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I stumbled across The Annotated Alchemist podcast completely by accident while searching the iTunes Music Store for the theme song from the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist (“Ready Steady Go” by L’Arc en Ciel, in case you’re wondering… a great power song for running, but more on that in a later post). Unfortunately, the iTMS doesn’t sell the song, but my search results included this podcast, which immediately caught my eye. It’s truly a little gem that has renewed my enthusiasm for podcasting.

The Annotated Alchemist is basically audio “Cliff Notes” for each episode of the wildly popular Fullmetal Alchemist anime series. The series is based on the manga, or Japanese comic book, of the same name. Created by Hiromu Arakawa, the manga of Fullmetal Alchemist is an ongoing series consisting of over 60 chapters to date. It was adapted into a 51 episode animated series in 2003 and first shown in the U.S. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim beginning in late 2004. Shortly thereafter, it found its way to television networks around the world.

The story of Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in the early 20th century, in the alternate-Earth country of Amestris, and follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric on their quest for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. The brothers are skilled alchemists who can transmute one form of matter into a different form of matter, and they soon become involved with the state-sponsored military alchemy program. There are several other unique facets to the story which are immediately apparent but not so easily understood, and which won’t be divulged here. Suffice it to say that Full Metal Alchemist is a complex, multi-layered story, philosophically, politically, and emotionally.

Which is why the Annotated Alchemist podcast is so cool. Each roughly 20 to 30 minute podcast breaks down an episode in terms of plot, characters, themes, art direction, production, and a host of other topics as applicable. For example, in the first podcast the fact that Fullmetal Alchemist was created by a woman is discussed, along with history of women in manga, and the differences between Shonen and Shojo manga. All good stuff for any self-respecting pop culture buff.

The production of the podcast is first-rate. The host, who doesn’t seem to be named anywhere — though I haven’t listened to all of the episodes yet — has a clear, polished broadcasting voice. Snippets of music and dialogue from the show are seamlessly integrated with the narration, further lending to the feel of a professional production. This show would be right at home on any public radio station.

If you have an interest in anime, but never knew quite where to start, renting the DVDs of Fullmetal Alchemist and following up with these podcasts would be a great introduction. If you’re the parent of an anime fan, these shows can help you understand what your kids are talking about, and can even provide the material you need to start more in-depth discussions with them about the themes of the show. And if you’re a fan yourself, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something new in each episode.

As an added bonus, I’ve found that it’s a perfect podcast to listen to while running. The 30 minute playing time is just a bit shorter than my “every day” run, and the content is interesting and entertaining enough to keep me focused and moving.

Feel free to let me know what you think.

Subscribe to The Annotated Alchemist via iTunes

The Annotated Alchemist website

One Response to “Podcast of the Week: The Annotated Alchemist”

  1. [...] Now that I’ve found the right time and place to enjoy podcasts, I can actually start evaluating their merits and pass my favorites on to you. With that, I’m beginning the “Podophile Podcast of the Week” series. Each Monday, I’ll review a podcast that I find consistently interesting and entertaining, and especially well-suited to taking out on the running trail. I’ll start later today by naming my first “Podcast of the Week:” The Annotated Alchemist. [...]