This post is the fourth in a series covering ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Previous posts: Episodes 1 – 3, Episodes 4 – 6, Episodes 7 – 10. This post contains spoilers for episodes one through fifteen, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.
After the shocking and thoroughly depressing events of the previous episode, I think it’s important to do a quick accounting of who knows what about the overall conspiracy. There are going to be some spoilers here, which I generally try to avoid in this section but that’s going to become all but impossible as we get deeper into the series. Still, I think an overall rundown of what we know so far could be useful (if not to you, then at least to help me keep everything straight). Still, here’s a final spoiler warning.
Consider yourself warned.
Knows the secret behind the wars and insurgency: Bradley, possibly the seven sins (and yes, I know that we’ve only seen three but you mean to tell me that the author chose to use only the three lamest sins and not the badass ones like anger and pride? I guess sloth and greed are pretty lame too, but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Knows the stone’s secret: Armstrong, Ross, Elric brothers
Knows of government involvement: Armstrong, Ross, Elric Brothers. Mustang and Riza know as well, but not the full incident.
We see from this that Hughes, RIP, was the only one who knew everything (perhaps not as much as Bradley and the sins but more than any other character). The thing is, now the audience knows too, so let’s see how long it takes for the rest of the characters to get caught up.
Episode 11: Miracle at Rush Valley
We take a bit of a break after the heavy events of the last episode. I can’t make up my mind about whether this is good pacing or not. On one hand, I don’t know if I was ready for more story after the hammer blow of Hughes murder in the previous episode but on the other hand, I was also really eager for the story to continue. Regardless, it seems that we are heading for a break episode. The Elric brothers and Winry arrive in Rush Valley, a famous automail speciality centre, and Edward promptly gets robbed by a pickpoket named Paninya. They meet an expert, Dominic and Winry asks to be his apprentice and is instantly rejected. Dominic gave Paninya her legs after she lost them in a train accident.
We get a little bit of a moral lesson where Winry convinces Paninya to give up pickpocketing to repay Dominic for his favour. It’s a nice moment but it’s not particularly interesting; there’s some character building for Winry and some world building as we get a snapshot of life in other parts of Amestris, but that’s about it. It’s not an issue when I have the rest of the series in front of me, but I would be rather annoyed at this episode if I was waiting for it week by week. Winry tries to open Edward’s pocket watch and realises that it is inscribed with a date – I’m going to guess that it’s the date that Edward attempted his disastrous human alchemy experiment?
Meanwhile, a baby is being born to Dominic’s daughter/daughter-in-law (it’s not too clear and I don’t think it matters). There’s a general panic until Winry steps up and takes the lead. The baby is delivered safely and Edward and Winry talk about the date inscribed – 3rd October. It was the day that Edward and Alphonse burned their house down, in an attempt to put the past behind them. It is interesting how the characters deal with this massive piece of emotional baggage. On one hand, the Elric brothers have left their homes and loved ones behind and are determined to never look back but they still carry the scars, both physical and emotional. The watch too is a memento, a reminder of that troubled past. I understand the meaning of both gestures – the burning of the house to keep them moving forward, and the keeping of the watch to remind them of what they lost – but I can’t help but notice the contradictory nature of those very gestures.
Edward’s deep respect and admiration of the miracle of life resonates as well; even this early in life, he has already seen (and taken part in) some twisted attempts at recreating that miracle. Compared to the beautiful simplicity of nature, the alchemists attempts seem perverse, deranged and arrogant. Edward’s moment of surrender, when he admits to being powerless, was a nice touch as well. It provides a nice contrast; when Edward was first confronted with the helplessness of possibly losing a loved one, he responded by trying to take action and trying to force a change in the outcome. Here however, he suppresses that instinct and trusts in something greater than himself. It’s an interesting response, especially from a character who is explicitly an atheist; it takes maturity to admit and accept helplessness.
Episode 12: One is All, All is One
The brothers arrive in Dublith, Edward has a dream about his father. They go to meet their old master who they have not met since the human alchemy incident (the master’s husband does not know of Alphonse’s circumstances, for example). The alchemy master is not feeling too great and can’t exert herself much but that doesn’t get in the way of her kicking the brothers around some. She does not know much about the Philosopher’s Stone but mentions that the boy’s father – a man named Hohenheim (though I think we already knew his name from before) – was asking about it, and is still alive. Edward especially holds a grudge against his absentee father and blames his father for their mother’s early demise. Even if Hohenheim didn’t literally kill his wife, he’s still a douche for leaving his family the way he did. Also, unless Edward’s memories of the last time he saw his father are biased, Hohenheim seems rather intense and unemotional – which is strange given how warm and loving his wife is. Perhaps, what they say about opposites attracting is true.
We learn of how the boys came under Izumi’s tutelage. She dumps the boys in the middle of nowhere and asks them to survive, giving them the cryptic message of ‘One is All, All is One’. It’s some hippie, circle of life shit but somehow it works – the boys struggle at first, but as they approach starvation, Edward has an epiphany. It’s a bit of a rambling epiphany but in summary; he realises how big the universe is, how small people are and how everything is interconnected. I have to say, the power of this message feels dampened by the fact that this is before the boys attempt to resurrect their mothers – it tells me that Edward has not, at least at this point, understood the implications of what he is saying.
Edward makes a connection – his master has also seen the same ‘truth’ that he has, the one that allows him to perform alchemy without a drawn circle. Before he can ask her about it, she confronts him about it. We learn of her own tragedy. She tried to return her miscarried child to life, but like the Elric brothers, ended up recreating an inhuman abomination and paid the price of her own fertility. The entire scene is an excellent example of what I’m coming to love about this series. The characters are capable of vulnerability and emotional openness, and the love that they share is portrayed in a really touching way. Izumi’s mixture of sympathy for the boys, empathy for why they did what they did and regret for not being able to stop them is executed perfectly. She is a mother figure to them and in return, they give her not only their respect and affection but also make efforts to spare her the knowledge of their full anguish. I think of scenes like this as great ways of stirring the audience’s emotions without necessarily sinking into the grim-dark suffering porn mould. That’s not a shot at other series either, it’s just an acknowledgement that this is a more realistic form of tragedy; the people continue to bear the marks of their loss but their identities don’t revolve around it. Instead, they move on and learn lessons from those tragic incidents even as they bear the scars. Interestingly, characters like Scar, who don’t do so, are depicted as antagonists in this series.
Episode 13: The Beasts of Dublith
Izumi expels the boys from her tutelage but its more an acknowledgement that she has nothing left to teach them. They return to Izumi and she theorises that Al, who paid a greater price than both Ed and Izumi, might have lost her memories of seeing ‘God’. They attempt to jog his memories while a lizard-like creature stalks them. In East City, Mustang meets with a superior officer/mentor and moves his team to Central. Scar’s saviours counsel him against seeking revenge. A cowardly man named Yoki (who previous ran into the Elric brothers in the past) tries to turn Scar in, but it ends predictably, with Scar escaping with ease.
Alphonse is abducted by a gang of Chimeras led by Greed. Looks like a fourth sin is on the game board. We learn that Greed – and by implication – the other ‘sins’ are Homunculi. Homunculi are artificially created humans – and now we’re getting somewhere. It seems that Greed is able to do things that are beyond the abilities of normal alchemists – for example, he seems to able to quite easily make human-animal chimeras, something that Shou Tucker, the expert in this field, never managed to figure out. It is also interesting that Homunculi exist at all – if humans can be artificially created, then does that mean that Edward and Alphonse can recreate their bodies? Does that mean that resurrection really is possible? Of course, we don’t know yet what the downside of Homunculi creation is, but whatever it is, it’s likely to be costly. The series seems clear on this fact; subverting the natural order of things is morally repugnant. Think about it – all the amazing things that the philosopher’s stones can do, come at the cost of human lives and while some individuals might accept those lives as a cost, it seems clear that the morality within the series does not see it that way. Likewise, the fact that all the Homunculi we have seen so far are antagonistic, seems to also be signalling to the viewer that artificially creating life is not a ‘good’ thing.
We learn a few more things – the Homunculi have been around for a couple of hundred years. Greed has great healing powers but is after eternal life and thinks affixing souls is the way to it. Greed is not aligned with the rest of the Homunculi. Edward attacks Greed in order to get Alphonse back but takes a proper beating from Greed before figuring out how to use the component elements of a human body to beat Greed’s ultimate defense. Edward is able to fight back, but it’s not looking good for; until, a passing housewife stops by to give him a hand.
We got a lot of interesting information this episode and the characters made many of the same connections that I made. It will be interesting to see why Greed broke away from his fellow Homunculi. Greed also mentioned being greedy by nature, which made me realise that Gluttony too was always looking for food. Does that mean each Homunculus will embody the trait of their sin? Can’t wait to see how useless Sloth is. To be fair though, I would normally have thought that Envy would be useless too, but he’s done a fair bit of damage already. It also makes it amazing that these fundamentally flawed villains can work together at all – after all, if your personality is dominated by something like Wrath or Pride or Envy, you can’t be the easiest to get along with. Beyond that, it felt like this episode was setting things up for the next ‘arc’, if you can call it that. It’s unlikely that Izumi and Edward will take Greed down right here but they might learn some information that could reveal more of what the villains want and what they are currently up to.
Episode 14: Those Who Lurk Underground
Mustang reaches Central to whispers about his sudden rise. He learns Bradley is in the South – turns out he is in Dublith. That can’t be a coincidence; has he been following the Elric brothers? Or was it Greed that he was tracking down? It seems that Greed’s gang and Bradley have crossed paths before; the dog chimera (yeah, I don’t care about them enough to learn names) notes that the smell is familiar. Greed escapes Izumi and Edward but runs into King Bradley. Bradley (who is 60?!) absolutely wrecks Greeds as Alphonse and Martel (a snake chimera who is inside Alphonse’s armour) watch. Armstrong and the cow chimera get into a slug fest, but the fight is more or less done – the Fuhrer’s army is gunning the chimeras down.
The big reveal is that Bradley himself is a Homunculi – under that eye patch, is his own Tattoo of Ouroboros. Well, if there’s no question about it now – Bradley is definitely bad news. He takes Greed down with little difficulty; Greed is barely able to land a blow. Bradley kills Greed 15 times when his henchmen arrive, only to be promptly slaughtered as well. Martel wants to help them but Alphonse stops – until Bradley approaches him and Martel lunges for him.
Bradley nonchalantly stabs Martel within the armour but the blood hitting Al’s blood seal re-awakens his memories of That Day. He recalls his meeting with God, and wakes up to a scene that’s definitely going to add to his impressive trauma resume. Martel has died within Al and there’s blood everywhere. Al is devastated that he couldn’t help – because of course he is, he’s the nicest kid ever. Bradley tries to get Izumi to become a State’s Alchemist but she politely refuses. Armstrong doesn’t tell Edward about Hughes’ death but warns the brothers to stay out of trouble. The brothers are now deeply suspicious of Bradley, wondering why he killed Greed instead of interrogating him, and why Bradley turned up at all. Excellent questions but the audience already knows the answers to both questions.
Greed is not dead – he is being held by the Homunculi. Bradley (Wrath) is the youngest of them, created by ‘Father’. It turns out ‘Father’ is there with them – an aged Hohenheim who has shared his soul with the Homunculi. This obviously raises a number of questions – why did ‘Father’ leave the Elric family back then? What the Homunculi for? And if they share his soul, then are the Elric brothers and the Homunculi related (sort of)? It gives the term ‘soul brother’ a literal twist. Hohenheim kills Greed and distils him in a red wine-like essence, which looks an awful lot like the substance that the philosopher’s stone is made out of. He then drinks that liquid – is he trying to turn himself into some kind of superhuman alchemist?
Episode 15: Envoy from the East
We see Scar fight the Monopoly Man (or the Silver Alchemist if you want to get technical, but dude looks like the Penguin, for real). Oh and look, new OP already! I really liked the old one, but this one’s pretty catchy too. On another note, however, I had to check that I didn’t miss an episode. Apparently Scar and Yoki are hanging out together now and they run into a young girl (with this tiny panda) called May Chang. She is from the Eastern Nation (aka China) of Xing, where they practice Eastern Alchemy. It’s a cheaper, mass produced version of Western Alchemy, that might just result in many State Alchemists losing their jobs, building walls and other types of tomfoolery. Seriously though, Eastern Alchemy stylistically seems a little different – most interestingly, it seems capable of healing human wounds with ease. I don’t think we’ve seen Western Alchemy do that yet, have we?
May Chang is searching for immortality and though she doesn’t say it, I’m pretty that road is going to lead her towards the Philosopher’s Stone. Scar has a tattoo that has information about Eastern Alchemy – his brother research both Western and Eastern forms – but the question is what does that have to do with Scar? Is that tattoo the reason Scar can perform his bastardized form of alchemy? At some point, it will be interesting to know Scar’s thoughts on his own usage of alchemy – I suspect it will be one of those situations where he has made peace with sinning as long as it lets him pass god’s judgement on the ‘real’ sinners.
Back to May; she thinks that Edward (who she has a hilariously romanticized mental picture of) knows something about the secret to immortality. In Central, Riza Hawkeye is attacked by Barry the Chopper, but Barry is instantly defeated by a thoroughly unimpressed Riza. Mustang interrogates Barry – but it’s mostly dead ends since the scientists performing experiments to create the Stone were themselves, fittingly, sacrificed to make more Stones.
Ed and Al have returned to Winry in Rush Valley – where they too meet someone from Xing. We get some geography information but nothing too shocking – Amestris (based loosely off a European country, given the characters’ names) is in the West, there’s a big desert with the ruins of Xerxes (I’m going to guess that’s the Middle East/Persia) to the immediate East and then a massive nation called Xing to the far East. The map is definitely not of Earth, but it’s also, in a way, definitely Earth. Amestris is at war with Creta and Aceuro (two other nations) and Edward notes that the country has become much more militaristic since the Fuhrer became in charge. Yeah,this is definitely not a WW2 analogue in any way, nope, not at all. Anyway, this new dude, named Ling Yao, educates us on Eastern Alchemy traditions but is also in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. Could he be the companion that May Chang crossed the desert with? Seems very unlikely that we would get two new characters, from the same part of the world, searching for the same thing without them somehow being connected to each other.
Ling Yao asks about the Philoshoper’s Stone but doesn’t believe Edward when he says they don’t know a thing about it. He sets his henchmen on them; the boys have some trouble with the ninja-esque henchmen but nothing they can’t handle. The henchmen, we later learn are Ran Fan (the girl) and Fu (the old man) and Ling Yao is a prince to the throne of Xing. He’s more a daughter of the concubine than a prominent member of the ruling family though; his bid for the Philosopher’s Stone is a way to gain the Emperor’s favour. Ling Yao is currently 12th in line – so I wonder, is May serving him? If so, how did they get separated, since she’s so far away from Rush Valley? May and Scar (and Yoki) are on the way to Central it seems, just like Edward and his gang. Looks like we’re going to get a second round of the fight from earlier in the series.
This definitely has all the signs of the beginning of an arc – the set up for upcoming conflicts, the introduction of new characters, the widening of the story’s world. The decision to widen the scope of the story from just Amestris to more of the surrounding world is excellent – in an earlier post (or perhaps even this one, it’s getting hard to tell) I remarked about how much of the world we’re getting to see so early on and that trend seems to be continuing. The contrast between the Eastern Alchemy’s focus on healing and Western Alchemy’s focus on combat is interesting as well – I can see our protagonists being very interested in learning what the Xing know about healing. Yet, the fact that even the Xing have not found an answer to the question of how to achieve immortality might be an indication that it cannot be done with the help of something like a Philosopher’s Stone. Instinctively, it makes sense, doesn’t it? The Law of Equal Exchange always applies – you can’t get life without offering life.
I also quite like both May Chang and Ling Yao so far. I can see May’s expectations of Edward becoming a recurring gag and her disappointment in realizing that he’s a short kid instead of this dashing knight is going to be hilarious. Ling Yao is the more nuanced character so far, however – he has a happy go lucky personality on the surface but there is a streak of cunning and ambition beneath it. He made a comment about half a million people of his clan depending on him – which shows a certain sense of duty. I’m not sure if both he and May are on the same side; they might be competitors for the Emperor’s favour. If nothing else, May Chang’s name indicates that she is from a different clan from Ling Yao.
It seems like a shame to stop at the start of an arc – maybe I should have stopped one episode earlier, but oh well. There’s really no way to tell beforehand.
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