Studio: Bones (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Eureka Seven)
Manga author: Hiromu Arakawa
Genre: Adventure, Sci Fi, Steampunk
First complete run: 2003-2004
Regular episodes: 51
You don’t quite realize how popular Fullmetal Alchemist is until you’ve seen the show. Suddenly, all of the weird symbols and creepy drawings you see emo kids playing around with on the weekends will come into sharper focus. This show has a really intense cult following, probably because it's an anime targeted at a really unusual audience. Fullmetal Alchemist follows the journey of two young "alchemists," Edward and Alphonse Elric. They live in a pre-industrial world in which "alchemy" is the pinnacle of modern science, a tool used for transmuting some objects into different objects. In practice, alchemists are sort of like wizards with some Sci Fi-esque limitations on their powers. At a young age, the brothers conduct an alchemy experiment which backfires so strongly that they lose parts of their bodies; Edward is left with a metal arm and leg, and Alphonse is transformed into an empty suit of armor. The anime chronicles their attempts to reconstruct their lost bodies using alchemy.
Fullmetal Alchemist is probably so popular because it has something for everyone. Alchemy really drives the show. Sci Fi fans, even those not accustomed to the anime genre, will find an exciting world which purports to be rigidly bound by the laws of science and equilibrium. Fantasy lovers or viewers who are used to a more traditional shōnen style will think alchemy is basically a more annoying version of magic or chi. But it's fun to see the characters use it, and the show plays up the drama a lot. Fullmetal is also one of the very few animes for which I prefer the English dub over the subtitled version. The voice acting is solid in both English and Japanese, but the English voices are really cute and charismatic and pull you into the show. Even though it's far from a typical shōnen tale, Fullmetal Alchemist can be frustratingly juvenile at times. The Elric brothers combat the same villains time and time again because the villain makes up some excuse not to kill them or they are unwilling to kill the villains. Think Team Rocket from Pokemon. The show is fun throughout, but if my Pokemon reference didn't deliver the idea that it can get repetitive at times...well, it can. An excellent and unusual anime for young audiences, and a sufficiently fun journey for older viewers too, provided you have a little patience.
Just to be clear, Fullmetal Alchemist is not a prequel or sequel to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. This anime is an original story set in the world of the manga but never printed in it. Together with a follow-up movie, Fullmetal Alchemist is a complete story. Brotherhood, also produced by Bones, provides a video interpretation of the first few volumes of the much larger manga.