I am rather late to this particular party, but since Adult Swim's come around to episode 1 of Fullmetal Alchemist starting this Monday night, I felt I ought to post with some whens and whys of the show. (This is going to be long but not still not as complete or polished as I'd like, because I have to drive to Massachusetts today.)
At the most basic level: Fullmetal Alchemist is an anime, complete at 51 half-hour episodes, which has been available for some time in Japan (there is also a movie that was recently released). While various fan groups have created their own subtitled versions of the series ("fansubs"), the licensed English dubbed versions are only now being aired on TV and released on DVD.
When: The U.S.'s Cartoon Network (which I believe is generally part of the basic cable package) has a late-night programming block called "Adult Swim." Right now, it's showing one new-to-TV episode each Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. Eastern (repeated at 2:30 a.m.), and repeating one older episode each night on Monday-Thursday at 1:00 a.m. (repeated at 4:00 a.m.). Here's Adult Swim's page for the show, but you can avoid the Flash and go straight to this schedule listing to check episode titles. (This general information page has a numbered list if you need to check which title goes with which episode.) The upshot is that Adult Swim's weeknight airings have cycled through the available episodes already this season, and so are starting all over again with episode 1 this Monday night, November 1, at 1:00 a.m. Eastern.
If you've been watching my many spoiler-cut posts go by and wondered what it was all about, or wanted to get into the show but couldn't afford to buy or rent the DVDs [*], now would be the perfect time to start watching (or recording, if it's on past your bedtime).
[*] Four episodes a disc, five discs out so far. The sixth is due out 11/15/05, following an every-eight-weeks pattern.
Why (the short version): Because I think that it has something to appeal to every kind of viewer—whether you want character development, plot consequences and surprises, worldbuilding, symbolism, philosophical and moral underpinnings, angst, humor, mystery . . . it's all there and it's all intertwined (with minor exceptions that I will note later). I love it for the characters, of course, because that's the kind of watcher I am, but I've also had a great deal of fun thinking about the moral universe that's being constructed and trying to figure out plot details as I watch.
(Caveat: I'm only through episode 26 at the moment. I trust the series to continue to make good storytelling choices, but take these comments with whatever amount of salt you deem appropriate.)
Unless the concept of anime is an absolute and immediate deal-breaker for you, give it a try—I need more people who are only watching it now to discuss things with. => (This was my first anime, and I'll talk a little about the ways that affected my viewing below the cut.)
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A note on spoilers: don't be spoiled. One of the great things about the show is the way it keeps surprising me, and the one spoiler I've learned and then watched really affected my reaction. Unfortunately it's not so easy to avoid spoilers since the series has been available in fansubs for so long (and some people are less than considerate in the icons they make and use, grr), but do make the effort.
I have a list of episode-by-episode commentary resources that I compiled so that I could read along with other people; posts are only spoilery up to the last episode noted. If anyone else has other links to episode commentary, please do provide them.
(Also, because this was written in a hurry, please add your reasons why people should watch!)