Review for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part 3 (2 Discs)
Somehow the wait for Part 3 of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood hasn't been as fraught as the wait for Part 2. Perhaps it's because the gap between volumes has been shorter by around a month, but I think it's more to do with the fact that the previous volume offered us new Fullmetal Alchemist. The first part was just the recap of the material that was common to both series, but starting with Part 2, the story diverged dramatically, as this new series opts to remain faithful to the manga that inspired it. Part 2 was really where this show started, and that momentum both sweetens the anticipation for this 3rd instalment, and it also makes it feel like a continuation rather than a fresh start. We hit this third instalment running, and it almost feels as if there has been no gap at all. Having said all that, it now transpires that Funimation have delayed the fourth part of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood in the US, and if that delay has a knock on effect on the UK release, pushing it back from April 2011, I may wind up eating my words.
Alchemy is the art of the transmutation of matter by means of an incantation, a mystical circle, or sheer willpower alone. For centuries charlatans and the deluded pursued the creation of gold by alchemical means but to no avail. But in Full Metal Alchemist, alchemy is a realised science. Set in an alternative world during the early years of the twentieth century, the transmutation of elements is indeed a reality, and the state regards such talent highly indeed. Full Metal Alchemist tells the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two precocious alchemists who are on a quest. The young brothers had attempted the unspeakable, resurrecting their mother. But the Law Of Equivalent Exchange cannot be flouted, only objects of equal mass can be transmuted, and the dead cannot be brought back to life. The attempt failed disastrously. Now, Alphonse is a disembodied spirit bound to a suit of animated armour, while Edward has replaced his leg and arm with metal automail, but it's his prodigious facility with alchemy that has earned him the name, Fullmetal Alchemist. Now they search for a means to restore their bodies.
This third collection of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood comes with 13 episodes across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment. In case you have missed the news and the resulting brouhaha, you should be aware that from this third instalment, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is being released only on DVD in the UK. There are no more Blu-ray releases scheduled.
In the previous collection of episodes, Edward and Alphonse Elric continued their quest to restore their bodies, but it's a quest that takes them into the heart of a dark and sinister conspiracy that is corrupting the heart of their nation. The Philosopher's Stone that they seek has a history of bloodshed behind it, yet it promises immortality itself to those who dare reach for it. New arrivals from the nation of Xing want that immortality, and Ed and Al ran into a determined prince named Ling Yao, and his retinue of bodyguards. At the same time, a little practitioner of alkahestry (The Xinghese version of alchemy) named May Chang ran into Scar. But as they continue their quest, it steps too close to the plans of the enigmatic Father and the homunculi. The homunculi strike back in the worst way possible. Gluttony, true to his name reveals an infinite appetite. At the end of the previous collection, Edward, Ling Yao, and the homunculus Envy were trapped in an infinite void deep in Gluttony's stomach. The story continues…Skip to Page 3 if you want to avoid the episode synopses.
As with the previous instalment, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood now gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which at long last for anime, comes to UK shores in native PAL flavour. The image is clear, sharp and colourful, the detail levels are high, and Studio Bones makes sure that the full widescreen scope is put to good use, and the animation is vibrant and energetic. Of course I can't help but compare it to the first series, and you'll have to take my bias into account when I say that I feel something is lacking in this second series. The action animation is better, especially given these five years or so of technical advancement, and I must say that Brotherhood is a much prettier anime to experience. However, I do feel that the show doesn't compete when it comes to detail. Backgrounds seem more generic, character animation is a little simpler and lacks nuance, while the actual character designs are subtly different, a little stockier and broader and not quite as elegant as before. There is also a far greater prevalence of comedy deformations.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese. You have the choice of translated subtitles and a signs only track as you would expect. But, just like with the video, I feel a little disappointed in the audio for FMA: Brotherhood. My choice as always is for the Japanese audio, and it is certainly an acceptable way to watch the show. I'm beginning to find a comfort zone with the Japanese audio, especially as the story diverges from the first series completely, and characters new to anime are introduced. I still prefer the Japanese to the English dub by the way. These are small issues, as by far the greatest disappointment in Full Metal Alchemist's audio is the music. Admittedly the themes are good, and the new opening and closing themes that debut in this volume are certainly catchy. But the incidental music takes a hit that doesn't do the show any favours. For the first series, Michiru Oshima created a score that was grand, theatrical, and operatic, and very much a character in the show. For Brotherhood Akira Senju provides the background music, and the most I can say about it is that it is bland and forgettable.
In a welcome improvement over part 2, I found no issues with the subtitles whatsoever in this volume.
27. Interlude Party
We join Hohenheim Elric (Ed and Al's father) as he sits at the outskirts of a celebration, watching vicariously as people enjoy themselves. But he's troubled by what is happening in Amestris, what the homunculi are up to, what his sons have gotten themselves into. He's provoked into an internal debate over right and wrong, good and evil, by an oddly young looking Pinako Rockbell… Oh, it's a recap episode.
Back to the main story, where Gluttony brings Al to meet Father, in the hope that they can somehow save Ed. And Father looks just like Al's father? It turns out that they needn't have bothered, for suddenly Gluttony's belly opens up, and brought back into the world are Ed, Ling, and the transformed Envy. But it's a portentous meeting, as Ed and Al are finally face to face with the one who is orchestrating the grand conspiracies that threaten the nation. It's the perfect opportunity for them to take Father down, except that Father has the ability to turn off alchemy… in all of Amestris. Besides, he's far more interested in Ling Yao, whose avarice and desire for power piques his curiosity. Ling may just get the immortality he desires, but at what cost? Just when it looks as if all is lost, Scar and May Chang arrive, and it turns out that while alchemy may not work, alkahestry still does.
29. Struggle of the Fool
Ed and Al are escorted back to the surface by the reconstituted Envy, and are shocked to find that the homunculi's lair lies directly under the command centre. The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when they are taken to meet Wrath, a.k.a. The Fuhrer King Bradley. It's all the proof Ed needs to quit the military, and take a stand against the conspiracy. He learns just how naïve he is when the Fuhrer reminds him just how many people there are that he cares about, who can be snuffed out like a candle if the orders are issued. Similarly, Roy Mustang has found that his loyal followers are now being held hostage against him. It's actually Father and the homunculi that hold all the cards, and Ed and Al are two of the aces. Speaking of homunculi, the new Greed has a message for Al to pass to Lan Fan from Ling. Meanwhile, Scar is still wandering underground, and he's come across a prisoner of the homunculi, Dr Marcoh. Dr Marcoh sees freedom in the form of Ishvalan retribution, but Scar isn't willing to dish out justice just yet.
30. The Ishvalan War of Extermination
They may be coming from different motives, but Ed visits Lisa Hawkeye to return her gun, and winds up asking her about the history of the Ishvalan war that so seems to loom over everything. At the same time, Scar has a few questions that need answering, and as Doctor Marcoh was a key player in the events that led to the genocide against the Ishvalan people, he has to restrain himself from exacting a vengeance before he can learn the truth. Either way, both Ed and Scar will learn what truly happened in Ishval.
31. The 520 Cens Promise
Envy arrives to feed his prisoner, and instead finds one of the chimera guards missing, a headless corpse, and 'vengeance' written in blood. It looks as if Scar has exacted his vengeance, but it may just be that Marcoh has escaped. The homunculi need to deal with Scar once and for all, and the perfect weapon for that is at hand. By far the most active participant in the Ishvalan massacre was Solf Kimblee, The Crimson Alchemist, who with his powers enhanced by a Philosopher's Stone made from the blood of the Ishvalans, brought carnage their cities. Now the homunculi unleash him on Scar. Ed and Al have figured out their next move. They obviously still have more to learn, given that Father managed to switch off alchemy in Amestris, yet May Chang and Scar still had their abilities. Their first step is to locate May Chang and ask for her help. But she's already left the city.
32. The Fuhrer's Son
It's become something of a race against time, as Scar and Marcoh flee the city, while May Chang has also vanished. Ed and Al want to find May Chang to learn more about Alkahestry, but failing that, they decide to search in Central's library for information. It's just that information about a rival nation's power isn't easily forthcoming. Meanwhile, the Crimson Alchemist Kimblee is hot on the trail of Scar and Marcoh, even though Scar is doing his best to throw the pursuit off the scent. Just when disappointment threatens to overwhelm, Ed gets a hint from Major Armstrong that May Chang was last seen heading north. Armstrong has connections up there, and he gives Ed a letter of introduction, telling him to head first to the border fort of Briggs. But before they can get going, an eager fan, Selim Bradley the Fuhrer's son, corners Ed.
33. The Northern Wall of Briggs
The pursuit continues, with Scar getting more inventive at evading his pursuers. That's all except Kimblee. But once Scar realises that it is the butcher of Ishval pursuing him, all questions of flight vanish, and all that is left is a murderous rage. That doesn't bode well for the man he is supposed to protect. Ed and Al have finally made their way north, and are greeted by the novelty of snow. They are heading into even more inhospitable territory, as they approach Fort Briggs, the massive construction guarding the border of Drachma. The commander of Briggs is one Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong, Major Armstrong's older sister. But before they can see her and deliver the letter of introduction, they'll have to face Briggs' contingent of soldiers first, and Ed learns something painful about automail and snow. Meanwhile May Chang has completed her uneventful journey north, and she and her companion have found the notes left behind by Scar's brother, a way of combining alchemy and alkahestry.
34. Ice Queen
Trust isn't exactly forthcoming for the new arrivals at Briggs, but at least Ed gets some treatment for the damages that the cold has caused. He'll have to get Winry to adapt some cold weather automail if he is to spend any considerable time in the North. General Armstrong wants to know everything, but considering the hostages that the brothers have left behind, they wind up being circumspect. It's enough to get Armstrong's help in looking for May Chang, but that thin layer of trust evaporates when it transpires that someone is digging under the fort. It turns out to be a new homunculus, Sloth, who tirelessly digs ever onwards. But when Ed and Al recognise him as a homunculus and not a spy from Drachma, suspicions are quickly heightened.
35. The Shape of This Country
The brothers wake up in a cell, while Kimblee has arrived continuing his pursuit of Scar. Armstrong's right hand man, Major Miles goes to visit him in hospital, to tell him that Scar is now in Briggs jurisdiction. But Kimblee isn't the sort of man who takes no for an answer. As for the brothers, it's time for them to come clean with General Armstrong, although discretion being advisable, they do so underground, in the tunnel that Sloth has been digging. It's a wise decision, as new minds approaching the problem reveal an ominous truth. Everything points to Briggs being the next and final location for a bloody uprising, before Father's plan is complete. Another piece falls into place when General Raven visits with Kimblee, and Armstrong manages to eke some more of the truth out of him.
36. Family Portrait.
Hohenheim Elric certainly has regrets. As he contemplates those who he owes his blood to, he thinks back on the decisions that led him down this path, and we finally learn something of why he walked out on his wife and two young sons, 13 years ago. In Fort Briggs, deceptions are still being played out on both sides, with General Armstrong trying to ferret out the truth from Raven, while Kimblee follows his own agenda. Some things have to be agreed to extend the deception. One is obeying Raven's orders when it comes to the tunnel, returning Sloth and sealing it off, as well as giving up on the search party that is lost down there. As May Chang and Marcoh continue to work on the notes, they hit a roadblock, and realise that they need an Ishvalan to translate. Just to turn the screws further, and remind them of the power held over them, Kimblee visits Ed and Al, and he's brought Winry with him. As for Armstrong, she's got all that she can from Raven.
37. The First Homunculus
Winry's arrival does mean that Ed can finally get his automail upgraded for the cold. Meanwhile, Armstrong can finally send a rescue team into the tunnel. It looks to be a big mistake when they find the carnage left behind, as well as two terrified survivors of the search team. They all look doomed, when the shadows that attacked the first team return to finish the job. But luckily for them, events in far off Central inadvertently save their lives. Lieutenant Hawkeye is paying a visit to the Fuhrer's home as part of her duties, and she's about to encounter the first homunculus, Pride. In Briggs, Kimblee tells Ed what he wants from him. He wants the young alchemist to help him find Dr Marcoh, he wants him to help him find and kill Scar, and he wants him to help turn Fort Briggs into a charnel house on the same scale as happened in Ishval. With Winry as a hostage, that's a big stick to employ, but Kimblee has a carrot as well. If Ed complies, Kimblee will give him a Philosopher's Stone.
38. Conflict at Baschool
Scar has been tracked down to an empty mining town, Baschool, which is convenient when it comes to avoiding collateral damage. The Elric brothers have their own reasons for finding Scar, and they don't want Kimblee to be looking over their shoulders, especially as it's May Chang and Dr Marcoh that they find first. Fortunately they manage to give Kimblee's chimera bodyguards the slip. Unfortunately, they learn that they need Scar to translate the notes on Alkahestry that May Chang and Marcoh have found. Which is when a building explodes. The chimeras have found Scar. So now Ed and Al have to 'rescue' Scar!
Scar escapes with Winry as his hostage! Ed is prepared to tear into Kimblee for bringing Winry into danger, and a snowstorm is closing in on Baschool that will stop the search in its tracks, while everyone takes shelter. Of course not everything is as it appears to be. The actual plan is to meet up at Fort Briggs, using the mining tunnels to avoid the weather. Except that their safe haven is no longer so safe. General Armstrong has been relieved of her duties and summoned back to Central, and the contingent at Fort Briggs has been replaced with Central troops. Someone will have to warn Winry and the others, but the storm is so fierce that anyone of flesh and blood will freeze to death. That leaves Al, but even for an ambulatory suit of armour, it's hard going, especially when a whiteout draws Al back to the Gates of Truth, where he comes face to face with his body. Is his armour finally rejecting his soul?
Both discs get static menus and a jacket picture.
Disc 1's sole extra feature is an audio commentary to accompany episode 28. ADR Director (and voice of Havoc) Mike McFarland hosts Wendy Powell (Envy), and Kent Williams (Father and Narrator). Following prior precedent, the commentary focuses mostly on the differences between the two versions of Fullmetal Alchemist, and it's another interesting, actor-focused commentary. There are also a couple of minor spoilers within, so be warned.
Disc 2 gets the textless credit sequences.
You'll also find a commentary here that accompanies episode 36. Mike McFarland this time has J. Michael Tatum (Scar), Stephanie Young (Olivier Armstrong), and Phil Parsons (Buccaneer) in the booth to chat about their characters. There's also an interesting look at the set-up of Fort Briggs, and how these characters are mavericks compared to the military in Central.
I still prefer the first series if you're asking, but the more I watch of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the finer a distinction it becomes. I could talk about all the things that I believe the first series did better, whether it's the characterisation, or the emotional strength, but with this third instalment of Brotherhood, I finally have to admit one thing. When it comes to sheer storytelling excellence, when it comes to pacing, when it comes to holding the viewers' attention, and when it comes to the simple ability to spin a yarn, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood wins hands down. If you start watching episode 27, you will be hooked like fish on the end of a line right up until episode 39, and the only reason that it will let you go, is that you'll have to wait for part 4 to be released before it will reel you back in. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is the finest story being released in anime form right now, and if you aren't tuned into this series, you really are missing out on something spectacular.
If you want spoilers, you have the episode synopses, so I'll try and restrain myself here. It's also hard to describe just how the plot twists and turns, how the characters are thrown sudden reversals, and are led on emotional roller coasters by the various turns of events, without actually just relating what happens. When that kind of effort is required, it's easier, and wiser just to tell you to watch the thing and experience its breathless brilliance for yourself. It starts off so un-inspiringly as well with a recap episode. Of course with a show as long and as complex as this one, it's useful to have a reminder of what is going on. It's the way that an anime handles a recap that really defines it. The usual show, like Chobits or Wolf's Rain will have recap episodes that do just that, tell you in brief what has happened so far. The inventive series, like Samurai Champloo for instance, turn the concept on its head, and plays with and has fun with it. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood takes a difficult path, in that it uses its recap episode to develop its characters, or in this case, one character Hohenheim Elric. In that respect, it's a recap episode with a lot of new animation, in that it also recaps events that we haven't seen yet. Hohenheim tries to reconcile his position in the world, with the events that are happening in Amestris, and what his sons are going through. It's the story of a man trying to reconnect with his humanity, and as such is gripping stuff. And I reiterate, it's a recap episode.
It also serves to prolong the cliffhanger agony between Ed, Ling, and Envy being swallowed up by Gluttony, and the resolution of that arc. Of course waiting an extra week for a broadcast was annoying. Having to wait a couple of months for a DVD release is agonising in itself, to the point where sticking a recap episode at the head of the disc really doesn't make much difference. But the conclusion of that arc, the confrontation with Father, the grand architect of what is going on in Amestris is a game changing event when it comes to the story. The homunculi were intimidating enough as foes, seemingly immortal and invulnerable, as well as capable of all sorts of manipulations behind the scenes. But when Mustang faced off against Lust in the previous collection, they were shown to be beatable. Father is on a whole other level, the progenitor of the homunculi, of indeterminate age, and somehow able to control alchemy within the nation, able to disarm his foes with a thought. Even then, he's immune to the effects of alchemy to the point where Scar's attack doesn't even affect him. It's around this point in the story that it becomes clear to Ed and Al just how high up the chain the corruption goes, and just how much at the mercy of the conspiracy they are. There is also the question of why Father looks so much like Hohenheim. We also learn just how homunculi are created when Ling is offered a choice, offered that immortality that he so desires for his country, and quite naturally he takes it.
These turns of events would be absolutely dispiriting, were it not for the occasional glimmer of hope. It appears that those homunculi created from humans may still hold onto some semblance of humanity. Certainly Ed sees something of Ling in the new Greed, while some of the Fuhrer's actions can be a little unexpected. Ed and Al also take hope in the fact that where Father had complete control over their alchemy, he didn't control Scar's powers, or May Chang's alkahestry. That also offers them some hope. But they also learn that if they are going to pursue these thin possibilities, they will have to be circumspect indeed, as by revealing himself and his power so openly, Father also reveals just how much power he has over his foes. It looks as if Roy Mustang is neutered when his loyal men are transferred around the country, and his trusted Lieutenant Hawkeye is assigned directly to the Fuhrer. They are effectively hostages against him, the same way that the Fuhrer somewhat indelicately threatens Winry when putting the Elric brothers in their places.
It's why Ed and Al ostensibly return to their quest of restoring their bodies. It's a journey that the conspirators don't object to, and the brothers cite their interest in alkahestry as an unexplored aspect of medical alchemy. Of course it isn't lost on anyone that alkahestry is something outside of Father's control, and they still keep a short leash on the brothers. The journey takes them North, to the icy wastes of Fort Briggs, and if you hadn't realised that the show was fundamentally different from the first Fullmetal Alchemist series, meeting Alex Armstrong's big sister, and exploring the dynamics of Briggs soldiers will underline that. It really is a completely different story, and the characters that we meet are rich and varied. We also meet the final two homunculi in this instalment, and while Sloth is a little disappointing, his arrival does lead to one of the show's more entertaining action sequences. Of course there's no way that Sloth in this series could match up to who Sloth turned out to be in the first series, but that's made up when we learn the identity of Pride, a more chilling and unexpected character you couldn't imagine.
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood delivers another two discs of captivating story, appealing characters, and top-notch animation. Its dynamic, energetic, back and forth narrative always delivers the unexpected and it takes the breath away with the audacity with which it tells its story. It's also rich in complexity, balancing ridiculous comedy with darkness and bleak extremes that can feel like a kick to the gut. This show is definitely Manga's jewel in the crown, and it really ought to be in every anime fan's collection, right next to the first series. There's only one thing that I hate about this instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I came to the end of episode 39, the disc stopped playing, and I reached over for the next disc, and there was nothing there. Forget what I said about the wait between releases becoming tolerable. That's nonsense. I need more FMA now dammit!