The Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) manga by Hiromu Arakawa that was published from 2001- 2010 and it was adapted into two completely different anime by studio Bones. The first, Fullmetal Alchemist, was a loose adaptation and had an original ending. The second adaptation, titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, was a much more faithful retelling and ended less than a month after the conclusion of the manga. You can read a little more about the differences between the two in our last article. This time, I want to look a little more closely at some of the major differences between the manga and the first anime series.
This article contains major spoilers for the Fullmetal Alchemist anime and manga
Fullmetal Alchemist Synopsis
The story of FMA revolves around the concept of Alchemy, which can decompose matter and alter it into different substances under the Law of Equivalent Exchange in an act called transmutation. The protagonist Edward ‘Ed’ Elric is a young talented alchemist who works as a State Alchemist in his home country of Amestris. Together with his younger brother, Alphonse ‘Al’ Elric, he searches for the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary red stone that is said to have the power to change a substance into anything, such as changing lead into gold, or humans into immortal beings. The fate of the Elric brothers changes drastically when they meet artificial humans known as Homunculi.
Significant Differences and Common Points between the Anime and Manga
The anime consists of two different versions. The first version of the anime aired in 2003-2004 while the manga had only been running for a couple of years. The popularity the manga enjoyed right from the beginning prompted an anime to be made so quickly. The second version of the anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, was aired a few years later in 2009-2010 and was more faithful to the manga. In this article, I am going to look at the first version of the anime, referred to as the 2003 anime, some of the must-watch scenes and how it differs to the manga. The 2003 anime has some anime-only characters and settings, and the second half deviates from the manga greatly.
The turning points of the manga are interwoven with the anime’s storyline. The first season of the anime was created with the intention of moving into original territory, which was decided after extensive discussion between the anime production staff and FMA creator Hiromu Arakawa. It is not known how much of the manga’s plot Arakawa had come up with at the time of the anime’s production. However, the meaning of the important scenes from the manga are embedded in the anime, even if the actual situation was a little different.
For instance, we see the trust between the Elric brothers and Roy Mustang both in the anime and the manga and we see Mustang and fellow military members yelling at the brothers who keep jumping into situations by themselves, with ‘why didn’t you rely on us adults’ and ‘you should put more trust in adults.’ The brothers also expose the crucial and unbelievable truth of the military’s King Bradley who a Homunculi, and thus allow Mustang to rise in rebellion.
The Existence of the Homunculi
As I said earlier, the stories of the manga and the 2003 anime are completely different, therefore it’s difficult to compare them. I’ll make some comparisons regarding their characters. The main characters, Ed, Al, and the members of East City Headquarters, are the same. However, some characters are depicted differently in each version.
The most significant changes can be found in the antagonists, the Homunculi. The differences in their personalities are evident in Lust and Envy. In the manga, they show their sense of superiority over humans, ‘we are more evolved and closer to the truth than humans’ and ‘humans are inferior creatures.’ However, in the 2003 anime, they actually seem to have an inferiority complex to humans saying ‘we are failures’ and ‘I want to become human.’
The differences in the characters’ personalities are attributed to the differences in the definition of the Homunculi. In the manga, they are created from an existence simply called ‘Dwarf in the Flask’ as his alter ego during a process of becoming a godlike, omnipotent being in ancient times. Therefore, the Homunculi in the manga refer to the ‘Dwarf in the Flask’ as ‘Father’ and feel great affection for him. Whereas in the 2003 anime, two alchemists who have existed since ancient times, Dante and Hohenheim, developed them from the failures of human transmutation. The Homunculi in the anime are brought into existence by the two and can’t go against them.
Homunculi are ‘an alter ego of a near perfect being’ in the manga and ‘a developed dead body which shouldn’t exist’ in the anime. Because of this fundamental difference, their personalities and attitudes towards Ed and Al are different in the manga and the anime. Even the nastiest of the Homunculi, Envy, turns hostile towards Hohenheim, rather than towards humans. I think the production staff of the anime intended to conclude their story within one season, so they simplified the hierarchical relationship among the antagonists and, in order to focus on the central question of ‘what is human?’, gave the Homunculi an inferiority complex and a desire to become a human.
Is Hohenheim an Enemy or an Ally?
Hohenheim was a mysterious character and the father of Ed and Al as well as a suspected behind-the-scenes mastermind. In the manga, he appeared in the latter half of the story and was amazingly strong right up until the end. He became immortal thank to the power of the Philosopher’s Stone and was a double of Father, the primary antagonist. He also loved a particular woman very much and fought to save his sons.
On the other hand, Hohenheim in the anime existed at the expense of humans. He lives a sinful life with his accomplice, Dante, with whom he created the Homunculi. He professed that he loved Trisha, the mother of Ed and Al. However, he was also in a complicated relationship with Dante.
He was apparently a suspicious existence in both the manga and the anime. Even though in the manga he was in fact the most powerful ally, he was an antagonist in the anime. I think such a difference was caused for the same reasons, to conclude the story within the broadcasting period, meaning they didn’t have enough time to depict the ‘Father’ character. For the manga fans like me, it was regrettable to not to be able to watch the scenes of his memories with Trisha and him desperately trying to save his sons.
How to Compare the Two Stories of Fullmetal Alchemist
There are significant differences in the stories and the characters between the manga and the 2003 anime adaptation. However, the important points of the manga are kept in the anime. Each story is fully-developed and equally enjoyable to read or watch. The most important elements of the series are the relationship between the brothers, the Philosopher’s Stone, and how they strive to regain their complete body. What they would have gained and how they might have felt would be different depending on which path they would take to get their objectives. Furthermore, because of the serious subject matter of Fullmetal Alchemist (‘what does the life of a human mean?’ and ‘what makes a human?’) there should be various answers and therefore various ways to create stories.
There are differences between the manga and the 2003 anime, including the personalities of the characters and stories. We naturally assume that only the source material (in this case, the FMA manga) is ‘correct’, because they are the base. However, the answer can be different depending on one’s personal values. On that note, I believe the 2003 anime can be considered one of the successful interpretations. From our individual viewpoint, we can compare and enjoy the manga and both of the anime adaptations of this fantastic battle fantasy story of alchemy.