Fullmetal Alchemist anime hybrid

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 original adaptation faced a problem when it caught up to the source material. To slow it down, it developed side characters, shuffled around story elements, and reimagined some plot devices, eventually diverging altogether. This led to a later adaptation Brotherhood, intended as a faithful adaptation of the source material (which was only half complete at the time of the original anime).

Which is better?
Fans are split over which anime is "better". Both have their merits, particularly as the original focused primarily on character development and the consequences of their actions. Given the popularity of the original, the writers clearly targeted much of the same audience with the second. The original healthily progressed through the plot with backstory based firmly in the manga. Meanwhile the adaptation breezed through shared plot, often through off-screen recaps or heavy spoken exposition. When revisiting content, it's fine to have plot summarized by characters, but if it's brand new, it's a lot to take in.

What if you're a newcomer?
So if you're a newcomer to the series, how do you cope how the series speeds through exposition? Surely there's a way to balance the introductory pace of the the 2003 anime's initial character development with the superb plot development of the 2009 anime. I decided to challenge myself to determine just how to make the two animes converge, starting with Fullmetal Alchemist ("FMA"), and blending as seamlessly as possible into Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood ("FMB") with minimal contradiction or plotholes around critical plot points. Before we get into that, though, it's worth understanding how the TV adaptations compare to the source material, the original manga (Japanese comic).

Heavy spoilers to follow, as this discusses several major plot points that set up the second half of both series!

PLOT COMPRESSION: Brotherhood vs. the original manga
If you aren't aware of how quickly Brotherhood rushed through common plot points, consider the following pacing. The first 20% of Brotherhood actually covered nearly a third of the source material, often 3 to 4 chapters per 22-minute episode.
  • FMB #1: anime-only episode - Ice Alchemist
  • FMB #2: chapters 21, 23, 24 - The First Day
  • FMB #3: chapters 1, 2 - Lior
  • FMB #4: chapter 5 - Shou Tucker
  • FMB #5: chapters 6, 7 - Dwelling over Nina
  • FMB #6: chapters 8, 9 - Meeting Marcoh
  • FMB #7: chapters 10, 11 - Marcoh's notes
  • FMB# 8: chapters 11, 12, 13 - Fifth Laboratory
  • FMB #9: chapters 13, 14 - Hospital recovery
  • FMB #10: chapters 15, 16, 61 - Hughes
  • FMB #11: chapters, 17, 18, 19 - Rush Valley
  • FMB #12: chapters 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 - Izumi
  • FMB #13: chapters 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 - Chimeras at Dublith
  • FMB #14: chapters 30, 31 - Confrontation at Dublith
Season 2 (starting with episode 15) introduced brand new material, while slowing the pace to about 1-2 chapters per episode. Occasionally, it summarizes past events in conversations, but overall the plot feels less rushed moving forward, but clearly a different pace than the first part. This is why leaning on the original anime, while different tonally at times, provides a comparable pace with more investment in the core characters.

With a sense of how the compressed plot compares to the original adaptation, we can start to look at how it overlaps and compares to the original adaptation.

PLOT COMPARISON: the original anime vs. Brotherhood
Some say the first anime focuses on character development without a cohesive plot, whereas the "sequel" does the opposite. Well, I think this way you get the best of both worlds. Below, you'll find different options, using several pivot points mentioned above. Each option increases the amounts of Brotherhood, providing high-definition (albeit rushed) footage. However, it's worth keeping in mind that certain arcs start and end at different points in episodes between the two series, so it isn't easy finding a clean break.

Let's see how the two adaptations compare in terms of the overlapping plot covered.
  • FMB #1 - unique to second, compressed introduction to several key players
  • FMA #1-2 vs. FMB #3 - Lior
  • FMA #3 vs. FMB #2 (flashback) - childhood backstory (continues through FMA #9)
  • FMA #5 (flashback) - train terrorists, Hughes's introduction - chapter 4 of the manga
  • FMA #6-7 (flashback) vs. FMB #4 (present day) - training with Tucker
  • FMA #8 (flashback) - Barry the Chopper, alchemist exam (filler, flashback)
  • FMA #9 (flashback) - Youswell (flashback) - chapter 3 of the manga
  • FMA #13 (recap) - Hughes meets Mustang, Scar's introduction
  • FMA #14-15 vs. FMB #5 - confrontation with Scar
  • FMA #16-17 vs. FMB #6 - Marcoh and Resembool repairs
  • FMA #18-19 vs. FMB #7 - Marcoh's notes, Laboratory 5 investigation
  • FMA #20-22 vs. FMB #8 - Laboratory 5 battles - turning point!
  • FMA #23-24 vs. FMB #9 - hospital recovery
  • FMA #25 vs. FMB #10 - Hughes's investigation
  • FMA #26 vs. FMB #11 - Rush Valley
  • FMA #27-29 vs. FMB #12 - Izumi and flashback to the island
  • FMA #30 vs. FMB #13 - Yoki meets Scar (the only common scene)
  • From here on, the plot diverges considerably!
Some details based on the manga (however silly) were eliminated from Brotherhood:
  • 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, so somewhat canon)
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 of Shou Tucker 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 plot holes and other points of confusion.

FILLER: Skippable episodes in the original anime
For completeness, we can call out to some filler found 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.
  • 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. This is also the first reference to Marcoh, but it's forgettable. Trivia: This was based on the light novel, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand.
  • FMA #16, "That Which Is List": A primarily detour episode on the Elrics' way back to Resembool with Armstrong
  • FMA #37, "The Flame Alchemist, The Bachelor Lieutenant & The Mystery of Warehouse 13": A fun, filler episode based on a manga bonus chapter. You could theoretically watch this early on around FMB 16 or so.
All you lose by skipping the filler episodes (i.e. going from #9 to 13) is an occasional transition or passing reference to the main plot, but honestly, the filler sticks out for noticeably not progressing the plot like core episodes. Outside of filler, FMA takes a leisurely pace and fleshes out the backstory, full of explanations in this curious world. Instead of information dumping, it covers an important concept or two each episode with significant world building. And with that, we can dive into the where to switch gears and progress the plot of the original author!

PIVOT 1: Reunion with Izumi
  • Scheme: FMA through #27 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16); then FMB #13
  • FMA: The Elrics and Winry arrive at Rush Valley, but Izumi drags them back to Dublith. Meanwhile, Mustang investigates a certain murder before his team transfers to Central. We learn about their first meeting as Izumi uncovers the Elrics' secret. She fights them outside and embraces them.
  • FMB: Inside her home, 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.
  • Series Transition: Some major events are omitted (being stranded on an island), whereas some minor events are repeated (transfer to central, the chess game).
  • Immediate Plotholes: The concept of "truth" hasn't fully developed in FMA, whereas Izumi and Ed talk openly about it when cutting over to FMB.
  • Verdict: Not a bad plot transition, but too many plotholes. They omit the island, a formative experience (granted, it only takes about 15 minutes of FMB).

PIVOT 2: Follow-up investigation into Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through #24 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16); then FMB #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. 
  • FMB: Ed and Al are back in the hospital where they decide to return to Dublith and visit Rush Valley along the way. After Hughes's death, Mustang begins to investigate.
  • Series Transition:
    • The second half of the Lab 5 incident from FMA does not exist in FMB.
    • As a result there is less focus on the outcome, and we brush through the plot.
  • Immediate Plotholes:
    • We learn in FMA that the Fuhrer's Secretary is not human (and likely a Homunculus). This establishes her as a key player in FMA, but she's nowhere to be seen in FMB.
    • Barry dies in FMA, but we see him again later a few episodes later in FMB #15.
    • It's established that the homunculus are connected to dead people.
    • Mustang is going to transfer to central in FMA #10 and then again in FMB #10.
  • Verdict: The plotholes for Barry and Sloth are far too confusing to consider this.

PIVOT 3: Aftermath of Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through #22 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16); then FMB #9
  • FMA: This extends to the full events of FMA's Lab 5, incorporating Tucker, Kimblee, and other prisoners. Scar, Al, and the others encounter the homunculi as the military invade the laboratory.
  • FMB: Following Lab 5, Winry arrives to fix Ed's automail. Al confronts Ed, but they quickly resolve their differences. Scar recovers in a refugee camp.
  • Series Transition: Except for a few plotholes, this actually has a smooth transition between the two. It helps that the recap at the start of the FMB episode connects the two.
    • It gives greater weight to Lab 5 instead of brushing over it like a plot point.
    • Adding Tucker reveal's to create Nina gives and giving more substance to Al questioning his identity.
    • It also provides some closure to his arc, if you assume he died in the explosion (in FMA, he appears once more).
    • It also sets up Ross with more attention, given her expanded role in the upcoming episodes.
  • Immediate Plotholes: As this arc comes to a close, we have several conflicting reveals:
    • Scar's deeper connection to Lust, though a few episodes into FMB, you can rationalize she tends to lure men by posing as a girlfriend. 
    • The two versions offer different homunculus origins and motivations for a Philosopher's Stone. FMA paints them more sympathetic as failed transmutations seeking humanity. FMB has a slow burn to unveil Father and diverts enough that you can forget what they discuss at Lab 5.
    • FMA repeated hints at the identity of Fuhrer's Secretary, who's nowhere to be found in FMB. However, by switching over before her role expands, she fades to obscurity.
    • Kimblee as a prisoner and then ally of Greed; and Shou Tucker's return (but for the last time here with the switch). Most of these take time before they resurface in FMB.
  • Verdict: Despite the numerous plotholes, this isn't that hard to bear with such a seamless transition. If you're looking for the maximum amount of well-paced, FMA backstory, this is the best option.

PIVOT 4: Battles at Laboratory 5
  • Scheme: FMA through #19 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16); then FMB #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, as the brothers engage with armored guards.
  • FMB: Al and Ed begin their fights with the armored guards. Afterwards, the Elrics are rescued by their escorts, not an entire military force.
  • Series Transition:
    • Much of the content in FMA's last episode overlaps with FMB, including their break-in to Lab 5 and the start of the battle with armored guards.
    • It features most of the manga's Lab 5 events (not the extended version found in the first anime).
    • The library being burned down in FMA is handled with more gravity than in FMB.
  • Immediate Plotholes:
    • In the prior episode (FMA #18), Scar recognizes Lust, implying a connection.
    • Despite being present in FMA heading to Lab 5, Scar is nowhere to be seen upon switching over.
    • This does, however, avoid introducing and freeing Kimblee, who appears later (FMB #31) with different motivations.
    • Without the end of the Lab 5 arc, we don't have closure to the maternal arc of Maria Ross.
  • Verdict: The amount of overlapping content in the transition episode is a bit annoying, especially since it's often better told in FMA, though with occasionally conflicting details.

PIVOT 5: Marcoh's notes
  • Scheme: FMA through #17 (skipping 4, 10-12, 16); then FMB #7.
  • FMA: After visiting Resembool, the brothers and Armstrong head back to Central to find Marcoh's notes.
  • FMB: The team arrives in Central and find that the library burned down, but they immediately meet Sheska, who can generate Marcoh's notes, continuing the accelerated pace of FMB.
  • Series Transition: Pretty smooth, plot-wise.
    • Some plot elements are retold much faster.
    • The amount of content skipped from FMA means the plot picks up quite fast.
  • Immediate Plotholes:
    • It's implied that Marcoh is murdered by Lust, but he reappears later in FMB.
    • It's revealed that Mustang killed Winry's parents.
  • Verdict: Arguably the best pivot between episodes with the fewest overt contradictions. There is some weirdness about history about how Winry's parents die, but you can probably look past it and likely forget it, by the time it comes up again.

PIVOT 6: Marcoh's introduction
  • Scheme: FMA through #15 (skipping 4, 10-13); then FMB #6
  • FMA: The Elrics find and rescue Marcoh from Scar. Marcoh reveals his backstory in the Ishvalan Massacre. Scar battles the Elrics but flees to the sewers when outnumbered by Marcoh, Mustang, and their troops. The Secretary takes Marcoh to a safehouse, and the Elrics require repairs.
  • FMB: On their way to Resembool for repairs, 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.
  • Series Transition:
    • The recap at the beginning bridges the episodes adequately as an off-screen summary.
    • However, you have to sit thorugh Marcoh's backstory twice.
  • Immediate Plotholes:
    • The military doctors' deaths remains a conflicting plot point.
    • It also starts to allude to future characters, like Sloth.
    • Scar meets Marcoh for the first time in FMA #15 and then for the "first" time again many episodes later in FMB #29.
  • Verdict: This irons out a few of wrinkles in the plot, but everything surrounding Marcoh gets confusing.

PIVOT 7: Night of the chimera
  • Scheme: FMA through #13 (skipping 4, 10-12); then FMB #5 
  • FMA: Continuing a flashback, after the death of the chimera and Winry's abduction (filler), the Elrics are sent to investigate Youswell. Flash forward to the Elrics approaching Lior.
  • FMB: Directly after the Shou Tucker incident, the Elrics encounter Scar for the first time. Mustang explains the Ishvalan Massacre.
  • Series 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.
  • Immediate Plotholes: The time jump, ending scene with Scar, and fate of Tucker vary considerably. The switch is a bit jarring, as if Ed suddenly has PTSD several months (years?) later.
  • Verdict: This is perhaps the earliest you can jump to Brotherhood, but what the characters know up this point differ between the two anime and confuse future interactions.
Inevitable inconsistencies

Unfortunately, there are some inevitably inconsistencies concerning repeated plot points, but they're fairly minor.
  • Some of the cast differ physically between the series, like the human Barry the Chopper, Van Hohenheim, and even Kimblee, though most of these changes are easy to look past.
  • The Rockbells are revealed to be murdered by the Mustang early on (FMA #13) but then Scar (FMB #18).
  • Human transmutations in the first series bring back warped versions of the original human (FMA #3), but never the original human in the later series (FMB #20).
  • Lior is left in bloodshed when we leave the first series (FMA #13) but seems fairly peaceful later on (FMB #42).

That said, my recommendation is to go with the 3rd scheme, or maybe the 5th scheme if you want to minimize plotholes. Alternatively, you could watch the first series up through #22 as directed and then watch all of Brotherhood, recognizing that much of the plot overlaps with some retelling. Of course, jumping nine episodes into Brotherhood does gloss over minor details and foreshadowing points unique to the series (like all references to "Father"). But you end up spending enough time with Brotherhood to catch up on the main plot. Regardless of the hybrid path you take, these are all designed to provide you the meat of the story in the second with greatest character development possible from the first--and free from filler!

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


1 comment:

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