Fullmetal Alchemist anime convergence

You may have heard of Fullmetal Alchemist. You may know that the story originated as a manga (comic). You may even know that there are two anime (cartoon) adaptations, Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood -- both of which start with the same story but diverge part-way through. Though both were authorized by the original author, the latter is meant to be a faithful adaptation of the source material (which was only half complete at the time of the original anime).

Fans are split over which anime is "better". Like many, I think both have their merits (though I think Brotherhood wins hands down), particularly since the original focused primarily on character development and the consequences of human transmutation, while the newer, more plot-driven anime featured a significantly larger cast that simply could not hold the same amount of backstory. Critics actually claim that since the target audience for the later 2009 anime was mostly the same, they didn't need to tread the same water (and to an extent, I agree).

If you aren't aware of how quickly Brotherhood rushed through plot points, consider the following pacing for the first 20% of the anime series, which summarizes the first 30% of the source material.

PLOT COMPRESSION: Brotherhood vs. the original manga
  • FMA:B, 1: anime-only episode (it sort of fits between FMA, 13 and 14)
  • FMA:B, 2: chapters 21, 23-24 (flashback, also works between FMA, 13 and 14)
  • FMA:B, 3: chapters 1-2
  • FMA:B, 4: chapter 5 (skipped 3-4)
  • FMA:B, 5: chapters 6-7
  • FMA:B, 6: chapters 8-9
  • FMA:B, 7: chapters 10-11
  • FMA:B, 8: chapters 11-13
  • FMA:B, 9: chapters 13-16
  • FMA:B, 10: chapters 15-16, 61
  • FMA:B, 11: chapters, 17-19
  • FMA:B, 12: chapters 19-23, 25
  • FMA:B, 13: chapters 25-29
  • FMA:B, 14: chapters 30-31 -- the last episode of season 1 (and the end of any overlap with the first series)
Episode 14 marks the last episode of season 1 and the end any material that overlapped with the original anime. Season 2 began brand new material, introducing Ling and the Xing nation, while slowing down the pace, though at times, time material gets summarized in conversation about off-screen events or flashbacks (or is omitted altogether). For example, the future episode 30 about the Ishvalan Extermination summarizes chapters 57-62.

So if you're a newcomer to the series, how do you cope how the series speeds through the exposition? I decided to challenge myself to determine just how to make the two animes converge, allowing one to experience the fleshed-out character development of the first anime ("FMA"), seamlessly blended into the second ("FMA:B") with minimal contradiction (or plotholes) of critical plot points. Though many may not realize it, filler runs rampant in the first anime, but I like to think that filler featuring recurring characters should remain.

Some details eliminated from the second that I felt added to the first (even if silly) include:
  • The hijacking of the train (manga)
  • The alchemy exam -- we see Ed through from the start of his adventure (anime only)
  • Elicia's birth -- strengthens their connection to Hughes (anime only)
  • Barry the Chopper's origin story -- adds a more "human" side to him (anime only)
  • The fall of Yoki at the mines of Youswell -- referenced but not shown (manga)
  • Black Hayate origin story (manga bonus chapter) 
  • The mystery behind Ed's silver watch (anime only)
Another major difference between the two anime adaptations is the chronology. In particular, the first anime features an extended backstory from episodes 3 through 9 in which Ed becomes a state alchemist (in the later version, Ed has been an alchemist the entire time). For example, the tragic story about a chimera occurs around the time Ed gets qualified. My point in bringing this up is that if one wants to converge the adaptations, certain considerations must be made to avoid plotholes and other points of confusion.

But first, let's see how the two adaptations compare in terms of their plot arcs.

PLOT COMPARISON: the original anime vs. Brotherhood
  • FMA, 1-2 ~ FMA:B, 3 -- Lior and the fall of Cornello.
  • FMA, 3 ~ FMA:B, 2 -- the brothers' failed transmutation and backstory (flashback).
  • FMA, 5 -- the brothers thwart terrorists on a train, introduction of Hughes (flashback).
  • FMA, 6-7 ~ FMA:B, 4 -- Shou Tucker and the chimera (flashback in the original anime)
  • FMA, 8 -- pseudo-filler featuring the human Barry, Ed's receives his alchemist name (flashback)
  • FMA, 9 -- Youswell and the fall of Yoki (flashback)
  • FMA, 13 -- meeting with Mustang (partial filler), Scar's introduction
  • FMA, 14-15 ~ FMA:B, 5 -- confrontation with Scar
  • FMA, 16-17 ~ FMA:B, 6 -- Marcoh and repairs in Resembool
  • FMA, 18-19 ~ FMA:B, 7 -- the secrets in Marcoh's notes, investigation into Laboratory 5
  • FMA, 20-22 ~ FMA:B, 8 -- the battles at Laboratory 5
  • FMA, 23-24 ~ FMA:B, 9 -- the brothers recover in the hospital
  • FMA, 25 ~ FMA:B, 10 -- Hughes's investigation into Laboratory 5
  • FMA, 26 ~ FMA:B, 11 -- Rush Valley
  • FMA, 27-29 ~ FMA:B, 12 -- reunion with Izumi
  • FMA, 30 -- FMA:B, 13 -- Yoki meets Scar (the only scene that these episodes have in common)
  • ...At this point in the series, the plot diverges considerably.
It's also worth pointing out the filler in the first third of the original anime (i.e. the episodes I left out in the list above). The episodes covered wayward plot points that didn't really contribute to the overall plot, usually dead ends or distractions.

FILLER: The original anime
  • FMA, 4, "A Forger's Love": Filler about an alchemist named Majihal during the brothers' quest to learn about human transmutation.
  • FMA, 10, "The Phantom Thief": Filler about a hunt for a cat burglar, Psiren, on the brothers' way back to report to Mustang about Lior.
  • FMA, 11-12, "The Brothers Elric": Filler about two imposters that have assumed their names while hearing about a Philosopher's Stone that supposedly nears completion. Trivia: This was based on the light novel, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand.
Some say the first anime focuses on character development without cohesion of the plot, whereas the second does the opposite. Well, I think this way you get the best of both worlds. Below, you'll find each suggestion, with increasing amounts of "Brotherhood" footage (and consequently, decreasing amounts of the original anime and its plotholes), along with some supporting details at the break. Each offers more "high definition", at the expense of rushed plot development.

Bridge 1: Reunion with Izumi 
  • Scheme: FMA through #27 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16), then FMA:B #13
  • FMA: The Elrics and Winry arrive at Rush Valley, but Izumi drags them back to Dublith. We learn about their first meeting as Izumi realizes the Elrics' secret. Meanwhile, Mustang investigates a certain murder before he and his team transfer to Central.
  • FMA:B: Izumi expels her students. Mustang and his team transfer to Central. Scar recovers and meets his master, before crossing paths with Yoki. The Elrics encounter chimeras in Dublith.
  • Transition: Some scenes are omitted (being stranded on an island), whereas others are repeated (transfer to central, the chess game).
  • Plotholes: In FMA, the Elrics are dragged back to Dublith, whereas in FMA:B, they choose to go to Dublith. With the jump between the reunion and expulsion, you never learn about the Elrics' being stranded on an island. Izumi and Ed talk about the "truth", which is only gently alluded to in the original anime.
Bridge 2: The follow-up investigation into Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through, #24 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16), then FMA:B #10
  • FMA: After the incident in Lab 5, Ed recovers in the hospital. Al confronts Ed about his current state but running off. Al encounters Scar, who has been recovering in a refugee camp, and the two go on a rescue mission. Along the way, Al reunites with Ed and Winry, who begin to understand Scar. 
  • FMA:B: Ed and Al are back in the hospital where they decide to return to Dublith and visit Rush Valley along the way. A certain murder takes place and Mustang begins to investigate.
  • Transition: Since part of the latter half of the Lab 5 incident does not exist in the second anime, there is less focus on the outcome.
  • Plotholes: The first anime introduces the female Sloth and Barry meets his end, but these are contradicted by the introduction of a different Sloth and recurring appearance by Barry.
Bridge 3: The aftermath of Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through #22 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16), then FMA:B #9
  • FMA: This features the extended Lab 5 incident, including Tucker, Kimblee, and the prisoners. Scar, Al, and the others encounter the homunculi while the military invade the laboratory.
  • FMA:B: Winry arrives to fix Ed's automail. Al confronts Ed, but they resolve their differences. Scar recovers in a refugee camp.
  • Transition: Except for the plotholes, this actually has a smooth transition between the two series.
  • Plotholes: We learn part of Scar's brother's backstory and receive hints about the homunculi's origins, which has different context in the latter series.
Bridge 4: Battles at Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through #19 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16), then FMA:B #8
  • FMA: Scar recovers in a refugee camp after battling Lust and Gluttony. The Elrics decipher Marcoh's notes and decide to sneak into Lab 5. Meanwhile, Scar hunts down the Elrics to Lab 5.
  • FMA:B: Al and Ed continue their fights. Afterwards, the Elrics are rescued by their escorts, not an entire military force.
  • Transition: This is a fairly smooth transition, featuring the manga's Lab 5 events (not the extended version found in the first anime).
  • Plotholes: In Brotherhood, Scar is nowhere to be seen in Lab 5, and Al encounters Barry for the first time with prior backstory. Having Lust kill off Marcoh (when she clearly doesn't in the later series) can prove confusing later on.
Bridge 5: Marcoh's notes
  • Scheme: FMA through #17 (skipping 4, 10-12), then FMA:B #7.
  • FMA: After visiting Resembool, the brothers and Armstrong head back to Central to find Marcoh's notes.
  • FMA:B: The team arrives in Central and find that the library burned down, but they meet Sheska, who can generate Marcoh's notes.
  • Transition: Pretty smooth, actually, and my preferred timeline. Episode 16 reveals to Ed what he learns on-the-spot about Scar's crimes (in FMA:B, 5).
  • Plotholes: This scheme avoids the re-introduction of Marcoh (unlike the following scheme), but his implied death from earlier might seem confusing. Furthermore, having his story be the "canon" means that the military killed doctors (in the original material, they were ordered, but didn't carry it out). This contradicts a major plot point, but I think it's forgivable, if you don't connect the dots about who those doctors were.
Bridge 6: Marcoh's introduction
  • Scheme: FMA: through #15 (skipping 4, 10-13), then FMA:B #6
  • FMA: The Elrics find and rescue Marcoh from Scar. Marcoh reveals his backstory in the Ishbalan Massacre. Scar battles the Elrics but flees to the sewers when outnumbered by Marcoh, Mustang, and their troops. The military takes Marcoh into protective custody.
  • FMA:B: On their way to Resembool, the Elrics learn about Marcoh from Armstrong. After catching up with him, they learn about his research. The brothers and Armstrong continue on to Resembool.
  • Transition: The recap at the beginning bridges the episodes adequately as an off-screen summary. But who really wants to sit through Marcoh's backstory twice?
  • Plotholes: In the first anime, Marcoh reveals the nature of the doctors' death (which differs from their fate in the newer anime, as revealed later), but if you ignore the hints about their identities, you can pass this by. Also, the first anime gently alludes to the Sloth's origin, which the second redefines several episodes later. However, considering that Scar and Marcoh encounter each other for the first time later (FMA:B, 29), it makes more sense to ignore this "first" confrontation (FMA, 15) that only exists in the original anime. Just rationalize that Scar didn't recognize Marcoh as part of the military.
Bridge 7: The night of the chimera
  • Scheme: FMA: through #9 (skipping 4, then FMA:B #5)
  • FMA: Continuing a flash back, after the death of a certain chimera and Winry's abduction (pseudo-filler), the Elrics are sent to investigate Youswell. Flash forward to the Elrics approaching Lior.
  • FMA:B: Directly after the Shou Tucker incident, the Elrics encounter Scar for the first time. Mustang explains the Ishbalan Massacre.
  • Transition: The show already jumps around (Lior, transmutation, Tucker, then Youswell). Since the original anime had an extended flashback, you have to know that after episode 9, you're back to present day.
  • Plotholes: The time (flashback vs. present day), locations (alley vs. house) and cause of death of the alchemist (murder vs. reported execution) vary between the two. Since Ed wakes up from a nightmare, I guess we can chalk it up to being haunted ever since. Oh, and in the second anime, Ed didn't know the chimera had died. Overall, kind of confusing.
My recommendation is to go with the 5th scheme (i.e. FMA through #17, skipping 4, 10-12, then FMA:B #7), though I admit that last scheme has the advantage of featuring the most crisp, high-definition content.

Now, jumping seven episodes into Brotherhood may skip over some (minor) details and foreshadowing points unique to the series (like all references to "Father"), so it may be worth seeing the introductory Brotherhood episodes 1 and 2 between FMA episodes 13 and 14 (since the new episode 2 goes into details not covered in the original episode 3). But that gets kind of messy, huh?

What you then get is the same story from the second with greatest character development possible from the first -- and free from filler! Dince there aren't many episodes, they also all fit on one data DVD, which you could call "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Volume 0". Not bad.

Update: After coming across a critique of this post, I've decided to check try out yet another scheme. The author Goobie pointed out some glaring inconsistencies I overlooked and attempted to mitigate them by jumping between the series, also relieving that strange time skip that happens toward the beginning of FMA-1.

The suggested order I'm going to try out is:
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, episodes 1-2
  • Original FMA, episodes 1-2, 5-9, 13 (note that I included episode 8)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, episode 5 onward
There were several reasons cited, but the pros that most resonated with me were:
  • A more compelling, visceral scene with the Elrics during their "origin story"
  • Introducing the mysterious character by "the gate" in Brotherhood (absent in the original)
  • Padding backstory for Barry the Chopper, which isn't necessary, but it does resolve plot points from the previous episode, as opposed to skipping from episode 7 to 9 in the original
Of course, it's not without faults (but it is without glaring contradictions of major plot poitns). Some cons and known inconsistencies of using this blended system include:

  • Shou Tucker's story occurs before Ed qualifies as a state alchemist in the original anime, but it takes place in present day in "Brotherhood". The story shifts to the later anime immediately following the incident (and the brothers' reaction to it), so it seems like the brothers are suddenly reacting to something from years earlier.
  • Basque Grand shows up in the original anime but is already taken care of at this point in Brotherhood. At least his offscreen fate is addressed in "Brotherhood".
  • Possibly more to come!

While this doesn't faithfully follow all of the original manga's plot points, it does offer the character development often lacking in the plot-driven Brotherhood adaptation.

What do you think? Go ahead and give it a try!

Sources:

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