This post is the fifth in a series covering ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Previous posts: Episodes 1 – 3, Episodes 4 – 6, Episodes 7 – 10, Episodes 11-15. This post contains spoilers for episodes one through twenty, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.
Somehow, without even realizing it, I’m suddenly finding myself a good one third of the way through the series. It’s certainly a testament to how good this show is that I have no noticed the time go by. At the end of the episodes covered in last week’s post, I still felt like we were in the beginning of the story – still getting to somewhat familiar with the world and the setting. However, by the end of this week’s set of episodes, the story has definitely started to take on more of a ‘mid-story’ complexion. Much of that will be due to the increasing complexity of the plot and what we learn about the connections – both historical and present – between the characters. There’s a lot to say this week, so let’s just jump into some episodes.
Episode 16: Footsteps of a Comrade in Arms
We open with Ling Yao having gone missing, Ran Fan and Fu searching for him. Ling Yao notices something ‘strange’ about Amestris, but we don’t know what just yet. Is it an alchemy related thing? Or is it the something in the political air that’s making him uneasy? Elsewhere in Central, Mustang and his cronies/subordinates have kept Barry the Chopper for questioning. It is not official however; clearly, Mustang does not want the military (and especially Bradley) to know that he (Mustang) knows about the secret of the philosopher’s stone. Ling Yao is arrested for being an illegal immigrant and I have nothing to say about the matter. I particularly do not have any comments that would link his status to real world events.
If there was a siren alerting us to the presence of an incoming emotional storm, it would be on full blast right now – Edward, Alphonse and Winry seek out Hughes since none of them know he is dead. There’s going to be a lot of tears and promises of revenge/justice soon, I can just tell. Elsewhere in Central, Mustang is reading up as he investigates Hughes’ murder. Envy knows that this is happening – with his shapeshifting ability, Envy is the ultimate spy. I wonder if the Homunculi all have different abilities or specialities? It seems that Mustang is going to be on Envy’s assassination list very soon, if he’s not careful. Mustang lies to the brothers about Hughes – he’s a big old softie like Armstrong too, when it comes down to it. I don’t quite agree that Hughes because he was investigating the philosopher’s stones – I mean, yes, on the surface of things, that was what he was investigating but the real reason for his death was because he was uncovering a vast government conspiracy. The reason I think this is because the philosopher’s stones are quite widely known amongst the characters by now and the government isn’t arresting and assassinating them – so that must mean that it was knowledge of the conspiracy that did Hughes in. Mustang thinks he is sparing the brothers the heartache of knowing that Hughes is dead but Hawkeye thinks it’s cruel, and I can see where she is coming from. Moments later, Edward and Alphonse find out the truth anyway and Edward, predictably, blames himself.
Winry learns the truth when she visits Hughes’ daughter and widow. As a side note, my heart broke all over again when Elicia opened the door, hoping it was her dad, only to be disappointed yet again. That’s just driving the knife in too deep, damn it. Edward tells Winry and Gracia about Hughes’ death and what he was investigating at the time. Gracia tells Edward not to let his death be in vain; behind her brave front, she is still hurting and breaks down as the group leaves. The group themselves are despondent but elsewhere, the Homunculi are discussing how to contain Mustang. Assassination is ruled out because he, like Edward and Alphonse, is considered a ‘precious sacrifice’. Lust’s boyfriend is apparently a source of information – but we don’t know who just yet. Envy suggests misleading Mustang in a different way – by framing Maria Ross for Hughes’ murder. Another one of Mustang’s underlings, a Jean Havoc (I think that’s what his name is, I honestly have not being paying him much mind thus far) meets with his girlfriend (who he has been going on and on about, but I didn’t bother mentioning it since it didn’t seem important) – who is revealed to be Lust. All of this indicates that we are heading for a head-on confrontation between Mustang + the Elric brothers vs the Homunculi, but lest we forget – Scar is heading towards the capital too, which is going to make this city a powderkeg ready to explode.
Episode 17: Cold Flame
As Ross is investigated, we see that the investigation is not at all going in her favour. Her alibi revolves around her presence at Research Lab 5 (where she helped Ed and Al escape the collapsing secret lab) but she wasn’t supposed to be there since officially, that facility was closed down ages ago. The key piece of evidence against her is that there is witness testimony putting her at the scene of the crime. Of course, we know that it was actually Envy, but there is no way anyone in-universe could know that. There is also some stuff about a bullet fired, and her having requisitioned similar ammunition before, but that’s circumstantial even by this court’s standards.
We soon learn what I ought to have suspected right away – there is a certain … determination … shall we say, in getting Ross indicted right away. It looks like Bradley and his homunculi brethren aren’t taking any chances. What is the end game though? Are they assuming that if everyone blames Ross for Hughes’ death then they will stop searching for the real killer? And in the process stay away from the philosopher’s stones? If so, that’s pretty silly of them. Edward and Alphonse already know a good deal about the stones; Armstrong and his crew know quite a bit and so too does Mustang and his lot – between all those interconnected individuals, it seems dumb to think that the investigation will drop dead just because Hughes’ ‘true’ killer is found. Truth be told, if they intend to find her guilty regardless, why bother with an investigation? I’ve been told that that is how dictatorships work, but maybe Bradley isn’t in full Hitler mode just yet.
They send Barry the Chopper to bust Ross out – freeing Ling Yao in the process. Ling Yao is really growing on me as a character, I must say. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his part goofy, part ominous character – in fact, that’s something I still find a little jarring about this series’ narrative style from time to time. Still, goofy Ling Yao is a lot of fun and serious Ling Yao seems to know a lot of stuff that could be of interest to the audience, so for now, I’m glad to have him around. Curiously, Barry only let Ling Yao out after asking where he was from. Now, I doubt that he knows that Ling Yao doesn’t have any skill at alchemy, so maybe he thought he could using Ling Yao to heal any wounds inflicted? Of course, we also need to ask ourselves who Barry escaped Mustang’s indirect custody at all – either he bust himself out (in which case, why is he back in a prison helping Ross) or he is there on Mustang’s orders – which makes sense, since Mustang is unable to intercede on Ross’ behalf directly – or he was released by Mustang’s underlings on their on accord. I find the second option to be by far the most likely. It is totally in keeping with what we know of Mustang’s character.
Ross is reluctant, but relents eventually. The military is alerted to Ross’ escape and the orders are given to kill her on sight. Mustang meets Ross midway through her escape and we see an explosion. Yeah, not buying it; there is absolutely no way that Ross is dead and it is even more unlikely that Mustang murdered her in cold blood. Yes, I know that there is sinister dramatic music playing, and I know that Mustang has a dead serious look on his face. It makes simply no sense for him to bust her out of prison just to kill her himself. It is an insane amount of risk for a rather superficial reward; not like the Mustang we know at all. I’ll admit I was a little surprised by the hostility he displayed to her but I believe that was for the audience’s benefit, not Ross’. I was also surprised that Mustang and Ross didn’t already know each other, but then I remember that Ross reported to Armstrong, not Mustang.
Edward sees the charred remains of a body (which we are led to believe is Ross and which I am still totally not buying) and is furious at Mustang. Alphonse is confused about the odd – and very guilty looking – combination of Ling Yao (an admitted thief and fugitive), Barry the Chopper (an admitted murderer) and Ross (who has been convicted of murder). None of this is making Ross look any less guilty, unfortunately. On another note, if Mustang did kill her – and remember, this is purely hypothetical – then the episode’s title makes a lot of sense. Still not buying it, however; just want to make that super duper clear. Edward is absolutely livid though. Edward almost attacks Mustang himself, but Al stops him, after Mustang punches Edward in retaliation. I’ll admit that it doesn’t look like they messing around – Mustang did not hold back on that punch. Look, I still don’t believe that Mustang killed her but now I’m getting a little annoyed. If there’s one thing that I hate in any show, it’s the drama caused by stupid, unnecessary misunderstandings. I don’t think we have reached that level just yet – after all, Mustang could be misleading Edward for any number of reasons – but I do hope this mix-up doesn’t lead to Edward doing something idiotic, Mustang blaming himself for Edward’s idiotic actions and himself doing something stupid, and thus perpetuating a cycle of dumb that may never end. I think we’re safe though. We are, however, offered revenge as a possible reason for Mustang luring Ross out where he could legally kill her himself. Still not buying it; it’s not that I have any rational reason for not buying it either but rather that the series, while certainly emotionally heavy at times, is just simply not dark enough to have Mustang kill another character in cold blood for revenge
However, the episode seems determined to prove me wrong. The medical examiner confirms that it was Ross who was killed, which leaves me in a strange position of having to think of Mustang as a bad character. I still don’t believe it but I’m willing to temporarily accept it if that’s what the episode needs me to do. This just means Mustang’s going to feel like absolute shit when he finds out that Ross was innocent. Perhaps more importantly to the plot, Lust and Envy think she is dead but differ on the implications. Envy thinks he’s done a fine job – Lust is less convinced. She doesn’t see Mustang as any more contained than before, but I can see Lust’s point; the bigger secret of the philosopher’s stone remains exposed and known to the key characters.
Meanwhile, Mustang’s circle is drawing away from him – Armstrong, while respectful, is angry as well. Hawkeye requests time off and the Elric brothers are furious and mistrustful too. The ruse is given up though, when Mustang begins to at oddly out of character – speaking unprofessionally to a ‘girlfriend’ at work, for example. He’s definitely plotting something and we soon learn that Edward and Armstrong are being relocated to the Resembool for some reason while Alphonse and Winry are being kept on in Central. Lust and Envy also have a pet human body that they call Barry the Chopper, which is interesting but I think we’ll find out more soon enough about what’s going on with that.
Episode 18: The Arrogant Plan of a Small Human
Armstrong and Edward arrive in Resembool, where they meet up with one of Mustang’s subordinates, Breda. I’ll have to start keeping better track of minor characters’ names than I have thus far. In Central, Alphonse is puzzled by this turn of events – Ling Yao turns up to explain. It turns out that the Edward and Armstrong are en route to Ruins of Xeres, led by Fu. Legend has it that alchemy came to the West from Xeres, brought by a single man – the Sage of the East. Strangely enough, there was a similar legend in Xing about a Sage of the West – there’s now way that’s a coincidence. Was it the same person? Since he can’t have been in two places at once, which place did he visit first? I’m thinking that Xeres – based on the name alone – is meant to be Persian though the architecture and aesthetics that we see are more Greek. The understanding is plain – this was an advanced society and something terrible brought it down overnight. Ed sees a diagram that he recognizes – it looks familiar to me too but I’m not sure from where, exactly? Was it Edward’s confrontation with ‘God’? If so, then that means that the people of Xeres were advanced enough to be familiar with the ‘Alchemist’s Truth’ and perhaps like Edward, Alphonse and Izumi, they flew too close to the sun and got burned.
So, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Ross is alive. I didn’t even really have time to miss her, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if I did, because I didn’t think she was gone. Since I never really thought that he had gone, I’m not particularly upset that they pulled a fast one on me but if turns out that Hughes has been alive this whole time, I might just drop the series. We see how Mustang pulled the switcheroo but honestly, I don’t find it interesting enough to really fact check – there are a couple of things which we aren’t shown explicitly, such as how Mustang replicates the markings on Ross’ teeth – but the noteworthy moment from the flashback is Mustang’s dark remark, that he’s very familiar with burned flesh. It seems that everyone is carrying some scar from the Ishval Civil War. Ross heads on towards Xing with Fu while Edward and the rest return to Central. Is it just me, or did this whole excursion seem like a waste of time? Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was interesting to see a little more of the world and the story of Xerxes is definitely going to be important to the story but did we really need the characters to go all the way out to the middle of nowhere, just to have them trek back? Couldn’t someone have just told Edward privately in Central that Ross was alive?
The ‘human’ Barry attacks Falman and the armored Barry. It turns out the Riza’s assignment was watching Falman and Barry to see when the Homunculi would attack them. As soon as the human Barry attacks, the rest of the team begin their counterattack. We learn that Barry’s body and soul were separated – ‘human’ Barry as I have called him thus far, is Barry’s body with some other type of soul. Back in the ruins of Xerxes, Edward places the diagram of the transmutation circle for us – it was the same one we saw in Research Lab 5. Which means, the ancient people of Xerxes have some ties to the Homunculi. Edward’s ruminations are interrupted by Ishvalan refugees who try to take him hostage but are stopped by their elderly leader. They never said so outright but I had just gone along thinking that the Ishvalan Civil War had led to a genocide of the Ishvalan people but it seems that it turned into more like a mass displacement and disenfranchisement. I’m glad that they aren’t making the Ishvalan people out to be saints themselves – they are angry and violent themselves (not without reason, to be fair) and not some wise and gentle stereotype.
Edward’s savior turned out to have been saved by Winry’s parents – which has to be the biggest contrivance in this series so far. I guess the story just needed the author foresaw the Rockbells becoming more relevant in the near future and thus decided to introduce them to the audience a little earlier. I guess from that perspective, it makes sense that the story needed Edwa rd to be in the Ruins of Xerxes. Edward is shocked to learn that Winry’s parents were killed by a patient they had just saved – a man with tattoos on his right arm, a man we know as Scar. I have to say, this is another huge contrivance and it feels like this was engineered just to force Edward into hating Scar. Thus far, Edward has had only an ideological reason to oppose Scar but with this, it’s personal now. On an unrelated note, why is Edward alone here? Weren’t Armstrong and Breda with him?
In Central, while Barry debates how to proceed, Riza is attacked by Gluttony. Looks like the plan is working too well; Riza is going to struggle against Gluttony’s regenerative powers. It might be time for Mustang to take a more hands-on approach – as capable as his minions are, they are no match for the Homunculi.
Episode 19: Death of the Undying
Mustang realizes that his plan is going south quickly and rushes to help Riza out, while Al is headed in the same direction. Mustang is able to save Riza but Barry’s human body is on the run – perhaps the Homunculi know that Mustang is after them? I don’t think they would be afraid of fighting him, but there might not be any point in doing so overtly. Al informs them that Gluttony is a Homunculus while Barry chases his body down to Research Lab 3.
The group splits up with Havoc and Mustang running into Lust, who reveals that Homunculi are sort of ‘powered’ by philosopher’s stones. That isn’t much of a surprise and explains how they are able to heal and manipulate their bodies so easily. All of this is news to Havoc and Mustang, however. As Mustang and Havoc begin their altercation with Lust, it’s clear that she has the upper-hand. It’s not clear who’s going to come out on top – Lust gets fried a couple of times but is able to stab Mustang and Havoc quite badly. Outside, Bradley shows up as well – I don’t fancy Mustang’s chances if Bradley gets involved.
Lust makes a fatal mistake however; she does not kill Mustang right there and then. He’s badly injured, losing blood and without the transmutation circle inscribed on his glove, he’s not going to be able to perform any alchemy. I’m not sure why Lust doesn’t just kill him outright, honestly. It’s a little frustrating – not because I want Mustang to die, but because now it’s just going to feel like Mustang did technically lose the fight, and was only saved by Lust’s complacency. One thing I noticed though was Mustang’s absolute lack of hesitation in using the Philosopher’s stone to save Havoc. Contrast that to the Elric brothers absolute refusal to use the philosopher’s stone – the situations aren’t perfectly comparable but I think there is a point to be made about Mustang’s more practical nature (hardened as it by his wartime experiences) and the boys’ youthful idealism.
Lust isn’t done racking up the body count for the episode, however. No, I don’t think Mustang is dead but she thinks he is, so it sort of counts. Barry is taken down with ease and when Riza learns that her boss is dead, she empties several clips into Lust (being a Hawkeye, she doesn’t miss a single one, obviously) but Lust just shrugs them off. Alphonse steps in but Lust is still unimpressed, despite his having ‘opened the gate’ (being able to use alchemy without a circle) but Mustang catches her by surprise. In a move that is badass despite how unsurprising it is, Mustang has cauterized his own wounds and used his blood to draw a new transmutation circle. With that, suddenly there is a – pardon the pun – large difference in firepower between the two sides. Mustang kills Lust and not a moment too soon – Bradley had just reached the scene but seeing Lust already dead, decided against revealing his allegiances. I’ve never stopped to ask this before but what are Bradley’s thoughts upon seeing Greed and Lust die? Does he feel sorrow for the loss of a ‘sibling’? Perhaps not so much for Greed, since Bradley was effectively the one who killed him but Lust, who worked with Bradley much more closely, would surely be missed? It is also always noteworthy when Alphonse resorts to violence – we’ve been told (and sort of shown) that Alphonse is a better fighter than Edward but yet, it seems that it’s always Edward who’s getting into fights. Alphonse rarely initiates the fights, but instead generally only acts in defense. It’s a major difference in their personalities.
Just like that, without me even realizing it, we are past the climax and conclusion of the arc. I think this was a good way for Lust to go – she died fighting till the end and although she didn’t actually end up killing anyone, she did pose a tremendous threat to the characters and it was a mixture of luck and perseverance that took her down. One thing I find interesting about Lust – and to an extent Greed and Envy – is how focused they are on being human. I get the sense that even though they are modeled after humans, they know themselves that they are not actually human and that makes them analyse what it means to be human. Envy and Lust at least seem to have come to the conclusion that people aren’t all that great – she takes a fairly dim view of human’s weakness and vulnerability and as a result underestimates Mustang. She does not understand how the very emotions that she manipulates and sees as weak can in fact, also generate the kind of willpower that ultimately results in her downfall. One concern I have here is that we are kind of blowing past villains a little quickly at this stage. I know we’re almost one third of the way through the series but we’ve already lost Lust and Greed – and both were reasonably well developed characters. Sure, there’s nothing stopping more antagonists from being added later on, but if we wait too long on that, there might not be enough time for them to become relevant to the story.
A few minor notes then, before we end this chapter: it turns out Barry was alive but then is killed by his rotting body and in Resembool, Edward meets his father – but he appears to have not aged a day since Edward’s own memories of him. I’m looking forward to seeing what their relationship is like now – it must be a hard thing for Edward to finally have one of his parents back but only to find that the parent is the big bad of the series, creating Homunculi and running the country from behind the scenes. Yet, you have to wonder why Hohenheim was at his wife’s grave – it didn’t seem like he was waiting for Edward and it did seem like he was a little sad.
Episode 20: Father Before the Grave
The conversation between Edward and his father, predictably, doesn’t get off to the best of starts. Hohenheim is not one for small talk, nor for pulling punches. He jumps into the topic of Edward’s crime right away, but shows absolutely no empathy or compassion. To be fair though, there’s no malice to it either – he simply cuts Edward down to size. He offers an interesting alternative interpretation of Edward’s actions; he burned the house down to conceal the traces of his crime, and to run away from the painful memories associated with the house. Personally, I think the former is a happy consequence but not the primary reason but that the second reason is dead on. Having said that, the lack of warmth and affection is a little bizarre, especially since he hasn’t seen Edward in such a long time. I don’t know quite what to make of Hohenheim at this stage – he does seem to have some affection for Edward internally, but seems to the struggle to show it properly. I also don’t know for sure if he is the Father of the Homunculi; they appear the same to me but character-wise, Hohenheim seems more earnest, somehow. Pinako Rockbell seems to trust him and she seems to have good instincts on the matter.
Time has treated Hohenheim exceptionally well – in a picture with a much younger Pinako Rockbell, Hohenheim looks exactly the same as he does in the present day. There is clearly a lot about him that we just don’t know, so I’ll hold off on any further speculation till the end of the episode. Hohenheim does bring up the possibility that Edward and Alphonse did not bring their mother, Trisha, during their disastrous attempt at resurrection – Edward who is eavesdropped, seems horrified by this possibility but I would think that it would offer him some kind of solace to know that he didn’t kill his mother a second time. On the flip side, I can certainly see why he would be less than thrilled to think he and Alphonse sacrificed so much for something that wasn’t even their mother. In Central, Ling Yao is impressed by the ‘immortality’ that Alphonse, who needs neither food nor sleep, has achieved. Alphonse corrects him however – it is impossible to permanently place a soul on something that is not supposed to have a soul. Ling Yao seems only the practical advantages of having a body that isn’t reliant on food or sleep but Winry, who has seen the emotional toll that being in such a state has taken on Alphonse storms out of the conversation. Hohenheim departs without saying goodbye to Edward – but takes a photo of his family with him, before warning Pinako that the country is about to face destruction and advising her to flee. It’s all very ominous and I can’t quite tell whether he’s warning her because he knows he is the one who will be threatening the country or because he knows some other faction is intent on doing so.
Edward and Pinako dig up Trisha’s remains – Edward being in excruciating pain, for some reason. Is it because of the metal in his joints seizing up in the cold and rain? I’m not sure but he throws up repeated from the pain but does not stop. I can’t blame him; this is not a mystery he can leave unsolved, given how much of his identity revolves around the human transmutation incident. After a great deal of pain and effort, they find the corpse but the body that Edward recreated was a man’s. Edward spirals a little out of control at this revelation; on one hand, he did not kill his mother a second time but it also means that he paid an incredibly heavy price for an endeavor that was pointless from the very get go. The result of all this however, was one major realization – since Edward was able to bring Al’s soul back from ‘beyond the gate’ he might be able to do the same for Al’s body as well. The unspoken thing here however, is that it cost Ed a literal arm and leg to bring just Al’s soul back; how much more is it going to cost to bring his whole body back? We also learn that Alphonse was watching the transmutation incident from the POV of the transmuted creature, which is interesting but I’m not sure I understand the implications.
Edward and Alphonse renew their commitment to finding a solution – after Al makes a rather sad admission that he is tired to spending his nights alone (a reference to how he can’t sleep). In a way, I wonder if Al seems a little more mature than Edward because of all the time that Al has had in which he was awake while Edward slept. I imagine that being forced to be alone with your thoughts every single night for 7-8 hours would result in a lot of introspection and perhaps some maturity as well. Of course, the counterpoint is that going without sleep in real people very often leads to insanity and an early death, but it seems Al has been spared that fate. The episode ends on a slightly strange note – Winry noticing that Edward’s back has gotten bigger. Is that a reference to how he is walking taller, with renewed purpose? Or is it more literal than that – he has literally put on some back muscle after all his training and labor? I’m going to go with the former since it’s a little more poetic but really, it could just as easily be the latter.
It seems like I picked a good place to stop this time – we wrapped up a small little arc surrounding Mustang’s investigations into Hughes death, while also re-introducing Hohenheim into the main story.
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