This post covers the first three episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It contains spoilers for episodes one through three, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.
This is another one of those series that has been highly recommended for the longest time and has, consequently, been on my watchlist for the longest time. It’s the first longer anime series that I’m going to be covering – at 64 episodes, this is more than twice the length of the longest series I’ve covered before (I think Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Fate / Zero and Fate / Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works were all 26 episodes or so. I covered those series at the pace of 1 episode a week but I’m not going to do that with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood since I don’t want to spend the whole of 2018 just on this one series. I’m thinking maybe 3-5 episodes a week, depending on where I can find a natural stop – but that is a little bit of a problem at this juncture because in order to plan ahead, I will need to read episode descriptions, which obviously will lead to spoilers. So, if anyone reading this could do me a solid and suggest how to break the series down into digestible chunks, I would be incredibly grateful. Oh also, check it out – I finally, finally, have a MAL now
So, before we jump into this first episode – and I have to say I’m quite excited to be watching a new show in what feels like ages – maybe I should explain what I know about this series. I know that FMA was a manga and that it was adapted into anime twice; first into Fullmetal Alchemist but then because the anime was catching up with the source material, the original anime was forced to veer off-course and thus got a different ending. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was the second adaptation, made after the manga ended and thus has the author’s intended ending. By and large, some light searching /r/anime led me to believe that Brotherhood is superior though FMA certainly has it advocates too. At first, I was going to be really ambitious and do a side by side comparison, but honestly, that’s just going to be really confusing and complicated, so I’m going to stick to Brotherhood and then maybe do a speed binge watch of FMA to reconcile any differences. As for the story itself, I know just the basics – FMAB is the story of two alchemist brothers’ quest for…something. I didn’t even read the MAL description to be quite honest, because I was scared of spoilers. I figured, I’ll find out soon enough anyway. Ok, final note before we finally get started – the format of these posts will be similar what I did for Puella Magi Madoka Magica; essentially play-by-play commentary with occasional pauses to consider any broader themes or ideas being explored.
Episode 1: Fullmetal Alchemist
Right off the bat, we are introduced to a few characters – there is a sinister looking man, who is known as an Ice Alchemist, up to no good. He is drawing a chalk diagram on the ground – is this pertaining to his alchemy? I’m looking forward to understanding just how the magic in this world works and whether it’s going be a ‘soft’ (meaning that magic is magic, no real rules apply) or ‘hard’ (where it is more ‘scientific’) magic system. We meet a one-eyed commander type authority figure who in turn, introduces us to one Roy Mustang. One-Eye seems to have a high opinion of Mustang, who is himself appears rather stern and no-nonsense. Location wise, we are in a city – I think it’s called Amestris since I paused on the map and specifically, we’re in the Central district of Amestris. The Ice Alchemist has apparently infiltrated Central which implies that it is a controlled zone of some sort – perhaps, its where the seat of government is? We do see a shot of a very stately looking palace/government building and my understanding is that that is where Mustang and One-Eye are.
Oh wait, we get a name for One-Eye…Fuhrer President Bradley. Er, surely there is a contradiction in terms in being both Fuhrer and President? One implies a strict authoritarian approach (I’ll leave the Nazi point alone) and the other suggest something more democratic (though given that I’m typing this in a country that elected a President without casting a vote, maybe Presidents and democracy are totally unrelated). My point is, I’m not very politically knowledgeable but his title is strange. He tells Mustang that ‘that boy’ – referring to our main character Edward Elric – is in town and to feel free to use him as necessary. We are then introduced to Edward and Al – the latter in a suit of armour. This is embarrassing to admit but when I first saw the poster, I thought the armour was what the character I now know to be Edward would ‘morph’ into after he does his alchemy. Yeah, I know…
The brothers confront the Ice Alchemist and we learn a few things straight away. They were heading to a town called Liore but were forced to stay in Amestris because of the Ice Alchemist situation. The brothers are considered to be extremely skilled at alchemy – being able to transform substances (is it just metal? I can’t tell) without a ‘transmutation circle’. I guess the circle is what the Ice guy was drawing earlier and that enables him to use his own heating and freezing alchemy. Edward seems to also have an arm missing – it has been replaced by ‘automail’ which I guess is metallic but responds to his thoughts like it’s flesh? I’m getting a pretty steampunk vibe from this setting and I’m digging it. There are guns and stuff but alchemy is clearly a superior option when available. There is something about a Law of Equivalent Exchange, which sounds really familiar, especially in the alchemy context, but I might be confusing my stories here. The other takeaway is that it’s clear that Edward and Al are famous despite Ed’s apparent youth. Al is a lot bigger so I guess he could be older but it seems that Al isn’t quite as famous and it is Ed who is the famed ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’.
Title drop! We get a comical moment when the confused Ice guy wonders why the kid in the Fullmetal suit of armour isn’t the Fullmetal Alchemist and apparently this is a common enough confusion. Ed’s put upon face says a lot and it’s amazing. We do learn that Alphonse is the younger brother – no idea why he’s that much taller than Ed. Ed is also rather sensitive about his height, or lack thereof. The Ice guy is captured with ease – or so it seems. He has a transmutation circle hidden away on his palm and uses it escape. I think we will really need to get an explanation of how these transmutation circles work. It seems like he needed the circle to touch the substance he was transforming in order to make anything happen. We will also need an explanation on how Ed can perform alchemy without a circle – also, can Al perform alchemy too? I might have missed it, but I don’t think I’ve seen him do any magic. Maybe he’s the tank and Ed is the caster?
Mustang chews the boys out for getting complacent but he’s not really angry and it’s all in good fun. There is more exposition – Ice guy is someone called Isaac of the Ice, Isaac McDougal. He was a State Alchemist – which I assume means that he worked for the government – but after something called the Ishbal War, he quit. Was it PTSD? Was he disgusted by what he was asked to do in the war? Either way, he is dangerous but Ed is firm in stating he won’t kill him. It looks like our protagonist has a strong moral backbone. We also find out that Ed wants to ‘fix his body’ – is Mustang referring to Ed’s missing arm, or something deeper? We meet another comical character – Maes Hughes, who seems to be the same rank as Mustang and his professional rival. Hughes also mistakes Al for Ed, to the latter’s irritation. The degradation in the art quality in the comedic bits makes it all the funnier.
Hughes offers the boys a place to crash and we meet his wife, Gracia and his daughter, Elicia, who Hughes dotes on. It’s an adorable family, honestly. Elicia hits Ed’s sensitive spot again resulting in more light-hearted moments. I wonder if the Ed being short gag will ever get old – for now, I’m loving every instance of it. There is an interesting moment when Hughes offers Al some food but Al can’t eat it and Ed awkwardly covers for him. Is Al very sensitive about his real body? Has he been deformed in some way that makes him keep his suit on at all times? Is it a Darth Vader situation, in that he needs to keep the suit on to survive?
In more serious matters, the Ice Alchemist McDougal meets the Crimson Alchemist Kimblee. Isaac asks Kimblee for his help in taking Bradley and the government down but is dismissed. We learn that Kimblee murdered some officers during the Ishbal War but Kimblee insists it wasn’t for any high minded reasons – he just wanted to kill them. I’m getting a slight Joker vibe from Kimblee, maybe because of the violence, the love of anarchy and the unhinged laughter. We do learn that Isaac’s source of discontentment with the government stems from his experiences in the war.
Elswhere, Hughes mulls over his impressions of his new guests with his wife. He seems a little sad that two boys their age are now ‘State Alchemists’, a title that apparently is not all that it’s cut out to be. ‘Dogs of the government’, Hughes says, and even now, we’re getting quite a multi-faceted view of the government in this country. There have been atrocities in the past, it seems, and even now, the government is not above having it’s state-sponsored magicians lay down the law. Ed and Al are about to sleep and we learn some very interesting things – not only can Al not eat, he apparently doesn’t have a body?! I don’t know if he meant that metaphorically, but apparently there isn’t an actual body inside the metal suit? Big, if true.
The next morning, the search for Isaac ramps up in a big way, especially after his break in at the prison. Mustang is mobilised too. A new character, Alex Louis Armstrong shows up – he is the Strong Arm Alchemist. My eyes rolled far back enough that I saw the back of my head there for a second. He almost captures Isaac, but the Ice man escapes again. Mustang – the Flame Alchemist – tries to corner him but Isaac’s water fights off Mustang’s fire and he escapes yet again. Ed and Al trap him again a little later but by then his master plan is ready; a strange red lightning emits from the drawings that he drew previously. Ed and Al are alarmed, they recognise this as a Philosopher’s Stone but we don’t know what that is or what it does. Assuming it is similar to the mythological version though, it can transform any substance into anything else – most famously, lead into gold.
Isaac catches / makes himself a gnarly wave and heads toward toward King Bradley (wait so the guy is a Fuhrer, President and King?) and in Central Headquarters. Ed and Al are in hot pursuit and as they fight atop the moving ice wave, Al’s helmet is knocked off, revealing nothing but a transmutation circle within. Isaac is shocked but pieces it all together – Ed and Al tried (or were victims of) human alchemy. This triggers Edward and we get a brief flashback to an alchemy experiment gone horribly wrong. We see a younger Edward missing a leg (but still with both hands) inscribing a transmutation circle in blood on a piece of armour. This needs a great deal more context – what exactly is happening here, is this something Edward did to himself? Or was this some kind of abuse that they escaped from as children? I’m missing too much to make any conclusions right now but the message is clear – both brothers are carrying a lot of emotional baggage.
Isaac takes a couple of body blows but is able to stab Ed in the arm and make his way toward Bradley but his options are running out. Mustang is breaking down the ice barriers and Al and Ed are pursuing him as well. However, to Isaac’s momentarily pleasant surprise, King Bradley pops up out of nowhere in an alley, not looking all that friendly even after considering he’s a Fuhrer, a position whose occupants have traditionally not been known for their friendliness. Isaac tries to kill him, but Bradley isn’t having any of it and cuts him down in a single stroke. Should we add Boss to Bradley’s list of names and titles?
Mustang and Armstrong finally break through the ice barriers and destroy the transmutation circles but the threat has already been eliminated. Ed and Al follow Isaac’s trail only to see that King Bradley has already taken Isaac out and is back to his friendlier demeanour. I’m not quite sure of what to make of King Bradley – on one hand, he seems pretty badass but I’m sensing that there is more to him than meets the eye. All of the war crimes that Isaac was talking about seemed real enough and Bradley’s friendly demeanour (assuming it isn’t a front) doesn’t absolve him of his sins in other areas. I guess the real question here is what ‘side’ Bradley will ultimately fall on.
As the episode comes to an end, we see Mustang and Hughes bickering, Armstrong sexually harassing two young boys and a mysterious woman talking about future plot points – human sacrifice candidature, the philosopher’s stone, a strange man/creature called Glutonny and danger in Liore – the town that the boys almost paid a visit to this week.
Episode 2: The Day It Began
The boys continue their search for the philosopher’s stone – this time continuing their journey to Liore where they are looking for a man who claims to be able to perform miracles. Ed is skeptical, Al optimistic. We get a small flashback to their childhood but after the alchemy incident. It appears that the boys are looking to use the philosopher’s stone to reverse the damage done during the alchemy accident. Oh wait, there’s a longer flashback. Ed and Al grow up in the town of Resembool – around 10 years ago. Their mother is encouraging of their growing interest in alchemy but we learn that their dad is absent. It doesn’t seem like there is bad blood between the mother and father though so maybe he’s dead? Or less sinisterly, maybe he’s working somewhere far away? It’s unlikely since the awesome OP actually shows a blond man that I think is the boys’ father, so he will be playing a part in the story.
The happy times don’t last however, their mum passes away later that year. The boys are sitting by her grave, all alone in the world. Their father hasn’t returned and there is resentment on Ed’s part that their dad would not even return for his wife’s funeral. The two young kids are so adorable that it’s already making me a little sad. Ed voices the first dangerous thought – using alchemy to bring their dead mother back despite it being forbidden. The taboo is a strong one, we already heard Isaac speak about it in the last episode. We meet a new character – Winry – who is around Ed and Al’s age, and whose grandmother is sheltering the young boys in their time of need. Winry is pretty adorable herself – I think the art style makes all the little kid characters look cute – and is really nice and friendly despite Edward’s general ‘too cool for you’ attitude.
We find out that the boys have an official alchemy teacher – but that they are growing more and more attracted to the idea of human transmutation. They study hard, even spending their nights researching the topic, driven by thoghts of seeing their mother again. On one fateful day, they gather up the necessary ingredients and begin the process but something isn’t right. Strange arms reach out from the transmutation circle and start claiming the boys’ flesh. Ed finds himself in the a strange place, talking to a person that calls himself god. There’s a bit of hippie philosophy introduced as the being that calls itself god, claims to be ‘all’, ‘the world’, ‘the universe’ and also, Edward. Is this foreshadowing of some kind? The god mocks Ed as an idiot who acts high and mighty and promises to show him the ‘truth’. All the information of the world was forced into Ed’s head and he almost bursts until he realises that the god is showing him the ‘truth’ that he wanted – the secret to human alchemy! Ed asks to be shown it again, just a little more, but like this is all he gets for the price he paid. Confused, he asks what price and we realize that the ‘god’ has claimed Al’s body and Ed’s leg – and we return to the scene from the previous episode. Is the message here that Edward was too greedy in wanting ‘more truth’ and that he should instead have just accepted that his mum was beyond his reach?
The scene in the real world is pretty heartbreaking. For his sacrifices, all Edward gets is a grotestque mockery of a human than is nothing like his mother. Desperate, Ed tries to imprints Al into a suit of armor but this process results in his arm being sacrificed as well (the episode doesn’t show this directly, but it seems like a logical conclusion). It’s heavy stuff and as sympathetic a backstory as you can get – Edward loses his only parent, and in naively trying to bring her back, loses two of his limbs, his brother and in exchanges gets an inhuman creature instead of his mother. It’s a cruel universe and this is the harshest lesson a 11 year old boy could learn. It’s not too clear to me how long since their mother’s death the alchemy incident takes place but I think that’ll be established later, if it’s important.
Back in Amestris, Mustang has been transferred to the Eastern District. Hughes drops by to give a final report on Isaac, mentioning his interest in something called ‘Eastern Alchemy’ from a country called Xing. A China analog? Hughes questions Mustang on his relationship with the boys and why he asked the boys to become State Alchemists. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that they were in fact state’s alchemists given that Bradley knew of them so well and they worked so closely with the military officers, but it did catch me off guard for a second. Mustang doens’t tell Hughes this but he reckons that whatever the boys see in the military wouldn’t be all that much worse than the horrors that they have already seen. Given what we’ve seen so far, it’s not hard to see why.
It turns out that Mustang and his cute blonde deputy (I don’t think we have her name just yet) were the ones who investigated the human alchemy incident six years prior. Am I getting the math right? Ed and Al were 11 and 10 respectively at the time of the alchemy incident which itself happened 4 years after their mother died and six years before the present day? Mustang suspects something sinister when he sees the blood on the basement floor and is furious that the boys attempted human alchemy. It turns out that he didn’t know anything about the boys’ situation and only came by to talk to them about a career in the military. He is suitably impressed by their alchemt prowess however and convinces them to become State Alchemists – admitting that they would need to fight during times of war but reminding them that they would be able to research taboo topics as well, including ways to recover their bodies. The grandmother is against them joining the military and seems anti-alchemy in general which is understandable – she went to investigate the basement too and saw the horrific sights contained therein. Winry talks to the blonde lieutenant, Riza Hawkeye, asking her if she has ever shot anyone. Winry has had a hard life as well it seems – her parents were killed on a battlefield too (could this be during the Ishbal War?) and she accuses Riza of trying to take Ed and Al away from her too. I did not expect to feel things this early in the series. Meanwhile, Ed is absolutely devastated – whatever fire was in him has disappeared and he looks like a shadow of his former self. Winry accepts Riza’s friendship and we end the scene with Mustang noting that Ed’s fire has not yet been extinguished.
Edward decides to pursue the State Alchemist option – he opts for surgery to get his automail and trains hard through rehab, asking Al to wait for him. Ed realises that after seeing the ‘truth’ during his traumatic encounter with God, he can now perform alchemy without a transmutation circle. Interestingly, Al cannot and even more interesting, it seems that the boy’s teacher too can perform alchemy without a transmutation circle. It doesn’t seem to be common though since Isaac was amazed that it could be done but perhaps their teacher has seen the ‘truth’ as well? Also, the Winry-Edward ship is super cute and I’m all aboard.
Soon, Edward is before King Bradley, who is overseeing the examinations for the State Alchemist position. Bradley is curious about the abilities of a 12 year old and decides to stop by. Everyone present is impressed by his ability to perform alchemy without a circle but aghast when Edward decides to attack Bradley with a newly created weapon to prove how smart and worldly he is. It’s a pretty stupid move and Bradley notes the young kid’s ‘pluck’ (which is code for stupidity) but we see that Bradaley was never in any danger – the weapon was already cut without Ed realising. Edward is awarded the State Alchemist position and the title of ‘Fullmetal’ to go with it. Does this mean that Al is not a State Alchemist?
Episode 3: City of Heresy
We open in Liore to a familiar scene – people confusing exactly what the Fullmetal Alchemist is. There is a priest Cornello who seems to be capable of performing alchemy as well though the locals seem far less familiar with the concept of alchemy than the people in Amestris. The priest sounds like a total scam – he claims to be able to offer eternal life and can resurrect the dead. This makes the brother instantly suspicious given their history with the subject, and without it, I wouldn’t blame them. We see the red light associated with ‘bad’ alchemy when Cornello does his thing – could this be a sign of the philosopher’s stone? Edward thinks so.
Edward gets into an argument about religion with one of the members of this cult. Edward takes up the usual Reddit atheist argument about how scientists have no need for faith but it sounds more valid coming from him – God was kind of a dick to him, the last time they met. What’s strange is that having actually seen God, it’s surprising that Edward doesn’t believe God exists. Edward asks to meet Cornello, who is wary of meeting a State Alchemist. There is definitely something suspicious going on that he does not want the government knowing about.
Rose, one of Cornello’s followers leads the brothers to him but they are led into a trap. The brother’s fight them off easily and Cornello shows up to calm things down. It turns out that he has a Philosopher’s Stone with him – it was the same red gem that Isaac had with him as well. Alchemy performed with the Philosopher’s Stone has that distinctive red lightning surrounding it that distinguishes it from normal alchemy. I guess this means that there isn’t just one Philosopher’s Stone? Cornello compels Rose to shoot Edward by reminding her that he can bring her dead boyfriend back to life. Cornello is a real piece of shit, but no different from any old manipulative cult leader. Rose very reluctantly shoots but hits Al instead, doing absolutely nothing. Cornello pieces together that the brothers have committed the sin of human transmutation. We are introduced to chimeras, these half lion, half lizard like animals – which raises the question of how it is possible to create chimeras (it is implied that it was done via the Philosopher’s Stone) but not human transmutation? Scientifically speaking, since humans know how to merge two animals, is merging humans or even recreating humans that far removed?
Rose is not convinced that Cornello is the fraud that the brothers now know him to be – perhaps because she cannot get herself to admit that if Cornello is a fraud then her lover has no chance of returning to her. In the meanwhile, Edward hatches a plot to get Cornello to compromise himself to the town – it’s a pretty silly plot turn, with Cornello not realizing he was being broadcast, but given that I don’t think Cornello is an important villain, I think we can let this slide. There is a concept in the series’ alchemy called Rebound that has come up a couple of times, I’ll be interested to know more about it. His grand plans in disarray, Cornello tries to kill Edward, but there’s no tension left to the scene – he is just a low level mook and Edward is the main character. Cornello is defeated when his philosopher’s stone breaks – Edward is surprised since a true Philosopher’s Stone is a perfect substance that should never run out of juice. Perhaps this means that there is another faction out there experimenting with these near perfect but short term philosopher’s stones? The small ones we’ve seen so far are like batteries – they provide energy but only for a fixed period of time. The episode ends on a bit of a downer however; Rose still cannot come to terms with the fact that she had been duped the whole while – without Cornello to provide her faith, she is lost and even accuses the brothers of keeping the philosopher’s stone just for themselves. Edward points out the dangers of being unable to accept that the dead cannot be revived; he has learned that all too painful lesson well.
The episode ends with Cornello getting killed by the woman (named Lust) and her partner/pet Gluttony. I guess we’re going for a seven deadly sins naming convention here and they are clearly the masterminds behind all this Cornello stuff and perhaps even more. Gluttony eats Cornello’s corpse, which is a particularly macabre way of ending the episode but here we are.
This felt like as good a place as any to pause – I’ll be back next week with episodes 4-8, unless someone has any thoughts on how I could better split the episodes for minimal narrative disruptions.