So doing a top 50 anime openings countdown turned out to be a lot of fun for me. I love analyzing segments of anime, and OPs provide short but densely packed content to work with. I did give a brief nod the all FMA and FMAB openings in the top 50, but there’s a lot more to say about them. For today on The Anime Harvest, we’re starting with “Again”, the first opening of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
The theme opens on a shot of the Nationwide Transmutation Circle.
With this in mind, we can view the circle as something of a map of Amestris. The rooster at the centre represents the sun, a clear illusion to Father’s ambition to capture the knowledge of god while residing in Central HQ. The beast standing over represents a threat to the country. While you obviously have to have watched the show to get this full picture, even to a new viewer the signs of danger are clear.
The curtains on each side frame the shot as either a theater work, or some kind of exhibit. The exhibit interpretation makes the whole thing like a museum piece, something definitely echoed bright studio lighting shining on it. The aged stone wall gives the impression of a museum, so while we see this as threatening, it’s also something that happened long ago, which is very true to the story and what happened in Xerxes. We’re only one second into this, and we can already see half the backstory reflected in a single shot.
And special thanks to strongBEAR in the YouTube comments section for pointing out that this is actually the same circle from the ruins of Xerxes, confirming everything to this point.
The alignment of all the rough transmutation lines draws the viewer’s eyes to centre screen, right where Edward’s face appears in this shot.
Except that isn’t Edward, it’s Hohenheim. This is the kind of detail you’re just not going to get on your first watch, and it’s what makes “Again” a great opening to watch again and again. For most of Brotherhood’s runtime, you will completely misidentify a character. When you finally do see Hohenheim looking like this in the show, your mind his primed to see the similarities between his younger self and Edward.
Hohenheim puts his hands out in front of him, outstretched, and the background transitions to open sky. The outstretched open hands show he has power over something, though we can’t see exactly what from this angle. The blue sky and lack of any other people or signs of life in the shot could give us the sense that his power is over nature. Also, the expansive blue sky is a pretty universal symbol of freedom.
Hohenheim’s confused, overwhelmed change in expression tells us all we need to know about what he thinks of this power and freedom. He’s very distraught by it all. Also, we get colour association. From this point on, the blue of the sky should elicit thoughts of Hohenheim.
The next transition has a leaf covering the frame as it’s blown around, a typical way to represent the passage of time. It brings us to this shot…
…for a brief second, before cutting to here.
While the screen time of Trisha Elric is short, it gives us a connection between Hohenheim, and Edward and Alphonse. Also, following her up with a shot of the two brothers as children communicates that she’s their mother. Combine that with the background landscape behind Trisha in her shot, and we get an idea of the kind of peaceful rural area Ed and Al were raised. Also, colour association is made between Trisha and green fields.
The fact that the wind changes direction between the start and end of Trisha’s shot shows that she is buffeted by events around her, and that her warm smile only grows kinder tells us what kind of a strong person she is.
The shot of Ed and Al also has many fine details, the most obvious of the bunch being the way Al is holding Ed’s shirt; Al relies on his older brother. Al also has his eyes closed at the start, which actually has two meanings behind it. The first is his general naiveté; Al is a bit of an idealist, while Ed is much more cynical. The second has to do what the fact that they’re staring towards some light source. Light symbolizes knowledge or truth, which in FMA easily refers to the Gate of Truth. The fact that they’re standing in a doorway here only adds to this. While both brothers saw the Gate of Truth when they tried to resurrect their mother, only Alphonse blocked it from his memory until much later, hence his eyes starting closed and having to be opened.
The door being closed represents someone leaving, and the next shot shows reveals that someone to be Hohenheim.
The way his eyes look, and the lifting of his head here also shows his new resolve. So far, everything we’ve seen has been Hohenheim’s story; the Nationwide Transmutation Circle, his being lost and confused by all the power it gave him, meeting Trisha and raising the kids, and then finally setting out to repair his past mistake. All of this is reflected in the lyrics so far, “I’ve still got a lot of years ahead of me/ To just erase these feelings?/ I want to go back and finish/ The things that I’ve yet to finish.”
After this we’re done with Hohenheim’s story and move on to his two sons.
These two shots are obviously based on Ed and Al burning down their old home, the first step of their own journey, but tying these two figures to the boys we saw earlier is a little tricky. The first shot gives us two clues, the first being Edwards blond hair, though making a connection based on this is tenuous. The second is that, until now we’ve only see one shot that contained two characters, so we may associate that to this. Interestingly, if you make that connection then there’s actually a little joke in it. In the first shot of the two, Edward was on the left and Alphonse on the right. Here it’s reversed, which plays into the running gag of everyone assuming Alphonse is the older brother because of his size.
The second shot pulls out a lot further and we see the rural landscape that we’ve already been subtly told the boys grew up in. Also in this shot we notice the time of day, dawn, which symbolizes a new beginning. Very on point with the arson.
Colour association here is obviously red, but it leans more heavily to Edward because of his coat.
The next shot gives us a better look at Edward, and his eyes confirm for us that he is the same boy from the closing door. His outstretched hands are similar to his father’s, reflecting that he has similar power, but everything else in the shot is very different. Unlike Hohenheim, Edward is not intimidated by this power. The determination in his eyes tell us he knows exactly what he plans to do with it. The downward camera angle lacks the freedom Hohenheim had. Also, we see Edward clap before striking this pose, a reference to his alchemy technique.
The shot of Hohenheim here is very antagonistic. Having it follow the shot of Edward gives a sense of the tension between the two. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a whole lot of Alphonse yet.
But Hohenheim turns and walks away towards a wall. The wall is, of course, Central, where Hohenheim’s real concerns are. He doesn’t have time for Edward, and whatever animosity there is between them, it isn’t something that Hohenheim wants to engage in. Despite his pose and expression, this actually has a lot to do with Hohenheim’s fear of being a father, reflected by this shot……alongside the line, “It’s not that I want to return to those days.”
This is also the first shot of Winry, an unambiguously good part of the boys’ childhoods. While Trisha reminds them of loss and mistakes, Winry is pure nostalgia. Cut to Alphonse, who evidently does miss those days.
Since we know Alphonse can’t actually sleep, his daydreaming seems to more be reminiscing on the past, which quickly transitions to looking towards the future, Central. For him, these two things are related. Alphonse sees his and Edward’s journey as a way to go back to those old day. Also, it’s significant that Al is completely alone here, since he and Ed take on this journey together. It may be a sign of his loneliness at night, when everyone is asleep, but the daylight in the scene contradicts that. It might also be a sign of his personal loneliness since Edward’s goals are slightly different than his own.
Those colour associations until now finally start to pay off. Alphonse reaching for the sky reminds us Hohenheim, so we see Alphonse doesn’t share his brother’s bitterness towards their father. The landscape Al is standing in has all three of our colours. Hohenheim’s blue sky is near the top, connecting it to Central and the distant mountains, making it the farthest away from Al. Trisha’s green surrounds him, taking up the largest area in front of Alphonse, telling us she still occupies his thought the most.
Meanwhile, Edward’s red is the flowers behind Alphonse, out of his view but very prominent to the viewer. The fact that these are the only thing other than Alphonse’s… hair(?) and cloth that are animated bring our attention to them even more. The subconscious message is that Al doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Ed, and Ed is always the more prominent character to us.
It could also say the Edward is behind Alphonse in some way, a sentiment echoed by the next shot of the two running across that field towards their goal, with Edward’s feet appearing slightly behind Al.
Next we get a downright incriminating shot of Hughes and Mustang.
The obvious effect is a sense of connection between these two. Even if they don’t look at each other, framing them both as the only characters in this black space makes it seem like they are in on something together. The red around Mustang also evokes Edward, which brings out the similarities between the two. But what really tells this story are the flames and the look on Mustang’s face.
What immediately comes to mind is the danger of flame alchemy, and the ferocity with which Mustang wields it. This isn’t the hardened glare he had when killing Lust, it’s the shock and terror of a young Mustang first finding out about how the military wants him to use his deadly talent. The reason Hughes is looking the other way is representative of how his friendship. He looks the other way to Mustang’s sins.
Then we have Hawkeye, who blinds herself to Mustang’s misgivings. While the two men are shown together, Hawkeye is alone. This is because Mustang and Hughes are co-conspirators against the Fuhrer, but Hawkeye is just a confidant. While this protects her to some degree, it also makes her much lonelier, at least at this point in the series. Later on she steps up to take Hughes’s position by Mustang’s side.
We go back to the kids’ childhood now, which seem like a random jump, but remember Mustang and Hawkeye first entered the boys’ lives just after the incident, and the turning a blind eye theme plays to that because they kept Ed and Al’s illegal attempt at human transmutation a secret.
The basic premise of these shots is pretty obvious, they show how each character was negatively affected by the failed transmutation. Ed lost an arm and a leg, Al lost his whole body, and Winry, while remaining physically intact, was tossed around quite a bit by the whole thing. One small issue with it is that, if you look carefully, Ed actually loses his arm first, then his leg, whereas in the show it was the other way around. Not exactly an oversight considering this isn’t a literal enactment, but it is a missed opportunity.
There’s also something to be said for the backgrounds in all three. Ed has the family home behind him, perhaps alluding to his concern for losing the family unit and frustration over their dad leaving. The green grass brings Trisha into the shot, but she’s largely in the shadows, a very ominous sign. The blue sky representing Hohenheim in the background is also oddly skewed.
Al’s backdrop is a little more generic. While there should be plenty of green from the countryside, the colour shifting takes that out, another allusion to Trisha’s death, and an effect that makes Al the loneliest person in this part of the OP.
Winry’s shot is just in front of her own home, establishing her location for most of the first part of the show.
Next we see the three most prominent early series homunculi, Gluttony, Envy, and Lust, regurgitating each other, each with a really damn menacing look. In one second this tells us everything we need to know about them; they’re villains, their inhuman, and they work very closely to one another.
Next we have few quick cuts of Mustang, Hawkeye, Armstrong, Brosh and Ross, and finally Greed. A couple interesting things are going on here. For the first three, it gives us some idea of how they fight. Mustang can shoot flames from his fingers, Hawkeye uses guns, and Armstrong seems to be at least 50% bear. He really got the short end of the stick hear, for two reasons. First, it doesn’t show off his alchemy fighting style, which is one of the more creative ones in the show honestly. Second, it didn’t have his characteristic shirt tearing to reveal those amazing muscles, but there’s a good reason for that, which we’ll get to.
My favourite shot of the bunch is this one, of Brosh and Ross. It follow’s right after Armstrong, and their reactions of surprise followed by salute establishes their rookie status and subordination to him. At first that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but up until now we haven’t to tell us whether Mustang, Hawkeye and Armstrong are good or bad, though we know Mustang is a least complex. Having these two rookies, so innocent it looks like they could trip over their own shoelaces, wearing the same style uniform as the others tells us that the military is a place of mixed moral fabric.
Finally there’s Greed, and his placement at the end of this montage. First, he’s why Armstrong couldn’t rip his uniform off. The uniform made a connection stretching from Mustang to Brosh and Ross, and Armstrong had to keep that consistent. Greed clearly breaks it, establishing that he isn’t in the same boat as the others. But he’s also been carefully separated from the other Homunculi who were all in the same shot. Having him right at the end of the military group just alludes to his change of alliance late in the series.
Finally there’s Wrath, or Bradley. His medals tell of his high status, and his eyepatch is both a message about his combat experience, and a sign that he’s hiding something, specifically a goal he has his eye on. But that’s character design; let’s stick to the OP.
Bradley doesn’t have a big role in the first part of FMA, so his appearance in this first opening doesn’t tell us much about him, beyond establishing that he exists and stands atop the entire military. He is uniformed, so having him after Greed seems like an odd choice unless we’re supposed to separate him from the other major military characters, which is exactly what we’re supposed to do.
The next segment could have easily been some throwaway action shots to show off the animation, though thank god it wasn’t because there are big mistakes if you look closely.
Something you see in a lot of OPs is protagonists moving from right to left across the screen, when antagonists usually do the opposite. The effect here is very subtle unconscious one, and is probably lost on a Western audience, honestly. See, in American cinematography, the same effect is made by having protagonists move left to right, and antagonists right to left. This is because we read left to right, so movement that way feel natural, while movement the other way feels unnatural. Japan’s writing system is a lot more complicated, with multiple different styles, but traditionally Japanese has been written right to left, so this cinematic method is reversed.
In the shot here, we have Edward run right, while Envy dodges left.
There’s also the nice little detail of Gluttony’s body-slam throwing Envy off balance, which tells us that these guys don’t work all that well together. Note that Lust, the tallest, and by every aspect of her design the most dominant of them, isn’t around to give orders. Here was our hint that once Lust died, the Homunculi would be much less competent in battle.
Scar is lost, caught in the rain, but soon sees the light and gets back on his feet. A pretty straightforward depiction of his character arc, having a sympathetic history, and having to wait for it to die down before he can move forward. But, taken literally, the scene also just depicts a lone mercenary waiting for his chance to advance, hiding outside of towns and cities. The fact that he takes off running shows that this isn’t business; he’s driven by something very personal.
The following shot of Granny, accompanied by the line “I’m always thankful for everyone’s kindness,” establishes that even in the climax of this violence and chaos, peace still exists. A very nice message to follow Scar, the one who wants revenge.
But we go right back to the fight between Ed and the Homunculi, but this time Lust is with them, and they’re much more organized. I don’t think anything else has to be said about that.
Winding down to the end, we have one last shot of Winry, which is a near copy of the one of Hawkeye earlier, right down to the way their bangs are drawn. A clear reference to similarities between the characters.
Follow that up with Ed ripping off his own arm and tossing it at the eye of Truth. There are some unfortunate negative connotations to following up Winry with the arm thing, since Ed’s arm and leg are a big part of the connection between the characters. But I think the larger point here is about Edward’s goal to get his real arm back. Throwing the automail one at Truth is both a reference to the end of the series when he gives up his Gate of Truth after getting the arm, and a nice way to point out that what the brothers are doing is a pretty big “Eff you” to the first truth of alchemy, equivalent exchange.
This end-card is a bit of an odd note to end on, but it actually brings us back to where we started, Hohenheim and Father. It’s not Ed and Al there, otherwise there would be a height difference.
And that’s “Again”. Man, what a densely packed opening. I’m sure my WordPress image storage limit agrees. But I just had to give this OP every shot it deserved.
While Again puts the brothers, Ed and Al, first, it’s neatly book-ended by the fathers, Hohenheim and, well, Father. It throws in subtle suggestions of the true, full story, but emphasizes just the parts that are important in the first 13 episodes. And because of that careful composition of two intertwined stories, it manages to be both an OP for the first part of the series, and an OP for all of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Don’t Lose Your Way