Fullmetal Alchemist: A Comparison (spoiler warning)

Plot

Oh the plot I and just don’t know where to begin. From my understanding, the original series was made with the intention of not having the same ending as the manga. The problem is for the first half of the anime it closely follows the manga with a few deviations and fillers. When I’m trying to explain Brotherhood to people who have seen the first anime, I say that it starts off pretty much the same, but will suddenly branch off on its own. At that point the story in Brotherhood picks up and only gets better and better. Unfortunately, because the first anime used plenty of material from the manga, it creates an assortment of plot holes and problems the more it deviated from the manga.

Some key problems:

An antagonist incapable of creating her own philosophers stone

Really? This prime mover of the events taking place can rally the homunculi, spread incomprehensible war, and secretly lead the actions of a nation, but she can’t find out how to create a philosophers stone. The plot falls apart for me here. It’s absolutely absurd that she is relying on others like Ed or Scar to create a philosophers stone when they have as about the same chance of discovering the method as she does. Deconstruct the plot further and more problems arise. Originally there seems to be a motive brewing among the Homunculi to become fully human, but that vein never goes anywhere except a few dialogues with Lust. At that point the method to create a philosophers stone is actually already understood when Ed is nearly tricked into transmuting prisoners into a stone. You would think that for someone who apparently saw the “Truth” twice would have the alchemical knowledge and ambition to have already created a philosophers stone by attempting to transmute a large number of lives. It’s hard to fathom why such a roundabout method was used. Sink people into despair in order to push someone into trying to create a philosophers stone. Yeah.

Failed Human Transmutation Remains

Anyone notice where the failed transmutation went? In Brotherhood, Ed, Al, and Pinako bury the remains, because they believe that it was their mother and that they had only failed in some way to successfully complete the transmutation. However, in the first series Dante conveniently discovers the “homunculus” (why and how did she know to be there?) and take it away from there without anyone knowing.

Naming convention for the homunculus

Well now there’s something to discuss. Why on earth are these homunculi named after the seven deadly sins in the first series? If any number of alchemists can attempt human transmutation, then there would certainly be more than seven homunculus at a time in the world. Of course there is actual meaning to be found in Brotherhood, where homunculus are not created the same way.

“Truth” = Our world

Perhaps the most bizarre happening is discovering that what lies beyond the gate is our world. How does looking beyond the gate to our world translate to alchemical knowledge, especially when alchemy doesn’t exist in our world? It’s utterly baffling. Once again, such things aren’t found in Brotherhood which takes a much more likely course in revealing the secrets behind the “Truth.

A randomly aging homunculus

Dante can create an aging homunculus somehow, but can’t create a philosophers stone. Enough said. And yes, the reason for an aging homunculus is actually given in Brotherhood.

The Branch

As mentioned before, the first half the original series closely follows the manga. I think that because of this, the production of the similar part in Brotherhood took some liberties. The pace of the beginning in Brotherhood is just too fast. I can’t see someone getting the same feeling of familiarity with characters as the first series. It’s all rushed with the expectation that the viewer has pretty much seen this part already. Even an entire episode was omitted (Youswell Mining Town), because I assume it would have been an exact replica from the first series. There were a few marked differences in some events, but there is a strong similarity. I disagree with the approach of assuming people have watched the first series though. Brotherhood is after all a completely different anime. It may share the characters a bit, but you really can’t say that Brotherhood is a sequel. So I think that the beginning portion is better handled in the first series and that when producing an anime one should leave assumptions behind.

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I’m sure there are other problems as well. With Brotherhood, the scale of what’s going on is so much larger and the plot remains consistent. With the first series it seems like the direction of where the plot was going couldn’t make up its mind. Brotherhood has an overall better story development and has an appropriate main antagonist who doesn’t arbitrarily appear towards the end of the story.

Action

For me there is no comparison between the two. Brotherhood far surpasses its predecessor on the action front. Many characters get to shine in the limelight whereas in the first series there is hardly any action scenes to speak of, at least memorable ones. Perhaps the greatest fight from the first series was when Ed fought against Greed. The problem is this fight is a carbon copy of a fight from the manga and new series. The only difference being the purpose, resolution, and location of the fight. In Brotherhood we get to see some really impressive alchemy fights as well as some more physically demanding brawls–a nice variety.

Let us analyze the difference between the original anime and the manga adaptation in terms of action. One of the key things to note is that is one exceptional fight from the original (Greed versus Edward) is in fact a carbon copy of a fight from the manga. The differences lie in the circumstances of the fight as well as the resolution afterward. As for how the fight plays out, it is exactly similar. What I appreciate in Fullmetal Alchemist is the lack of obstacles being overcome by Deux Ex Machina type power ups and bursts of training, things you would see in other action styled anime. In Fullmetal Alchemist, the majority of problems are solved on the mental front, using strategy rather than brute force.

In the original series there are a scarce number of occasions where we’ll see characters show their fighting abilities. Mustang makes a few turns in the spotlight, though not nearly as much as in Brotherhood. Throughout the manga and adaptation thorough attention is given to various characters each getting a decent amount of treatment. Some of the more impressive bouts come from the battles involving the homunculi. Both alchemic prowess and physical strength take their roles and one can’t be dissatisfied.

Characters

What was said above about characters receiving due attention applies again. In the original series there are characters who remain to the side, but in Brotherhood they actually find use in the story. I’m mostly talking about Mustang’s team here. There are also more characters then in the first anime. More characters and more character development equals better anime, at least in that regard.

Music

This is the one category where I will acknowledge the first series as triumphant hands down. The music was memorable and fit so well to the anime. If only Brotherhood had the music from the first series. The music in Brotherhood isn’t bad or anything. It’s just that the music from the first series was so good.

Overall Rating

Fullmetal Alchemist Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Plot: 3/10 10/10
Music: 10/10 7/10
Animation: 8/10 8/10
Characters: 7/10 9/10
Action: 5/10 10/10
Comedy: 7/10 4/10
Overall: 6.5/10  8/10

The Golden Bough: Delving Into Eureka Seven (spoiler warning)

The Golden Bough

J. M. W. Turner’s Painting of the Golden Bough

First published in 1890, The Golden Bough is a study of magic and religion. The thesis concerns the ritual of Rex Nemorensis, the King of the Wood. Throughout the work are number of broad studies of the rituals and rites of various cultures. The work attempts to reach an overarching conclusion to explain the mysterious ritual at Nemi (the succession of the King of the Wood).

The King of the Wood

Rex Nemorensis follows a rite of succession to determine the next King of the Wood. Only those who are strong and vigilant are capable of keeping there place as King. They must defend their life from those who would challenge them and try to take their place. Otherwise a successor may be found who is able to both pluck a golden bough and kill the reigning King–such a person that succeeds at this task shall take reign as the next King of the Wood. The Golden Bough attributes various ideas as to why this ritual came to be.

During this broad view of cultures, rituals, and religions, many propositions are made about the evolution of beliefs concerning magic versus religion. One of the more fascinating sections discusses the concept of the Sacrifice King, a king sacrificed for the good of the kingdom, which happens to be one of the primary themes in Eureka Seven.

The Sacrifice King ideas are most prevalent and recognizable when the ritual of the Novak family is explained, but there are further influences of this theme in the anime. Other features found in The Golden Bough too leave their mark in the anime, the most noticeable showing through the Vodarac people and their beliefs.

Beyond the themes of The Golden Bough is the presence of the book itself in the anime. The book is seen in the possession of both Dewey and Holland Novak. Since the book has a physical appearance along side its metaphysical one, the book is certainly a very influential piece of the story.

As an investigation into the metaphysical side of this book’s influence there are two cases that immediately come to mind. Both are due to a lack of understanding which leads to actions founded on false knowledge. The foundation of belief in magic stems from misunderstanding. In many cases, it is not fully understanding the laws that govern the physical world that leads to the numerous misconceptions. To seek control of a chaotic world, beliefs take hold such as in magical rites and rituals that offer an illusion of control. This is a proposition found in The Golden Bough. The book goes on to demonstrate the evolution of such ideas surrounding magic and how those ideas could lead to a belief in those who possess supernatural power. In any case, the beliefs evolve around a seeking of control. In Eureka Seven we have the first case: the Novak ritual.

The Sacrifice King

The progression of ideas surrounding a magical sense of control leads to the belief in a person more capable than others of using those mystical powers. That person is the Magician King. This station usually bring power and authority, but if the belief in the supernatural power of this being exceeds a certain point… the Magician King now transcends the laws of normal men and women. Even their death, if not handled properly, can cause catastrophic events to unfold. With such dire consequences at hand, how shall the King’s death be handled? Introduce the Sacrifice King, a King who holds authority and power, but must in the end be sacrificed for the good of the people and stability of the world. If this supernaturally powerful being is killed properly through ritual, the consequences of their death devastating the world can be subverted.

Now consider the Novak family in Eureka Seven. This family has a “kingly lineage,” for it was them who led the humans back to Earth. They apparently held a high status and position of power. The planet though, is a hostile world with unexplained phenomena. For reasons of fear and misunderstanding, it became necessary to find some means to bring back control and safety. By not being able to explain the planet’s behavior with science, magic became a means of grasping for control. Thus we have the ritual of the Novak’s. In order to calm the planet, the Sacrifice King gives his life and blood through their death ritual. The belief has no proof of achieving its end. It is as similar as the cases of human sacrifice for the prosperity of crops discussed in The Golden Bough. It is a grasping of hope out of fear. What eventually brings an end to this belief is the “Science King” who is able to explain the causes behind the hitherto unknown catastrophes of the world. Adrock Thurston disproves the ritual and explains the processes which guide the planet.

The Vodarac

The first saint

The next case to consider in Eureka Seven concerns the Vodarac. The Vodarac worship the planet striving to communicate with the land and find peace. The main home of the Vodarac lies just outside of the Great Wall. It is here that a pivotal moment in the history of the world occurs. The Vodarac discovered a girl born of the land and in their ignorance of who or what she was, thought her a saint. They cared for her, but took strict measures to ensure not to taint her. No one speaks in front of the saint out of this difference. Caretakers serve in menial tasks such as preparing food and cleaning, but no more. This is an example of a theme from The Golden Bough. Not knowing about Coralians, nor knowing that this girl is in fact a human type Coralian, they have made assumptions of their own and built up false knowledge to placate themselves. In a similar vein to the Novak’s, the Vodarac wish to make peace with the planet and do not know how to proceed. Thus they put their hopes with the “saint” and follow strict rules and rituals with the hope that their wishes will be fulfilled. Well, by some fate or accident, a boy caretaker named Norb disobeys these rules and is able to openly speak with her. “Her smiles are only for me,” Norb says as he tells his story. Upon discovering that Norb and Sakuya have grown close, the Vodarac believe that Sakuya has chosen one to be the link between humanity and the land–to take their prayers to the land beyond the Great Wall. Unfortunately, Sakuya and Norb fail to breach the Zone past the Great Wall leaving Sakuya as a lotus blossom and Norb with a Compac drive embedded in his chest. This event will later become a degenerated belief among the Myodo sect of the Vodarac.

“They are the ones who follow the evil teachings.”

Love Parade

The Myodo sect’s teachings become dominant in the Vodarac while oppressing those who follow Norb’s teachings. They believe in a ritual that involves a person forcefully merging themselves with a compac drive in an attempt to bear the sins of the people to the land. They call those people saints and say that they have been born from this merging. In a festival called the Love Parade, a procession proceeds to the Great Wall and leads the “saint” to where they probably attempt to merge with a compac drive. As you can see, the Myodo’s beliefs are the result of Norb and Sakuya’s experience, but over time and misunderstanding have changed into something else entirely. How false beliefs take hold is also mentioned in The Golden Bough.

Conclusion

Essentially what we have is a continuing theme on how people cling to false beliefs to give a sense of control and stability in a chaotic world. When unexplained earthquakes rip apart cities and the world itself seems like a hostile being, it became necessary to find solace in either magic or religion. The case of the Novak family is one of magic: in the ritual killing of the Sacrifice King, they attempted to make peace with the planet. The case of the Vodarac is one of religion: they sought a means of communication with the planet and happened upon Sakuya. The Vodarac falsely deemed her as a kind of divine being whose purpose was to find a chosen Vodarac to become a link between humanity and the land. The land however is not divine, but simply the result of a merging between the Scub coral and the world. Because of the false knowledge created by the people in place of the truth, these two cases were able to take hold and provide their false hopes. It is interesting to see how ideas can shape around false beliefs while the actual reasons for events remain unknown.

Messing with a tablet

Today I borrowed my brother’s small bamboo tablet and played around with it a bit. I would really like to buy my own decent sized tablet, but I haven’t found the opportunity yet to buy one. Too many other things keep getting in the way. I would also like to keep improving upon my art skills as well.  I plan to dedicate more time to drawing, and yes I have tried before. Eventually I always seem to have no time or can’t get into the proper mood, then just end up stopping for considerable period of time. I tend to do that with many things actually. The drive comes in spurts. Great motivation! And then it just drops off for a while. Well, I’m going to try and get back into drawing anyway.

Voice Actor Profile – Shinichiro Miki, Addendum

Most recently, Shinichiro Miki is playing the namesake of the new Bakemonogatari season, Nisemonogatari. The very strange Deishuu Kaiki, who, out of Shinichiro’s previous voices, sounds closest to Kisuke Urahara from Bleach. I really enjoy how this seiyuu is able to bring a different kind of tone and character the voices he plays. I look forward to the rest of Nisemonogatari and Shinichiro’s future roles.

Night Blossom

Ten millenia above the sky,
An accident of nature.
They were born in the ocean, aware.
But a craving for knowledge, to communicate.
Life was absorbed, merged and became one.
This–a means of communication.

At first…small, then larger than any being.
A threat, a fear.
They tried in their own way, but
WAR.
The harder it tries the more it is feared
and then…
abandoned, loneliness.

All became one.
There was no one left.
Alone in the void.

Return.
Happiness.
The hope of a new dialogue, yet
They didn’t know how.

The birth of a new being.

~paraphrase from Eureka Seven

Durarara!!

Impressions

Something different… that excites me.  This anime is episodic in nature, but tends to build towards a conclusion. I especially appreciate the depth behind the characters. A new kind of slice-of-life anime I could get used to.

Perspective

There’s a narrator and prime perspective given to each episode, but the perspective doesn’t stay limited narrowly following only a few characters. No, the focus roams freely and doesn’t necessarily follow what’s happening to the narrator at the time. The narrator gives their direction and thoughts upon what’s happening and we as the viewer gain a broader knowledge of them and the events taking place. Those narrations, along with what’s being shown, make up our perception of the characters in the anime. We listen to their thoughts and we see their actions.

Plot lines

While various plot lines unfold, the characters are laid out and help the viewer grasp the nature of Ikebukuro. There’s a lot going on this city and so equivalently many peoples stories are being told. At first it may seem like these stories are disjointed and unrelated from one another, but as things progress the fuller picture will be seen.

Initially the anime starts off slow. The plot being as unique as it is, involves characters and events to be brought to light slowly. Further along things begins fitting into place and better understood. I say it starts off slow, but what’s happening is enough to grab my curiosity and interest. With my attention in tow it doesn’t take long to get into this story. There really isn’t a main character. As I said, the perspective changes during each episode and those episodes tend to follow different characters as well. Interesting bit after bit leads to the growing form of the plot.

Synopsis

Introduction

Ryugamine Mikado has just moved to Ikebukuro and is very apprehensive. He’s never been to Tokyo before and well, he’s never been on any school field trips either. Okay, he’s never been out of town. Perhaps a sheltered life? Anyway, the reason he has come here is that he will be attending Raira Academy. After some convincing by his old friend from elementary school, Mikado had decided to make this endeavor. Upon arriving, Mikado quickly meets up with this friend, Kida Masaomi.

After meeting up with his friend, Mikado gets a small tour of Ikebukuro, and we meet a few more characters along with him.

Many introductions are made to viewer, so its a lot to take in all at once. There are the “dangerous” people not to get involved with: Heiwajima Shizuo and Orihara Izaya. There are also the color gangs as well as the mysterious urban legend of a headless motorcycle rider. Oh and let’s not forget Simon Brezhnev, one of the owners of Russia Sushi (the name speaks for itself). After some introductions and a few peaks into the shady side of the city, Durarara!! follows the various lives of characters in Ikebukuro.

Strongest in Ikebukuro

Heiwajima Shizuo

What I love most about Durarara!! are the characters. The cast of characters is definitely my favorite thus far out of the anime I’ve seen. And if I’m talking about Drrr!!, then it’s all about Heiwajima Shizuo!

“It’s pretty scary how dangerous he is. […] He’s like a wolfman or a devil or something. […] It’s impossible to compare him to anything.”

This is someone who you don’t want to to be on their bad side.

And what is it like to be the enemy of violence incarnate?

Epic Face Dent

Something like that.

Dressed like a bartender, with a temper unmatched, Shizuo is more of a natural phenomenon than a human.

The main cast of characters get some good background story treatment. Somehow each character’s story weaves together into the complete fabric of Ikebukuro. As the interweaving stories come together, they tell an overarching plot line of intrigue, deception, and friendship.

Colors and Colorless

Ikebukuro can be divided out among the most influential groups. The most noticeable of these being the colored gangs and the so called, “colorless” gang called the Dollars. To describe the colored gangs is straightforward: they are gangs who use a single color as a sign of their membership. The Dollars are a bit unconventional. Little is known about them except that they have no color. They are “invisible.” Rumor has it that the Dollars are involved in all kinds of dubious activities, though whether there is any truth to that…

The other consistuent parts of Ikebukuro are an urban legend known as the headless rider, the yakuza, and the mysterious one known only as “the Slasher.” The forces of the city tug and pull on one another bringing about some intriguing events.

罪歌 (Saika)

母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母母

What is this? A troll? Ah yes, the mysterious Saika. During the anime, there are times when the scene cuts to an online chat forum between three unidentified characters, each with their own alias. They are: Tanaka Taro, Setton, and Kanra and they are usually discussing relavant events taking place in the story. These characters are definitely in the know. Anyway, the chat begins to be trolled by Saika, with messages like the above (the kanji for mother over and over which reads out “hahahahahaha…,” as in laughter). Apparently this alias has something to do with the so called “Slasher” incidents, but exactly what I leave to be found out.

The Breathing, Living City

Ikebukuro

“I’m finally seeing the world I’d only witnessed through comics and websites…”

The setting of our story can be considered a character in itself, Ikebukuro, the entertainment and commercial district of Toshima, Tokyo, Japan. As there are so many characters and side characters, one begins to feel an affinity for the life here in Ikebukuro. The soul of the city lives in its people. We see the shady side along with bright side of this city. Often times that soul of the city clashes against itself and the drama is something to behold.

Conclusion

The plot is diverse, and so too are the characters. What plays out is the story of the city. The characters are great: realistic, urban, ancient, powerful, manipulating, conspiring, captivating, and scheming. A plethora of ideals clashing together, how can I not love it. This series also has a nice animation style that is somewhere between realistic and moefied with more weight towards the realistic side. Be patient! This anime starts slow, but its well worth hanging in there for a few episodes to get into the series. A few twists and surprises with each character having some secret to tell and an interesting story. I’m looking forward to watching Baccano!, which I understand was made by the same author and anime studio. Apparently some Baccano! characters made a cameo as well.

Plot: 9/10
Music: 6/10
Animation: 10/10
Characters: 10/10
Action: 8/10
Comedy: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

Other thoughts

At center of all that’s happening, there is definitely a prime mover. Exactly what the motives are behind this person remains unclear.

I hope to actually see more of Durarara!! considering that the light novels and manga are still coming out. It’s a matter of some of the loose ends and some less developed characters.