As a child I often listened to movie soundtracks, and two rose above the crowd: The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I liked the former because whenever I listened to it I felt like a hobbit weeding his garden, a shield-maiden fighting to save her country, or just Gollum. I liked the latter because the score had totally changed my perception of that story.
I used to listen to “The Blitz, 1940” and “The Battle” over and over in the car on the way to Grandma’s because I liked the bookends they created to the story of the Pevensie children, particularly Peter, that I hadn’t considered myself: They had escaped a war at home only to grow up too soon and lead one themselves. This struck a chord with me. For the first time in my life I had realized what a difference a film’s score could make in how I, the audience, interpreted the story.
I mention this because the same thought reemerged in 2009 with the release of Funimation’s Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
On the advice of a friend, my sister and I had watched the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, itself an adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series, and we became so invested in the trials and tribulations of Edward and Alphonse Elric (or, in my sister’s case, Roy Mustang’s sexy bass voice) I cite it as my first binge-watch. And part of what we adored about that first series was the hauntingly optimistic music that made me want to cry and cheer at the same time.
When we heard a second series was in development that intended to follow Arakawa’s manga more closely, we couldn’t wait to watch it. Obviously we’d enjoyed the first series, but we did prefer Arakawa’s storyline and ending and we wanted to see a few key players in Brotherhood that hadn’t appeared in the original anime.
Unfortunately, my first memory of watching Brotherhood became my shock at the change in soundtrack. The first season of Brotherhood more or less mimics the original anime, which followed the manga to a certain point, so it’s the same story. But the background music made the two feel so different! Because I had loved the original’s music so much, it took until my second run through Brotherhood to fully appreciate the new score.
Composed by Michiru Oshima, the most distinct music of the original 2003 series had an orchestral feel that gave the series the sense of a sweeping romantic journey or fable.
Strings, particularly violins, feature prominently throughout the soundtrack, though there are moments of drama when the brass section of the orchestra shines. The music sounds of melancholy and memory. All in all, it resembles many film soundtracks when listened to all in one go—unobtrusive, yet adding unimaginably important finesse to the tone of each scene.
The Brotherhood score, composed by Akira Senju, also features violins, but unlike the original anime they don’t put voice to emotion so much as speed away toward a grand climax.
If the 2003 anime’s music philosophizes, the 2009 anime’s resounds. In Brotherhood, the music becomes a main feature, reminding us of nefarious forces or informing us on the current state of things, usually more than the more human emotions of the moment. It tends to set the scene more than give clues as to the inner workings of a character or place. It is bombastic. Sometimes uneasy. Every sentiment comes through full-force.
Because the manga came to a more climactic end than the original anime, whose creators needed to finish up without the benefit of a completed story by Arakawa, the score of Brotherhood follows suit, frequently transcending the humanness of most of the main characters and reaching to blend in themes of gods and the supernatural, such as chapel-like choral music permeating scenes exploring humanity and immortality.
Still, keeping in line with the story’s setting of a military state and coup d’état plot (both given more importance here than in the 2003 anime), drums, brass, and strings frequently swell to bring empirical and militaristic elements to a scene. In Brotherhood, nearly everything is an epic moment and the music does not let us forget it.
To see how a simple music cue can change the entire feel of the scene, look no further than the scene in which Edward and Alphonse Elric, after losing two limbs and an entire body trying to resurrect their mother with alchemy, decide to burn their childhood home to the ground to prove their resolve to search for the Philosopher’s Stone, which they believe will help them recover their original bodies.
Though one is significantly shorter, both anime basically replicate the scene in the manga. The only real difference is the score.
“Bratja,” or “Brothers” backs the moment with loss—the loss of their mother, their limbs, their childhood—resolve, and their love for each other. With this one piece, we learn all there is to know about the Elrics and their part in the story.
In Brotherhood, the moment feels more restrained. Rather than have this be their big moment informing the audience of the heroes’ goals, the burning of their childhood home remains a quiet beat, using the leitmotif for their childhood”Trisha’s Lullaby—a Reminiscence” to make us feel wistful for an unreachable time. Within the context of its episode, the flashback of a childhood memory serves as a reminder to childhood friend Winry of why these boys continually jump into danger and rarely return home.
Two scenes: One, a Big Hero Moment, the other, a quiet motivator. All because of the music.
Photo Credit: Funimation, Bones Animation
GIF credit: Bones and Giphy