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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood- Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review
By Marc | May 10th, 2010

One of the more popular anime and manga series of the past decade returns.

Yes yes, Fullmetal Alchemist returns.  Rather than a sequel to the first anime series, this new series is taking the true to the manga route.  Is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood already a shining piece of steel in its first 13 episodes, or does it come up a little… short?

My copy of Brotherhood didn’t come with packaging so I can’t review it, but felt it was worth mentioning that it is confirmed from scans that this is the first Funimation release that specifically has a mention on the package of if it is native HD or an upscale (this one is native HD for those wondering.)  Hopefully this will be used for future upscale releases also.

The menu for Brotherhood has a very nice design (the same, once again, can’t be said for my photos of them though.)  The background to the menu is random video from the series, while the actual active area of the menu looks like ripped paper.  If you look closely there is also small grey text that appears to be the amounts of elements in the human body.  It’s a nice little piece of flair to add to the menu that many may never notice. Sub-menus are setup the same with smaller text.  Instead of an X button to back out through menus, there is an alchemy circle.  The pop-up menu is identical to the main menu minus the normal changes such as a close pop-up button.  It’s a clean menu with a few nice touches, but it seems less elegant than recent Funimation Blu-ray menus.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as a series has quite a bit to live up to.  The original FMA was one of the more fondly remembered shows of the past decade.  Being pushed as a true to the manga series makes it a bit odd to see that the first episode is filler.  Logically it makes sense: The majority of people who are likely to watch this likely watched the last series and know who everyone is, so you need a way to introduce everything to new people without making the fans bored feeling they’ve already seen it before.  This tends to be the main problem with Brotherhood in general though.  These episodes are, for the most part, before the original anime began to diverge from the manga.  It makes Brotherhood almost seem like looking in a fun-house mirror: you recognize it, but there are a few curves and lines out of place.
It drags Brotherhood down heavily in that a good percentage of it so far is just ‘FMA in widescreen.’  Sure, like I said, there are differences, but it was all covered in the last series.  It makes the show seem very slow, and at times I found myself more curious at noticing color differences between this series and the old series than I was paying attention to a story I already knew.
Brotherhood definitely isn’t a bad series, but without much new content yet, it feels too much like ‘done it before.’  The enjoyable characters help keep these early episodes from becoming a drag.  With things starting to diverge, I expect the next set will be far better, but for now, Fullmetal Alchemist isn’t quite as great as some fans might expect. But how much can I really complain when I still enjoyed it?

The video for Brotherhood is in a single word… disappointing.  Brotherhood is 1080p with the AVC codec at 14429 kbps (average bitrate of the first episode.)  Despite being brand new and a name franchise, Brotherhood has a very disappointing Blu-ray.  Lines are often pixelated and choppy, and the video overall has a very fuzzy and murky feel to it.  Colors at times also appear fuzzy and not clean.  I’m not sure how this happened (whether Funimation did something to their masters or if they were given sub-par masters) or if the Japanese Blu-ray looked similar, but this was just a disappointment.
It’s possible I’m expecting to much and expanding on minor flaws, but I don’t think so.  The video isn’t unwatchable but it is far below what we expect from a series that began to air in 2009.
Edit- It has since been confirmed via screenshots of the Japanese Blu-ray that all the problems here are also on that Blu-ray.

The audio is more like it.  Both languages get lossless audio and sound very good.  The English track sounds slightly richer overall.  Has a bit more of a ‘boom boom’ to it if you know what I mean.  A show like Brotherhood with quite a few special audio effects needs audio like this, because it makes everything sound large and fantastic.  Right below is detailed info on each audio track based on a scan of the first episode (average bitrates).
English Track- Dolby TrueHD Audio (lossless), 5.1, 24-bit, 48 kHz, 3186 kbps (AC3 Core: 2.0, 48 kHz, 448 kbps)
Japanese Track- Dolby TrueHD Audio (lossless), 2.0, 16-bit, 48 kHz, 813 kbps (AC3 Core: 2.0, 48 kHz, 192 kbps)

Brotherhood is about the dub people would expect from a new FMA.  It’s a great dub, but perhaps the most interesting thing is noticing differences in characters. While two characters have new actors, the rest of the cast of the original FMA returns.  Vic Mignogna sounds largely the same as Ed, and being the main returning role, that is probably a rock that gives a lot of dub fans something to attach themselves to.  While some characters, like Ed, sound nearly the same, other characters who have the same actor sound quite a bit different.  Hughes for example is still played by Sonny Strait, but this version of Hughes sounds a smidge more like Usopp.
Then you have the two characters who have new actors.  Starting with Scar: J. Michael Tatum steps into the role of Scar quite well (having played the character in the Premium Collection OVA) with a voice that sounds a bit deeper than I recall Scar sounding (although that could be memories playing tricks on me.)  It’s a good new voice for the character.  The voice that most people will be listening intently for though is Al.  Aaron Dismuke grew out of being able to play Al, and while the OVA last year found a few ways to fake it (including according to the commentary, lifting audio of Dismuke from all of FMA, including the video games for the Homunculi VS Alchemists short), a new full series of FMA required a replacement (although it has been confirmed quite a few times that Dismuke will appear in Brotherhood as someone else later.)  Maxey Whitehead steps into the role of Al quite well.  The voice she uses it relatively similar to the old Al voice but distinct in a few ways (including sounding a bit younger.)  And for all those Al fans, the cast and crew confirm in one of the commentaries that Whitehead did indeed use the bowl when she played Al.  The dub overall is as good as the dub the original FMA got, and Mignogna and Whitehead being the main cast members keep the quality and energy high.

Brotherhood has a few extras that go beyond what we expect for an anime release nowadays.  To start off with we have the standard clean opening and closing songs.  I quite enjoy both these songs and the animation that goes with them, so having the normal clean versions is nice (seeing the hand drawn style animation in the closing without the credits is quite interesting.)  We also get two commentary tracks: For episode one we have Mike McFarland, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Travis Willingham, and Maxey Whitehead and for episode 10 we have Caitlin Glass, Sonny Strait, and Laura Bailey.  Both commentary tracks are fun to listen to and give quite a bit of information about the dubbing of Brotherhood and even some tidbits of the original FMA dub (not to mention Sonny Strait’s love of brain tonic.)  It’s a bit above what we expect for an anime release and it’s nice to hear everyone involved be so excited about the content.
The retail release also includes a few Brotherhood postcards. Lack of postcards had no effect on the review of the extras.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood hasn’t quite reached the heights of the original FMA, partially because before it can get to new content it has to tread through the original content.  While it is still fun, it can definitely drag.  FMA fans are almost guaranteed to love it though, as even with all the problems I had with it, I came out smiling and looking forward to more.
Show: B- (It’s still FMA, even if it doesn’t break any new ground.  People expecting new content might feel it all goes very slowly as far as this set goes.)
Packaging: N/A
Video Quality: C (Disappointing video for a brand new series. For those who care, I contemplated every grade from D+ to C+, so your mileage may vary.)
Audio Quality: A (Sounds good.  Some great boom boom and sound effects)
English Dub: A (In every way the equal of the original FMA dub.)
Extras: B (Clean opening and closing are nice, but the two commentaries are really gems.)
Overall (not an average): B- (While it is fun, there are still too many issues with these early episodes to say they are great.  The disks themselves aren’t terrible, but sub-par video hurts it overall.)
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs, feel free to request more. (Caps are 1920×1080 matching the resolution they are stored on disk, and meant to be viewed at.)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is available to watch streaming for free (in various combinations of subbed and dubbed at Funimation Video, Youtube, TV.com, [adult swim] video, and Hulu. The first episode is embedded near the top of this review subtitled for your convenience and enjoyment (even though it is filler… I still can’t believe the first episode of a ‘true to the manga’ adaption is filler… I mean… it’s weird.)
This show was reviewed using a screener without retail packaging.
This Blu-ray is labeled to work in Region A and Region B on the disks.
For an explanation of why Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood doesn’t look as pristine on Blu-ray as you might expect, I went ahead and wrote an article with a detailed explanation.: Why Doesn’t Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Look Great On Blu-ray?



Fullmetal Alchemist – © HIROMU ARAKAWA/SQUARE ENIX, MBS, ANX, BONES, dentsu 2004. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Categories: Anime Review, Early Looks, Reviews, w/ Anime Episode
  • Schmullus

    As usual, another informative review. I’m bummed to hear and see that the video quality isn’t up to the quality it could be, but I am glad to hear the audio, especially the dub, is top notch.

    I’ll probably wait for the second set to be out and get both at the same time, since I haven’t watched any of this show yet (other than the first episode), and since it sounds like it’s mostly the stuff that the first series already covered the same as the manga, I think I’ll wait and marathon the “remake” portion and go right into the new stuff at the same time.

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