Friday, May 27, 2011

In Progress: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, ep. 19-26

Episode 19 - Death of the Undying

Holy crap, this was a mind-blowing episode, easily one of the best so far! Picking up directly after Hawkeye's encounter with Gluttony, Mustang's team, along with Barry and Al, begin a chase through the streets of Central, eventually ending up at the Third Laboratory. Once inside, the team splits into two groups, and Havoc and Mustang have an unfortunate run-in with Lust. Havoc is made aware of the fact that he's been dating a Homuculus, and while Mustang chastises him for falling for her large breasts, Havoc assures Mustang that he never revealed any military information to Lust. Mustang attempts to kill Lust, but he quickly learns of her regenerative abilities and both Mustang and Havoc are gravely wounded. Lust then makes her way to the room where Al, Hawkeye, and Barry have discovered a gate that bears a striking resemblance to the one Ed and Al encountered when they first met Truth. Lust quickly disposes of Barry, and deals significant damage to Al's body. Hawkeye is all but defeated, but Al tries desperately to protect her. Just as it seems Lust has won, Mustang appears in the doorway, holding his side. He has carved a transmutation circle on the back of his hand and seared his wounds shut with alchemy. Mustang recites Lust's statement that he cannot kill her, but follows up by saying that he'd like to try. One flame explosion after another engulfs Lust and - for the first time - we see Lust in agonizing pain, her body contorted and skeletal as Mustang reduces her to ash. Before admitting defeat, Lust leaves Mustang with an omen of sorts. As action-packed as this episode was, I admittedly found myself a bit disappointed to see Lust killed off already. However, this turn of events served the overarching story beautifully.

Episode 20 - Father Before the Grave

Ed encounters his father visiting Trisha Elric's grave. The two have a brief conversation, though nothing like Ed punching his father results from of it (unlike with Hoenheim's return in the 2003 series). That night, Ed overhears Pinako and Hoenheim conversing about the body that the Elric brothers transmuted, which leads Ed to question whether or not it was actually that of Trisha. The next day, Pinako assists Ed in digging up the body. She tries to convince him to head indoors to avoid the rain, but Ed is determined to resolve this matter. Ultimately Ed comes to find that, not only was the body not Trisha's, but its bone structure appeared to be that of a male. Pinako tries to comfort Ed, since he now realizes there isn't any way to bring the dead back to life. But at the same time, Ed is both relieved that he and Al didn't kill their mother twice over (which he relays to Izumi, comforting her as well), and hopeful that Al's body might still lie somewhere within the Gate. This was a particularly dark episode that - opposite the previous - places the majority of its focus on Ed. Though Hoenheim only does so much, it's clear that his story will start to take shape in due time.

Episode 21 - Advance of the Fool

Ed decides that, as Scar has been reported in Central again, putting himself at risk by engaging Scar in combat should draw the Homunculi out. Ed, Al, and Mustang become suspicious of Bradley, who (in a very out-of-character fashion) reveals himself to Ling. Meanwhile, Breda seeks out Dr. Marcoh, only to find that he has been kidnapped, while Havoc argues with Mustang that his paralysis renders him useless to Mustang's goal of becoming Fuhrer. Mustang retorts that he will leave Havoc for now, but will come back for him in time. There was quite a bit to keep balanced in this episode, and while I think a decent job was done, it felt like there was too much being juggled at a few points. It might have been easier if the story had focused almost exclusively on Mustang and co.

Episode 22 - Backs in the Distance

Finally, Scar's backstory is explored. I really enjoyed how this played out in the 2003 series, and the Brotherhood counterpart did not disappoint. True, it was a condensed version, and Scar's brother was not shown to be driven to the brink of insanity, but the episode covered all the necessary bases before its conclusion. Admittedly, I prefer the 2003 series' explanation for how Winry's parents died and the inner turmoil it caused her. But facing Scar in an alley, gun in hand, Winry obviously lets the thought of her parents dying at his hand weigh just as heavily. In the end, Ed convinces her to drop the gun, which - as predictable of a conclusion as this episode had - was paced very well.

Episode 23 - Girl on the Battlefield

With Lan Fan injured, Ling finds himself at a disadvantage against Gluttony and Bradley. Lan Fan decides to cut off her own arm in order to throw off Bradley's all-seeing eye, leading him to a dead end. Ling and the Elric brothers - with help from a disguised Hawkeye - cut Gluttony down to size just long enough to capture him using coils transmuted from train rails, so that when he attempts to regenerate his body he gets stuck. While Hawkeye and Ling make a break for it with their captive Homunculus, Ed and Al try to stop Scar (who has been shot in the leg), but May Chang comes to Scar's rescue and the two escape after rendezvousing with Yoki. Winry returns to Rush Valley, while Mustang, Hawkeye, Ed, Al, Ling, and Lan Fan meet up at Dr. Knox's safe house with the hope that he can treat Lan Fan's wounds. Upon hearing Mustang's name, however, Gluttony goes berserk and destroys a portion of the house, his belly and mouth opening to reveal a black void with a single eye in the center (not unlike the one Ed and Al encountered when they tried to resurrect their mother).

Episode 24 - Inside the Belly

It seems Dr. Marcoh is now in the custody of the Homunculi as a potential sacrifice. Ed, Al and Ling stay behind in the forest to fight Gluttony, while Mustang, Hawkeye, Dr. Knox, and Lan Fan head towards Central. Envy arrives on the scene shortly thereafter, having kept a close eye on things from a distance in the form of a dog. The fight continues on for a while until Gluttony swallows Ed and Ling, and Envy - knowing how important Ed is as a potential sacrifice - jumps in after them. Honestly, this episode felt like it dragged on for a while, as not a whole lot happened. The most exciting portions were at the end, specifically when Mustang takes Hughes advice on figuring out who he can and cannot trust to heart. Unfortunately for Mustang, this gets him into a very difficult situation, and it is revealed that there are higher-ups in the Amestrian military who support Bradley knowing full-well that he is a Homunculus.

Episode 25 - Doorway of Darkness

No one would ever accuse Gluttony of being particularly smart, but his ignorance becomes strikingly apparent to Al in this episode. Gluttony realizes he wasn't supposed to swallow Ed or Ling, but realizes 'his father' will be able to fix this problem. Gluttony thinks letting Al follow him will be even better, since he and Ed have been pegged as potential sacrifices by the Homunculi. Fuhrer Bradley admits his being a Homunculus to Mustang, and punishes him by splitting up his team, reassigning Hawkeye as his personal assistant in order to keep a closer eye on her and a tighter leash on Mustang. Meanwhile, Ed and Ling have a bit of a comedic romp through Gluttony's belly as they try to find a way out. Eventually, Envy finds them and explains that Gluttony was a failed experiment to create another Gate. He then goes on to explain in greater detail the events of the Ishbalan Civil War, stating that he was the one that killed the young girl, masquerading as an Amestrian soldier. As Envy relishes in the memory, Ed attributes Envy's actions to causing Scar to become a murderer and the death of Winry's parents. But when Ed tries to deal punch to Envy, Ling remarks how heavy Envy seemed during their earlier skirmish in the forest, and Envy reveals his true form - a grotesque, if not incredibly befitting, green dragon. As Ed and Ling engage dragon Envy, Gluttony presents Al with a disturbing surprise - the Homunculi's father is living in Central.

Episode 26 - Reunion

Envy's actions in this episode make a complete 180 (which struck me as a bit odd), as he begins by fighting Ed and Ling, bombarding the eldest Elric brother with the agonizing cries of the people of Xerxes, the souls of whom are apparently trapped in the reptilian body that is Envy's true form. By the end of the episode, however, Envy helps Ed to collect the missing pieces of the mural Ed saw at Xerxes (those pieces having been spread throughout Gluttony's stomach). Ed then decides he will perform a kind of human transmutation on Ling, Envy, and then himself, deconstructing their bodies and then reconstructing them outside of Gluttony. There are a number of nods to works like Dante's Inferno throughout this episode, which work quite well in conjunction with the recounting of the destruction of Xerxes.

Meanwhile, Scar and May Chang follow Al and Gluttony as they seek out Father, fighting hordes of chimeras deep below Central. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this episode's narrative is Bradley's recollection of when he first became a Homunculus. Unlike the others, Bradley was once a human, a candidate to be the country's next Fuhrer, and was the only one to survive being infused with Father's wrath. Bradley tells Mustang that he isn't actually certain if the soul he carries now is his original human soul or one of the many held within the philosopher's stone. While Bradley's lecturing Mustang has dragged on for a while now, it finally played out in a very satisfying, if not incredibly dark, manner. Finally, the episode's conclusion delivered a brilliant twist as Ed travels through the Gate once more, only this time he encounters his brother's body. As the Gate drags Ed through to the other side, he fights back long enough to shout to Al's body that he will return someday soon. Al smiles, and the Gate slams shut. For as brief as this segment was, it was perfectly executed, and others in the anime industry could learn a thing or two from this series about how to deliver a story.

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