[Anime] Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Scars from Ishval (Episodes 27-32)


This post is the seventh in a series covering ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Previous posts: 

This post contains spoilers for episodes one through twenty, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

Episode 27: Interlude Party

Ooh, looks like we’re getting some Hohenheim backstory for this arch-end break episode. I realized that I never did circle back to exploring what exactly is up between Hohenheim and Father but while I no longer think that they are the same entity, it’s pretty clear that they are linked. Hohenheim’s lack of aging – he appears the same in this flashback as he does in the present day – could be a result of immortality which in turn indicates some kind of link to the Philosopher’s Stone. There are so many links, but it feels like we’re missing the final piece before we can pull it all together and figure the whole story out. Ah, it seems that this is less Hohenheim flashback and more a recap episode. I’ll skip past the stuff that we already know, in that case.

Hohenheim sees himself – is it a vision, is it some kind of split personality? – and the new version of him is disdainful of humans, in a manner reminiscent of the Homunculi. This ‘new’ Hohenheim decides that humans are only fit to be fuel. It seems that the ‘real’ Hohenheim too has a somewhat cynical view of human society – part of him admires their determination and resilience but another part of him realizes that humanity will never change its violent ways. He speaks of humanity in such a detached, yet familiar, way that I’m not quite just what he is. It turns out the whole flashback sequence was in Hohenheim’s head as part of him rationalizing his actions. He’s not sure how to proceed with the selfish part of him reminding that his own sins cannot be forgiven but another part of him remembering the family he would be leaving behind. It seems the good part wins out and he resolves to move on. Is this the moment when we see Hohenheim become a more central part of the story? So far, he’s been firmly on the periphery but he clearly knows more about the story’s villains and their motivations that the protagonists do at the moment. I’m still not entirely sure just what he himself is up to but I guess he seems like a decent enough person, all things (including abandoning his family) considered.

Episode 28: Father

Back in the current day, Edward pops out of Gluttony but in the worst possible place – in Father and the Homunculi’s lair. We can immediately confirm that Father is not Hohenheim since he does not immediately recognize Edward. However, Father clearly is familiar with Hohenheim and seems to know him personally.

Father easily repairs Al and heals Edward (using the red lightning Philosopher’s Stone type alchemy) before sternly telling them to take better care of their bodies. He seems…kind of friendly, actually. At the very least, he’s polite and courteous, which is a start. The Elric Brothers are in shock – Al notes that Father was not bound by the law of equivalent exchange and Ling Yao, who’s been watching the whole while, is horrified by Father’s insides. Father is aiming for the Heavens; the machinations of the likes of Ling Yao are simply too far beneath his notice. With all the power of the Philosopher’s Stone that Father has stored up within him, he doesn’t even seem to need to make hand motions, much less draw transmutation circles. That effectively makes him a god and Elric brothers are absolutely unable to even scratch him. Father simply shuts down the Elric brothers ability to even use alchemy. If this is a lasting thing, that’s pretty insanely OP.

Without alchemy the brothers are helpless to stop Father from injecting the philosopher’s stone into Ling Yao. However, Ling Yao himself doesn’t seem to mind – he’s been after the Stone this whole while and I think Lan Fan’s sacrifice is playing on his mind. He probably remembers how ready she was to sacrifice herself for his cause and how shocked he was when he realized that his subordinates were were ready to give up so much. If Father is trying to create a new Homunculus, will Ling Yao replace an existing sin? Will we get a male Lust? Or a new Greed? The procedure begins, with Ling Yao contorting in pain as the Philosopher’s Stone surges through his body.

Ling Yao confronts the essence of greed – and they reach a mutually agreeable decision. Ling Yao will surrender his body and Greed will help Ling Yao achieve his goals. Do either of them know what they’re signing up for? It’s like getting into a time share ski lodge with a bunch of strangers, through a dodgy company. It seems that this is a new version of Greed, without the memories of his old life. I wonder then if he’s retained any of Ling Yao’s memories, because if not, it seems that Ling Yao got totally ripped off on this deal.

Just at that moment, Scar finally turns up and makes perhaps the understatement of the year. May Chang and Scar’s interference shows us that it is only the Elric brothers’ ‘Western’ alchemy that is affected, rather than all forms of alchemy. Interestingly, this catches the Homunculi and Father off guard as well since they seemed to assume that all kinds of alchemy had been shut down. It will be interesting to get an explanation about why Eastern Alchemy and Scar’s decomposition abilities were not shut down – I suspect it has something to do with how Father only knows the teachings from the Sage from the West but not the Sage from the East. Having said that though, Father is still plenty OP; Scar, informed by Edward of Envy’s role in starting the Ishvalan rebellion, attacks Father directly but even his decomposition does nothing to Father. The episode ends a little chaotically as the various factions clash with each other – the Homunculi try to get rid of Scar and May but the Elric brothers interfere, leading Envy and Greed to fight them in return. Edward, invoking Lan Fan’s name, is able to confirm that some element of Ling Yao continues to exist within Greed since Greed shouldn’t even technically know who Lan Fan is without Ling Yao’s memories.

Episode 29: Struggle of the Fool

Alphonse has kidnapped May, to Edward’s chagrin. It seems that to ensure the Elric brothers’ good behavior, they have been summoned for a stern lecture by the principal Fuhrer President King Bradley. Edward tries to quit as State Alchemist but it would be incredibly naive to think that Bradley would simply let him walk away, knowing what he knows. Bradley pulls out his trump card – a name, Winry Rockbell. Edward protests, but the game is done – Edward holds no cards at this moment and Bradley has them all.

Having successfully subdued both Mustang (via Riza) and the Elric brothers (via Winry), Bradley lets them go. Scar meets Dr. Marcoh who identifies him as the man killing State Alchemists and recognizing the irony of the situation confesses to being a State Alchemist responsible for the Ishvalan exterminations. I still don’t know how exactly Scar escaped but I’m glad he did. There is a theme in this series of being forgiven for your sins when you truly repent and I can see both Scar and Dr. Marcoh fitting into that theme. That forgiveness cannot come without cost and we’ll see whether either of them will have to pay a price to have the sin expunged from their souls.

Alphonse delivers Greed’s message to Lan Fan, but it’s bittersweet. Ling Yao has the Philosopher’s Stone, but is effectively dead. Armstrong returns to the narrative, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him. He too must make a decision about whether or not to serve a military he now knows to not just be corrupt but actually evil. I had not considered this in the past but Armstrong was a State Alchemist during the Ishvalan Civil War – which means that there is innocent Ishvalan blood on his overly muscular -hands.

There is a conversation to be had here about the moral duty that the rank and file soldier has to not following orders when the orders are unethical or even immoral. The problem is, having never served in a military, I’m uniquely unqualified to even have an informed opinion on this. I have not had the unpleasant experience of being coerced into doing something that I know to be deeply wrong and thus, I have not had to consider what I would do in such a situation. It’s one of the classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t type of situation. In that context then, I’m not so sure what to make of Armstrong’s ‘cowardice’. I may not know much of the ways of war but cowardice is one of the worst ways to leave the army – not only because your fellow soldiers will likely lose respect for you but when you return, you don’t get the recognition for your service that you might actually deserve. Regardless of your thoughts on this topic, it’s a relief to know that Armstrong is one of the good ones. In fact, he beats himself up for not resisting harder, which is perhaps the mark of a truly good man.

Episode 30: The Ishvalan War of Extermination

We get a brief look into Mustang’s backstory and how he met Riza. It turns out that Mustang’s alchemy teacher was Riza’s dad. Really smooth, dating the teacher’s daughter, wouldn’t expect anything less from Mustang. One of the trends that we see in this series is the unspoken cost of alchemy. Sure, if used in a principled manner it’s fine but it seems that more often than not, we see alchemist sacrifice their soul for the sake of furthering their crafts. Hawkeye Senior dies a haunted, impoverished old man – the memories of his sins remained with him till the very end. All his alchemy secrets are with Riza – tattooed on her back. Which makes you wonder, if Mustang has those secrets…those two are totally fucking, aren’t they? Like yeah, sure Mustang could have just looked and made a copy, but let’s be real here. They’re totally fucking. Having said that though, the tattoo isn’t perfect, it’s marred by heavy scars – which means that either Mustang Senior had a far, far darker side to him that we’ve been led to believe or something terrible happened since his death.

We get the backstory of the horror of Ishval through the parallel stories of Riza and Dr. Marco. On the surface, it sounds like the typical story of a resentful minority rebelling against the government that annexed them, and the government responding with further force. What makes it sadder than that is that the audience – and the characters now – know that it was all a pretense. The extermination phase of it began after 7 years of conflict. Part of the story revolves around Hughes and Mustang’s friendship and their shared goal of leading the country to a better place. I’ve missed Hughes – there was this wonderful mix of humor and sincerity in his character that represented the show’s tone perfectly.

For example, the dude was a total goofball in most ways but every now and then, he would have these moments of brilliance, or poignant insight. Their conversation on the blood soaked fields of Ishval is striking just because of how positive it is, despite the morose gloominess of the setting. That negativity comes in the form of a devastated Riza Hawkeye – it’s been some time since Roy and Riza parted at the older Hawkeye’s grave and Riza has since become a crack sniper but the atrocities are weighing on her soul and she looks to Hughes and Mustang for answers. We also see Kimblee return to the narrative as well. I totally forgot that he even existed, it’s been such a long time. Kimblee is one of those people who isn’t wrong but makes you want to hate him anyway. He raises several points that you can’t technically disagree with – that the battlefield is a place of murder, that soldiers are supposed to kill the enemy – but the underlying tone behind his words implies that people are supposed to take comfort or even pleasure in these things and that’s what makes him particularly distasteful.

The history lesson comes to close with Edward once again feeling powerless to help those closest to him. In this particular case, the scale of the protagonists’ troubles is far beyond anything he and Alphonse can handle on their own. Luckily though, it seems that they will be able to rely on May and Scar, in addition to Ling Yao’s former comrades. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Episode 31: The 520 Cens Promise

Envy discovers that Scar has murdered Dr. Marcoh and is upset – that’s another potential sacrifice lost (or were they using Marcoh for something else entirely?). Of course, the golden rule of this series still applies – as long as you don’t see the funeral, they aren’t really dead. Edward catches Al up on what he’s learned. They want to chase May down and learn about her alternative alchemy but she’s disappeared. Meanwhile, Mustang begins to plan for his eventual counterattack. Honestly, it all feels like its a long way away – Bradley’s intervention has been incredibly effective; just when the protagonists got some momentum going their way, he was able to shut their whole operation down silently and without too much bloodshed.

It seems that this episode is tying up some of the loose ends from the previous arc – Lan Fan and Fu begin their search for Greed/Ling Yao, and Dr. Nox (the grumpy surgeon who’s been helping the gang in discrete and not entirely legal ways) is reunited with his family. While it was a sweet scene, I was a little surprised by how Dr. Nox was given, not just a deep backstory but also some closure to the open wounds he’s been carrying since his participation in the horrors of Ishbal.

Speaking of the horrors of Ishbal, we finally see Kimblee again, after about 30 episodes, give or take. Well, we’ve seen him in flashbacks but those don’t count. It seems that he is being released from his captivity but the brief flashback of his first encounter with the Philosopher’s Stone raises more questions than it provides answers. It seems that Kimblee was selected to take the Stone on its first ‘trial’ run in Ishbal but like Gollum, did not feel like giving up his Precious and killed the officers he was supposed to return it to. I guess that Bradley must have saved Kimblee’s bacon because Kimblee and Envy do seem to have met before. It seems that the Homunculi faction are using Kimblee as a mercenary of sorts – Envy knows that Marcoh is not dead, and uses Kimblee’s general homicidal tendencies to convince him to kill Scar, one of the few Ishbalans that escaped him in the war.

As for Scar, he has indeed decided to spare Marcoh’s life – not out of any newly gained sympathy but rather because he wants answers and wants to use Marcoh’s knowledge to figure out the meaning of the work his brother left him. There’s something a little twisted about how, in the end, Marcoh, one of the people most heavily involved in the Ishbal war crimes, is spared by Scar when so many others who might have just been following orders, were not. I’m not trying to argue that the people who were following orders were innocent but if there is a scale of guilt, I would definitely judge Marcoh to be more guilty than innocent. Scar’s disfigurement of his face is not exactly equal punishment even though it looked rather painful. Interestingly, Scar hid his brother’s notes in the North of Amestris – which is literally on the other side of the country from Ishbal. Why on earth would Scar hide it all the way there?

Episode 32: The Fuhrer’s Son

Edward and Al can’t find May anywhere – likely because she’s on a train heading North. I also can’t quite wrap my head around why exactly people think that May’s panda is a cat. It’s reaching a point where I’m starting to doubt whether I’m actually looking at a panda at all. It’s definitely a panda bear right? In any case, the brothers aren’t the only ones pursuing May – Kimblee is following her as well but it seems that Scar and she has split up. Marcoh is with May and heading to the North, while Scar and…someone… (Yoki?) are heading towards the West and taking care to be seen. It’s a distraction to ensure that no one follows May and Marcoh, I’m guessing but I doubt it’ll work. Kimblee, unfortunately, is a pretty smart character. For instance, he immediately notices that Grumman (Mustang’s old mentor) was disguised as an old woman – not even Mustang realized.

The more I think about it, the more I think that there is a deeper point that the series is making about the corruption of the army. I see the army’s greed in seeking more power as a reflection of the rest of humanity – whenever there is the possibility of gaining more, it seems that our species’ first instinct is to just go for it. It’s remarkable how rarely we even try to restrict ourselves – sure, we might not steal things but that’s probably just because we can’t justify the gain being worth the cost. Perhaps that a little why Mustang’s goal of becoming the person in power bothers me a little  – it’s well-intentioned but it’s ultimately self-serving as well. We see that Mustang is able to lure Grumman out of ‘retirement’ with the lure of overthrowing the regime and while we know that the existing regime is evil, I don’t know if what Mustang is doing is fundamentally all that different from what Bradley and his peers did. Yes, I know Bradley’s evil and all that but isn’t there something to be said about whether the means justify the end? Likewise, a selfish goal with beneficial consequences is not the worst thing ever, so I suppose we’ll just have to see on what side Mustang comes out on. Will he displaced Bradley and retain his ‘goodness’ or will absolute power corrupt him absolutely?

Regardless, Armstrong finds Edward and tells him that May is headed north and Alphonse meets Selim Bradley. Selim is a total fanboy; and a predictable turn of events leads to Edward and Alphonse back in Bradley’s house, chatting with his wife and son, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. The whole thing is a little bizarre – Selim and his mother are perfectly normal, sweet people and it’s going to hurt them a great deal when they find out what their father/husband is. Perhaps, when Bradley finally dies – and we know he will – his death gets covered up to spare his family the truth. We’re still a long way from that however; for now Bradley’s very much alive and he’s got a whole bunch of power moves, including a time tested classic – cryptically letting the people he is threatening that he has them by the family jewels and there’s nothing they can do about it. I have to wonder though; when Bradley mentions that he has family – is it the Homunculi he’s referring to or his wife and child? It’s not as clear as you might think – on one hand, he is leading this double life and it seems that he sees himself as a Homunculus, with the implication that they are his true family. However, Pride noted that he has been a little too chummy with the humans lately, which makes me wonder if having a family – even if it was a fake one – hasn’t changed his perspective a little?

I have to admit however, I have not been following Scar’s weird divide and conquer plan at all. It’s clear that he’s pretty skilled at staying undercover, so I just don’t see why we need to all the diversionary tactics. It’s not like Kimblee had any reason to think that they would be heading north. Regardless, it seems like we’re going to be getting a new location to explore very. The commanding officer in the North is related to Major Armstrong – it’ll be interesting to see why she decided to take a post in such a remote place.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

So, quick announcement – there won’t be a post next week as I’ll be neck deep in work over the week and weekend. In fact, the posting schedule might be a little spotty till 2018. Sorry about that 😦

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