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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part 4 (2 Discs) (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000142640
Added by: Jitendar Canth
Added on: 11/6/2011 15:01
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    Review for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Part 4 (2 Discs)

    9 / 10


    I hate it when I'm right. While reviewing volume 3, and feeling pleased that the gap between releases had come down, I noted that the US release of part 4 had been delayed by three months, and guessed that the UK release, at the time scheduled for April, would also be delayed. Sure enough it's June, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 4 finally arrives in the UK, and I've quite forgotten what had happened in the previous collection of episodes. Worse, I don't exactly have the time to revisit those episodes prior to watching the new batch. Now you know why I have those whopping great episode synopses in these reviews, they really aren't for your benefit at all.

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    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.

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    This fourth collection of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood comes with 13 episodes across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment.

    In the previous instalment, Ed and Al had thought that they had uncovered the conspiracy, unmasked the homunculi, and discovered Father, the hidden figure behind the disaster being engineered in Amestris. But all that they had really learned was just how high up the command chain the corruption went, how deeply in trouble they were, and just how many people they cared about that could be used against them. Similarly, Roy Mustang's investigation into the death of Maes Hughes led him to similar conclusions, and with similar results, his command split up and reassigned, and with him and Lt Hawkeye kept under the watchful gaze of The Fuhrer King Bradley. The only hope that Ed and Al have is that Father doesn't have the same control over Alkahestry, as he does over Alchemy, and that means somehow getting in touch with Scar and the Xinghese visitors. Under their original pretext of finding a way to restore their bodies, Ed and Al headed north to the icy wastes around Fort Briggs, where they encountered General Olivier Mira Armstrong, another potential ally in their fight and their search for Scar. They also learn just what part Fort Briggs will play in the upcoming ritual. But the conspirators keep their potential sacrifices on a short leash, and send the Crimson Alchemist, Solf Kimblee after them ostensibly to hunt down Scar. General Armstrong is called back to Central, and Ed and Al somehow manage to connect with Scar, but Kimblee is on their trail, and if they aren't careful, their covers will be blown.

    Page 2 holds the episode synopses, or rather my personal 'Previously on…' reminder should part 5 be delayed for too long. Feel free to skip if you wish to avoid spoilers.

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    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.

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    You have the choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese with 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.

    The Episodes

    Disc 1

    40. Homunculus (The Dwarf in the Flask)
    General Armstrong manages to smooth over her actions with Bradley, while Hawkeye and Mustang find a way to communicate without the shadows listening in. Meanwhile Father is thinking of the past, a time in the ancient kingdom of Xerxes, when a strange black creature in a flask befriended an ambitious young slave. The slave, No. 23 helped his master in learning the secrets of alchemy, the black creature was created with an experiment on his blood, and in gratitude, the creature gave No. 23 a name, Van Hohenheim. The slave's master worked to perfect his alchemy for the King of Xerxes, who desired immortality, but it was the creature in the flask that could bring this miracle to pass. But the creature's plans were its own, although it did have one final 'gift' for Van Hohenheim.

    41. The Abyss
    Winry, Scar, Marcoh, May Chang and the others continue to escape through the mine tunnels, but the storm above ends, allowing Kimblee to resume his search. Ed and Major Miles disagree about how to stop him, but it falls to Ed to stand in Kimblee's path, as he isn't prepared to go the lengths that Miles intends. Naturally it winds up in conflict, a fight that takes them into a nearby mine, but Kimblee has an edge over Ed. He has the Philosopher's Stone. Fortunately for Winry and Scar, they find Al in time for him to warn them about the change in command at Briggs, and they decide to find another refuge, but when the battle goes badly for Ed, and the mineshaft is destroyed in an explosion, Al's soul begins to lose cohesion with his armour.

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    42. Signs of a Counteroffensive
    Al's fallen to pieces, literally. But their temporary refuge provides them time to finally examine Scar's brother's notes on Alkahestry and Alchemy. The odd thing is that unlike the usual alchemical texts, the notes aren't written in code, but they fail to make sense. May Chang realises that the clue is in the very nature of alchemy, but it's only when Al revives that they finally figure out the truth. Meanwhile, Ed and Al's father is doing some investigating of his own. He's arrived at the town of Liore, which is finally rebuilding after the strife with the Church of Leto. The tunnel that Sloth is building around Amestris also reaches beneath Liore, and it's there that Van Hohenheim encounters the homunculus Pride, learns his limits, and sends a message to Father. But it may already be too late. For Kimblee has been ordered to forget his search for Scar and to create the Blood Crest at Briggs. Drachma is invading.

    43. Bite of the Ant
    The Crest of Blood has been created, and time continues to tick away. Worse, the chimera Zanpano, who had been travelling with Winry, Scar, Al and Marcoh, has betrayed Marcoh to the homunculus Envy. But the balance of power is about to shift. The group come to a crossroads and decide to go their separate ways. Scar has his own plans to set the country to rights, while rather than wait to find Ed, Al wants to go to Liore, to see if he can do something about the tunnel beneath the country there. May Chang wants to stick with Scar, but she's finally got the proof of immortality that she has been looking for. Back at Central, General Armstrong is introduced to the nation's ultimate secret weapon.

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    44. Revving at Full Throttle
    Al, Winry, Yoki and the two chimeras get to Liore, where Al is finally reunited with his father. They have a lot to talk about, and not all of it is catching up on family gossip. Meanwhile, Bido, the soul survivor of the chimeras that had teamed up with the original Greed, goes to Central in search of the homunculi, only to run into the new Greed. It's an unpleasant encounter, but Ling has been watching Greed closely, and points out that Greed has the memories of his predecessor, yet he still betrays Bido. It's a weakness in Greed's personality that Ling can exploit. Ed's hiding out, and healing from his injuries, trying with the aid of the two chimeras to avoid the soldiers sent to look for him. He's also trying to figure out where Al would go next.

    45. The Promised Day
    The new Greed has the same personality flaws as his predecessor, and that leads him to make the same choices, choices that lead him to part company with Father and the other homunculi, and choices that give Ling a chance to take control. Envy on the other hand is exerting subtle control of his own, when he convinces May Chang to turn back from Xing, and head to Central where she can get the secret of true immortality. Ed's figured out where Al is going to be, and with his chimera escorts he heads there. Of course Al isn't there, but Greed/Ling is and Ed may have just found a new ally. Al on the other hand has been busy, his father has told him just when the Promised Day will be, the day Father's plan to reshape Amestris will occur, and he's quietly spreading the word, so that everyone will be ready.

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    46. Looming Shadows
    It's been a few months, but the conspirators working against Father and the homunculi are slowly getting into place to counter his plans. Winry's been smuggled home to Resembool, and is surprised to find Ed there. It's useful as his automail can use a service, but choosing discretion, Ed chooses not to meet with Al who is currently passing through on his way East. East is where Briggs' forces and General Grumman's command are combining for exercises, and where the rebellion will begin. That's what the Fuhrer believes, and he is there to keep an eye on them. But Al's having trouble keeping his body and soul together; more and more often he's being pulled back to the Gate, leaving his armour vacant, and it's just the opportunity Gluttony and Pride need. The Promised Day is at hand, and the Fuhrer thinks he has it all under control, when he gets word of an Ishvalan insurrection in Central.

    Disc 2

    47. Emissary of Darkness
    Ed is reunited with his father, but with the Promised Day almost at hand, there's not a lot of time for catching up on family business. Ed is shaken though, finding that his father isn't like the figure of hate that he's been resenting all these years. It looks like the family reunion will be complete, when Ed runs into Al in the forest at the outskirts of the slums, but Al isn't in his armour, Pride is, and it's only Ling's quick thinking that saves Ed. But Pride isn't finished with them yet. The battle commences, and Pride can attack from anywhere in the shadows. The forest is all shadows. What's more, Pride isn't alone.

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    48. The Oath in the Tunnel
    Roy Mustang has pushed his affiliation with the military as far as it can go, and now that his investigation of Selim Bradley and his father, The Fuhrer King Bradley has come to the attention of his superiors, his usefulness to the military has come to an end. But he jumps before he can be pushed, and while the confusion regarding the Fuhrer's whereabouts distracts everyone, he reunites with his loyal men, and sets his plans in motion. Back in the forest the battle continues, and Ed, Ling and the chimera have figured out their opponents' weaknesses. Pride and Gluttony will have to combine forces to stand against them, but combining forces means something completely different to a homunculus.

    49. Filial Affection
    Hohenheim manages to revive Al, and as the battle threatens to spill over into the Kanama slums, Al comes up with a plan to contain Pride, at least long enough for Ed and the others to deal with Father and stop The Promised Day. When Greed realises that he only has Father and Sloth left to deal with, he takes control from Ling and vanishes into Central. Scar and the Ishvalans also get to Central, and Scar learns that May Chang is there as well. He meets up with Ed and the two finalise their plans as the sun rises, and the Promised Day begins. Kimblee's there too.

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    50. Upheaval in Central
    The army is going full strength after Roy Mustang and his men, and the orders they have are that only Roy Mustang need be taken alive. Mustang's hostage, the Fuhrer's wife, is about to learn just how expendable she is. But the army has a hard time getting hold of Mustang and his men. He is after all the Flame Alchemist, and he still outclasses them, even if he pulls his punches and refuses to kill. Besides, it looks like his small band of insurrectionists is multiplying. At headquarters, the other Generals learn holding General Armstrong as a hostage was a daft idea. For the Briggs army has arrived, and they aren't pulling punches. And neither when it comes down to it, is General Armstrong. It's a full blown insurrection, and using it as cover, Ed, his father, Scar and the others sneak in to the catacombs to find and stop Father and his plans.

    51. The Immortal Legion
    With it increasingly apparent that Mustang has instigated a full-blown coup d'etat, the desperate generals in Central unleash their secret weapon, an army of immortals, disembodied souls joined to indestructible bodies. But the first thing they do is go berserk, attacking anything and everything. The balance appears to be tipping. First Kimblee arrives to free Pride, Envy manoeuvres May Chang to help him regain his powers, and the Armstrong siblings face off against Sloth. Ed has his hands full just trying to stop the immortal soldiers from escaping into the city.

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    52. Combined Strength
    Al may just have a chance against Pride and Kimblee, as the chimera Heinkel has in his possession a Philosopher's Stone. The thing is though, that Kimblee has a Philosopher's Stone as well. Meanwhile, Roy Mustang has been acting as decoy during the uprising, a target for the army to focus on, but now he has to figure a way back into the city, and back into headquarters, if he is to effect the changes he needs to make. His return couldn't come soon enough for Ed and the others, as the immortal legion just keeps coming.


    The Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood discs usually come with two audio commentaries, but this time they are both on Disc 1.

    In the episode 40 commentary, ADR Director Mike McFarland chats to the voice of the adult Hohenheim, John Swasey, and the young Hohenheim, Aaron Dismuke about the story and the characters. Of course Aaron Dismuke voiced Al in the first series, so there is a fair bit of compare and contrast as usual.

    The episode 46 commentary sees ADR Director Mike McFarland in the booth with also ADR director Caitlin Glass (voice of Winry), and as you can guess, this is more of a commentary track that looks at how the shows are directed.

    Disc 2 holds the textless credits.

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    Forget about comparing Brotherhood to the first series. It's so determinedly forged its own path that it feels like a completely different animal now. I find that I love both of the stories equally, albeit in different ways. This fourth instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood simply underlines just how effortless it makes its peerless storytelling look. Once again it will hook you with the first episode on the disc, and keep you tethered, breathless and at the edge of your seat, with every new plot development, every new character revelation, and with the peeling away of every new layer in its labyrinthine plot. When it comes to spinning a yarn, there is no other anime as addictive, or as accomplished as this. Once again, I'll leave all the spoilers bottled up in the episode synopses, and try and be circumspect in concluding the review.

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    It looks at first to be a replay of the previous collection. That too was poised to pick up from a cliffhanger, and instead delayed it by a recap episode. Here we get another recap episode to kick this collection off, but this time it's recapping material that we just didn't know before. Homunculus (The Dwarf in the Flask) takes us into the past, to show us Hohenheim's origins, and indeed why he and Father look so similar. This is all new material, a story that we haven't seen or heard before, but it does wind up answering some of the series' more essential questions, and quite rightly it is an un-missable instalment.

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    It's then back to that looming cliffhanger, the one that saw Winry, Scar, Marcoh and the chimera heading into a trap at Briggs, with Ed engaged in a battle of wits with Kimblee to keep their deception secret, and with Al venturing into a lethal snowstorm to warn the others, before being pulled into limbo and brought face to face with the gate once more. In episode 41, we pick up that storyline again, and watch it develop over the next few episodes, as the heroes continue to piece together the conspiracy that is unfolding in the nation of Amestris, forge a network of allies to work against it, and begin to take the first few steps in fighting back.

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    Once Ed and the others learn the date of when Father's plan will be put into effect, we dispense with the build up and jump ahead in time by a few months to the crucial date. It's getting straight to the point of the story, which is a smart move, but also at this point, the flow of time slows down, and we have the events of a few hours paced over the final seven episodes on this collection. I did have a few qualms about this when it first started. After all, in lesser shows like Naruto and Bleach, when fight sequences are stretched over several episodes, it usually means filling the time with flashbacks, with characters standing around analysing each and every special move, and with nonsensical posturing.

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    That is never a concern with Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. We may get a slower passage of narrative time in these seven episodes, but the story is just as densely plotted and as gripping as before. There is just so much going on at this point, so many facets of the story unfolding, so many characters to keep tabs on, that the pace is still lightning fast, the narrative is incredibly dense, and it's very easy to just be swept away by the story. For seven episodes, as what looks to be the final arc of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood began to unfold, I was at the edge of my seat, glued to the television. The various characters and stories that have been explored so far in the series begin to reward the viewer at this point. The revelations and plot twists come thick and fast, and I spent the last couple of hours of this collection in a mild state of constant head rush. You can't get much better than this thrilling adventure story when it comes to anime. Just twelve more episodes to go now…

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