Today, we take a look at the first half (roughly) of the new dub for the recent reboot of the Fullmetal Alchemist series.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 1-26)
Released and dubbed by FUNimation Productions, Ltd., Flower Mound, TX.
Line Producer: Mike McFarland
ADR Directors: Mike McFarland and Caitlin Glass
Head Writer: John Burgmeier
In the summer of 2001, the first installment of Hiromu Arakawa's new work Fullmetal Alchemist was published. It was a sensation. It would spawn a franchise that would see not just one, but two anime adaptations as well as spinoff novels, video games and all manner of merchandise. The first anime adaptation was done between 2003 and 2004 by Studio Bones, the outfit formed from the team that had produced Cowboy Bebop. The first adaptation, however, was made while the author was still writing the manga. She would not complete it, in fact, until this summer, when the 26th and final volume was published. Though the anime producers did consult with the manga author, at a certain point it was necessary to break off completely from the manga "canon," so the anime production team created their own anime original characters and ending. The series became popular here when it was broadcast on [adult swim], the block of programming on the Cartoon Network that was meant to appeal to older viewers, from 2004 to 2006. The series was licensed by FUNimation Entertainment, and so the dub was produced in house at FUNimation Productions for the broadcast and eventual home video release. The dub was largely received well, and even spawned some more vocal than normal dub fans.
In August of 2008, the manga author announced that a new anime adaptation would be made. Again produced by Studio Bones, this new adaptation would aim to provide a more faithful version, throwing out all of the anime original characters, concepts and ideas and sticking much more closely to the events of the manga, though the opening episodes would compress events that were already adapted more fully in the first series. This new adaptation, which was christened Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in English, made its debut in 2009, and completed this year (you can read Chris Beveridge's reviews of the streamed episodes here).
There is little need to rehearse the characters or plot, since they are very well known among fan and even those who may not be anime fans, but have seen either series on TV. To sum it up very briefly for those who may not know anything about this franchise: Edward Elric is a State Alchemist. In this world, alchemy is treated as if it were a science, and the rearrangement of matter is accomplished using knowledge and training that are systematic. The operative law of alchemy is equivalent exchange, which works pretty much as the real law of the conservation of mass and energy works: you cannot create something from nothing. In order to create, something else must be sacrificed. One thing, however, is forbidden: the use of alchemy on human beings, the attempt to transmute people. When Edward and his younger brother Alphonse lose their mother while still young children, the two, who are already talented alchemists (not everyone, it seems, can be), attempt the forbidden and pay a horrible price for it: Ed loses an arm and a leg; Al loses his entire body. Ed, in fact, sacrificed his own arm to perform a transmutation to bond his younger brother's soul to a suit of armor. Fortunately for Ed, in this world, even though technologically it is somewhere around early 20th century Western Europe, the technical expertise of makers of prosthetics from metal, called automail, is so advanced that they can graft fully functional prosthetics to a person's nerves, giving them limbs that are as good, if not better, than the originals. Ed and Al set out to learn all they can about alchemy, in an attempt to restore what has been lost. They think they may have discovered a means of doing so when they learn of a mysterious artifact that can break the law of equivalent exchange and create something from nothing: the fabled Philosopher's Stone. So begins their quest.
Cast of thousands...almost literally
The cast of characters for this show is very large. So large, that it is not really practical, when covering even just this segment, to talk about every single voice in great detail, unless you want to read until your eyes glaze over. Therefore, I will limit my attention to the most important roles, and might omit a few of the more minor characters, not because their performances are not worth commenting on, but simply in the interests of keeping some focus.
Everything old is new again, again
I know I used that subhead last time, but again, this is a new dub of a show that has already seen a dub. Again, I know that I watch this show with the earlier performances in my memory, affecting how I respond to this new version. I did not, however, refresh my memories of the older version by re-watching any of it, instead choosing to hear this without wanting to directly compare every last nuance to the previous version. And this is not the same exact dub again as the passage of time has resulted in some changes to casting.
What has not changed, not really one bit, is the voice and performance of the main character, Edward Elric, who is still voiced by Vic Mignogna. Some people at the time of the first dub commented that they thought Mr. Mignogna sounded perhaps a little old for the role, as Ed is supposed to be a young teen. At this point, the matter is moot, as he has established himself as the English voice of Edward Elric. What is most important about his performance is the energy and emotion that he brings to the role of Ed, and Mr. Mignogna does bring both of those to the dub. Ed is prone to being upset when someone mentions his short stature. Mr. Mignogna expresses Ed's frustration, rage, exasperation and pain very well. While Ed is quick to fly off the handle, there are quieter moments as well, such as when he talks about getting his and especially Al's body back to normal, and Mr. Mignogna conveys Ed's sincerity well in those scenes.
Also returning is Caitlin Glass as Winry Rockbell, Ed's automail mechanic and potential love interest. Winry, Ed and Al all grew up together, as her grandmother Pinako took in the Elric brothers, their neighbors, after the death of their mother, Trisha. Their father Van Hohenheim, an old drinking buddy of Pinako's, had long since left the scene. Ms. Glass' performance is, again, little changed from what I remember of the first rendition, with the same girlish glee at the thought of learning new secrets of automail manufacture and design, and the same rage when Ed manages to mangle the automail that she has lovingly crafted for him. To continue with Ed's "family," such as it is, Juli Erickson again plays Pinako Rockbell, Winry's only family as well, as her parents died during the Ishvalan War, one of Amestris' many military conflicts. Ms. Erickson gives Pinako a feeling of wisdom earned from years of life experience, quite similar to how I remember her from the first time around. To finish off the "family" (I cannot discuss Alphonse Elric yet, since he has a completely new voice actor), there is Izumi Curtis, Ed and Al's first alchemy teacher, voiced by Christine Auten this time as well. Izumi is a very forthright and stern mentor, traits which Ms. Auten brings out firmly in her vocal performance, which is also not far changed from the first version as much as I can recall.
A large part of the show involves the military of Ed's homeland, Amestris. Many of the soldiers he has dealings with (as Ed himself is a servant of the State as a State Alchemist) play a large role in the story. Many of the actors return for these important roles. One of the key people Ed interacts with is Col. Roy Mustang, an ambitious officer (who is also an alchemist specializing in fire) who one day would like to rule Amestris as its "Fuhrer," the title of their leader. Col. Mustang is voiced by Travis Willingham, who played the role previously. Interestingly, for some reason, Mr. Willingham sounded slightly different from how I remembered the colonel sounding. There is a greater depth to this version, where Mustang almost sounds like he is speaking in a low growl. That us not to say that he cannot handle the somewhat more comical aspects to the character, as Mustang does have his moments of levity. Yet, the tone of this new version, the "canon" version of the story, is a much darker tale in some respects, so the slightly darker feel to his voice is fitting. Also returning is Sonny Strait as Maes Hughes, Mustang's friend who works in the Military's justice division. Hughes is a somewhat comical figure, always cooing over his wife and daughter, bragging about them to anyone who will listen (and even to those who do not wish to do so willingly). Mr. Strait delivers those lines with flair and such ebullience, it is hard not to believe that he is a doting father, though perhaps an annoying co-worker.
Colleen Clinkenbeard reprises her role as Lt. Riza Hawkeye, Mustang's subordinate and close confidant. Riza has a commanding presence herself, and Ms. Clinkenbeard brings that back to the role this time around. Christopher R. Sabat returns as Maj. Alex Louis Armstrong, a muscle-headed alchemist whose alchemy seems centered on creating images of himself at times. Here too, Mr. Sabat seems to have taken a slightly more serious, slightly deeper tack for this version, not that Maj. Armstrong was light and fluffy the first time around. It might be that the somewhat heavier air to this series suggested to the ADR directors, Mike McFarland and Caitlin Glass, that all of the characters should have a slightly heavier air to them. In the context of Brotherhood, having seen all of it so far (there is a feature planned to follow the series), this was probably the proper decision. At the top of the military stands Fuhrer King Bradley, who projects the image of a kindly, benevolent ruler, though he hides a rather dark secret. Ed Blaylock reprises the role, exuding an avuncular charm, warm and gentle. Not exactly what you expect from a ruthless dictator and military strongman.
In addition to the military, another major group, who provide the main antagonists for Ed and Al, are a group of shadowy not-quite-human beings, the Homunculi. They are beings created by alchemy, not truly human, though they often take humanoid shape. Working for the mysterious "Father," they are named after the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Gluttony, and Lust. The first animated series did some anime-original reworking of the Homunculi, so it is unsurprising that some of the roles had to be recast. Several do return for this version. For the first half of the show, we mainly see 4 of the Homunculi who reprise their roles in action. Lust, played by Laura Bailey in her mature, sexy seductress range (obviously, for a character named Lust and designed as a buxom femme fatale), returns to seduce our ears with her sultry voice. Considering all of the earlier roles I had heard from her before the original FMA, I was quite surprised, and delighted, by the range she displayed back then. For the new series, she steps right back into that sexiness that could corrupt just about any man, inspiring carnal thoughts with only the sound of her voice. Envy is again portrayed by Wendy Powell, who gives Envy a slight rasp that makes one not entirely sure whether Envy is a he or a she. This is further compounded by the fact that Envy is a shape shifter, and can mimic anyone that she sees a picture of, even imitating the voice if she is able to listen to it once. Envy's envious nature comes through in Ms. Powell's voice, as it is the rasp of jealousy, of wishing to be what one cannot be. Gluttony, a comic figure who turns out to be quite horrific, is played again by Chris Cason, who is very good at providing voices of an odd nature. Again, his Gluttony salivates at the prospect of eating things, especially people, in order to sate his unquenchable hunger. Finally, Chris Patton returns as Greed again in these volumes. Greed is, as his namesake, always desiring more, more of anything, and Mr. Patton again provides a voice that is filled with boundless desire for everything, be it material possessions, power, money, or subordinates to do his bidding.
There are many, many actors reprising minor roles, but I simply do not have the time to go through every one of them. Most of them sound pretty much in line with what I remembered from their previous performances.
Besides the returning cast, we have some major additions, as the first anime and the manga diverged quite strongly fairly early on. One major casting change, however, was necessitated by the passage of years.
In the first anime series, the very important role of Alphonse Elric, Ed's younger brother now bonded to a suit of armor, was voiced by Aaron Dismuke, who was himself a young boy of about 11 or 12 when he started recording the role. That was about Al's age in the show, so he brought a certain level of authenticity to the role. Because of the nature of his character's body, Mr. Dismuke had to speak into a metal bowl to get the hollow metallic ring just right. The same bowl has been employed for the new series, but Mr. Dismuke's voice has, of course, changed as he's now just about 18. Therefore, the role has been played this time around by Maxey Whitehead, a newcomer to the regular roster of actors who appear in FUNimation dubs. At first, I have to admit that her first moments as Al sounded slightly off. Perhaps it was unconscious influence, knowing that Ms. Whitehead is a woman, but I thought that Al's voice sounded a touch too girlish at times. As the show progressed, however, I think that she adjusted well, and the "girlish" sound to her voice tapered off, and a more "boyish" sound took hold. Only on a very few occasions did I hear that girlish edge come back in, but it never lasted for very long. In terms of emotional range and dynamism, she equals the previous performance of Mr. Dismuke's, which was one of the highlights of the first series' dub.
One of the central "villains" of the original series was Scar, an otherwise nameless Ishvalan who got his name from a noticeable scar on his face, the result of being attacked by alchemy during the Ishvalan War. In the first series, he was played by Daemon Clarke, who has since moved on to other things (other things being live action TV appearances). In his place, J. Michael Tatum takes on the role. Scar is slightly different in the manga canon version, though he is not suddenly a hero; he remains a menacing presence, bringing destruction wherever he goes. Mr. Tatum gives Scar an appropriately menacing, pitiless voice, the voice of a man who is now nothing more than a servant of Nemesis, an embodiment of revenge. His voice is somewhat dead inside, as it should be. He only has his rage left.
Another major figure opposing our heroes is the mysterious "Father." While we have not really seen much of him so far, he also provides the opening narration to the show, so we have a good feel for his voice. His voice is interestingly slightly lighter in register than the original Japanese audio, but I think it will work well for the character. While it is not present in the narration, I can hear how the voice could morph into a somewhat more threatening and sinister tone, which would be fitting with the character.
In addition to changes among the villains, we also have a few completely new players in this telling of events. Most prominent among them are two travelers from the distant land of Xing, far to the east on the other side of the Desert where the kingdom of Xerxes used to exist. One of the travelers, Ling Yao, claims to be a prince of Xing (when one finds out that the Emperor of Xing has many, many wives, this becomes quite easy to believe). Played by Todd Haberkorn, Ling Yao has a very easygoing and carefree attitude, which is matched by his voice. Mr. Haberkorn gives Ling a rather lackadaisical air, a feeling of laziness, that are quite appropriate to the character. As a prince, it is natural that he has retainers, and two servants, who are more like ninja bodyguards than personal serving staff, accompany him. The older of them, Fu, is voiced by Kenny Green, with a voice that is appropriate for a wise old bodyguard, admonishing his "young lord" when Ling Yao is not quite living up to his station in life. The younger bodyguard, Lan Fan, is Fu's granddaughter. Portrayed by Trina Nishimura, Lan Fan has a fierce determination, which is reflected well in her voice. She is extremely protective of her master (who is slightly older than she is, as she seems to be a teenager still, though perhaps in her late teens), and her voice turns readily to anger if Ling Yao is spoken of in an insulting way. Ms. Nishimura does the part full justice.
The other traveler from the east is a small, cute girl named May Chang. Monica Rial tackles the role, which is no challenge for her as she has played this character type many a time before. Still, if you need to have a cute girl, but one with a little spunk and the determination to cross a desert by herself, one could do far worse than have her voiced by Ms. Rial.
I am sure that there are other roles worthy of note, but some of them are more prominent in the second half of the show and would be better served by a later review.
I cannot give you any thoughts about the translation, since I have no basis for comparison. The discs have their audio and subtitle options locked, so it is not possible to listen to the English audio while having the subtitles appear on screen at the same time.
Fullmetal Alchemist:Brotherhood had quite a challenge to meet, the challenge being that the original dub was quite highly regarded in most respects and it would be necessary for the new series to meet that same standard. I think it accomplishes that quite well. The new series does have a slightly darker tone to it, and some of the vocal performances have shifted gears, slightly, to match that, a decision that is fitting and does not feel out of place. If anything feels slightly out of place, it is the jokes that the show itself makes on occasion, having, for example, a breast jiggle right before a dramatic showdown. There are also moments when the characters turn into super-deformed slapstick versions of themselves during moments of tension and conflict. This is not anything the dub can fix, but it is a sign of deft adaptation that the English voice actors roll with the punches quite well, matching the sudden tonal shifts without breaking character or sounding confused. The returning cast does a fine job of recapturing much of the magic of the first version's dub, while the new cast members provide appropriate additions that blend well with the returning voices. A marquee title deserves a marquee dub, and FUNimation does provide that.
Recommendation: If you enjoyed the original dub to Fullmetal Alchemist, you should not be disappointed at all with this new version. For those who are being introduced to the world of alchemy for the first time, you may feel confident that the English dub will provide a pleasurable listening experience.
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