Andrew Osmond quizzes the lead voices in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
The two Alchemist anime share some of the same voice-talents, both in Japan and America. In Japan, the brothers in both versions are played by two women, Romi Park as Edward and Rie Kugimiya as Alphonse. Casting adult women as boys is a common practice in animation, especially TV anime. It’s even spoofed in an episode of the American cartoon Avatar The Last Airbender, where the young hero – who is voiced by a boy – is shocked to find a woman playing him on stage. However, when the first Fullmetal Alchemist series was dubbed in America, Alphonse was voiced by 12-year-old Aaron Dismuke, alongside the grown-up performer Vic Mignogna as Edward.
Mignogna and Dismuke played the Elric brothers through the first series and the Shamballa film. However, by the time Brotherhood came around, nature had taken its course, Dismske’s voice had matured and another Alphonse was needed. The dubbing director Mike McFarland director chose actress Maxey Whitehead, who had previously played Antonio in Romeo x Juliet; her other parts include Crona, a supporting character in Soul Eater. With Mignogna back as Edward, we effectively have an “old” brother paired up with a “new” one, although Dismuke can be still heard in Brotherhood as a young version of the boys’ dad.
According to Mignogna, the return of Alchemist was completely unexpected for the dub team. “I don’t think anyone had any clue. I did a couple of anime conventions with Seiji Mizushima, who directed the first series and Shamballa, and he made it clear he would not be doing any more Alchemist,” Mignogna remembers. “He didn’t say why, but my guess is that he felt really good about the way Alchemist ended, and he had told the story he wanted to tell.” Indeed, Brotherhood has a new director, Yasuhiro Irie.
“We were surprised and excited, and to be honest we were also a little concerned,” Mignogna says. “The original series had turned out so well; could the new series replicate the same combination of writing and characters?” One difference between the old and the new shows is that Brotherhood has far more comic interludes where Edward shouts out his frustrations, often related to his pipsqueak size. Mignogna ruefully agrees there are more scenes designed to rip up his vocal cords. But, he points out, “The comedic moments are often right in the middle of serious, heavy-duty scenes. From the point of view of the plot, Brotherhood is much darker than the first Alchemist; it starts out feeling like comedy, but gets heavier and heavier and heavier. The comedy is there for precisely that reason.”
Whitehead, meanwhile, came to Alchemist entirely new. How does she see her character? “I love Al!” she says with obvious affection. “He’s sweet, but at the same time he’s really strong. I love that he is so brave, how he bounces back with such resilence, and the way his goodness can bring out the really good things in other people. He’s been through so much; he’s lost his mum and dad and then his whole self, and the fact he can be the sunshine among the crazy dark stuff is great for people of any age to take away from the show. It’s an honour to be voicing him!” However, Whitehead stresses we see Al growing up, and having to be less dependent on Edward. She cites an early battle between Al and a serial killer called Barry the Chopper, who causes Al to doubt his brother and question his own identity. “He has to become his own person,” Whitehead says.
The actress has inherited Al’s famous bowl – a small metal mixing bowl (“a bit bigger than a cereal bowl”) that’s set up on a music stand for the actress to speak through. It gives Al’s soft voice its characteristic metal timbre, befitting an animated suit of armour. Of course, any actor or actress playing Alphonse has a huge advantage over the rest of the cast. As Al’s head is only a metal helmet (except on the occasions when we see Al as human), there are no pesky mouth flaps to match!
On the soundtrack, Whitehead’s Alphonse sounds startlingly similar to Dismuke’s. “There were times when I was recording to her lines and I forgot that it wasn’t Aaron,” says Mignogna (as is common in anime dubs, the actors record their lines separately). However, Whitehead chose not to listen to Dimuske’s performance in the earlier series. “I sound like Aaron just being myself,” she explains. “If I spent too long listening to his Alphonse, then I’d be an impersonator.”
Mignogna points out that Al in Brotherhood will go through different twists, turns and changes than those that anime viewers have seen before. Mignogna is especially fond of a “crazy” adventure he’s dubbed where Ed and Al find themselves in a monster’s stomach!
And, being meanies, we have to ask Mignogna the unfair question: which of the two Alchemist anime does he prefer? Naturally, he declines to answer. “Even when Brotherhood is over, I don’t know if it would be possible for me to pick one over the other,” he says. “But if the ending of Brotherhood is just unbelievably dynamic and impactful…” Let’s hope, for Mignogna’s sake, that it’s stunning.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood 4 is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.