At least I can talk about why this anime is good without taking cheapshots at another one. FMA 2003 was MEANT to be different. Most of the reasons I see for Brotherhood being superior more or less say the same thing: that because FMA 2003 isn’t like Brotherhood, it sucks. Does it?
I’m not saying it doesn’t have flaws. Emphasizing the good things doesn’t ever mean something doesn’t have flaws.
1. FMA 2003 gave its male leads (Ed and Roy) emotional vulnerability. Since Brotherhood worked the positive angle, the misery moments guys like Ed and Roy went through were infrequent and toned down. (i.e. they didn’t complain a lot about their circumstances.) The positive angle’s great, but what FMA1 did was give a human voice to very human characters. Ed and Roy and other characters take time to grieve over what’s happening to them. “Move forward” they indeed still say, but they also have a human balance of getting caught up in their own pain. Sometimes it’s hard to move forward even when you want to.
2. FMA 2003 dares to ask whether equivalent exchange is the way of the world. In Brotherhood/manga, it’s pretty clear that it is. What happens here is that because of all the horrible things that sometimes happen to the characters, fate looks cruel in both versions. But in the end, FMA:B’s/manga’s characters earn back for what they put in. Roy getting his eyesight back? Roy loses an eye and gets demoted at the end of the 03. Once again, talk all you want about the positive angle, but this is the real angle. Yes, maybe fate was at the other extreme and was overly cruel. But FMA1 tries to depict a world in which things aren’t fair. And with extraordinary circumstances comes extraordinary unfairness.
3. FMA 2003 created Homunculi in a way that ties them to alchemists. FMA1 hit harder on various themes, including horrible things alchemy is capable of, and the fact that no matter what everyone’s intentions are, if destruction follows, it’s still an evil deed. The Homunculi were created with the best of intentions and they still caused such evil. It’s easy to blame them, or only blame Dante, but Homunculi were used in the 03 to illustrate that everyone was to blame for the terrible things that were happening. FMA:B had its reasons for having the villain it did (I’ll rant on that later), but FMA1 didn’t blame something supernatural for what humans are capable of doing themselves: genocide and widespread destruction and bloodshed.
4. Religion is adequately blamed while alchemy is also viewed as a religion. I don’t know…FMA:B viewed alchemy positively in general, like a gift. That’s why we have Ling’s quote about how Ed looks like he’s praying when he transmutes. It’s like alchemy’s another gift from God, and alchemy and religion aren’t that far apart. What FMA:B does is highlight how alchemy can be used for good more than the terrible things it can do; FMA 2003 takes the other road and emphasizes that religion—or alchemy, as that’s the subject of the series—can be used for great evil.
5. It took just a few volumes of FMA’s manga and created an entire story from what little material and themes it had to explore. FMA1 delved deep into equivalent exchange, religion, the emotional wreck you could become if you experienced what any one of these characters did, the Homunculi having human traits—a theme FMA:B later explored—while emphasizing their desire to become human because they weren’t that far off anyway, etc. This anime has been called a fanfic in a negative connotation, but I think it’s a fanfic in a positive connotation. How hard is it to write something based on only a little information? The 03 was never trying to guess where Arakawa would go; it was trying to go somewhere else. And it did.
6. It takes characters that end up playing minor roles in FMA:B/manga and expounds on them. Sheska, Rose—hell, even Hughes lasted longer. All three of these characters have pretty large roles in the plot, giving them some of what the manga did not. It’s like those fanfics that want to explore minor characters BECAUSE they were never big. This is the same thing.
7. It takes the FMA universe and essentially makes it godless. That’s what I got from it, anyway. It’s not called “Truth” in FMA 03. It’s called “The Gate”, this thing that’s so indifferent and unfair that it doesn’t even bother to communicate with humans. It just takes and humans keep giving to the void. That might not be the FMA manga fans know, but it IS a pretty relevant theme for the how many millions of miserable people out there?
8. It more directly parallels the relationship of Ed and Al with Scar and his brother. Of course, FMA:B did this too, so no shots taken. However, the parallel Scar himself drew ended up being his motivation. Granted that his motivation killed a lot of people—motivation doesn’t automatically equal GOOD THING. Just means that Scar emotionally connected to the bond the Elric brothers shared, and that was the only thing in the world that gave him hope and happiness.
9. It uses the Philosopher’s Stone as a way of illustrating mankind’s selfishness. I’m still working on what FMA:B used it for, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who analyze that. I do know the Stone is partly thematic material though. And the Stone bypasses equivalent exchange; Ed and Al’s continued pursuit of it, even after they know how it’s made, displays the selfish tendencies of human beings. And until Ed realized that using that Stone only resulted in evil, he WAS giving to the void. Ed and Al thought their pursuit of the Stone was enough work for equivalent exchange to be fair and get their bodies back. But the Stone itself is a symbol of getting without giving, taking without earning, and hurting other people for personal gain. Until Ed offered himself instead, he had no reward in his pursuit.
10. Another point on the Stone: Ed is more morally ambiguous about it in this version. He’s as tempted by its promise as he is horrified by its origins. Even Al is drawn to it eventually. People—even people who try to live up to being noble, upright people, like Ed—aren’t inherently unselfish, and FMA1 forces them to weigh their human nature against what is right.
11. The music. Okay, this is getting almost too close to the art argument…while I can’t talk about music like an expert, I can talk about how it affected my experience personally. FMA:B’s music is powerful and plot/action-driven. It has emotional pieces, and overall its music fits the anime it was made for. So does FMA1’s music, and in my opinion FMA1’s music draws you towards the characters more than towards the events. It takes more time to dwell on the grief and sad moments of the characters, and when there’s a dark shroud settling over the lives of these characters, the music REMAINS dark/sad/ominous. It doesn’t offer this ray of light until there actually IS a ray of light coming. And all of this is a nonexpert opinion, but it’s wholly my experience with FMA1.
12. Embarking on a different route, FMA1 explores the dark side of human imperfection. I’ll get to the part about humans being human being a good thing, but it’s also got a lot of nasty stuff to it. Sins are actually shown for what they are because FMA1 isn’t trying to emphasize that imperfection makes us human; it’s only emphasizing what some of that imperfection is running around and doing—namely, killing thousands of people and hurting scores more.
13. FMA 03 gives Lust character development. Other than Sloth and Gluttony, Lust is the only intelligent Homunculus in FMA:B/manga who is not given any sympathy. FMA1 says thank you very much and gives her a storyline anyway.
14. Roy is exposed for being a dick. You HAVE to be a pretty big dick to kill so many people. You have to let go of a lot of your sympathy to do something like that. I’d guess this is the part of FMA1 that manga fans despise most. Well, in the manga, Roy STILL killed thousands of people. And I did read the Ishval volume—he’s not whining and barely able to look at somebody when he kills them. He’s cold. What FMA 2003 does is continue that character he showed in Ishval—he wants to redeem himself, and YES, that’s a HUGE reason why he’s trying to reach the top. I know we like to believe in heroes who have no selfish motivations, but this hero DID have selfish motivations. FMA1 brings that out, and if it’s not pretty? A mass murderer isn’t a role model and even if Roy chose the right path in FMA:B, it was redemption. Not an example to follow. Do I love the concept of his character? Absolutely. Do I think he’s a normal guy who is a victim of that war? Hell no. Believing in Roy as a completely unselfish and wholesome individual is almost the same to me as believing that Bush was one—as he sent people into a war based on pride. Bush had good intentions too. Just sayin’.
15. The parallel world allows FMA to parallel even further some of the European history it is based off of. Nuff said.
16. The relationship between Izumi and the boys is explored more. Just saying; I fell in love with that relationship in the 03 because they just had more scenes together. HEARTSTRINGS.
17. The relationship between Ed and Al is deepened. Two brothers who would die for each other in a heartbeat. Story’s been done before (and wherever it has been done I am likely to watch or read it). But the circumstances have probably never been so drastic, where they share a bond deeper than blood because they’ve been through hell—almost literally. The first anime focuses more on Ed and Al’s relationship.
18. I love my canon pairings, but FMA 2003 explores the idea of several non-canon pairings, if only in hints and subtext. Once again, enough said. It’s kind of nice when those ships the fans might’ve liked even from the beginning of the manga get some coverage. How much fiction actually gets a second chance to look at alternate pairings? FMA1 is a rare opportunity for non-canon fans.
19. I am quite convinced Arakawa incorporated a twisted version of a lot of the things FMA1 did into the manga. Roy loses an eye in the 03…Roy goes blind in FMA:B. Ed dies by being stabbed in the gut in the 03…Ed nearly dies by having his abdomen punctured with a pole in FMA:B. Winry ends up traveling with Ed and Al, south in FMA1, and north in FMA:B. Riza nearly loses her mind when she thinks Roy is dead after Roy kills Bradley; Riza breaks down when Lust indicates Roy is dead in FMA:B.
20. FMA1 explores automail just a bit in “Her Reason”. Winry wants Ed to appreciate automail and later explains it’s an extension of him. I don’t say that BECAUSE I’m an EdWin fan. Looking back, things like this helped make me a Winry AND an EdWin fan. Winry is so passionate about her craft that she wants to make an arm that is so good, it becomes a part of Ed…where he doesn’t even miss his old arm. Alright, give Winry flak all you want. But the boys’ quest looked about as impossible as Zuko looking for the Avatar (sorry if you don’t understand that reference). And she just wanted to help them any way she could. Funny how Winry’s storyline is smaller in the 03 and they still gave her little things like this.
21. In some ways, the military’s cruelty is explored more. I already mentioned that Roy is exemplified as a coldhearted bastard, but the military’s continuing abuse of the Ishvalans is emphasized as well. Not even to mention the storyline where Rose is raped and has the child of an Amestrian soldier.
22. The past literally haunts people. Mentioned this before because it’s about the Homunculi, but what better way to bring out the grief the 2003 intended to emphasize than to have mistakes literally following you? This really isn’t even worth a comparison to FMA1’s counterpart and inspiration. When I’d only seen the 2003, I thought this was just such a brilliant plot device. I still think so.
23. It emphasizes Ed and Roy’s relationship. Two disclaimers: That relationship can be interpreted any way you want in either version, and secondly, I do in fact love the trust they had between them in FMA:B/manga. That pulled at my heartstrings. But what the 03 did was bring out some of Ed’s inherent distrust in the military and in Roy. Roy, bastard I think he is, did have good intentions..but sometimes it was hard for him to manifest those good intentions because he had goals of his own. Goals that would help people eventually, but another discussion, that. The distrust, the fact that Roy was so willing to sacrifice to help Ed—and in the manga he was too, but this fact is made clear by FMA1—Ed looking to Roy as an example (for better or worse), maybe as a father figure…I just loved some of the moments they had.
..And honestly? Once people get over themselves and realize that someone who commits mass murder might just be a bit of a jerk, I’m just saying, they’d see the brilliance in either interpretation of his character.
24. It took more time to bring out the fatherly role Hughes had in Ed and Al’s life. This has more to do with how much time Hughes was allotted in each series than it does with what actually happened. They had time to insert more moments between the two.
25. Following up on Hughes, it makes you look at Hughes for being a good person rather than a good soldier. Hughes never fought in the Ishval war. He stayed at home. Good fighter? Well yes. He fought Homunculi. But even better is the emphasis placed on his relationships and his loyalty to what is right.
26. It emphasizes Scar’s guilt. “A mind who inflicts suffering cannot rest.” Again, one theme that severely diverges from FMA:B/manga is the idea that redemption isn’t possible sometimes. It DOES become possible for some characters, but not all of them, and not in a very picture-perfect way. I understand what the manga was trying to do and I fangirl over it as much as I do the 2003, but sometimes, redemption doesn’t happen.
27. Winry’s mini-speech on what happened to her parents. “I’d imagine the people who killed my parents as demons…but now I know the man who did it and I respect him somehow.” Besides emphasizing a depth I think the manga/FMA:B implied in Winry (she sees horrible things and is able to know the gray area and see past her own feelings to understand greater things), this speech brings out the gray area when it comes to interpreting people and actions. And…what greater controversy among the fandom is there than how we interpret Roy and his actions?
28. It is character-driven. That’s not to say that FMA:B/manga’s characters were bad in any way, but they were shaped by the circumstances around them. In FMA1, it’s more like the other way around: FMA’s characters, with all their sins and some of their nobility and selfishness and sacrifices (oh no here come the feelings)…they shaped the plot themselves for the most part. And because the plot moved more slowly, we got to look at these characters in slow-motion, frame by frame, emotion by emotion, action by action.
29. Ed and Al’s fight over Al possibly being fake is dragged out longer. Once again, premise is important here: FMA:B/manga was emphasizing that unselfish people resolve conflict and grief quickly. FMA1 takes almost the opposite stance; people who are in that much pain will have a harder time getting past that and any conflict that comes up. Ed and Al’s argument is a good example of this.
30. Ed actually gets a chance to make the Philosopher’s Stone. This is one temptation Ed never faced in FMA:B/manga, so it was an interesting exploration of human selfishness and human nature. What would Ed do if he had the chance? Especially when circumstances seem hazy and we’ve got condemned prisoners as ingredients? (Hey, if Roy isn’t deserving of death just because he did good things after doing bad things then this is also a moral gray area.)
31. Al is used against Ed. We know Ed and Al’s bond is deep, and we know the military liked to use Ed’s ties to family/friends against him. So why does that never happen in the manga? Well, I suppose Al isn’t a pacifist in the manga. That’s one reason. Another is that Ed was deemed more important to the villain’s devices in FMA1 than Al was (both of them were critical to Father’s plan in FMAB/manga by contrast). But it sure made for a heartwrenching storyline because Ed’s closest bond is used against him.
32. Following on that, Al’s blood seal is vulnerable. Okay, okay, reason with me however you want here. I don’t quite understand how that seal could be invincible when Al gets buried in snow, etc. in the manga/Brotherhood. (I could use some guidebooks to how alchemy is supposed to work before I make an absolute determination here.) But it does seem entirely possible that Al’s blood seal would be his kryptonite.
33. Ed’s attitude toward the rest of the world is revealed clearly. Early on in the manga and Brotherhood, Ed, of course, had this attitude where he didn’t like accepting help and he really didn’t have a lot of trust in anyone but he and Al. Ed later changes his mind, but the 2003 continues the idea that Ed only fully trusts Al. “We’re all we’ve got”, he says after dealing with a serial killer. Time and again, when Ed encounters the things he does in FMA, he has two choices: move forward and accept that evil can happen while people are still good, or become jaded and cynical toward the world. In FMA:B/manga, he did the former. In the 03, he does the latter.
34. Winry being captured by Barry the Chopper heightens the feeling Ed has—that his loved ones will be used against him if he is too close to them. This continues throughout the series, such as when Ed keeps Hughes and Roy/gang out of the loop to protect them. Winry is used as a hostage in the manga/Brotherhood, so I think this is especially relevant that she is nearly killed. Even though EdWin is far from canon in FMA1, there are still things like this that emphasize how close Ed is/was to her—and why he thought he had to sever his ties.
35. PURELY referring to what the characters look like…Al resembles his mom. I mean, Trisha was only the impetus for all the boys’ struggles in the first place. One of her sons looking like her isn’t so bad, is it?
36. Nina Tucker is referenced more throughout the series. For something that affected Ed and Al so much, I’m just glad that they’re so emotionally tied that they hammer Nina’s story home time and again.
37. Hughes’s funeral scene and the aftermath. I’ll grant this might be preference, but I liked several things about the way it was done in FMA1: the music being played hints at cruel fate (once again a theme unique to the 03 and not anything the manga was obligated to do)…and for all the criticisms I do have (gasp—I have criticisms for this series? I’m an objective being? NO WAY!) for Hawkeye’s character in it…speaking from a Royai perspective, I love that Riza automatically understood what Roy meant about rain. She didn’t even hesitate. She just knew to acknowledge rain, and that might be one of the only moments I liked Hawkeye in the 03. (Hawkeye in general was better in Brotherhood, IMO. But again, that’s still based on premises that don’t have to start a war…)
38. Following up on Nina’s story, I thought the confrontation between Ed and Shou Tucker was more emotional. From the music used to the way Nina confronted Ed to, hell, even maybe the lighting in the room, I just got more feels from that version. Not saying the confrontation isn’t feel-worthy no matter which you watch, but I think it’s fairly agreeable that FMA1 heightened the grief in that scene.
39. Ed and Roy go back and forth on the principle of vengeance. This is human nature. We might know what’s right and want to do it, but that which we hate, we do. That which we want to do…we don’t do it. Because desires and pain get in the way, and Ed and Roy certainly had their fair share of desires and pain (and guilt).
40. It epitomizes humanity without downplaying humanity’s faults. I understand that FMA:B was trying to say that sometimes your faults are a good thing (i.e. Greed is also hope, wrath is understandable, etc.). But once again, sometimes those faults are very, very bad. As in causes destruction and takes from innocents bad.
41. Ed’s speech about how “We’re only human”. “We couldn’t even save a little girl!”—enough said. Emotional moment that brings out Nina’s death and brings out just how horrible the Elrics’ circumstances are. Ed also says “we’re only human” in the manga/Brotherhood, but this is fleshed out more.
42. Tucker brings out that Ed’s obsession with alchemy is about more than redemption or bringing someone back/restoring their body. Ed wants to put his mind to use—even doing sickening things. And alchemy is a science that can—and did, even in the manga—drive people insane. So FMA1 brings out Ed’s insanity with scenes like the one where he contemplated making the Stone.
43. FMA1 treats alchemy like a religion. Alchemists worship this science like it can do anything, and they justify themselves by saying they worked and equivalent exchange takes effect. But sometimes alchemy ends up being this craft to work miracles when someone doesn’t want to do things the hard way. FMA1 strives to bring out that side of alchemy—the side that makes it an idol that PREVENTS you from moving forward rather than allowing it. (Some themes I’m going on about are present to some degree in both versions, but depending on what you’re talking about, generally one version expounds and the other limits said theme.)
44. FMA1 leaves the serious moments alone. FMA 2003 had plenty of comedy, and although a lot of people say it downplayed what comedy it did have to be depressing, I must disagree. FMA 2003 never interrupted serious, sober moments with something funny. Now I’m not saying that’s always a bad idea to do it—a lot of anime/manga does the same thing. Puts anything positive on that negative spot to erase it. But I’m just saying…some people prefer to contemplate those sad/angry/serious moments without a gag interrupting.
45. Ed is confronted with the idea of killing and actually has to do it. He is in both versions, but the difference is that clearly evil people were asking him to do it in the manga/Brotherhood. It’s slightly more ambiguous when he has to confront Greed or do things that any ordinary soldier would be called upon to do—without a corrupt government run by hideous immortal beings.
46. Continuing the emphasis on parallels between religion and alchemy, Cornello is dead serious when he confronts Ed about his mistakes. Whatever Cornello is doing, it appears that he genuinely believes Ed has insulted God, and this sets the stage for a comparison and clash of science vs faith and the point where alchemy makes the two collide.
47. It uses equivalent exchange to justify vengeance. Sounds ridiculous until you realize that a murderer is punished with death in most cases in our system…why couldn’t it be extended the way Scar used it?
48. It made Al’s pleas to Ed—after Ed was ready to let Scar kill him—more serious. They were pretty serious in both versions, once again. But the way the dialogue is phrased and the downsizing of funny expressions makes this scene very poignant to me. (Remember, I’m attached to all of this. This is not a debate I’m trying to score points in just because I might be able to.)
49. Izumi wisely asks the Elrics whether their pursuit of restoration is the attempt to fix one mistake with another. For a long time in both series, Ed and Al were still after human transmutation. FMA1 does ask some logical questions about their journey and what they find on it.
50. Izumi’s relationship with her son is explored. Obviously this is impossible in FMA:B/manga, so no fault to it. But quite a moving storyline, especially considering the Homunculus she created is Wrath. He acts like her in temperament, only to a bigger extreme, and he has alternating moments of wishing to acknowledge her as his mother and shunning her.
51. It shows flashbacks of the military’s chimera experiments. This adds to the ghastly horror that is 1. the military’s cruelty and lack of morals, even among humans as much as among Homunculi, 2. the plight of the hybrid human-animal species that are introduced in FMA.
52. Following on that, FMA1 makes Shou Tucker a chimera. Besides that it makes you question equivalent exchange and whether that’s fair trade, what irony.
53. Immortality is the endgame for the villains. I think that’s interesting because Ed and Al were trying to defy the natural order of things by reversing Trisha’s death. This is only an extension of that idea, and immortality is a subject I love to see covered when resurrection and supernatural beings are being introduced into the story.
54. It lets Sheska and Winry use some logic. Besides that I like someone as smart as Sheska having a bigger role, she and Winry figure out a huge military secret all on their own. That suits what is supposed to be above-average intelligence for both of them.
55. Hohenheim is brought down to the level of a human. He makes the same mistake in both versions, but in FMA:B/manga that mistake is almost this deal where his absence allowed his boys to grow and save Amestris. In FMA1, Hohenheim is shown to love his boys while being a sinner who is as prone to mistakes as the next man.
56. For people who really hate the downplaying of Royai, they sure had some cute moments in the 2003 together. Roy putting glasses on Hawkeye and noting how nice she looks, for example. Little things FMA1 indulged.
57. Speaking of little things, how about the smile newly christened state alchemist Edward gives Winry when she asks if she can buy things? FMA:B/manga did have moments where they made it clear Ed cares for Winry, but sometimes it’s the moments that come when nothing bad is happening and things look kind of peachy.
58. Ed’s “Even when our eyes are closed, there’s a whole world out there that lives outside ourselves and our dreams” line. Ed emphasizes a lesson he learns in both versions to some extent: The world is bigger than his desires, and until he realizes that and acts that way, he’ll never truly earn anything.
59. “Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only, truth. But the world isn’t perfect, and the law is incomplete. Equivalent Exchange doesn’t encompass everything that goes on here, but I still choose to believe in its principle, that all things do come at a price, that there’s an ebb and a flow, a cycle, that the pain we went through, did have a reward, and that anyone who’s determined and perseveres, will get something of value in return, even if it’s not what they expected.”
I’m sorry, but sentimental value—HUH? Tell me how that’s not positive as a sharp contrast to all the grief in the series. Tell me how that’s not deep when people realize that the way of the world might not be input equals output but that hard work and blood, sweat and tears DOES amount to something. After all the HELL they went through and they can still say that? That’s remarkable and if you think about it, it’s only a deeper expansion of Ed’s “Fullmetal heart” quote. (Or I suppose vice versa since I don’t think it’s ridiculous that Arakawa might’ve taken inspiration from the above quote.)
I said 101 before but I’m pretty sure this post is long enough. That, and I’m doing my best to not just say what I liked but what is actually relevant to fans of either series. That kind of thing.
So…if we just like the 03 for sentimental value, I just wrote 59 paragraphs more or less on that. So if it’s sentimental, it’s not shallow.
Not that I expect anybody but those who defend FMA1 to read this anyway. But these are fundamentally different shows and I’ve defended BOTH of them from people who want to stick their noses up at either. Taking one comment as a reason for bashing this anime is really not worth it. This isn’t the damned civil rights movement.
And if it is? Well…there’s 59 more reasons why we have rights too.