[Anime] Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Beyond The Wall (Episodes 33-39)


This post is the eighth 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 33: The Northern Wall of Briggs

Kimblee’s hunt for Scar continues. He’s like a bloodhound with a scent – Scar’s attempts at avoiding Kimblee aren’t shabby but Kimblee’s not fooled by any of it. In all honesty, it’s almost as though Kimblee expected Scar to head North the whole while. Does he know about Scar’s secret stash up North? Meanwhile, Edward and Al arrive at North City as well. I had previously assumed that the man travelling with Scar was Yoki and it turns out that I was right, despite the episode’s attempts at trying to fake us out. Scar manages to get Kimblee off-guard but this is surely just an opening skirmish – neither character’s story is done yet. I had expected Kimblee to be the better fighter based on his fearsome reputation but in rather realistic twist, Scar utterly dominates since he is now the more seasoned fighter. Kimblee is forced to withdraw after taking a pretty vicious looking stab wound right through the abdomen.

Edward and Al arrive at Briggs only to find that it’s The Wall! They don’t see Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch, sadly, but they do meet Alex Armstrong’s no-nonsense sister. The harsh weather in Briggs area means that Edward’s automail doesn’t work very well – which, in addition to a brief scene with Winry, means that we’ll be getting Winry back in the picture as well. Interestingly, his alchemy doesn’t seem to work either – is Father around or is the area around Briggs just not conducive to alchemy? Izumi trained here – which means it has to be possible but perhaps the difficulty is what made her so good at it, sort of like how runners train in low-oxygen environments. Olivier Armstrong lets them in, but she’s not one for soft words and gentle encouragement – the rule of Briggs is eat or be eaten.

Episode 34: Ice Queen

We find out that Edward almost got frostbite from walking around in a blizzard. It makes sense since the metal in his limbs would have turned much colder than the flesh around it. It seems that Edward will need his arm and leg replaced and so Winry’s going to get summoned up North. Big Sis Armstrong demands some answers from Edward and Al – and they reluctantly tell her as much as they can without sounding like crazy conspiracy theorists. I suspect from the Major General’s tone that she too might not have the highest opinion of the people in Central but that’s an entirely different prospect from suggesting that the Fuhrer is a traitor to the country. You also get the sense that the Briggs crew are deeply patriotic but also fiercely independent. Perhaps being on the borders like this keeps them from getting too tied up politically, which means that they are able to organize themselves without a lot of the bureaucracy that we see in other locations.

MG Armstrong knows that the boys are holding out on her on something, but not on what that something is. However, her professional interest in Eastern alchemy is enough for her to agree to search for May. She is not impressed by the brother’s just yet and her opinion of alchemists doesn’t seem to be particularly high. Perhaps that’s the source of the friction between her and her brother? We meet Miles, one of her assistants, who we find out is half Ishvalan – it speaks well of MG Armstrong that she chose pragmatism over instructions in sparing Miles’ life, but a part of me can’t help but wish she had resisted it on ideological grounds too. As things happened, it implies that had Briggs been well-manned and provisioned she might have considered following through on the evil extermination command. Still, my impression of the character is a positive one and I don’t think she would have carried out the Order 66 style command.

The brothers reunite with Major Fallman, one of Mustang’s people, who shows them around. Just as they head to the geothermal centre of the base, it seems that Sloth – a homunculus we had not yet seen – has decided to attack. Sloth, like Gluttony, isn’t the brightest tool in the box – but he seems pretty resilient. His sudden appearance throws Briggs into chaos – just as news arrives that Kimblee is on the way to Briggs as well. It looks like the various plot arcs are going to link up at Briggs, and what a perfect place for it to happen! First, they’ll need to get Sloth under control, though. At the moment, he’s being rather disruptive but not all that destructive. Of course, Armstrong won’t stand for a random giant wreaking havoc in her base but everything she throws at it, from bazookas to tanks fails to scratch it. She decides that Mother Nature at Briggs, might be a much more effective prospect – she’s going to freeze Sloth with petroleum.

Episode 35: The Shape Of This Country

The plan to incapacitate Sloth works beautifully but to keep up the illusion that the Elric brothers did not help, MG Armstrong imprisons them. Soon after, they learn that Kimblee has arrived and that Miles is speaking to him. Kimblee tries to give orders – but Miles is not having it. I don’t know if I would threaten Kimblee so openly – the man is kind of crazy – but Mile makes it clear that he would like nothing more than to stick him with the business end of machete (sort of like Scar already did).

May finally explains Eastern Alchemy to us, at least a little. It has something to do with ‘energy in the Earth’ or as May puts it, the ‘Dragon’s Veins’. I’m not sure I fully understand but it is fundamentally different from the Western alchemy, which supposedly runs on tectonic energy but according to May, is powered by the souls of the dead. I don’t know how that can be the case – but it might explain how Father with his connection to the philosopher’s stone and the souls of the dead, was able to shut down the Western alchemists’ abilities. Could this also relate to why Sloth was digging around?

Olivier finally gets the full truth out of Edward and Alphonse and thankfully, she seems to be on their side. From a certain point of view, it’s probably in her best interest if the Fuhrer was found to be a traitor, because that would give her a cause to overthrow him. And now that you think about it, she does have a corp of highly trained and fiercely loyal soldiers at Briggs. Of course, she would never abandon her post since that would mean abandoning the border, but if there was a national calamity big enough to justify it…well, let’s not rule anything out just yet.

Well, it seems that there is indeed something big coming up on the horizon. After plotting a map of relatively recent major skirmishes and battles, we see the above picture. Someone is attempting an absolutely massive piece of alchemy – not on a personal scale, but on a national scale. It has to be Father, of course, but we just don’t know what exactly he’s trying to do and why. I suspect it involves the death of most of the people within the transmutation circle but what does Father want in exchange? I hope it’s not just ‘power’, that would just be disappointing. The conspiracy stretch back centuries though – the current year is 1914 (isn’t that when WW1 began? Hmm…) but the first incident on the map stretched back to the 1500s, right when Amestris was founded. It was also right about when the Homunculi were created – or some of them anyway, since I recall Greed mentioning being centuries old.

Lieutenant General Raven (the one who stabbed Mustang in the back and betrayed him to Bradley) arrived at Briggs earlier in the episode and is high enough up the chain of command that the men in Briggs simply have to obey him. Luckily, the Elric brothers have Olivier firmly on their side now and she immediately begins running interference for them with LG Raven. LG Raven, without missing a beat, offers up a ton of information to Olivier. Is it a trap, though? Does Raven know he’s being baited?

Episode 36: Family Portrait

We return to Van Hohenheim, who calls out from some names before clawing out some of his blood, which soon evaporates. Was he calling out the names of souls? What is his body made out of them? Is he a homunculus as well, just like Father who he so resembles? We know that he doesn’t consider himself fully human and that immortality could very well be powered by the souls of others. We get a flashback to the day Hohenheim decided to leave. It’s a much more sympathetic interpretation of events than what we’ve seen from the brothers’ point of view. Hohenheim struggles with the implications of his immortality especially after starting a family. I personally find it a little hard to think that, assuming he’s at least as old as Greed, that he waited this long to start a family. Maybe he just has a bunch of kids running around that he doesn’t know about?

Also, baby Al is ridiculously cute. It seems that Hohenheim was trying to give up his immortality and age naturally along side his wife and children. Somewhere along the way he uncovered Father’s plan, however, and decided that he needed to stop it from happening. Tragically, he tells his wife to wait for him but it would be the last time they meet. Still, he seems to think that he will be reunited with his children soon – though he doesn’t seem to be heading North anytime soon. In the North, the Briggs crew that was investigating the tunnel gets wiped out by a shadowy creature that has eyes like the ‘God’ that alchemists occasionally meet when they fuck up spectacularly. The eyes are a bit different though; they’re more like the eye on Glutonny’s body than the original (the distinctive feature is the red colour that the original lacked).

Raven is working to create the bloodbath at Briggs and unleashes Sloth. Armstrong’s men don’t know what’s happening and there’s some unhappiness over her failure to investigate the shadowy creature in the tunnels and her release of Sloth but they’re too well-disciplined to raise open objections. However, she’s just not very good at this kind of thing and after Raven starts mouthing off a little too much, she puts an abrupt end to their little alliance. It was supposed to bring Kimblee back under Armstrong’s control but he now has the liberty to act independently – with orders and authority right from Bradley himself. Leaving Kimblee without oversight is going to be an issue – and he demonstrates it right away when he brings Winry to visit Edward and Alphonse.

Episode 37: The First Homunculus

I like to think that along with Bradley, Kimblee is the most competent antagonist we’ve had in this series. No offense to Lust but he’s just pays at a higher level than Lust, Envy and certainly Sloth and Gluttony. We haven’t seen Pride just yet but it feels like Envy, while dangerous, is not as intelligent and nuanced in his approach. Kimblee is able to manipulate Winry into thinking he’s a good person by bringing up her parents and speaking of his admiration of their work. It’s going to make it much harder for Edward to convince her that Kimblee is evil. It’s a classic sociopath move. Kimblee is also careful to separate the brothers; seriously, he’s an exceptionally competent villain, it’s so refreshing.

In the East, Mustang gets a message that Armstrong would like to co-operate. I don’t think he knows of the Elric brothers’ influence and actions there that led to this but is grateful for the back-up nonetheless. Back in the North it seems that the creature in the tunnel is somehow related to Selim Bradley – and not a moment too late, we learn that he’s ‘distantly’ related to King Bradley. Does that mean Selim is a homunculi? Granted, it’s a great disguise since who would suspect a kid? But at the same time, what’s the point of having two fairly senior homunculi (I recall Pride seeming more senior to Wrath) around in Central?

Yup, it seems that Selim is in fact Pride,the titular First Homunculus, but then does that mean he’s not connected to the shadow creature in the North? It’s also fitting somehow that the creature that intends to overthrow God first created another creature that would become ‘Pride’. Pride tries to intimidate Hawkeye but she stands her ground, though she is herself shaken. She knows her value is as a hostage and reminds Pride of that. Pride backs away.

Back in the North, Kimblee tells Edward its time to do his duty as a State Alchemist and spill some blood. He also asks for Scar and Marcoh, but Edward has fewer objections to handing them over. However, Edward is adamant about not spilling blood; Kimblee just points out that Winry is in his custody. We go a little into Kimblee’s motivations for siding with the Homunculi and it is very The Dark Knight style Joker – he just wants to see who will win and what will happen next. Edward updates Winry on just what her situation is – but rather than explain everything about the Homunculi and Bradley’s plot, he says she’s a hostage to ensure that he will go ahead and ‘carve a symbol of hatred and bitterness’ into the Briggs’ landscape, like Kimblee (who has a certain way with words) suggested. The group (including Winry) soon after departs in search of Scar, Marcoh and bloodshed.

Episode 38: Conflict at Baschool

Hawkeye’s encounter with Selim/Pride has her shook and jumping at shadows. Mustang checks in on her but she’s too wary of Pride’s watchful eye to tell him anything useful – but he picks up on her reticence in any case. Aren’t they just the perfect couple?

In the North, the search party enters an abandoned mining town searching for Scar and his gang. Edward, Winry and Al quickly ditch their minders and bump into May, Marcoh and Yoki. We get some Yoki backstory which I honestly just kind of glossed over – I just can’t take him seriously at all. I’m far more excited about what’s going to happen now that these characters are meeting and interacting than anything Yoki has to say at this point. Kimblee realizes the operation is slipping from his grasp a little and sends Miles to get it all back together – but why? Kimblee is definitely too smart to trust Miles but perhaps there aren’t any other ranking officers (or, you know, named characters) to send to oversee this? Kimblee has his chimera squad (which I only just realised he had) off to find Scar – using their heightened senses, they locate him quickly and a fight breaks out. The various separated parties notice this and head over.

Winry confronts Scar over her parents’ deaths; Scar can’t quite look her in the eye. This is going to be an important moment for the two characters – Winry will be tackling her lingering anger and hatred of the man who killed her parents while Scar will need to admit that he too has shed the blood of innocents. I think it would be all kinds of wrong to equate what Scar did with what the alchemists did at Ishval – but there are certainly comparisons to make. The question of innocence and guilt becomes incredibly challenging to answer when you consider all the different angles to it:

  • Scar acted without full knowledge of his situation – he found himself in his enemies hands and lashed out and the unfortunate consequence of that is that he killed two kind, compassionate human beings who had just saved his life. It was certainly not premeditated murder but it was an act of violence.
  • Then there’s the likes of Hughes, Mustang and Armstrong. They were following orders but surely some of the sins of Ishval are theirs to bear as well. The line of ‘following orders’ only goes so far – of the three, perhaps Armstrong, ironically acted the most nobly, by refusing to participate any further.
  • Lastly, there’s the likes of Kimblee who too was following orders but took considerable pleasure in murdering his victims. In terms of outcomes, you could argue that what Kimblee did was no worse than what Hughes / Mustang / Armstrong did but instinctively, we know that the two groups aren’t quite the same. Yet, is Kimblee, who was by all accounts especially effective in his genocide, somehow more guilty because of how effective he was? Does the pleasure he got out of the process affect the guilt we assign to him?

We don’t get to see Scar and Winry hash their issues out – instead, we get some explosions and Scar ‘abducting’ Winry. Personally, I think it’s all a ruse to get Kimblee off their tails but I’ll reserve judgement till the next episode.

Episode 39: Daydream

Oh look, new OP. I liked the earlier three OPs more but maybe this will grow on me. Scar taunts Kimblee into chasing him – Edward puts up a good show of being furious for letting Kimblee let Winry get caught. Kimblee is about attack Scar but Edward stops him long enough for Scar to escape. We flashback to Winry’s confrontation with Scar – Scar has no real defense for his actions but Winry doesn’t need his excuses to what she thinks to be right. She bandages his arm – but specifically the arm that he didn’t use to kill her parents. I don’t want to overthink and overanalyze this stuff but it’s clear that she wants to heal the side of him that isn’t the violent avenger. She also makes it clear that this is not her forgiving him but just respecting her parents final actions. It’s a touching, satisfying scene and it’s given the space and dignity it deserves. Between Winry’s actions and Miles’ talk of changing the country from within, Scar is forced to rethink some of his actions. He admits that he feels empty inside and after some negotiation, agrees to help Edward and his gang fight Bradley.

Winry proposes the kidnapping act and the group disperses. A mining tunnel returns parts of the group to Briggs but in the snowy fortress, things have taken a turn for the worse as Armstrong is asked to return to central to answer for Raven’s disappearance. How did Bradley know that Raven had died? Was it through Pride’s snooping? If Pride can move through the shadows so well, it’s going to be almost impossible to fight him and there’s also no telling how much he/it knows about the protagonists plans. Miles and Edward are aware that Briggs is no longer a safe environment for the anti-Wrath faction but Winry and Marcoh (who are in the tunnels) do not.

Alphonse volunteers to brave the blizzard to get the message through but either due to the blizzard or pure bad luck, a rejection reaction hits him and he sees his body in the void trying to claw his soul away from the suit of armor. Poor Alphonse – every single time he’s separated from Edward, something like this happens. Given that Alphonse has not experienced this much until the start of the series, does that speak to Edward’s prodigal skill in imprinting Al’s soul onto the armor? Or does the armor somehow hold Alphonse’s soul especially well? I guess it doesn’t matter – the message is clear though; time is running out for Alphonse and they need to find a solution fast.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

We’ll stop here for today – I tried to cover a few more episodes than usual to make up for my absence last week. We’re reaching the final couple of arcs now – you can tell from how all the characters are beginning to come together for the finale. More specifically, how they are planning to eventually come together even if they aren’t geographically located near each other at the moment. Different factions are reconciling their differences and keep each other updated on what they do and don’t know, and that’s all going to factor into the final plan to defeat Bradley and his ‘father’.

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