In Japan, "Fullmetal Alchemist" (Hagane no Renkinjutushi) has been a popular long running anime and manga series created by mangaka Hiromu Arakawa. The original manga series was serialized in Square Enix's "Shonen Gangan" since 2001, while the 51-episode TV series created by BONES was shown on television in 2004 and was followed by a film to conclude the series.
The popularity of "Fullmetal Alchemist" has led to many novels, OVA's, drama CD's, soundtracks and video games and a lot of these releases have been distributed in various countries and its popularity is a testament of how people have come to love the series which has won many awards in Japan including being voted for the #1 most popular anime series of all time.
Despite it's popularity, the series could have gone on longer but because the anime series was created when the manga was only several years old, the anime series only lasted 51-episodes and there were differences between what the director featured on the anime series and what Arakawa had in the manga.
So, in 2009, a new series titled "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Furumetaru Arukemisuto) was created by BONES and this time around, the series would follow the manga much more closely. Currently there are over 60 episodes that have aired in Japan and the series is still ongoing. Also, unlike the previous anime series, this series would be created in HD (540p). The first 13 episodes of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" would feature its first 13-episodes covering the first 26-episodes from the original anime series but from that point on, the series becomes a whole new storyline which features more characters and for the most part, something new and different for the viewers, especially fans of the original series.
To make sure that there is a difference between this series aside from the storyline differences compared to the original, the staff is different this time around as well as the character designs. The director for "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" would be Yasuhiro Irie (who worked on RahXephon", "Cowboy Bebop", "Macross Plus", "Gunparade March"), series composition by Hiroshi Ohnogi ("Eureka Seven", "Area 88, "Aquarion", "RahXephon", "RIN", "Skullman"), music by Akira Senju ("Red Garden", "Mobile Suit Victory Gundam", "Silent Service"), character designs by Hiroki Kanno ("Angelic Layer", "Eureka Seven", "Ninja Scroll", "RahXephon") and art design by Takeshi Satou ("Mobile Suit Gundam 00', "Ghost Slayers Ayashi", "Please Twins!").
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is a series about two young alchemist brothers named Edward and his younger brother Alphonse Eric (aka "Al"). Their father left them and several months after their father left, an epidemic hit their village and killed their mother. Grieving and alone without their mother, the two quickly tried to hone their alchemist skills and hope to bring their mother back alive by using a human transmutation (this is illegal and considered taboo by alchemist).
While performing the transmutation, a dark shadow comes and literally breaks apart the body of Alphonse and as for Edward, he is shown "the truth" but in return for doing the transmutation, there is a toll and in this case, he loses his legs and feet and his right arm. And the transmutation to bring their mother fails as Edward was only able to revive a disembodied figure. In a short time allowed before the dark shadow leaves, Edward was able to bond Al's soul to a suit of armor but there are some consequences. And these consequences and guilt have plunged Edward to the lowest he had ever been.
Meanwhile, a military figure named Roy Mustang has come and is shocked to see that Edward was able to survive a human transmutation and also anchoring his brother's soul and thus gives Edward a chance to join the military to fight with them but at the same time, gaining access that may give Edward a chance to bring his brother back to life and also his own body as well.
With this opportunity, this gives Edward a chance to repair what he did wrong and help his brother. But as they investigate on how they can get their bodies back and investigating what is known as a "Philosopher's Stone", an unknown group is out there, observing his every move and willing to kill in order to get to Edward.
In part two of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood", the story begins to focus on the military encounter with the Homunculi, the investigation of Hughes death and Winry coming face-to-face with the murderer who killed her parents.
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part Two" is presented in 1080p HD 16×9 via a HD native source. It's important to note that although the conversion was made to 1080p, I've read that the actual Japanese original masters were created in 540p. With that being said, this is a TV series and one can't expect OVA or film quality but I manage to compare the DVD and Blu-ray version and the Blu-ray looks much more colorful, much more detailed and looked much better and more colorful than its DVD counterpart.
I did notice edge enhancement and I'm sure the conversion of a 540p source to 1080p possibly led to the jaggies that can be seen at times. Granted, I'm a bit picky when it comes to video quality but the fact that this is created by BONES (a busy anime production company) and the fact that this is not an OVA or film, for a TV series, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" looks very good. Granted, it's not uber-vibrant but there is a good amount of shading, detail, blacks are deep and overall, I felt the Blu-ray looked much better than its DVD counterpart.
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part Two" is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and in Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0. Overall, the 5.1 lossless soundtrack sounds very good and there is a good amount of surround usage and its much more immersive than its Japanese lossless counterpart. There is quite a bit of action in this second volume, plenty of battles are featured and many episodes that utilize the surround channels.
The Japanese lossless soundtrack is still good, especially if you have a receiver in which you can change the setting to stereo on all channels. I do prefer the Japanese lossless soundtrack in terms of acting especially during the more emotional moments in this second volume (which there are many). But I've watched the series in both Japanese and English and for the most part, both are well done and similar to "Dragon Ball Z" and "One Piece", the English dub has caught my attention and this time around, I was watching many of the episodes in English. But both voice acting are well done.
Subtitles are in English.
NOTE: You can not use your audio button to switch from Japanese to English and vice versa while watching the series. You will need to press your guide button to switch to another audio. Also, you can not optionally remove English subtitles unless you choose the English lossless soundtrack. So, for those who want to watch the series in Japanese with no English subtitles may be disappointed by this.
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part Two" comes with the following special features:
* EPISODE 14 Commentary - Audio commentary by Mike McFarland (ADR Director/Line Director and voice of Havoc) and voice talents Chris Patton (Greed) and Vic Mignona (Edward Elric) talking about reprising their role for "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood).
* EPISODE 23 Commentary - Audio commentary by ADR director and voice talent Mike McFarland (Havoc) and English Dub voice talents Todd Haberkorn (Ling Yao), Monica Rial (May Chang), Trina Nishimura (Lan Fan).
* Textless Opening and Closing Songs - The textless opening and ending theme songs.
* Trailers - FUNimation Entertainment trailers.
Like the first part of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood", there is a good amount of episodes that will make you laugh and even make you want to shed some tears as not only does the series feature a good amount of action, fun and upbeat moments but also heartbreaking episodes. Especially those dealing with Ed and Al's realization of what happened to their good friend Hughes and when we see Winry confront the man who killed her parents. Heartbreaking scenes but definitely added to the enjoyment of this series.
Aside from the more emotional scenes, the battle between the military and the homunculi is starting to ramp up and we get to see a number of awesome battles between the military and the Homunculi and also an introduction to Lin Yao, Lan Fan, May Chang and also a confrontation with the murderer Scar.
If anything, while the first series was more or less trying to jam pack a lot of story (that people saw in the first series) in its first 13 episodes, this time around the storyline becomes much more focused on what took place on the manga series. More character development was needed on the military characters and the writers have done a wonderful job in including more scenes with Roy Mustang, Jean Havoc, Riza Hawkeye and also on the newer characters Ling Yao, Lan Fan and May Chang. As well as showcasing the homunculi and what they are capable of.
I really enjoyed part two of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" and how well-paced, how action-packed and how much deeper the episodes were. This latest volume was quite addicting and I definitely enjoy how the series has continued to grow and improve with each episode.
As for the Blu-ray release, as explained with my review for the first volume, some people may have issues that this series is not true 1080p but created in 540p and then upscaled to 1080p. As many Japanese companies are going through cost-cutting situations due to their economy, we are going to see some anime released in 4:3 instead of widescreen and we are going to see Japanese companies not taking advantage of true 1080p and focusing on creating anime series in 540p. It's the nature of the industry right now and if we want to support anime, we'll need to support them even during these tough times.
But with that being said, I was able to compare the DVD and the Blu-ray release of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" and the artistic backgrounds and its details are much better looking on Blu, the colors are more cleaner, sharper and more colorful on Blu and for the most part, for a TV series, I'm quite content with the PQ. I felt the black levels were good and again, for a TV Series released in 2009, the picture quality is good not great (it's not 1080p) and there is a hint of edge enhancement but it's still pretty good.
Overall, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" may not please the diehards who have loved the original anime TV series but the fact is, we are getting a series that is now closer to the manga series and also more episodes than the original release. Not to say one should forget the original series but in a way, the "Fullmetal Alchemist" brand has moved on to bigger and better and the FMA: Brotherhood series is much more consistent to what the creator, Hiromu Arakawa intended.
"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" has the making of a great anime series and part two is fantastic!
It will make you laugh, cry and you'll notice how things continue to get better and better with this series and you are left with wanting more! If you are looking for an anime TV series on Blu-ray that has a great balance of cool characters, an addictive storyline and for the most part, looks good and sounds wonderful in HD. Definitely put this series high on top of your anime on Blu-ray list!