Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood; A great story with some iffy ideas
One of the tricky things about dealing with things FMA is that, somehow and for reasons unknown to me, there are two FMA series, the original Fullmetal Alchemist and the later series called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
The review will be of the FMA: Brotherhood series, not the original. But that shouldn't be seen as a slam of the original. Although I think Brotherhood is a slightly better series overall, both are first-rate series.
When they are still young boys, Edward and Alphonse Elric plan to use their skills in alchemy to bring their dead mother back to life. But this act violates the rule of alchemy against human transmutation, and in trying to perform this act, not only do they fail to resurrect their mother, but they also pay a harsh price. Edwards loses two limbs, an arm and a leg, and Alphonse loses his entire body, becoming a soul bonded to a suit of armor. A few years later, Ed joins the Amestrian military to become a State Alchemist, thinking that this will allow he and Alphonse the opportunities to learn more about The Philosopher's Stone, an object of great alchemical power that may help them restore their bodies.
That's the basic premise of the story, but one of the great strengths of FMA:B is that the viewer very quickly learns that there is whole lot more going on, and the story dives into themes and topics such as political corruption, personhood, genocide and revenge, immortality, guilt and redemption, and trying to play God. There's even a bit of romance, if you're willing to be patient with it.
What to Say, What to Say
With so much going on, another tricky part is deciding what to write about.
A lot could be written simply on one secondary character, an Ishvalan man known as Scar. Given the corruption in the nation of Amestria, is his hunt for State Alchemists a quest merely for revenge, or is it the closest to justice that he and his people could hope for? Do his attempts to fight these State Alchemist, many of whom had been involved in the war to exterminate his people, make him a murderer, or more like a gunman in a story of the old American west facing his enemies at high noon on the dusty streets of Dodge City? Or does he cross a line when he attacks State Alchemists who weren't a part of that war?
Or are the Elrics and their allies like Colonel Mustang, people who are committed to not killing other humans, hypocrites for allying themselves with General Armstrong and her soldiers from Briggs, because they are people much less hesitant to take lives when they think it necessary? Is it a strength or a weakness in the overall story that two such different ideologies about taking human life are presented on the side of the “good guys”, and neither is plainly supporter or condemned?
And there's what Shou Tucker did that has made him, a very minor character, into one of the most hated characters in all of anime, though to be fair, he played a bit more of a role in the original FMA.
Guilt and Regret
The things that are part of most of the main characters are guilt and regret. Many of the military people who were a part of the Ishvalan War knew that they were guilty of doing horrible things during that war, and they regret having done those things. The Elric brothers know they are guilty of violating the rule against human transmutation, and they do not try to excuse their actions.
And then, there is how God is portrayed in this series, assuming that the being several of the characters encounter at the gateway of truth is analogous to God. This is a being who judges, who takes away, who bargains, who even seems to mock, but who can also be beaten as if he were little more than the host of a TV game show.
The god of this series is, then, not really a redeemer, not really a being who gives when the people have proven that they themselves have nothing to give back to him, not really a being who offers help to those who know they are helpless, or forgiveness to rebels, or life to those who are dead. As good as this series is, perhaps it's best takeaway is the thankfulness that the true God is very much different from the god of this series
As with all things, view with discernment and wisdom, but keeping that in mind, go watch this series! It's one that well worth seeing. And, contrary to my normal practice, I'd recommend watching it dubbed, not subbed.