Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) is the first of two anime adaptations from studio Bones based on the manga of the same name by Hiromu Arakawa. This version originally aired in Japan from 2003-2004 and comes to the UK on Blu-ray for the first time. This review is based upon the first part of the Collector’s Edition; note that both parts of the Collector’s Edition are included within the Ultimate Edition.
“In an era of war and corruption, State Alchemist Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse desperately search for the Philosopher’s Stone. The legendary artifact is their last hope to restore what they’ve lost – but how far will they go to get it? From the ashes of their childhood, Edward and Alphonse quickly rise to fame within the ranks of the military, realizing along the way that the power to create is only ever a breath away from the power to destroy. And whether they’re up against monsters, madmen, or military officials, the bond these brothers share will be the greatest weapon they have in the fight for their lives.” – All the Anime
Of the two anime adaptations of Fullmetal Alchemist from studio Bones, this one, the 2003 series, is generally considered the inferior of the two due to the anime’s deviation of the story midway through. The second adaptation, known as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is more faithful to the original source material. Now does this make the original FMA adaptation bad? No, and far from it. The 2003 version is actually, still to this day, a highly rated and much-beloved series in the minds of fans. Some of that praise could be attributed to nostalgia, as with many series of yesteryear, but I was surprised at how well the series holds up today.
Part one contains episodes 1 through 27 and remains largely faithful to the source material, there are a few episodes that seem a little random but I can’t remember whether they were in the original manga. That said, part one was highly enjoyable and left off at a really natural point, leaving you wanting more but satisfied at the same time. The real test for the series and how well it stands next to its more faithful brother is in the second part and if the anime-only story is consistent enough and believable. I think that is the real test of any anime original ending and while the majority of series will stumble at this hurdle some do actually put together a consistent and believable story. Can this version of Fullmetal Alchemist achieve this? Well, you’ll need to check back for our review of part two.
I will admit, given the age of this Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation I wasn’t expecting much visually, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the HD upscale. There are a few instances where the animation quality doesn’t look that great but on the whole, but it looks a lot better than I expected. Having seen the series previously with the Japanese audio I decided to jump in with the English dub this time round and again I was pleasantly surprised. The English dub features some very accomplished voice actors so that shouldn’t have been a surprise but as someone who prefers Japanese audio, I was. I’m starting to think that I may have gone into this rewatch with moderately low expectations but I’m glad to see that the series does hold up well.
I can’t say I was the biggest fan of the first and third opening themes in “Melissa” by Porno Graffitti and “Undo” by Cool Joke but the second opening and probably the most recognisable from the series in “Ready Steady Go” by L’Arc-en-Ciel is fantastic. “Ready Steady Go” along with “Driver’s High” from Great Teacher Onizuka actually kick-started my teen love affair with L’Arc-en-Ciel, a band I am now rediscovering thanks to this release. The ending themes are all pretty decent the first of which “Kesenai Tsumi” (“Indelible Sin”) by Nana Kitade is probably my favourite of the series. The second in “Tobira no Mukō e” (“Beyond the Door”) by Yellow Generation is also really good, the third, however, “Motherland” by Crystal Kay I don’t have much love for.
Fullmetal Alchemist Part 1 Collector’s Edition comes in a rigid case complete with digipack to hold the Blu-ray discs and a set of art cards. As well as a whopping 27 episodes of content the on-disc extras include two episode commentaries, which, I have to say is more than a little disappointing. I hope that all the clean opening and ending animations are included in part two because this seems like a massive oversight. I really would have expected a lot more from a collector’s edition as just two episode commentaries is rather laughable. If I’m being honest this whole release doesn’t feel like a collector’s edition, sure the case looks nice as do the art cards but I don’t see value in this set. A limited-edition would be a more accurate title, however, All the Anime do currently list the set at £34.99 which I believe is a fair price.
Commonly regarded as the inferior of the two studio Bones anime adaptations this 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist version still holds its own today. Part one remains largely faithful to the source material and looks great with a shiny new HD upscale. I’ll say it again but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this release and it’s definitely a must own for fans of the series, it’s jam-packed with nostalgia and comes to the UK on Blu-ray for the very first time.