Review: Fullmetal Alchemist steampunk brothers return as Brotherhood debuts online

Remember Fullmetal Alchemist? It was all the rage a couple of years ago—it ran on cable, the DVDs and toys and soundtracks and videogames were everywhere, and every big sci-fi and anime convention boasted at least a busload of people costuming as the main characters.

Well, as it turns out, the 52-episode anime series wrapped up in a way that differs dramatically from the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The manga is still running, actually, which means that there are hundreds of pages worth of all-new people, places and stories that never made the jump to animation. Until now, that is.

Producers Aniplex have gone back to the well with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a brand-new weekly TV series that reboots the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, a pair of teenage brothers living in a just-slightly-steampunk alternate timeline where certain fantastic magic and technology (alchemy, for one, and automail, a kind of advanced steel prosthetics, for another) are accepted as part of everyday life.

As children, the Elric brothers botched an alchemical attempt to revive their dead mother—a failed experiment that left one brother with two of his limbs destroyed, and the other without a body at all, his soul only tenuously clinging to an animated suit of armor. Now, as alchemical agents of the state, Ed and Al pursue dangerous magical criminals, as well as the alchemical secrets that will allow them to reclaim their missing parts.

If you've watched the original Fullmetal Alchemist, you're going to wonder one thing: How is this different? Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood handles the idea of restarting from the beginning nicely; we recognize the characters and situations, but minor characters get larger roles, some tales are told from a different point of view, and there are even brand-new aspects to the story, stuff from the manga that got cut from the initial TV series and restored here.

At the same time, the proceedings have a fresh coat of paint—this version boasts a new animation director and musical composer, and new voices for many major characters. The show's animation quality maintains the high standards of the original, and the storyline promises to expand on its predecessor's often surprisingly brooding, intelligent storylines. Fans of the original will instantly recognize the show's moments of comedy and sweeping sense of adventure.

There's just one final hitch: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is new, I mean brand new. It debuted on April 5 in Japan; they haven't yet released enough episodes for a single DVD! But Aniplex and their overseas partners have risen to the challenges of intense global demand and digital piracy, offering fans around the world a multitude of ways to enjoy the series almost immediately after its initial broadcast.

Here in North America, episodes are streamed on funimation.com, utilizing a simple video interface similar to services like YouTube and Hulu. Now, let's be fair: watching anime like this might feel awkward if you're not used to subtitles (dubbed episodes are expected but have not yet been announced) or if you're accustomed to using your computer for email, office work and web browsing only. But seriously, this right here is the delivery method of the future for brand-new anime.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood airs in Japan every Sunday, and debuts on funimation.com the following Thursday. You know what that means, right? Only a couple more days until the next episode! Until then, get to watching episodes 1 and 2 on funimation.com.

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