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Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa. It firstly got serialized in Square Enix’s Monthly Shonen Gangan manga anthology magazine from 2001 to 2010. It had 27 volumes and 108 chapters, and it attracted millions of fans from across the Globe. The series was adapted into various forms like novels, live-action films, anime series, etc.
Fullmetal Alchemist revolves around the story of two Alchemist brothers, Edward and Alphonse, and their journey to find the Philosopher stone to retrieve their bodies. Their bodies fell victim to a failed attempt at human transmutation. It’s about their path to redemption while fighting the evils, Homunculi.
The series is set in the 20th century and Post WW-II era and uses war and its after-effects as a theme. It’s an action-packed thriller with drama, suspense, and comedy. The series’s accurate political and historical referencing is commendable. In addition, the characters are well-thought-out, each having its own story and development.
The series’ success and positive response from critics and audiences led to its adaptation into not only one but two anime series. The first one, named Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 version), got positive reviews. However, as the manga was still in writing near its end, i.e., in 2009, another anime series was made.
Both the animes were a huge success and received tremendous audience response, which ultimately led to the popularity of its merchandise. Here I will tell you about the differences between these two and what made them stand apart.
Fullmetal Alchemist, the 2003 version, was co-produced by the animation studio Bones, Mainichi Broadcasting System (MBS), and Aniplex and directed by Seiji Mizushima. It was broadcast by MBS in Japan from October 2003 to October 2004 and spanned over 51 episodes.
The manga was still in the writing process at that time. Still, Arakawa allowed Bones to work independently from her and requested to create a different ending as she did not want both the mediums to have the same one. Since the manga was still in writing, the anime evidently outpaced it. As a result, it diverges from the manga storyline in-between (mainly after the 10th episode), and the rest of the series is independently written.
The author of the series, Hiromu Arakawa, announced that a second adaption was under production in the 20th volume of manga (released in 2008). The Brotherhood, a later adaptation she talked about, was again produced by the same studio which produced the first adaptation, i.e., Bones.
Yasuhiro Irie directed the series, while Hiroshi Onogi wrote it, and it was composed by Akira Senju. It’s a faithful adaptation of the manga. The series premiered in Japan on April 5, 2009, by MBS-TBS. Brotherhood (2009), on the other hand, follows the manga storyline accurately and comprises 64 episodes that aired between August 2009 to August 2010.
One of the differences between Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood is the pacing that each follows. Fullmetal Alchemist is Slow-paced at the beginning, with each character given enough time for introduction and development.
The reason is quite apparent, the manga was not yet complete. However, after some episodes, the pace increases, and we reach a conclusion (almost) quite early.
Brotherhood is fast-paced, and lesser time is given for introduction and character development. Many people believed that it was made for those who had presumably watched the first anime adaptation and had read the manga.
Since 2003 anime faithfully depicted the early chapters of the manga, so Brotherhood rushed through the beginning of the plot but slowed down as it got to the parts that had not yet been adopted.
What Makes Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood Stand Apart?
Despite being the adaptations of the same manga series, both Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood are poles apart, if you ask me. Be it its theme, plot, characters, introduction, development, animation (to some extent), and ending, both the animes successfully distinguish themselves. Here are some of the main differences.
The Plot and Theme
The plot in both series is very different, if not entirely. The main storyline in both series revolves around two Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, their failed attempt to bring their dead mother back through human transmutation and the loss of Edward’s leg and arm and Alphonse’s body.
Both are about their journey to find a Philosopher stone to revive their bodies. But the rest of the storyline is entirely different. The Fullmetal Alchemist focuses more on Edward and Alphonse’s journey to find the cure for their problem. Dante and Homunculi are the evils in this series that hinder their journey.
Brotherhood, on the hand, is about the battle against the Father and protecting the people from his curses. It’s about finding the Truth and exploring the core value in the human’s heart.
Both the animes deal with ethical dilemmas, but each series has a different thematic focus. The Fullmetal Alchemist investigates the limits of science and asks how humans may engage in scientific study ethically. The plot focuses more on Shou Tucker’s terrible experiments and how homunculi are born due to failed attempts to resurrect the dead.
The inherent dignity of human life and breaking free from cycles of retribution are significant themes in Brotherhood. These concepts are explored through the account of the Ishvalan battle, which took place in the pursuit of a Philosopher’s Stone.
The Gate is the series’ most significant alteration. The Gate is the source of all alchemy and appears to be a source of endless knowledge in Brotherhood. The Gate is also guarded by an entity known as Truth, who is in charge of collecting the compulsory toll from alchemists performing the human conversion.
Those capable of alchemy have their own Gate. If that Gate is removed (by sacrificing it to Truth), they will lose their ability to execute alchemy. The Gate is still a source of alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003). Still, it also functions as a portal between Fullmetal Alchemist’s universe and Earth. Furthermore, the Gate’s abilities are derived from the souls.
Core Ideas and Concepts
This difference in core ideas is depicted through significant changes in different episodes or excluding some of them altogether. In addition, similar scenes are shown differently to convey other ideas. Some of the examples are:
The Human Transmutation
The episode of Edward and Alphonse performing human transmutation is more detailed and tragic than in Brotherhood. It looks more like a scientific experiment where two children anticipate the required results and have all the ingredients. In Brotherhood, the scene is depicted differently.
More emphasis is put on the concept of The Gate and the Truth, and it is darker, and more tension is built around the scenario. From the beginning, it looks like something wrong will happen, which is not portrayed in the first series, where the brothers go with childish innocence to get the desired results.
The first series is about the scientific aspect of human transmutation. The second is about the philosophical part, the right and the wrong.
A Forger’s Love
This episode is exclusive to Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and is not included in the Brotherhood. Edward and Alphonse visit a town on their quest to find the Philosopher stone, where it is rumored that the dead are coming back to life.
They called on an Alchemist in the town who used a weird form of human transmutation. He used the mannequins of his lover that he wanted to bring back, using a girl’s soul to perform the act.
This episode explores the curses of human transmutation. It’s about how the Alchemists use Alchemy for their nefarious purposes and its consequences. This episode is excluded from Brotherhood. It shows a similar concept through Shou Tucker’s incident, which is also part of the 2003 series, making this episode seem a bit redundant.
The Battle on the Train
The Battle on the Train is another episode excluded from the Brotherhood. This episode depicts Ed’s abilities and his power to fight competently with little to no planning. Roy Mustang‘s character is explored more through this episode. Roy puts them on the train to fight a gang member and protect a military General and his family.
His reason for putting two kids on a train in a life-threatening scenario was to get praised and become an important figure in the government. This event aligns with how Roy’s character is portrayed in the series as a cunning and self-serving man.
Maes Hughes’s role as a competent and intelligent man is also depicted. Including this episode in 2003 anime further elaborates that this series emphasizes characters’ personal traits and abilities.
Shou and Nina Tucker
Shou’s use of his daughter to create a talking Chimera is an evil common to both the series. But the event’s aftermath is entirely different. In Brotherhood, Shou and Nina(in Chimera form) are killed by Scar, a vigilante hunting for State Alchemists. Their story ends there (except for the nightmare that Ed had).
However, in Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 version, only Nina’s Chimera is killed by Scar, while Shou is arrested and sentenced to death. He was taken to Research laboratory 5 as a researcher and test subject. Tucker tried continuously to bring her back in chimera form, failing every time. Finally, one of these failures led to him transforming into a Chimera.
He was last seen drawing alchemy arrays on a wall with the Nina doll in his arms. Perhaps he was trying to recreate the happy times before his daughter became a victim of his studies or focused on bringing her back. We see more of them in the 2003 version, as the series is focused more on the scientific aspects of Alchemy.
The State Alchemist Test and Human Relationships
The State Alchemist Test is more detailed and rigorous in Fullmetal Alchemist than in Brotherhood, depicting how the science of Alchemy is given more limelight in the former. In the 2003 anime, Alphonse also gives the written test. Still, he fails to provide the physical one to not let people know his secret behind the armor body.
In Brotherhood, the state Alchemist test is rushed, and Alphonse does not give the test, as the first series focuses more on personal traits. Alphonse wanted to become a state Alchemist only to stay close to his brother, and Ed felt the pain Alphonse felt for not being able to do that. Ironically, the 2003 anime is more about Ed and Al’s relationship than Brotherhood.
It explores their relationship more, their childhood, and their characteristics as humans. The series also does so by including the episode of Psiren the thief.
The ending of both series is entirely different. While Brotherhood has a happy ending with Ed and Alphonse defeating the Father on the Promised day and reviving their bodies, the Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) anime has a different and hanging ending.
Although Al has gotten his body back, Ed gets lost in another world, i.e., Earth, while reviving his brother’s body. Hence the journey of Alphonse trying to bring his brother back starts, which is later depicted in the sequel movie, Conqueror of Shamballa.
The other thing that distinguishes Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood is how the characters are portrayed, their appearance, story, and development. Although the main protagonists and supporting cast are almost the same in both series, their plot contributions vary. Furthermore, since the plot of both series is different, the role played by the characters evidently differs.
Not only are the characters different, but more time is given to their introduction and development in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) than in Brotherhood. Here is the list of differently portrayed characters and some of those exclusive to either series.
One of the significant differences in both the series is that the main antagonist is an entirely different person that takes the plot in different directions. The devils in both the series differ, and so does their importance to the story.
The Father and Dante
In Brotherhood, the main villain is The Father, a superhuman entity capable of performing transmutation at command without regard for equivalent exchange. His ultimate objective is to take the power of “God” and become an entity of unlimited power, immortality, and knowledge.
He has created the Homunculi from the Philosopher stones that he forged with his own blood. He believes that the Homunculi will help him achieve his goals. Father’s body is constructed by and contains the Philosopher’s Stone. He is the devil who wants to kill the Amestrian people and use their souls to create Philosophers stone. Brotherhood is about the fight against him.
In Fullmetal Alchemist, a woman named Dante is the main antagonist. Unlike Father, she is an ordinary human. She created a Philosopher’s Stone and used it to transfer her consciousness into multiple bodies.
She did not ‘create’ the homunculi (although she is, in fact, the mother of “Envy”); instead, she uses them as her minions to achieve her goals. Dante managed to live a long time by transferring her consciousness into the body of other human beings whenever she got close to death.
Dante’s only motivation is to live forever, while the Father also wanted infinite power and godhood. She was Hohenheim’s lover in the past, and they even had a son, but he died early. Basically, Dante is the stepmother to Edward and Alphonse. While the Father was an “uncle’ to them (as Hohenheim’s blood was used in creating him).
Homunculi, the seven sins personified, are the common factor in both Fullmetal Alchemist and Brotherhood. However, they differ in many ways, mainly being their creation.
In the Fullmetal Alchemist, Homunculi are created due to failed Human transmutation. While in Brotherhood, Homunculi are created by the Father, with each having a Philosopher Stone at its core. Unlike Fullmetal Alchemist Homunculi, Brotherhood’s Homunculi do not have an “original” body to be destroyed.
Instead, the Philosopher’s Stone that powers them needs to be destroyed or drained by its power (usually by forcing them to regenerate multiple times). Not only their creation is different, but also their identities and appearance vary significantly.
Although Envy’s name and physical appearance are similar in both the series(with only a slight difference in hair color), his character’s origins are entirely different. In Fullmetal Alchemist, he results from failed human transmutation that Hohenheim performed to bring his dead son back. While in Brotherhood, he is created by the Father using the Philosopher stone.
His abilities are the same in both series. i.e., shape-shifting. Envy is revealed to shift into a dog in the manga and the Brotherhood. However, Envy’s final form in the Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) anime is a gigantic serpentine dragon.
Lust’s name is similar in both the series, but her appearance varies slightly. For example, Lust has a black dress in the first series, but in Brotherhood, she has a reddish-brown dress. Her role differs as well in both the animes. While Lust played an extensive role in the 2003 version, she died pretty early in the Brotherhood at the hands of Roy Mustang.
Wrath’s character is entirely different in both series. While King Bradley of Amestris is the Homunculus Wrath in Brotherhood, in Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime version, Wrath is the Homunculus reincarnation of Izumi Curtis’s son, who died at birth. Also, Homunculus Wrath in Brotherhood is the only one not created by the Father.
Wrath is the only Homunculus from the Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) whose appearance and role are entirely original to manga. Izumi’s child that she tried to transmute was only mentioned in the manga but was never shown in Brotherhood.
In Brotherhood, the Homunculus Pride is Selim Bradley, the son of King Bradley(who himself is Wrath). At the same time, in Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime, Homunculus Pride is actually King Bradley, and his son does not exist.
Wrath in Brotherhood is one of two human-based Homunculus. The characters, appearance, and storyline are entirely different in both series.
Sloth is also an entirely different character in both series. In Brotherhood, he has a gigantic appearance. In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) anime, Sloth is created due to Edward and Alphonse’s attempt to bring their dead mother back through human transmutation.
Therefore, she looks like her. In Brotherhood, Sloth is an enormous, muscular man who embodies the sin for which he is named. While Sloth is not lazy in the 2003 anime, she’s indifferent and emotionless in Brotherhood.
Gluttony and Greed
The other two Homunculus, Gluttony and Greed have almost similar names and appearances in both the series, with only indistinct differences in their appearance.
Hohenheim is a regular human being in Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime who used to be Dante’s lover. He eventually left her since he no longer shared her quest for immortality at any cost.
He, like Dante, fashioned a Philosopher’s Stone and extended his life by transferring his consciousness into the body of another person. He has a minor role in the 2003 anime, and after a failed encounter with Dante, he remains stranded on the other side of the Gate.
However, in the Brotherhood and manga, Hohenheim is a human Philosopher’s Stone that seems to have an endless source of power. Even though he was born into slavery, Father granted him near-immortality long before the events of the series.
In Brotherhood, Hohenheim has a more significant role, going off against Father at the end of the series. However, unlike in the 2003 version, he dies in the end after finally exhausting the power of his Philosopher’s Stone.
Other than his character’s story, his appearance also differs. Hohenheim is calmer and friendly in the 2003 series, contrary to his stern and tough persona in Brotherhood.
Izumi Curtis is Master Alchemist responsible for giving Ed and Alphonse their Alchemy and combat training. This storyline is the same in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Brotherhood; however, her background and plot differ. She has a different ‘Master’ in both the series.
She is almost self-taught in Brotherhood, while in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), she is shown to be the pupil of Dante, the series’s leading antagonist. The homunculus Wrath in 2003 anime is created due to her failed attempt at human transmutation to bring her still-born child back.
The 2003 anime explores Izumi’s character more, and her different sides are depicted. Izumi gives Wrath, her son, to the Gate, only to regret it when she hears its cries. As a result, Izumi is plagued with regret throughout the series. She spends the whole series attempting to win the Homunculus’ forgiveness and affection.
This change in her character in the 2003 anime highlights the underlying themes of this version, i.e., the evils of human transmutation and the consequences of performing the forbidden act.
Mei Chang is an interesting character that is exclusive only to the Brotherhood. She is Xingese Alchemist Mastered in the art of Eastern Alchemy and Alkahestery. Mei is one of the protagonists in the series and later catches the eye of Alphonse. She is not present in the 2003 anime as the writers thought she might not serve any purpose in the story.
Her role in Brotherhood was supporting Edward and Al in their journey to redemption. Since this is not the only point of focus in 2003 anime, her character was excluded.
Scar, a vigilante on the hunt of State Alchemists, is a familiar character in both series. However, his appearance, background, and role differ to only some extent.
Scar comes off much more subdued in the first series and seems younger in demeanor. However, in the Brotherhood, Scar comes off as more intimidating and angry. In addition, his right arm tattoo is slightly different in design in Brotherhood compared to his 2003 series counterpart.
Scar, in the Brotherhood, is part of a sect of warrior monks, and it’s shown that he was already a highly-skilled fighter well before gaining his arm of destruction.
However, in the 2003 anime, he is just a regular Ishbalan citizen. He just happens to have his abilities grafted onto him by his brother to save his life. Thus, all this version has going for him is his empowered arm, though it alone makes him still very deadly.
Since Brotherhood is more focused on human characteristics and their journeys to find the Truth, Scar’s character is more highlighted.
Many of the characters in both series differ in one way or another. Their names may be the same, even their roles, but the distinction is unavoidable due to different plots and themes.
Roy Mustang’s character, for example. He is shown to be more cunning and self-serving in the 2003 anime version than in Brotherhood. Brotherhood also focuses and puts the limelight on Roy’s character, mainly because he was highly popular, and people wanted to see more of him.
Also, Rose Thomas’ character differs in both series. She has a more tragic past in the first series and is shown to be more vulnerable. She almost becomes the victim of Dante, but she comes out of her trap and becomes a source of guidance for Edward. In Brotherhood, her role is limited to one episode, and her character’s backstory is also not given.
Even though both series include high-quality art, the 2009 anime has far more advanced animation. For example, there are several sequences in the 2003 series. Only the speaking character moves, and nothing else happens in the background. Brotherhood’s scenery, on the other hand, is constantly alive with motion, which serves to make the world feel more natural.
The color palette of the Brotherhood is considerably more colorful and varied, which suits the action-oriented tone.
The Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime received positive reviews from critics and audiences. IGN named it the ninety-fifth-best animated series. Although it is primarily upbeat with fantastic action scenes, it also touches upon the human condition. In addition, the character designs were praised for being different from each other by the critics.
It was referred to as a classic with perfect proportions of action, comedy, suspense, and drama. It received several accolades and won in several categories in American Anime Awards. It received some negative reviews as well for lack of character growth. Also, the ending was criticized.
Brotherhood was also received well by both critics and audiences. It was appreciated for its high-grade animation and for being the faithful adaptation of the original manga series. Some critics did not like the rushed starting episodes, while others criticized it for repetitive themes in the first half.
Many reviewers thought the climax episodes were superior to the conclusion of the previous Fullmetal Alchemist anime because of how the action sequences and morality were portrayed. The ending was praised, and overall the reviews were primarily positive.
Which One Do I Love More?
Well, that’s debatable. I loved both, but for entirely different reasons. I loved Brotherhood for its high-grade animation, refreshing music, color palette, and loyalty to the manga. The episodes are rushed, and if you are entirely new to Fullmetal Alchemist, it would be difficult to catch up.
So much is happening at the beginning of the series that it’s almost confusing. Lesser time is paid for character introduction. But if you are someone who has already read the manga and watched the 2003 version, then you would absolutely love it. The plotline is more about human characteristics and is full of life lessons.
Comedic timing is also better in this series, and the most important thing, the ending was brilliant. Who doesn’t like happy endings? Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) is impressive, to say the least. If you are into sci-fi, then it’s for you. I love how the characters are given more time, and their introduction is elaborate.
Each character has its own tale and development. This series portrays human relations more beautifully, especially ‘brotherhood’ (ironically). The music is intense, and the color palette is darker. Animation is good, considering the time when it was made.
Contrary to the Brotherhood, it’s more focused on scientific experimentation, consequences, and curses. It has more drama in it which I liked.
However, I did not like the ending, and the sequel movie was a disaster, in my opinion. One of the things that I did not like in 2003 anime was its lack of emphasis on female protagonists, like Winry Rockbell and Riza Hawkeye. They are over-shadowed and serve little to the plot, unlike Brotherhood.
Question: Which One Should I Watch First, the Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) or Brotherhood?
Answer: Both the series are different takes on the same manga. To better understand the world of Alchemy, it is suggested to watch the 2003 version first, then read the manga and go for Brotherhood. Character introduction is given more time in the first series, so it would be easier to understand them.
Question: Did Ed and Alphonse Retrieve Their Bodies in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)?
Answer: Ed got killed by Envy while trying to rescue abducted Alphonse. He was revived by Alphonse using the Philosopher stone. After being revived, Edward risked his life to bring back his brother and finds himself in Munich while Alphonse recovers his original body.
Unfortunately, Edward lost his right arm again after transmuting himself to revive Alphonse, which was initially used to get Alphonse’s soul back. He also lost his left leg again in the process.
Question: Did Hiromu Arakawa Write the Script for Brotherhood?
Answer: Although Brotherhood is a faithful adaptation of the original manga series by Hiromu Arakawa, she did not write the script for it. Some creative liberties were taken, and it was written by Hiroshi Onogi.
Question: Was the Father Also Present in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)?
Answer: No, he was not. Instead, the leading antagonist in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) was Dante, a woman who had lived for more than 400 years. Unlike Father, she did not create Homunculi.
Fullmetal Alchemist vs Brotherhood: Conclusion
Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Brotherhood (2009), the two adaptations of the same manga, are not only great series but somehow are successful in distinguishing themselves. Be it the plotline, the theme, the characters, and the story, each leaves a different mark on the viewers. The first series takes creative liberties and diverges from the manga storyline, but that does not make it less enjoyable.
On the other hand, Brotherhood is loyal to the manga, and it absolutely does not feel like an unnecessary remake. Both the series have different takes on the world of Alchemy and serve discrete purposes. The genres are also somewhat different. The first series is more of a Drama, and the Brotherhood is a classic shonen series.