It's often hard to talk about the anime of Fullmetal Alchemist
without mentioning the manga, and how the two versions compare to one another, but this review will evaluate the anime on its own, as it is a fairly good show with some noticeable flaws. This review is about what I thought of the anime before I read the manga.
The series has an interesting overarching story that touches on questions such as how to use power, how people can atone for their mistakes and whether the world is at all fair. The world is well-developed and has a rich history, making it an effective setting for the story as past events have implications on several regards in the present.
Many of the recurring characters are well-developed, with personal conflicts that often relate to the broader themes in the story and their world's issues, although some of them, like Roy Mustang's subordinates, are not as well developed as they could have been, and others, like Dr. Marcoh, disappear from the story far earlier than they should.
The system of alchemy works well in the battles, allowing for a variety of uses and tactics in battles, such as making weapons or altering the environment. The characters have a variety of alchemy specialties and fighting styles, allowing for a variety of exciting battles, but some of the secondary protagonists, like Armstrong and Mustang, could have been given more chances to fight.
Unfortunately, the plot often gets sidetracked on diversions that do little for the main story. These plots are significantly less interesting than the main material, and often involve characters who, like the Elrics, resent someone close to them without understanding the entire truth, and the villains in these episodes tend to seek power with no compelling motivations. Such stretches can go on for several episodes at a time, undermining viewer interest.
The climax is somewhat disappointing, as it sets up some potentially epic battles and fails to deliver, particularly in the case of the main villain, and has a somewhat inconclusive ending that is a Sequel Hook
for the movie. One may be led to wonder why the writers didn't remove some of the filler episodes to address these issues.
Overall, Fullmetal Alchemist
is worth a look, but I personally recommend also viewing the manga or the Brotherhood anime.