exchange (aka conservation of mass): In order to gain something, something of equal or greater value must be lost.
In the country of Amestris, kid brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, both natural talents at alchemy, live peacefully, but their world is upended when, years after their father leaves, their mother falls ill and dies. Heartbroken, the brothers finish their alchemy training and attempt the one single alchemic taboo — to transmute a human soul to bring their mother back to life.
The process backfires horribly, with Edward losing his left leg while Alphonse is dragged into the afterlife. A dying Ed hurriedly writes a Transmutation seal in his own blood on a suit of armor, bonding Alphonse’s soul to it at the cost of his right arm. In the depths of his grief, Ed is approached by Col. Roy Mustang and Lt. Riza Hawkeye of the Amestrian military. Mustang — himself a gifted fire alchemist — invites Ed to join the army’s State Alchemist program and, in return for his service, get full access to government archives to find a way to restore himself and Alphonse.
Ed agrees and commissions his childhood friend and gifted mechanic Winry Rockbell to make him prosthetic metal limbs called automail. He quickly becomes, at just 12 years old, the youngest State Alchemist in history, earning the nickname “Fullmetal Alchemist,” both for his prosthetics and because of his affinity for metal-based alchemy. Ed and Al then undertake various military missions while searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, the most powerful alchemic object in existence.
Fullmetal Alchemist (anime) by Seiji Mizushima and Bones (2003-2004)
FMA‘s runaway success made it a no-brainer for anime adaptation, with this 51-episode series debuting just two years after the manga’s debut, with Arakawa serving as an advisor. But because she respected the work of both Bones (the studio is best known these days for My Hero Academia) and director Mizushima (who’d just come off Shaman King at the time and went on to direct Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and Concrete Revolutio), she requested they work independently, and specifically that Mizushima and show writer Sho Aikawa make their own ending.
And so they did, with the final show differentiating from the manga after the 25th episode. Regardless, the series was an enormous hit in Japan ad internationally. Translated, dubbed and released by Funimation in the United States (although their rights to it and all other FMA media they dubbed have now reverted to the American arm of the franchise’s production company Aniplex), the show wound up on Adult Swim where it became an enormous hit and a touchstone for a generation of anime fans as their first “serious” anime after growing up on shows like Pokémon.
And there’s a good reason for that. While the show’s largely dismissed these days, both for slightly dated visuals and for reasons we’ll explore in a moment, it’s still worth watching. Currently streaming on Netflix, it takes its cues from the manga’s sensibilities while going in its own compelling direction. Combine that with these great characters, great Japanese and English casts and an astonishing soundtrack by Michiru Oshima, and you’ve got a show that’s a great adaptation and thrilling, compelling TV in its own right.
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