Every once in a while on the “FMA” tag on Tumblr, you’ll see someone with a strong opinion for or against either FMA animes. The most common ones I see (or, more accurately, hear about) are against the Fullmetal Alchemist series made in 2003 (hereafter FMA:2003), mostly because it largely deviates from the manga and becomes its own thing. I can go on here about Tales of Production and how the manga wasn’t completed when the original series was made, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to dive into the text in question and give you several reasons why FMA:2003 is worth watching.
Be Thou for the People
The FMA manga touches on alchemists being a force for the average citizen, but it doesn’t really go into detail about Edward’s reputation among the common folk. FMA: 2003 takes this a step further, showing the audience more people that dislike State Alchemists and, conversely, showing how many people hear of Edward Elric the Fullmetal Achemist and his actions for the common citizen. But what I love is we get to see how it all started in my favorite adventure in the backwater mining town formerly owned by Lieutenant Yoki.
I love that adventure. In the FMA: 2003 anime, it’s the adventure that starts Edward’s reputation among the people. By the end of the episode, you see Edward basking in this glory by talking with a taxi driver unaware of Ed’s identity. And I love that Edward is almost a symbol for the people of Amestris. He gives them hope that State Alchemists are not all “dogs of the military” and do horrible things on behalf of the country. And I like how that is brought out in FMA: 2003 more than the other versions, which only seem to touch on the subject or state the way of things without backing itself with solid evidence.
Roy Mustang: Manipulative Little Bastard
He is. Do not let anything else fool you. Roy Mustang is sneaky and ambitious and we see it more clearly in FMA: 2003. He’s more concerned about his image in the military, especially among the highers up. Edward really hates him because Roy is aware of Edward’s goings-on without Edward’s report. And Roy seems more sneaky, more aware of what it will take to become Fuhrer, and very willing to do it to make his ambition/dream come true.
Whereas in the other two versions, Roy is not as open about his sneakiness. He doesn’t seem to have as broad of visible emotions as we see in FMA: 2003 (remember when Marcoh was telling the Elric brothers about the Ishbalan Massacre? We see Roy with wild eyes more often in FMA: 2003 than either FMA: Brotherhood or the manga). Also, FMA: 2003!Roy is more of a creeper. I just love his sly creepiness. (Tiny mini-skirts anyone?)
Philosopher’s Stone Runes
About halfway through the series, Edward is given the Grand Opportunity to create a philosopher’s stone, the thing he and his brother have been seeking! What I really like about it is the amount of work it takes to really create a stone. First you have to synthesize a red liquid that amplifies alchemical power. Then you have to add the human souls to the mix. It’s an entire scientific process. The stone is more of a legend in FMA: 2003 than it is in FMA: Brotherhood, where it is remarkably easy to create a stone. All you need is a few people and some basic runes in FMA: Brotherhood. The only thing making the stone a legend in FMA: Brotherhood is a person’s limits on what they are willing to do to get the stone. (That is, if they know how to create a stone in the first place).
I also liked how Edward had to analyze the transmutation circle and “beef it up a bit” during his preparations. To me, it reinforces the idea that the runes are an important conduit that guides the use of energy during the transmutation, making the process seem less like magic and more like science. So I also like how alchemy is presented more as a science than a thing of magic in FMA: 2003.
Darker, Non-Secular Tone
In FMA: Brotherhood especially, there is a pseudo-obvious religious undertone to the entire series. I can write an entire essay about that in which the main point would be “Believe in yourself because God is in everyone.” The point I want to discuss now is that the religious undertone is removed in FMA: 2003 and the story seems darker because of it.
For my example, I will look at the Ishbalan Massacre. In the manga and FMA: Brotherhood, the Ishbalan uprising came about because Amestris wanted to expand to complete the Ultimate Transmutation Circle and, ulitmately, so Father the Homonculus could get his Godlike powers and leave his flask. In FMA: 2003, the explanation for the Ishbalan uprising is a result of cultural differences and imperialism that go remarkably wrong. The reader is unable to sugarcoat the Ishbalan Massacre as something that resulted from severe, political manipulation, removing agency from the Amestris soldiers ordered to fight during that time. Nope. In FMA: 2003 everything that was done was done because humans did it and no one else. Frankly, it’s quite terrifying when you realize the lack of limits in humanity.
You can jump in here and remind me that Dante was a force pushing the military in one direction or the other. My point against this is Dante didn’t strive for nor achieve the God-like powers Father strives for. I also feel she was less involved with military affairs what with the secluded cabin in the woods whereas Father was known by many higher officials of the military and often attended meetings with them. Dante was also less of a god in that she lacked the power to control the nation’s alchemy, which Father had and demonstrated when the Elric Brothers and co. manage to get into Father’s lair for the first time. Dante’s goal was to be immortal, which is a lesser goal when compared to “I want to be God.”
My Opinion Actual
My final opinion on FMA: 2003 is that the first half (until right after the Lab 5 incident, approximately 26 episodes) is one of the best things I have seen on television. The pacing is smooth, there’s foreshadowing various plot twists (which end up missing their mark, but it’s the potential that counts here), and, best of all, we see more Maes Hughes. Everyone can use more Maes Hughes in their life.
Beyond the first half, the second half misses its mark on some counts. There’s some cool stuff, like Dante’s theme (music-wise) and that Warehouse 13 adventure where Havoc spends the entire episode with a goofy face (courtesy of Mustang, of course). I also like how humonculi have agency beyond being minions. Is anyone else fascinated by that? I LOVE that about this series. However, I find the idea of the Gate of Truth leading into our world off-putting and Hohenheim of Light was kind of a disappointment. And then there’s Wrath. That kid needs some discipline.
Barring my issues, go watch the first half of FMA: 2003 and come back to tell me how awesome it is. Because it is.