Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Progress: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, ep. 4-8

Episode 4 - An Alchemist's Anguish

As the Elric brothers visit the home of Shou Tucker in search of more information on bioalchemy, we get a glimpse into some of Ed's issues with his father. Ed recalls how his father spent a lot of his time concerned with his research and doesn't want Tucker's daughter Nena to feel the same loneliness he felt as a child. So between their research sessions, the Elric brothers spend time playing with Nena and her dog Alexander. The eventual outcome of this episode is still as tragic and dark as before, though the quicker pacing doesn't take away from the impact of its delivery, which is very welcome in terms of the storytelling.

Episode 5 - Rain of Sorrows

Similar to episode four, this is a rather straightforward retelling of the events surrounding Scar's first intervention. The Elric brothers do all they can to try and face him, but eventually realize they are no match for Scar. Their attempt to escape ending in Al's body being crippled and Ed's arm being destroyed, Ed bargains with Scar not to hurt Al if he is only seeking to kill state alchemists. Just in time to save the Elrics, Mustang, Hawkeye, and Armstrong show up and eventually Scar retreats. Hughes adds a quick dash of humor at the end while the Elrics realize that they are both physically and emotionally falling apart. As a whole, the episode is quite fast paced and flows quite naturally from where the previous episode left off.

Episode 6 - Road of Hope

Major Armstrong accompanies the boys on their return to Resembool, as Ed's lack of an arm renders him incapable of using alchemy. At one of the train stations along the way, Armstrong catches glimpse of Dr. Tim Marcoh, an alchemist who went missing after the war in Ishbal. The Elrics and Armstrong track down Marcoh in hopes that he might be able to shed some light on the Philosopher's Stone, but Marcoh refuses. Just as the Elrics and Armstrong are about to board the next train and continue on their way, however, Marcoh delivers Ed a list of texts he can look up when he returns to Central - all of which contain Marcoh's notes on the Philosopher's Stone.

The events that take place in Resembool are as comedic as they are heartwarming. Despite the fact that I'm still not terribly keen on the fast pacing of Brotherhood, this episode provided a welcome break from the heavier content in the previous two episodes. That said, there was still some emotional value in Ed's visit to his mother's grave and Pinako recounting the events of Ed's determination to become a state alchemist. My only big complaint about this episode is that Winry was only shown a few times, and most of this was while she was working on Ed's new automail limbs. Being only six episodes in, however, there will be plenty more opportunities for her to shine through, though it may be a while before the Elrics make a return visit to Resembool.

Episode 7 - Hidden Truths

The Elric brothers enlist the help of Sheska to rewrite Dr. Marcoh's notes. Since their return to Central, the Elric brothers are no longer under the supervision of Major Armstrong, but instead Ross and Brosh. While Hughes does show up to provide a few laughs and present Sheska with a new job in the process, Ross and Brosh don't really bring anything noteworthy to the table. This isn't terribly surprising, since they never played too important of roles in the 2003 series. But their lack of genuine surprise at the Elric brothers announcing their dark findings in Dr. Marcoh's notes makes the entire scenario seem considerably less dramatic. The episode as a whole seems confused as to whether it wants to focus on the darker, more serious aspects or the lighthearted comedy. This is one episode that could have benefitted from splitting its story into two parts.

Episode 8 - The Fifth Laboratory

The revelations at Laboratory 5 were among my favorite moments in the 2003 anime, so I came into this episode thriiled to revisit them. The battles between Ed and Number 48, and Al and Barry the Chopper were just as cleverly devised and executed as before. The tense atmosphere surrounding Ed's struggle to deal with complications in his automail arm as well as his vow not to kill kept things interesting on the inside of Lab 5. Meanwhile, Barry and Al find themselves at a stalemate in terms of physical prowess, so Barry decides to play head games with Al on the legitimacy of his existence.

Ultimately, however, the dark and mysterious nature that Lab 5 held in the 2003 series was hardly carried over to Brotherhood. Ed finds the transmutation room almost immediately after entering, and none of Tucker's research nor Greed's prison chamber are shown. Obviously Tucker can't be continuing his research (due his death at the hands of Scar) and it can be assumed that Greed is elsewhere in this version of the FMA story, but as a whole Lab 5 felt quite lackluster. There was no drama in Ed grappling with the prospect of using the prisoners to create a Philosopher's Stone, and the Homunculi showed up merely to stop Ed and demolish the laboratory. While not as frustrating as the previous episode, this one was a tad disappointing, and I feel that the faster pacing of Brotherhood will be something that I will have issues with the entire way through.

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