It's also brutal at times; marith, who is eight episodes in, said "it's like someone sent the kids from Sailor Moon to Vietnam". But it doesn't *feel* brutal, which is the odd thing. It's not like they pull punches -- the opening scene of the whole series makes it clear that neither innocence nor good intentions is protection or excuse in this universe -- but it's not what comes to mind when I think of the series. I think it's the likeability of the characters, and the fact the anime is so humanistic, not nihilistic. Terrible things have happened, but despair is not the answer.
It'll throw comedic stories at you, or light-hearted adventure, but every time it circles back to the worst incidents and razors up another, darker layer. Back to the failed resurrection of their mother, to show a little more. Back to Ishbal, to reveal deeper horrors. Back to Lior, for horrors in the current time. And I don't think it's done, either; it has, at episode 25, the feeling of a show that is just about to stomp on the accelerator. "You know this world, you like these people, don't you? Well, hang on for the ride."
Ed Elric: Ed's nicely layered. On the surface he's often the most comedic of the characters, regularly going into a SD rage when anyone refers to his height; then there's the aspect where he's the angsty sinner; and then there's the not vocalized but implied Really Scary aspect. The boy who, bleeding to death from a severed leg, traumatized by watching his brother be shredded and his mother restored as a twisted inhuman *thing*, improvised a soul binding with the materials within arm's reach: the armor behind him, his own blood, and well, his arm. At freakin' 11 years old. And then, even more destroyed as he was, thought to kill the mother-thing they had summoned so that Al wouldn't have to. Focus, thy name is Edward Elric. And the anime's been great about showing where the implicit scariness could turn explicit: the way when Gran tells him about Marcoh and the stone, where despite the suffering he's just heard about, Ed's eyes light up at the prospect of obtaining it. How easily the murderous homunculi inveigle him into attempting to refine the Philosopher's stone, even though he's standing in the death house where hundreds of lives have been sacrificed to provide the material. So far Al or his own conscience have pulled him back from that brink, but there's no promise that will always happen.
Al Elric: Al's the character that really breaks my heart. When Tucker accuses Ed of being just like him, my first response was that was nonsense; Ed did what he did to Al out of desperate love. Then I thought about it, and that's true... but there's something in what Tucker says, too. Because the hubris that refused to let Al go, also condemned him. Al *is* suffering. In different ways to Nina, but even apart from the explicit conversation Ed and Al have about Al's lack of sensation, there's a remarkable number of scenes where, even as other things are going on, you notice that Al is sitting quietly with food he can't eat or drink he can't taste in front of him. And in the latter episodes of the first season, we find out even Al's memories of being human are beginning to fade. He doesn't have the despair and urge for self destruction of the soul-armor that Ed meets at Lab 5, but I think that's only because he still has faith that his brother will fix what is wrong.
I've finally successfully downloaded the rest of the episodes; there's no way I can stay unspoilered until November, dammit, so I'd rather see the subs now.