This post is the sixth in a series covering ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Previous posts: Episodes 1 – 3, Episodes 4 – 6, Episodes 7 – 10, Episodes 11-15, Episodes 16-20. This post contains spoilers for episodes one through twenty, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.
As we approach the series’ half-way mark, let’s take a minute to look at the big picture and how the story . First, there is the story of the protagonists, who are after the Philosopher’s Stone to restore their damaged bodies. That story is seemingly only tangentially related to the antagonists’ goals, with the primary connection being that the antagonists have knowledge of the Philosopher’s Stone that protagonist are seeking. The big piece of the puzzle that the audience is still missing however, is what exactly the antagonists want. It is often alluded to – there have been mentions of a great danger to the country of Amestris, and several mentions of a grand sacrifice – but nothing concrete quite yet. Still, it looks promising, there are threads linking all these pieces of the plots together and the success of the series will depend on whether it can pull off that ‘Oh Shit’ moment where it all comes together for the audience.
Episode 21: Advance of the Fool
Mustang chides Riza for her faltering morale, but we all know that he’s not really mad. Envy is upset that Wrath/Bradley did not avenge Lust right away – Bradley, despite his ‘sin’ of wrath, is much more measured in his response. I guess his brand of wrath is more akin to a cold, calculating fury than a sudden violent rampage. We get another hint that Father is Hohenheim but no confirmations just yet. Elsewhere, Alphonse and Edward consider ideas of what the physical state of Al’s body is, with the conclusion being that it’s probably ok, because of some strange alchemy theory. It’s not very clear and I definitely get the impression that author realized that the question of how Alphonse’s physical body is still alive was going to come up eventually, and decided to head it off at this pass.
Riza does some backtracking and realizes that Bradley’s home is likely connected via underground to Research Lab 3. Speaking of Bradley’s home, doesn’t he have a wife and son? I assume that they aren’t fake, but is the son half-Homunculus or something? Is that even a thing? Given the way that the series has treated the sanctity of life thus far, it seems almost tasteless for Bradley to be able to conceive a child. Havoc is paralyzed from the waist down but takes it like a champ; Mustang is more affected than Jean is. I do feel bad for Jean; getting dumped, stabbed and handicapped in a single day is pretty terrible but I don’t think he’s done with the military just yet. He’s pretty smart and competent – I’m sure Mustang will find a way for him to land on his feet. Er, metaphorically speaking, of course. The possibility of auto-mail is briefly entertained, but dismissed due the nerves being too damaged; Edward offers a solution – Dr. Marcoh, who we haven’t seen since Lust paid him a visit a long time ago. What did happen to him after that?
The government is covering its tracks in Research Lab 3, but the boys have a new concern – Scar has returned, and is still hunting State Alchemists. Edward tells Alphonse his suspicions that Scar killed the Rockbells, but they choose not to tell Winry. Edward resolves to using himself and Al as bait to lure out the Homunculi. It’s pretty flimsy logic, if we’re being honest: the idea that the Homunculi would bend over backwards to save their sacrifices hasn’t really been backed up by any evidence. In fact, Lust didn’t seem to mind killing Mustang when he became too troublesome – I doubt the remaining Homunculi feel obliged to rescue Edward and Alphonse. Ling Yao offers to help – he is interested in the Homunculi and their immortality. Ling Yao’s role in the series so far has basically been that of a mercenary wildcard – he appears out of nowhere, offers to help out a little in exchange for information about immortality and then disappears off on his own side quests again.
Breda hits a dead end with Dr. Marcoh – we don’t know if he’s dead or simply fled, but he’s gone. Mustang is upset to learn this; I think on some level he holds himself accountable for Jean’s condition. Jean’s kept it together thus far, but cracks after signing his retirement papers, half-yelling, half-crying as he tries to convince Mustang to leave him behind. We see that softer side of Mustang again, as he refuses to abandon a comrade in need, but the question is, what can he really do about it? If you ask me, Havoc still has plenty of mileage in him just based on his competence alone. If they need someone in the field, Mustang and Hawkeye have plenty of literal firepower to deploy between the two of them alone. Elsewhere in Central, Edward kicks up a fuss with loud demonstrations of over the top alchemy.
Scar takes the bait; Mustang and Riza run interference to keep the military police from killing Scar on sight. Bradley, not at all fooled by this, deploys Gluttony to kill Scar, but Gluttony is intercepted by Ling Yao and Ran Fan. I have a question – if Ling Yao and Ran Fan already have Gluttony caught, how are they going to tell Edward and Alphonse that they can proceed to go all out against Scar? There’s no time for that though; Ran Fan gets cut down as Bradley joins in – he’s far too powerful for the like of Ling Yao and Ran Fan. And..wait the episode is done already? Damn it, ok, this continues below.
Episode 22: Backs in the Distance
Ran Fan is injured and Ling Yao must somehow hold Bradley and Gluttony off more or less alone – it is not looking good for him at all. It seems that he and Edward severely underestimated the strength of the Homunculi. It also explains why the Homunculi were confident enough to walk into such an obvious trap so brazenly. Ling Yao does an admirable enough job fending off Bradley but can’t match Gluttony’s brute strength. Ling Yao pulls out several tricks but they don’t quite work. We see an ideological difference between Bradley and Ling Yao – the latter believes that the King exists to serve the people, while the former believes that there is no such thing as a true king. Is that how Bradley justifies his actions to himself? Ling Yao’s own belief is quite interesting – it seems rather in contrast with the Mandate of Heaven philosophy of China (and by extension, Xing, I would assume). We’ll have more time to talk philosophy later though; for now I want to know how this confrontation ends.
Winry finds out that Edward and Al are in trouble again and goes to…help? I guess? I’m not sure what she thinks she’s going to achieve by turning up but it’s an understandable instinct. Unfortunately, she turns up just in time to hear the brothers confront Scar about her parents’ murder. Alphonse sees Winry approach and tries to cut Edward off, but it’s too late. She pulls a conveniently placed gun on Scar as Scar himself recalls the words he heard from the wise leader of the refugee band that saved him – revenge only begets more revenge. There is a lot of self-confrontation in this episode and its great; the boys are forced to acknowledge that they that Nina might be experimented on and did nothing, Scar is forced to confront that his actions have not all been justifiably righteous, even by his own moral paradigm. Of these two internal confrontations, I think the Elric brothers’ is weaker – I didn’t see any evidence in the Shou-Nina episode that the brothers even suspected that Nina was at risk of essentially being abused by her father and the brothers’ guilt here feels tacked on to increase the drama. Scar’s own development is much more interesting; he suffered his own tragedies but does that give him the right to inflict similar tragedies on another? And now, that he has done that, can he ever recover from it or will these sins taint his soul forever? I’m asking that in a religious sense – rather, can he ever go back to thinking of himself as a good person now that he has done something that he thinks of as evil? These are fascinating questions and watching the character confront them makes for very compelling story-telling.
We see Scar’s side of the story. His brother was researching alchemy with its three steps – understanding, decomposing and reconstructing – and he was particularly interested in the differences between Eastern Alchemy and Western Alchemy (he describes the latter as ‘strange’). The tattoos on his left and right arm are for reconstructing and decomposing, respectively. Scar’s brother is Ishbal’s secret hope – they hope he can find a technique that can overcoming the Amestris’ overwhelming advantage in alchemy. We see grim scenes of war atrocities – civilians slaughtered in the streets with the assistance of Alchemy. Scar’s distaste for alchemy emerges from seeing the way it is used for war and cruelty. Kimblee attacks Scar’s family, including his brother – in the aftermath, Scar has lost his right arm but his brother, using alchemy somehow transmutes his own arm onto Scar. This explains how Scar’s arm came to have those tattoos and how he is able to only ‘deconstruct’ matter but not reconstruct it. In a semi-conscious grief-stricken rage, Scar strikes down everyone around him – unfortunately, he is in a field hospital and the people he kills are doctors.
In the present day, Scar orders Winry to shoot him – he’s not taunting her but neither does he seem to think that she won’t do it. He seems to have accepted that the cycle of violence won’t end until everyone who wants revenge has taken it. Scar tries to attack Winry but Edward shields her, making Scar pause as he remembers his brother doing the same for him. In his hesitation, Al is able to drive Scar away – but Winry is in shell-shock. More than anything she blames herself for not shooting even when confronted with her parents’ killer and someone threatening her remaining family. The episode ends on a touching note – Edward tells Winry that her hands aren’t meant for killing, they’re meant for helping people live, reminding her of the time she helped a woman give birth or helped Ed function with his automail. There’s a lot to like about Edward and Winry’s dynamic – how they understand each other and know exactly what to say to comfort the other.
Episode 23: Girl on the Battlefield
We learn that Ling Yao and Ran Fan have escaped, barely – by fleeing into the open, they have ensured that Bradley cannot chase them, at least not with Gluttony next to him. Things take a pretty dark turn – Ling Yao is running with a badly wounded Ran Fan who cuts her own arm off to lure Bradley away from Ling Yao. That frees up Ling Yao to help Edward and Alphonse who have been interrupted in their confrontation with Scar, by Gluttony. Ling Yao is able to capture Gluttony with Edward’s help. Riza shows up to drag Gluttony away, May Chang turns up to bail Scar out of trouble and the status quo is reset, with the exception for another Homunculus being in the hands of Mustang’s faction. It’s definitely a victory for them but Gluttony isn’t going to be a particularly useful Homunculus to have in custody, he’s not super bright. The action in this episode was a little confused – it wasn’t really clear how the timeline of the different secondary fights synced up towards the end, and there was a lot of deux ex machina types saves coming in at the last minute. The main outcome of this fight was bringing the various faction up to date on what the others know and are up to.
The problem with that is that now Bradley knows. He knows that Mustang is moving against him, investigating the Homunculi. He suspects that Edward and Mustang are working together – and so, he makes a boss move by casually sipping tea with Winry. It’s not a hostage situation not yet, and Edward and Alphonse don’t realize it just yet, but Bradley now has the knowledge he needs to clamp down on any unnecessary investigations. Or does he? Winry leaves soon, returning to Rush Valley where her customers miss her expertise. She thanks Edward for stopping her from pulling the trigger, to which Ed responds with a promise – the next time she cries, it’ll be tears of joy, not sadness. Big promises and I was told we should not make promises we know we can’t keep, but maybe his words will steel Winry’s own resolve. The choo-choo of the train, might as well have been the choo-choo of the Edward-Winry ship setting sail.
Lan Fan is getting treated by one of Mustang’s old army buddies – the same one that certified that Ross was dead. He’s an interesting side character and seems to have a heavy past, all of it related to the atrocities at Ishbal and the guilt he feels in association. Lan Fan’s condition is not good – Ling Yao is upset as well. It was one to thing to brace himself for making the hard sacrifices when he was in Xing but it’s something else entirely when he’s far from home and his closest associate has had to cut her arm off just for him. It doesn’t make hearing Lan Fan’s muffled screams any easier though.
Ling Yao drops some big news on the group – that Bradley might be a Homunculus. However, Ling Yao got the impression that Bradley was just a normal human but we know that that’s not the case, which means he must have some way of disguising his true nature. Al asks a pointed and not at all intuitive question – what about Bradley’s son? Well, it turns out the kid is adopted which only damns Bradley further. The group begins to argue about who gets to use the Philosopher’s Stone embedded within Gulttony: Mustang wants it for Jean, Ling Yao for Lan Fan and the Elric Brother want it for research or at least want to be considered in the running for getting it. Unfortunately, Gluttony hears Mustang’s name and decides to go berserk and avenge Lust. An eye opens on Gluttony’s belly – the same eye that we know to be associated with ‘God’ and the ‘Truth’. Are the Homunculi walking ‘gates’? It’s not impossible given their connection to the Philosopher’s Stones.
Episode 24: Inside the Belly
Speaking of Philosopher’s Stones – Dr. Marcoh is alive and well but in the Homunculi’s custody. Envy is having fun tormenting the poor man; either he helps the Homunculi destory Armestris or the Homunculi will destroy Marcoh’s village. Back at Central, Wrath touches base with Pride – we don’t see Pride directly, but he chides Wrath for getting sloppy in first losing Lust and then letting Gluttony be captured. If Wrath is only 60 years old, that would make him one of the youngest Homunculi, wouldn’t it? Pride, likely correctly, identifies that Wrath spends the most time among humans of all the Homunculi and as a result might be picking up some distinctly human traits, like compassion and sympathy. Wrath isn’t so sure and neither am I – those are hardly universally human traits. I’ve seen some truly shitty people and as much as I would like to believe so, I don’t think they are a different species. Still, it’s an interesting point that Pride makes, especially given how much Wrath (jumping ahead a little here) genuinely seems to love his wife and child. Sure, he’s not the kindest person beyond that, but he does seem more ‘human’ than someone like Shou Tucker. That special humanity ties back to Ling Yao’s observation of how Wrath doesn’t seem as strange to the Xing senses as something like Gluttony – perhaps Wrath doesn’t have a Philosopher’s Stone in him? If so, then he’s not really a Homunculus, so that can’t be it. We’ll get to the bottom of this eventually, I’m sure. For now, I want to get a better explanation of just how the ‘Eye-Gate’ thing in Gluttony’s belly is connected to the Philosopher’s Stone.
We get a chance soon – Envy comes to pick up Gluttony but Edward’s team isn’t ready to give him up just yet. A fight ensues and Edward, Ling Yao and Envy get swallowed up into Gluttony’s belly. Alphonse obviously doesn’t know that Edward’s relatively safe and is distraught. You do get the sense that Alphonse’s life would be absolutely miserable without Edward around – his older brother is the only one who can truly understand what he’s been through. We catch up with Lan Fan as well, who is coming to terms with being armless but in this case, it seems that automail is an option. Sacrifices like hers are frequent reminders from the series that the immortality that the Philosopher’s Stone offers does not come cheap. While Lan Fan’s circumstances obviously aren’t directly linked to the Stone, I think it’s part of the message that the writer is trying to send – this pursuit of immortality is going to cost you, and when you finally get it, you might not want it as badly as you thought you did.
Mustang goes to investigate Bradley further and links him up with a trusted superior, who promptly sells him out. Bradley confronts Mustang, who quickly learns that the crisis the Hughes was referring to was a crisis within the military, not outside it. It seems that the whole high command of the military is aware of Bradley’s plans and is on board. This obviously puts Mustang in a bit of a bind – does he just go ahead and admit that he knows what he knows? Or does he pretend is was all a joke? Obviously the latter is not going to work but I don’t see how the former is going to keep him alive.
Episode 25: Doorway of Darkness
Ling Yao and Edward find each other and establish neither of them are Envy in disguise. They scout around this strange alternate dimension within Gluttony, finding all the things he’s recently eaten, and more. There are ruins as well – perhaps from Xeres (while I don’t think Gluttony is that old, he could just be the gateway into this dimension). I have a lot of theories about just what this dimension is. I suspect that all the sacrifices for the Philosopher’s Stone are ‘stored’ in this dimension, that could explain all the bloody water that they are wading through. Of course, we don’t know for sure that it is blood, but it seems strange for it to just be red water. In any case, let’s see what information we find in this episode before speculating further.
Unfortunately, we cut to a flashback of May Chang, who, I must say, is not the character I want to know more about right now. I mean, I don’t mind finding out more about her life in Xing but it feels like a distraction from the mysteries of Gluttony’s tummy. Her story isn’t super interesting either if you ask me – sure, she’s from a poor background and that is sympathetic, but there’s no shortage of sympathetic backstories in this series and in comparison to some of the others, her story is just a little generic. It does tie in quite well with Scar’s own story and it seems that May will be the key of Scar’s redemption – at least it seems that that is what he is telling himself. I’m not entirely sure what Yoki’s contribution to all this is going to be, however. It seems like he’s just there for comic relief and to be the character everyone can safely rag on without fear of consequence.
Morale is running low in the alternative dimension. The boys are resorting to eating their boots for food – it’s not clear how much time has passed, but I would guess it’s a couple of days at most. Envy finally shows up to clear somethings up but he can’t actually help all that much. Our speculation wasn’t all that far from the truth – Gluttony was an attempt at re-creating the Gate of Truth, but obviously a poor copy. However, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that if Edward can understand the mechanics of the faux Gate, he might be able to make some inroads into figuring out the ‘real’ Gate. Of course, that means he would need to get out of the fake dimension first, but we all know he’s not going to die here, despite Envy’s insistence to the contrary. Since they’re all stuck there together, they get to talking and Envy casually confesses some of his many sins – he reveals that Bradley is a Homunculus and that Envy fired the gun that began the Ishbalan Civil War (which makes it clear, if it wasn’t already, that the Homunculi are actively advancing their agenda as opposed to opportunistically doing so). Envy’s a real piece of work – the officer he framed was a moderate who was against intervention in Ishbal, and was then executed for his actions. Edward, furious, attacks Envy, who reveals his ‘true’ form – a giant lizard like creature. I guess you could call it dinosaur-like but dinosaurs are cool and I’m not feeling very charitable towards Envy at the moment.
Edward and Envy’s absence has led to an add ceasefire between Alphonse and Gluttony. I think it says a lot about Alphonse’s nature that he hasn’t beat the shit out of Gluttony already – but Gluttony itself is kind of a useful idiot that relies on direction from the more cunning Homunculi like Envy and Lust. As such, when Alphonse asks to meet Father, Gluttony just sort of goes with it. Back in Central, Bradley explains Mustang’s situation to him – I guess Mustang must really be a valuable sacrifice if Bradley is still keeping him alive. Having said that though, what’s with all these characters info-dumping things to their opponents? Sure, there’s no reason not to tell them, but surely there’s no reason to tell them the truth either? It just stinks of complacency and a lack of self-awareness. Bradley shrugs off claims that he can be blackmailed by revealing his true nature to Selim, his son – but does note that such a tactic would work on Mustang. Bradley disperses Mustang’s special unit to the four corners of the nation, with Riza serving directly under Bradley as a hostage in all but name.
Episode 26: Reunion
What’s this? A sixth episode? Well, I figured it would be poor taste to leave Edward and Ling Yao in the middle of a strange dimension. The fight between Edward, Ling Yao and Envy goes poorly for our heroes – it seems that Envy’s strange body is made out of deformed human bodies and they cry out for death, which fucks with Edward’s focus. Could this be because of the Philosopher’s Stone at Envy’s core? Do those voices belong to the people that were sacrificed to make that particular Stone? Looks like Edward will get a chance to find out because he gets swallowed whole by Envy as Ling Yao watches helplessly.
In Central, May and Scar see the odd duo of Alphonse and Gluttony enter a seedy looking entrance to the sewers beneath Central. May is disturbed by the souls she senses below – is it the Stone factory that she’s sensing or something else? – but they forge ahead anyway, through the vicious ‘gatekeepers’ that guard the entrance. In Envy’s stomach, Edward has an epiphany and asks to work together with Envy on escaping this dimension – looks like he’s going to use the Philosopher’s Stone at Envy’s core. Not just yet though – first we get Bradley’s backstory. He was not born into Amestris’ Royal Line – indeed, it appears that Amestris did not have a ruling family, so to speak, at the time. As a result of the Homunculi conspiracy, Bradley was trained to lead from a young age and was the best of his class in most things. It seems he was born a human and then injected with the Philsopher’s Stone later in life – it reminded me a lot of Wolverine (from X-Men) and his backstory, for some reason. So I guess the main takeaway is that Bradley might be partially augmented by the Philosopher’s Stone but in actual fact, most of the reasons he is badass is simply due to the insane training he’s been through.
In the alternative dimension, Edward has pieced together the mystery of the ruins of Xerxes. The people of Xerxes attempted human transmutation, and tried to use ‘God’ for their own gain but as a result, ended up sacrificing themselves in the rebound that resulted when the equivalent exchange was not accepted. I’m not entirely sure I follow Edward’s plan to get out of the alternate dimension, but it involves transmuting himself into himself or something. Like I said, I don’t fully follow but it seems that we finally have the motivation of our primary antagonist – he wishes to use the power of human souls to surpass the ‘God’ found beyond the Gate. I don’t know if that’s possible but something about the way this universe is set up gives me the impression that that’s not something that a mortal or even immortal being in the physical realm can achieve. I think of it a little like the whole question of who created God if God created everything. I know different religions answer that question differently but the idea of equivalent exchange in this series is that if you want to gain something, you must offer something in exchange – so can the sum of all the souls let you surpass the being that created those souls? Instinctively, my guess would be no but I don’t know what kind of ‘god’ we’re dealing with here in the first place.
Beyond the ‘gate’, Edward sees an emaciated, human Alphonse sitting before a different gate. Edward tries to grab him but Alphonse refuses, saying that he (the body) can only go with Alphonse’s soul. That makes sense instinctively, but we have seen souls merged into bodies that aren’t their own – though, to be fair, such artificial combinations are unstable and transient (like Alphonse in the armour). Seeing Al’s body would be a bittersweet achievement to Edward – at least he knows that Alphonse’s body is still alive (though worryingly thin) even if he wasn’t able to save Al right there and then. These things are good little reminders that they aren’t on a while goose chase after all, even if what they are attempting seems insane.
That’s all for this week, check back next week for episodes 27-32!
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