This post is the tenth in a series covering ‘Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’. Previous posts:
- Episodes 1 – 3
- Episodes 4 – 6
- Episodes 7 – 10
- Episodes 11-15
- Episodes 16-20
- Episodes 21-26
- Episodes 27-32
- Episode 33-39
- Episode 40-49
This post contains spoilers for the entire series.
This one took a while but if you see the length of this post, you’ll probably understand why. We’re not done just yet, however.
I’d like to try something new for this post-series piece. I’ll write my usual review and impressions but then I want to write a follow-up to it after going through some of the accompanying meta literature. “Meta literature?”, I hear you ask? It includes things like others’ reviews, theme specific analysis, creator interviews – essentially all the material surrounding the series that I would likely have missed while running through the series itself. For a series as beloved and long-standing as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood I don’t doubt that there will be a good amount of this to cover.
So here’s what I’d like you guys to do – if you have any particular articles / videos / etc. that you think do a really good job of breaking this series down, I’d love for you to drop a comment and I’ll go check it out. I’ll compile the list of sources in the post next week, so we make sure they get their dues too.
Episode 50: Upheaval
We open the final act of the series with Mustang holding Madam Bradley hostage. I mentioned in last week’s post that I don’t quite understand why he is bothering with her – it seems clear, to me at least, that she is hardly an influential person in her husband’s administration. Is he hoping to get in Bradley’s head by holding a loved one hostage? I can see an argument both for and against: while Bradley has consistently shown himself to be quite ruthless, the only times he has shown any genuine humanity has been regarding the topic of his wife. In an earlier episode he mentioned that while most of the elements of his life were chosen for him, he chose his wife himself. Apart from using Madam Bradley against Wrath however, I do think Mustang is spending (read: wasting) altogether too much energy in trying to show her the truth about what her husband is. Is this Mustang’s soft-heartedness showing itself again? Or is there a bigger play here?
The accusation of soft-heartedness gains some credence as we move through the episode. It does seem like Mustang is borrowing from the Edward Elric morality book – while his rebels move through the city, they are careful to not kill their (former) fellow soldiers. They’re really stretching my suspension of disbelief here; it would be one thing if Mustang’s orders were to try to limit the causalities but here seeing that order carried out flawless is a bit much. Are we really supposed to believe that Mustang’s soldiers are good enough that they be heavily outnumbered yet somehow afford to shoot without the intention to kill? There’s a reason why rebellions are rarely bloodless, and I think if Mustang were to succeed in overthrowing Bradley without killing any innocent at all, it would be an insult to the series’ philosophy of equivalent exchange: to gain something, something must be sacrificed.
Olivier Armstrong offers some explanation for how Mustang is able to get away with his lenient policy; the Central Army is simply complacent and less battle ready than its frontier counterparts. It’s not a foolproof explanation but I don’t want to belabor the point too much. We also see that as Briggs’ forces get involved, they are far less generous in letting their opponents live – this is a direct reflection of their own survival-of-the-fittest philosophy. Is Mustang deliberately keeping his hands clean of the bloodshed to differentiate himself in a post-Bradley world from the more violent and vicious Olivier Armstrong? If that’s the case, however, it would lower my opinion of him. It seems cowardly to let others do the dirty work and then benefit from it.
Maria Ross returns from her long, long absence, but I really want to ask; why? I don’t want another ‘Battle of Hogwarts’ scenario, with every single minor character from earlier in the series popping back into the story. I don’t have anything particularly against Ross either, but neither am I particularly excited to see her. I’m a little more forgiving of Jean Havoc’s return to the main story since he’s sort of been hanging around the story, weaving in and out as part of that incomprehensible information network.
Meanwhile, Olivier decides that her time playing pretend-traitor is done. As Edward and his group make their way to Central, she takes down a few of the Amestris High Command as her army rampages through Central. It’s not very clear how but Pride’s incessant tapping on Alphonse’s helmet is somehow communicating with Father in Central. If I had to guess, it would be something to do with how the tunnel is the Father’s new ‘flask’ or his body.
Edward infiltrates Central but Hohenheim splits from the rest, taking Lan Fan with him. Edward suspects something is up, but what? Well, I had a theory – I first thought that Hohenheim purposely sent Edward on the ‘safer’ route while he’s going to use Lan Fan’s sensory capabilities to locate Father and confront him directly. It would have been a noble act if so but it turns out that he just tells Lan Fan to go do her own thing. This doesn’t necessarily rule out him seeking out Father, however.
The episode ends with an irate High Command official releasing the untested Homunculus Army and then promptly losing control of them. I guess we have a full out zombie apocalypse on our hands? It’s never made very clear how many ‘lives’ the Homunculi have with each ‘charge’ of a Philosopher’s Stone but I can’t imagine that these lesser Homunculus dolls are receiving the caliber of Stones as Envy or Pride. That means, the zombies are strong and durable but far from invincible – and combined with their total lack of intelligence, I wonder how big a threat they really will be.
Episode 51: The Immoral Legion
The zombie apocalypse is here! Sort of. They’re not much of a threat when they’re contained with the walls of the Central Fortress. I also don’t think that the the soul-container dolls can turn humans into dolls by biting, so maybe not zombies, exactly, but eh, close enough. After they are released, and in Jurassic Park style turn on their creators and captors, they run into Edward and his gang. Edward’s got a reasonably strong set of fighters with him, so I don’t see this slowing them down considerably but it does make them aware of this new threat.
Speaking of threats, Olivier is so done playing around. Having killed yet another senior member of Bradley’s High Command, she takes another one hostage but just as he develops a spine, Sloth appears and breaks that spine. Olivier is all kinds of badass, but even she’s got her work cut out for her in Sloth.
Edward’s decided to contain the zombie threat for now as he and the gang gear up to fight the dolls to the death. I do feel like Edward’s attitude, and the ease with which the gang handles the dolls, makes them feel like a nuisance more than a threat. For example, if Mustang were there, I could see him just burning all of those dolls to a crisp, without much difficulty. I get that the dolls are meant to be mooks but they could have made them a little more threatening as mooks – perhaps by letting them stop others from using alchemy around them. It wouldn’t have been too hard to explain away either since that would be similar to one of Father’s powers.
As the Briggs crew continues to run amok in Central, we find out that Pride’s been calling out for help this whole while. I’m a little unclear on how his little sound signal was even escaping the earthen capsule but like I mentioned before, I expect it has something to do with the capsule’s location above the tunnel. Or something, I don’t really know and they don’t really explain it – which is annoying. However, the important thing is that Pride’s plea for help did not fall on deaf ears – Kimblee turns up and Alphonse has to face him and Pride pretty much alone. Well ok, I guess Heinkel is around, but he’s kind of useless at this point.
In Central, May is being chased down by the ‘Mannequin Soldiers’ as the zombies are apparently called. When one of the soldiers eats Envy alive, he is able to use the Philosopher’s Stone powering the soldier to return to his full power, absorbing several more soldiers to maximize his Philosopher Stone ‘charge’. May’s done fucked up now.
We cut back to Central where Olivier is putting up an admirable fight against Sloth but to no avail whatsoever. She’s faster than Sloth but far weaker too. Sloth also simply keeps regenerating through any of the slashes she does land. Just when it looks like Sloth’s got Olivier cornered though, Alex comes through with his Big Damn Heroes moment – it looks like the siblings will be on the same side for once.
Edward’s influence on Alphonse has picked a really inconvenient time to manifest itself too – Alphonse, following in Mustang and Edward’s steps, refuses to leave Heinkel on the field to die, despite the latter’s protests. Thankfully, choosing the ‘save Heinkel’ path, results in an unexpected Philosopher’s Stone for Alphonse which gives him a fighting chance against Pride and Kimblee. There’s an instant karma aspect to this that I have some mixed feelings about. On one hand, I do think that good acts reap their own rewards but at the same time, the way that both Edward and Alphonse get instant rewards for their kindness feels a little forced. For example, Alphonse saves Heinkel – and all of a sudden, he gets a Philosopher’s Stone. Edward helps save the chimeras in Baskool – and all of a sudden, they’re his friends and willing to save him. I wouldn’t say it’s stretching credibility – not yet anyway – but it’s a little vexing.
Anyway, back to the episode. I don’t know how high I would rate Alphonse’s odds even with the Philosopher’s Stone – Pride is fully charged after consuming Gluttony and Kimblee is a battle-hardened mass murderer. Alphonse knows how to fight, but he’s just a big old softie on the inside. Does he really have the necessary skill and bloodlust to put these two down?
There’s also the point about how the brothers are determined not to use others’ lives to restore their bodies but under the current circumstances, Alphonse, reluctantly, agreed to use the Stone to fight Kimblee and Pride. I personally don’t see this as hypocritical – it’s a matter of wants and needs. Using someone else’s life to make up for your own mistakes (i.e. the brothers’ mistake in performing human alchemy) can be seen as selfish and greedy – sort of like using public money to cover up certain private companies’ massive fuck-ups. Thankfully, that never happens in the real world. On the other hand, having such resources at hand and using them towards the more noble goal of saving a fellow human being doesn’t feel as egregious. What strikes me about the brothers’ decision however, is how neither of them succumbed to hopelessness and fatigue. Here they are, walking around searching for a different solution to their problems when an acceptable solution exists and is relatively easily available. Yes, I know that the Philosopher’s Stone option is not acceptable to the brothers but at some point, in their position, my resolve would crumble especially as once I began wondering if any other solution could possibly even exist. Had matters not come a head when they did, and Alphonse’s blackouts got worse, would Edward have swallowed his morals and used the Philosopher’s Stone to save his brother? Or would he have stuck to his guns and watched his brother die for the sake of his values? Neither option is perfect but to me, the latter option would win hands down – I’d rather ask for forgiveness from the abused souls than lose a brother, but such a decision wouldn’t appear all that heroic, so it’s perhaps for the best that we didn’t go down that route.
Last point before we move on to the next episode – does anyone else wonder if there is a correlation between the ‘soft-hearted’ respect for life that characters like Hohenheim, Alphonse, Edward and Mustang show and the characters being selected as sacrifices by Father? Now, I had assumed (and I believe this is still the official explanation) that Father selected these characters because they had seen the ‘truth’ (though I’m not sure if that’s the case for Mustang, since he still needs a transformation circle). However, is there something about seeing the Truth God that makes the characters kinder and more respectful of life? The Elric brothers first learned about how life was all interconnected when Izumi sent them to that island to fend for themselves, while Hohenheim learned a similar lesson from hearing the voices of the dead in his soul. Mustang might also have reached such a conclusion after witnessing the slaughter at Ishbal. Is Father choosing his sacrifices based on talented alchemists who have identified the interconnected value of life? It’s an interesting possibility that I’ll keep an eye out for.
Episode 52: Combined Strength
Hmm, perhaps a lot of the discussion from the tail-end of the previous episode would have fit better here since the characters discuss it themselves. I don’t have a great deal to add to their comments that I haven’t already said, though, so let’s keep it moving. Alphonse is able to seal Pride off again while still holding Kimblee at bay – but it’s not a conclusive victory for either side. Kimblee broaches the topic of using the Philosopher’s Stone to just end their whole quest – and again, we get the noble, but somewhat unsatisfactory answer that the brothers want to save everyone. Maybe it’s my age or general cynicism but it just feels like a disappointing answer. I can understand the sentiment but I’ve heard the same answer before and for once I’d like for it to be phrased differently or with a slightly different motivation. Yes, you want to save everyone but in a world where that’s not a possibility, how will you choose who to save?
Quick cut back to Central – in an almost hilarious turn, Sloth, the laziest Homunculus is also the fastest, which is posing some real problems for the Armstrong siblings. Back in the Kimblee / Pride / Alphonse fight, Alphonse is able to turn the tide when Marcoh arrives on the scene. It’s not the most satisfying end to this fight, in my opinion – I wanted to see Alphonse somehow beat at least one of the two enemies down on his own, but I think this is the more realistic turn of events. When Heinkel gets Kimblee in his jaws, it looks like the psychopath’s days are numbered.
Alphonse and the group escape Pride with some help from Yoki but there’s a few interesting things to note. Pride was reluctant to stab Kimblee even if it meant getting to Heinkel – is that because Kimblee is a sacrifice? Or has Pride developed some sort of attachment to the murderous man?
Pride eventually consumes Kimblee but is that something that couldn’t happen if Kimblee was stabbed? I don’t understand the motivation behind consuming Kimblee either. After all, consuming Gluttony made sense since Pride needed a new Philosopher’s Stone and he could steal Gluttony’s sense of smell. What can Pride take from Kimblee? As fascinating a character as he was, at the end of the day he is just a human, after all.
A part of me is a little bummed that this is the way that Kimblee goes out. For the whole series, he was built up as this powerful alchemist and battle-hardened veteran, but it seemed that he wasn’t particularly scary to face in the field. Edward and Alphonse would likely have both beaten him if he didn’t have a secret Philosopher’s Stone stashed with him and in the end, he goes down to Heinkel, of all people, in a sneak attack. It makes sense, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
In Central, Alex is able to inflict some pretty nasty wounds on Sloth but he and Olivier are soon accosted by first the military, and then the ‘Mannequin Soldier’ army. The military is convinced to join them – something about enemy of my enemy being my friend – but Sloth is proving to be one tough cookie. It’s a little sad that Sloth, who absolutely does not care about any of this, is turning out to be a bigger end game threat than Kimblee – though to be fair, I don’t truly think we’ve seen the end of Kimblee just yet. Meanwhile, in the tunnels below Central, May has to somehow dodge both Envy and the Mannequin soldiers, who, understandably, thoroughly freak her out. Seeing the abominations that the Philosopher’s Stone was used to create is making her question if she really wants a Stone after all but her clan’s needs come first. Nonetheless, the first seeds of doubt have been planted and it’s pretty obvious to me that she’s not going to be giving the Emperor of Xing an actual Philosopher’s Stone by the end of the series.
Elsewhere in Central, Edward shares similar misgivings about the power of the Philosopher’s Stones, as he cuts down the Mannequin horde. The overwhelming numbers are beginning to wear his group down however, but before they’re in any real danger, Mustang and Hawkeye arrive on the scene. Mustang is going to just mop this sorry lot up and the whole immortal army is going to be turned into a bad joke, I can just see it.
Episode 53: Flame of Vengeance
We see Mustang’s public relations campaign go into full swing. I questioned the purpose of the Madam Bradley sub-plot but using her to sway public opinion makes sense. She’s a distressed mother and wife and a representation of the innocents of Amestris. This entire first scene is Mustang positioning the country for his coup and turning public sentiment against the current administration. By not killing soldiers and saving Madam Bradley, he is establishing himself as the better, gentler alternative to the Olivier and her Briggs. I’m a little ambivalent about this whole political / public relations side-plot mainly because right now my focus and interest is on the main plot surrounding Father and his schemes. The post-climax setting of the series feels distant and irrelevant right now and it’s set-up even more so.
As predicted, Mustang walks in and casually clears out all the Mannequin Soldiers – literally with a snap of his fingers. He implies that Edward was going easy on them because he saw them as human souls. I don’t know if that’s true but Edward’s reaction makes it seem like it could be. I have a problem with this mainly because the ease with which Mustang clears out this supposedly pressing threat makes me feel stupid for ever thinking that they were meant to be taken seriously. What’s worse is that Mustang is able to control his flames so precisely that no one even had to move from where they were standing for him to do his thing. Clearly, Mustang is OP as hell – so who is he going to go up against that’s actually going to test him? Father?
Well, it’s clearly not Envy. When Envy and May stumble across Mustang and Edward, Mustang confronts him about Hughes death. I had forgotten that that was the moment that everything began rolling in this direction, but it’s a great callback to the incident that got Mustang committed to uncovering this massive government conspiracy. Envy, unfortunately, taunts Mustang and the humans relentlessly, not quite realizing how hopelessly outmatched he is at this point. To be fair, when he fought Alphonse, Marcoh and Scar, not too long ago, he won quite handily until Marcoh used his insider information to take him down. I’m not sure why he thought Mustang was made of the same stuff though. When Mustang puts together how Hughes was taken out (via Envy impersonating his wife), he’s pissed off. I mean, look at that face. Edward doesn’t seem overly concerned about Mustang’s ability to take on Envy – which does seem a little strange since Envy isn’t that weak either – but rather about his mental health in committing murder in his anger. It’s quite the strange thought to be having about a man who made his name by slaughtering civilians in Ishbal; what, now suddenly Mustang is above murdering an active combatant? For a while it seems that Edward has a point – Mustang is absolutely merciless, burning Envy to a crisp ruthlessly. Envy, to his credit, realizes that Mustang is not an opponent to be trifled with and makes a run for it.
Envy tries to imitate Maes Hughes – which, even for him, was a stupid idea. What did he think would happen? Mustang would get all misty-eyed and stop frying Envy? He had to know that Mustang was aware that Hughes was long dead, right? Mustang’s reaction is honestly a little scary – the image above really captures how deep the hatred is running at this moment, doesn’t it? Envy flees again – he’s burning through his Philosopher’s Stone at an alarming rate – but tries the impersonation game again, this time looking like Riza to fool Mustang a second time…or is he impersonating Mustang hoping to fool Riza?
Episode 54: Beyond The Inferno
Before catching up with Envy’s latest attempt at deception, we are filled in one final missing piece of the Riza-Roy relationship: the mystery of her scarred back. The scarring was intentional and at her request; easily, one of the most sincere forms of atonement for atrocity that I’ve seen. In this one gesture, she does the following:
- Inflicting a form of painful punishment upon herself
- Erases her father’s legacy – which, given the bond between them (which we only saw hints of), must have been a hard decision
- Removes the secret of flame alchemy from the world, ensuring that Roy will be the last to cause such damage (at least on such a scale) until it is rediscovered
Of course, to the victims of the Ishbalan genocide, I doubt her actions mean much at all, but at the same time, from the perspective of a young soldier who feels so deeply conflicted about the orders she is given, I think even this is a meaningful admission of guilt. It shows the strength of her moral core .
The intimacy of their personal relationship is revealed when Riza is able to figure out that Envy was impersonating Mustang right away. It is a bluff, but not one the real Mustang would have ever fallen for. What’s funny is that, for a second, I actually believed the bluff – even though I should have known better, since in all the scenes with just two of them, Mustang’s never called her by first name.
Look I’m going to go ahead and suggest what we’re all thinking – these two are definitely more than just friends, right? I mean, I don’t think any of my bosses would call me their ‘irreplaceable sub-ordinates’ and I don’t think that’s a reflection on the quality of my work.
By this point, Envy is cornered, and showing some definite signs of fear. He’s unable to change the narrative though; he still insists on insulting Mustang and humanity, seemingly oblivious to his situation. Mustang is about to kill Envy for good when both Riza and Edward, flanked by Scar interrupt him. Mustang is really deep into his rage now; he’s ready to fight all three of them if it means getting to Envy. I can hear Darth Vader in the background tell him to succumb to his rage and give in to the Dark Side.
It takes a good while to talk him off this metaphorical ledge. I don’t entirely blame him either; it’s not like he’ll become a totally different person if he goes ahead and finishes Envy off here. At the same time though, I sort of see the point that the group is making; committing a murder like this would, in a way (psychologically, at least), undo all the progress he made since Ishbal. After all, what’s the point of going through the effort of not killing enemy soldiers if it means that you kill the first enemy that it feels ‘good’ to kill? If Mustang is going to position himself as someone who’s morally superior to the otherwise militaristic and violent Amestris government, then he’s going to have to walk the talk. In a sense, in humiliating Envy to this point, Mustang has already got his revenge – the actual execution ought to be done by someone else. Mustang finally calms down enough to see through his anger and apologizes to Riza for forcing her to stop him – it’s a really adorable moment, only marred by Envy piping up again.
It’s like he’s literally unable to stop himself – but this time it’s not working. No one bats an eye at his provocations. We finally get a somewhat acceptable interpretation of Envy’s name – he is jealous of humans, who are supposed to be much weaker than Homunculi but can become stronger and learn from their mistakes and setbacks. Was this what we were meant to take away from Envy’s repetitive and insulting dialogue? That, as a Homunculus, he was limited in the ways in which he could grow and as such, he couldn’t adapt when his usual methods didn’t work? Maybe that’s me reading too much into it, but I do think that it’s a good point that Edward raises. It certainly hits the mark as far as Envy himself is concerned – in shame, he kills himself by destroying his Philosopher’s Stone. I’m not even surprised that Edward feels bad at bullying Envy into suicide. He’s such a softie.
The scene is given a fairly respectful and somber tone, rather than a triumphant one. The atmosphere casts this entire confrontation in a rather tragic light and Envy’s final words – ‘Bye bye, Edward(o) Elric’ – seal the deal. I, for one, will miss Envy. He wasn’t the most intimidating or dangerous of the antagonists but he was certainly memorable and interesting. I’m still not entirely sold on the basis of his name – I didn’t really feel a vibe of jealousy from him and the final explanation felt a little forced. I’m going to let this one rest in my head for a while before formulating an opinion on it.
In the Central Headquarters, Izumi Curtis returns! The Armstrong siblings are learning how to put up a fight against Sloth and the Mannequin Soldiers while the Briggs crew, assisted by Izumi, infiltrate the Command Center of the Central Defense force. There’s a tank on the loose too, somehow constructed in the Armstrong estate; there’s a lot of forward momentum on the Briggs’ side right now. I think what’s keeping me from fully immersing myself into this moment is how random and haphazardly everything is happening. When exactly did Briggs arrive in Central? How? When did they create the tank? How long were they hiding out in the Armstrong estate? In fact, how much time has it been since Edward fought Kimblee in the North? I feel like I had a reasonable handle on events until but ever since, everything’s been happening too fast for me to keep track of it.
Having said that, I think the plot demanded that all five sacrifices be in Central on this Day of Reckoning and so, Izumi re-enters the story to kick some ass. I’m not really complaining about it.
Episode 55: The Adults’ Way of Life
Back in the tunnels under Central, Riza is thanks Scar for helping Mustang keep off the dark path towards revenge and hatred. Scar seems a little bemused by all this and I can’t quite blame him; Mustang and Riza are – as Envy (R.I.P) mentioned earlier – some of the most famous war heroes of Ishval and helping them probably still makes him uncomfortable. At the same time though, I suspect that a part of him is glad to be back to helping others live better lives.
In the Central Headquarters, the Briggs crew declare victory and establish a perimeter defense. They have a tank and they have control of all the relevant strategic choke-points. For now, it seems that victory is theirs, but come on, none of the audience is buying that.
It’s also interesting how the scope of the story is shrinking rapidly now. Back at the beginning of the series, the story was unfolding all across the nation of Amestris and even in the desert ruins of Xerxes – now the scope is now focused back on Central and specifically on Central Headquarters. Sloth is still kicking around but it seems his time is approaching as well – Sig and Izumi are on the scene.
I have very mixed feelings about the way this all goes down. Sloth wasn’t the most deadly sin of the bunch but he was certainly giving the Armstrong siblings some trouble. With Izumi and Sigmund involved, the whole thing just devolves into pure comedy. On one hand, it is pretty funny watching the Alex and Sig interact or knowing that Izumi was responsible for the only two blemishes in Briggs’ otherwise immaculate track record and the ridiculous, over-the-top inspirational music doesn’t help matters, but a part of me wish that it wasn’t quite so easy for them. Sloth actually becomes the underdog in this fight, between Izumi’s crazy alchemy (which has slowly gone from being this scientific discipline to a form of earth-bending) and Sig’s monster strength. Sloth meets his end a little anti-climatically, but I was never really all that invested in his character, so I can’t say that I’m particularly irked by the way things played out, like I was for Kimblee.
I had this idea before! It’s like the original Dwarf in the Flask was playing house and having ‘children’ that he could be ‘father’ to, just to try to understand why humans valued family the way they did. I also felt that Father here is far more tense and aggressive than when we first met him. Earlier in the series, he seemed pretty laid back and was chatting with Edward and Alphonse rather casually. Here with Hohenheim, who he hasn’t seen in ages, (and even ominously mentioned looking forward to meeting) he is instantly hostile – is that a reflection of Hohenheim’s power as an alchemist or has Father shed some additional emotions since then? I’m leaning toward the former, but I did feel it was odd that Hohenheim was the one with all the in-fight bantz. We do see Father momentarily gain an edge over Hohenheim but it was a trap that the latter had set-up well in advanced, though we don’t find out specifically what that trap entailed.
We get a quick scene in which Olivier is offered the literal seat of power – Bradley’s empty chair – but dismisses it for being impractical. It seems like a small scene but it stood out to me; earlier in the episode another High Command Officer greedily grabbed the chair but was attacked by some Mannequin Soldiers before he could really claim it. Olivier’s reaction was a direct contrast to his. The message is clear; ‘good guys’ don’t grab power with such greed but rather do it with responsibility and with a sense of duty in their hearts. It’s also a reflection of Olivier herself; obviously the reason she didn’t take the seat wasn’t out of fear of being sniped but because she recognized how distasteful and counter-productive it would be to name herself queen of Amestris in the middle of a crisis. She would take the throne on her own terms, not when it was offered to her like this.
And speaking of Bradley, guess who’s back? You know what’s funny? As I was looking for the above screenshot, I went back to the seemingly random little scene of Yoki’s car (with Alphonse and Marcoh in it) having a flat tire. Initially I thought that scene was just comic relief but then I noticed Bradley in the background casually walking by.
We haven’t quite seen no holds barred Bradley in the series so far, and that’s because he’s never had to go all out so far. We end the episode just as he’s about to go pity some fools that had the audacity to stage a coup in his absence.
Episode 56: The Return of the Fuhrer
We learn a little more about what Hohenheim did to fight back against Father – he convinced the souls in his body to work with him against Father. Apparently, Hohenheim has had conversations with every single one of the half million souls in his body and is on relatively good terms with all of them. They attack Father from within, forcing him out of his human skin and into a different, but still humanoid form.
In what feels like minutes, Bradley has single-handedly taken down the entire first line of defense – including the fucking tank – and is now facing the second line of defense; i.e. a named character and his mooks. Yeah, no offense to Mohawk Man but there’s no way Bradley dies to him or Officer Falman. Now, when Greed makes an appearance, that’s a different story entirely; I could see the combined strength of these three (mostly just Greed) giving Bradley a hard time. Of course, Greed has never had the upper hand against Bradley before and there’s no reason to think that this time will be any different.
Bradley’s return has meant that, politically, Mustang’s men have to disavow themselves from Olivier and her actions. It feels under-handed and like a betrayal; and to be honest, I’m not really interested in the politics of the situation at this point in time. My attitude towards the politics is that I’ll deal with it when I have to but for now I’d rather see the fights and the actions. I don’t think Olivier will be at all happy to be painted as the villain when it’s her men suffering on the front lines, getting slaughtered by the very men that Mustang’s men were going easy on.
The fight scenes are great but there’s obviously not a lot for me to comment on here. Greed still struggles against Wrath and even the addition of old man Fu doesn’t really change the equation. I’m not exactly sure what Wrath’s Ultimate Eye really does – my understanding is that it enhances his reaction time or something similar – but he’s not really a full Homunculus like Greed; rather, he’s just an extremely talented fighter who’s been artificially enhanced using the Philosopher’s Stone in some way. I’m thinking he’s more Captain America than Superman, if that makes sense – the pinnacle of what a human can be and then some but not overly supernatural. I don’t know if this bunch of characters is going to be enough to kill the man, because so far, he’s just getting warmed up.
Episode 57: Eternal Leave
Lan Fan overhears that Bradley has returned and I’m going to bet that she will be on her way to fight the man that took her arm. Her grandfather gets dibs on fighting Wrath, though it’s not clear to me why anyone would want that dubious honour. At some point, we’re going to have to ask – how many characters are we going to need to take Wrath down? Is Wrath just going to be the minor character butcher, systematically cutting down every random side-character until it’s just the A-listers left?
For those familiar with Neon Genesis Evangelion, doesn’t the line above really remind you of Instrumentality? It definitely felt similar to me but I can’t help but wonder why it never occurred to these men that they will just as likely end up living within Father rather than retaining their own memories and identities like they seem to assume.
I’m also really liking the instant friendship between Izumi and Olivier Armstrong – they don’t really have a lot in common on the surface, but as I’ve been told, real recognizes real and the two women seem to respect each other’s own type of strength.
I never really expected this slimy old man to be relevant. I thought he was just your generic evil scientist type – in fact, I don’t even know his name. He calls down an army of pseudo-Bradley rejects to restrain Edward’s group. They are all relatively old men – having been created before Bradley himself – but they’re no less dangerous for it.
Speaking of Bradley, he is – as expected – kicking all types of ass. Greed and Fu are already finding their backs against the ropes; Fu, especially, is getting cut up pretty badly. I don’t think he’s making it out of this fight alive. The only question is, will he take Wrath with him?
The answer is a resounding no. Fu tries to take Wrath down with him but even with that and Captain Buccaneer somehow sliding up and stabbing Bradley through Fu, Wrath manages to escape with merely a flesh wound. I have a few issues with the way that this fight is resolved – for one, the massive Buccaneer sneaking up behind the minuscule Fu is a patently ludicrous tactic that Wrath would definitely have seen through. Secondly, since I’m not very clear on just what Wrath’s real ‘superpowers’ are – apart from being sickeningly bad-ass – I can’t judge how bad the wound he received is. Is that really how the mighty President Fuhrer King Bradley exits the story? I don’t think so and neither does Wrath, who’s still very much alive. This sequence does, however, mean the end for Fu, who dies thinking that he dealt Wrath a fatal blow – and who knows, that might even be true. For better or worse, Lan Fan arrives in time to see him die but I don’t think anyone was all that invested in their relationship since they’re such minor characters, so her timely return didn’t impact me much. Similarly, I’m not all that cut up about Fu’s death – in fact, I think he was given a dignified and respectable send-off in-story, dying the way he did.
We end the episode with the sacrifices getting, well, sacrificed and entering the ‘Gate of Truth’ again. Are they going to collectively confront ‘God’?
Episode 58: Sacrifices
Greed and Lan Fan finally manage to get rid of Wrath but even then it’s not by landing a decisive blow but rather by just tossing him into the fortress’ moat. For some reason, despite his wound, Wrath didn’t even seem like he was struggling to keep up with Greed at all. In fact, it felt like Greed and Fu were struggling to fend Wrath off despite vastly outnumbering him. All that is making me wonder; is Greed really just that weak? Thinking back, Edward and Izumi didn’t really struggle to handle Greed at all when they first met and even Envy and Lust seemed to be stronger. Fu finally passes away, which prompts something of a meltdown in Greed/Lin who questions the value of immortality, if it cannot be shared. It’s an interesting sentiment coming from someone who shares a body with the embodiment of greed. The idea of wanting to ‘save’ someone can be both generous and selfish depending on the circumstances – on one hand, saving people is generally considered a good thing and doing so at the cost of one’s own self is undoubtedly selfish, yet at the same time, I feel like Greed would have said the same thing Lin did (which could be part of why I remained silent as Lin grew more distraught). For Greed though, it’s less about saving a valued comrade and more about not wanting to give anything up: he is Greed, and greed is about wanting it all and not compromising on anything.
As he lays dying, Buccaneer asks Greed to help them out. I was caught a little off guard when Buccaneer made his request – I had forgotten that Greed, technically speaking, isn’t on the protagonists’ side even though his objectives align with theirs closely enough. I don’t the story has space in it for a third ‘chaotic-neutral’ side, and it’s just neater to lump Greed in with the good guys. Greed seems to agree, and with his Ultimate Shield, he is able to wreak havoc on the Bradley loyalists who, as ordinary humans, are absolutely powerless to stop a Homunculus. The gate is defended and Buccaneer dies with a smile on his lips.
Father needs five sacrifices for whatever it is he’s attempting, but he currently only has four. Mustang has long been marked a potential sacrifice (why?) but there’s a catch – he needs to perform the forbidden human transmutation in order to open his own ‘Gate of Truth’. I’m getting increasingly confused about why Mustang was even selected to be a sacrifice. Why do the sacrifices all have to be people who have seen the ‘Truth’? If they were just going to force people to commit human transmutation, then wouldn’t any old alchemist have sufficed? What’s so special about Roy Mustang?
Episode 59: Lost Light
Mustang pulls a fast one on both the gold-toothed doctor and the audience; pulling a ‘I’ll do it…NOT!’ stunt and almost managing to escape in the process. I’m glad that Mustang decided that selling his soul to perform human transmutation isn’t worth it after all, even if it means losing his work-wife; the work-wife concurs, and there’s no consequence to his decision since May is able to patch Riza up. Fortunately, King Bradley and Pride show up to prevent this from turning in an absolute farce. Pinning Mustang to the ground, they force him to perform the transmutation against his will.
We don’t know if Mustang’s involuntary transmutation will work the same way as the others’ since the circumstances are rather different. If it does, however, it seems unfair that you can literally be forced into a human transmutation against your will. However, it is consistent with how scientific this world’s alchemy is; alchemy / science doesn’t care about your intentions, it’s a chemical process that takes reactants and produces certain results. Mustang disappears but at least the miserable gold-tooted doctor is left a deformed corpse.
Despite everything, Bradley is just so crazy badass, I can’t help but like him. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to die but is intent on taking most of this group with him. The group is suitably intimidated in facing him.
Mustang re-appears in the underground chamber with Pride – seeing the ‘Truth’ has led him to lose his sight. I still don’t fully understand how Father is able to effectively teleport people from different parts of Central into his chamber so easily. I’m guessing it has something to do with how the whole city / country is covered in a gigantic transmutation circle. There’s a lot of hand-waving on my part at this point; I care enough about the story that I’m willing to assume that a proper explanation exists even if I don’t know exactly what that explanation would be. This is a rare move for me; normally, I’d be out here bitching about how inconsistent and illogical (even by it’s own in-universe rules) this all is.
This is as good a time as any to discuss the symbolism behind ‘eyes’ in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. In several Asian cultures, including my own, eyes have a number of meanings but most pertinent to the series is the idea of the ‘third eye’ or the ‘All seeing eye’. It’s not much of a stretch to connect that notion of ‘All Seeing’ with vague concepts like ‘All’, ‘Universe’, ‘Truth’ and, of course, ‘God’. That large disembodied eye has ominously accompanied all human transmutations; but at the same time, the Homunculi also have a ‘eye’ based motiff going on. Father, as the ‘Dwarf in a Flask’ was really just a floating eyeball. Pride, and Father’s current form, feature ‘eyes’ heavily. Their eyes are different though; their eyes seem alive and filled with intent while the eye that appears during a human transmutation is cold and dead. Without venturing too deep up my own ass, I’d like to suggest that the cold / dead eye represents the objective truth, the immutable Law of Equivalent Exchange, while the Homunculi’s eyes are imperfect imitations of the former and represent their desire to surpass the Law of Equivalent Exchange.
With Mustang now officially marked for sacrifice, we wait for Alphonse’s soul to return to his body. Wouldn’t it have been hilarious if Alphonse just said “Fuck it” and stayed on the other side? That would have thrown Father’s plan into disarray though it would have meant a dead Alphonse. Alphonse’s selfless decision to leave his emaciated body behind is admirable; he soon returns to his armor and the ceremonies begin.
Episode 60: Eye of Heaven, Gateway of Earth
The humans aren’t going down without a fight: Edward and Alphonse face off against Pride, who, it turns out, was greatly weakened by forcing Mustang to perform the human transmutation. Scar and Bradley continue their duel to the death. I want Scar to be the one to finish Bradley off given everything that Bradley did to Scar and his people. That is assuming that Wrath isn’t too badass to die: even as he bleeds to death, it seems that Wrath is the superior fighter. It takes Scar, surprisingly, using alchemy to swing the fight in his favor. It’s an interesting turning point for the character; he is giving up some deeply held religious beliefs, but in doing so, is saving thousands of lives. It is also a mark of how far his character has come; his journey and interaction with the protagonists have changed him and given him the strength to re-examine his beliefs and convictions. As a result of his character development, he now has a chance of defeating Wrath, even if the odds aren’t looking that great.
Edward tries to fight Pride but Father is bored with the action and simply grabs his hostages and holds them down. It’s a great way of showing the still incredible power difference between Father and the rest of the characters.
And then things start going full Neon Genesis Evangelion on us again. Father has a right proper power trip, stealing the souls of everyone in Amestris to fuel his capture of ‘God’. There’s a lot of fun action and great visuals but those don’t lend themselves well to commentary, so let’s move on to the next episode. This episode is great though, and I’ll save my comments about it for the overall review.
Episode 61: He Who Would Swallow God
Father returns from his other-worldly trip even more powerful than he was before. We see a fundamental clash brewing here. Father, and by extension, the Homunculi, have always seen the souls of humanity as little more than fuel to power their ambitions. Hohenheim and the Elric brothers, on the other hand, see individuals as inherently precious. Hohenheim is only able to perform his counterattack because of the tacit support of the souls stored in his body. We already know how this conflict is going to end.
Scar, with some help from Lan Fan, was finally able to bring Wrath down. Wrath deserves a standing ovation; he fought off a Homunculus, three skilled fighters (including Scar) before dying on his own terms. It’s not clear how badly Scar is injured either, but I doubt its fatal. Neither Scar not Lan Fan get the pleasure of killing Wrath themselves but you do the feeling that they get some closure from watching him pass away.
Edward faces off against Pride who tries to make Edward his container but Kimblee, from within Pride’s Philosopher’s Stone interferes, mocking Pride and giving Edward the opening he needs to defeat the Homunculus. I don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, I’m glad that Kimblee had this one last role to play but at the same time, now I’m left with two disappointments:
- Kimblee was massively overhyped as a fighter. For a while, I was raving about how competent an antagonist Kimblee was but when it came down to actually fighting, he ended up just relying excessively on his Philosopher’s Stone. First, Edward almost effortless incapacitates his in Baskool, only for Kimblee to escape because of a hidden Philosopher’s Stone. The fact that’s he’s ultimately taken down by a sneak attack from Marcoh and a chimera just feels unsatisfying to me.
- Kimblee interfering with Pride to swing the fight in Edward’s favour feels equally unsatisfying to me. For once, I want to see the protagonists beat the antagonists in a straight-up one-on-one brawl. I want the protagonists to win through cunning or skill rather than because one of their allies sneaked up on the enemy. It doesn’t feel like Edward won because he overcame Pride’s abilities, but rather because Kimblee interfered with Pride. Yes, you could argue that Kimblee only interfered because Edward beat Pride down to the point where Pride had no choice but to take Edward over, thus triggering Kimblee. It’s still not enough to sway me on this point.
After Pride is defeated, we see his true form – a really tiny, almost fetal child. Is this a reference to how the most proud people are said to be insecure on the inside? I honestly can’t find many ways to connect some of the Homunculi like Pride and Wrath to their names. Lust and Envy sort of made sense, even if the necessary explanations don’t make a whole lot of sense, but in the case of Wrath, Bradley was never really angry but he was always stern. Surely, that’s not the same thing?
Episode 62: A Fierce Counterattack
As Father proceeds to mop up most of the Briggs army, I have to ask the question – just how much energy is in a soul anyway? Because Father’s absorbed hundreds of thousands by now, so he should be able to just destroy his opposition with a thought by now. It seems clear that the good guys need a better plan than whittling down Father’s Philosopher Stone a little by little. Unfortunately, they aren’t in the best of conditions themselves. Alphonse’s armor is in shreds, Edward and Izumi are injured, and Hohenheim is running out of soul juice himself, it seems.
There’s a whole lot of action that follows that I’m going to have to skip over. We see the Riza / Roy duo back in action – she’s the spotter to his artillery. The united forces of the alchemists and surviving Briggs soldiers rain hell down on Father but to seemingly no avail. He blocks most of their attacks but the real game changer is when Greed decides to get involved. Greed’s played a pivotal role in this last section of the story – first with Bradley and now with Father.
Greed’s attempts to steal Father’s Philosopher Stone don’t amount to much but they do seem to weaken Father enough that he turns on Edward to try to take his soul. Father eventually corners Edward and is about to kill him when Alphonse decides to sacrifice himself. The transmutation here – for the first time in a long, long time – makes sense. Edward sacrificed his arm and leg to get Alphonse’s soul back so logically, a similar, reverse alchemy should return Edward his arm, at least. Edward is both heartbroken that Alphonse is gone and pissed off at Father. Looks like it’s Edward vs Father for the championship belt.
Episode 63: The Otherside Of The Gateway
Edward proceeds to beat the ever-loving crap out of Father while Father tries to re-integrate Greed to take the souls in Greed’s Philosopher’s Stone. Lin Yao and Greed both try to resist but just when it seems like Father’s going to succeed, Greed sacrifices himself to leave Father open to Edward’s finishing blow.
Of all the Homunculi, it seems that only Greed was really able to overcome his true nature. Right to the end, he claimed he was being greedy – chasing after Father’s power, trying to claim Wrath’s title – but it was quite obvious that those were just excuses he was giving, when all he really wanted was to help his friends. Finally, as he dies here, he is able to submit that that’s he wanted. Greed gets a surprisingly heartfelt goodbye, all things considered. It makes sense when I stop to think about it – it is his intervention that sets Edward up to deal the finishing blow to Father – but when I was watching the episode for the first time, I wondered why the episode was spending so much time on Greed’s death.
Let’s talk for a second about the irony at play here. One could say that Father’s entire objective here – trying to absorb God and escape from his new container (i.e. the world) by absorbing all the world’s knowledge – is the epitome of greed. Father was supposed to have shed that emotion but let’s consider the possibility that the reason he could never control Greed the Homunculus was because he never had his own greed fully under control either. Another way of thinking of it is that Father simply had too much Greed and couldn’t take all of it out of him and that anomaly led to Greed being a little ‘off’ compared to his siblings.
The Dwarf in the Flask is taken beyond the Gate after he no longer has the energy to control ‘God’ but he can’t for the life of him (literally) figure out what he’s done wrong. I don’t fully understand either, honestly; I thought he was asking some very pertinent questions at the end. Was the Homunculus really so wrong for wanting to be free, for wanting to seek new frontiers? I personally don’t think so but that’s where the series and I have an ideological divide. I feel like the series’ whole message has been for humanity (and pseudo humanity) to know its place. Each time humans try to go past natural boundaries of the possible, ‘Truth’ or ‘God’ or whatever that smug bastard calls himself, is there to smack them down into their rightful places, even if that means disfiguring them.
I’m reminded of the series’ earlier clashes between the scientific alchemy and the concept of faith. I mentioned, long ago, that Edward’s atheism doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given than he has literally met his universe’s God. Yet, at the same time, looking back, perhaps the take-away from the those clashes in ideology were that neither one ideology has all the answers. Father – like Shou Tucker – single-mindedly pursued alchemy, never really acknowledging humans as anything but fuel for his ambitions. His fate was ironic, in that regard – betrayed by the individual wills of souls he had dismissed, he was greatly weakened from the height of his power by mere humans, and then when alchemy finally failed him, he was mocked and then consumed by ‘God’ for his hubris. As such, when the Homunculus asks God what he did wrong, the answer was not his actions but rather his entire ideological fixation on science and alchemy. I think I’m going to need some time to process that because on the surface of it, that doesn’t sit very well with me.
Father is defeated but Alphonse is dead. Edward has to rack his brains to figure out what to about this situation but he is first tested in two big ways. Lin Yao offers Edward a Philosopher’s Stone to bring Alphonse back – but Edward would never insult his brother’s memory by reneging on the promise they made to each other. Even if it worked, Alphonse would never forgive him.
Next, Hohenheim offers his own soul – it is only natural for a father to want to give his life to save his son’s. Edward, probably remembering the pain of losing one parent, doesn’t want to go through that again, especially not after having just reconnected with his father after so long. Alphonse wouldn’t have wanted that, either; especially since he was closer to their father than Edward was.
A thought strikes him – and for a second I thought it was an ominous one – when he decides that he will perform a final transmutation. On hindsight, it makes perfect sense why he would phrase it that way but at the moment, I thought he did not intend to come back. That would been a tragically heroic ending. Instead, Edward does something truly interesting – he sacrifices his ability to perform alchemy in exchange for Alphonse. I might be wrong here but I believe the idea is that in doing so, he is sacrificing his potential to perform any of the amazing but hitherto unknown alchemical transmutation that a human might have the capability of performing and in exchange, he gets his brother back. It was a risky move; performing human transmutation has never been successfully done and there was no reason for him to think that his sacrifice would be accepted but I guess it was a risk that he was willing to take. He leaves the strange limbo world triumphant, with Alphonse in tow.
My thoughts on the conclusion to the series’ central conflict is a little mixed. I love the ingenuity of Edward offering up his very ability to perform alchemy to get his brother back. On a thematic level, it’s a powerful message – Edward chased an alchemy-based answer to his and Alphonse’s circumstances throughout the series, but after seeing how a single-minded pursuit of alchemy led some many people astray (including Father), he realizes that perhaps the answer to committing a sin so grave as human taboo is to deeply apologize for his hubris and in penance, never perform alchemy again. I think that’s an exceptionally clear and beautiful message to end the series on. However, on the other hand, I’m a little confused about how equivalent exchange works here; it feels like we’re increasingly sacrificing the integrity of the magic system in the story for the sake of a more emotionally powerful story. I can see why, but it feels like a cope out.
We end the episode with Hohenheim returning to Trisha’s grave and finally, passing away.
Episode 64: Journey’s End
This is pretty much an epilogue episode, as we check in on characters.
Mustang is going to do right by the people of Ishbal before continuing his journey to become the next Fuhrer President, although it appears that he will be focusing more on the President part than the Fuhrer part – which is a relief. Dr. Marcoh still has a Philosopher’s Stone left and offers to return Mustang’s vision, although Mustang insists on healing Havoc first. I don’t like that Mustang’s vision is returned to him so easily; on one hand, it was bullshit that he lost his vision at all since he was forced to perform human transmutation against his will. At the same time, however, it really lessens the impact of that earlier scene if all the damage is so easily undone. I do heartily approve of Jean Havoc getting his legs restored, however. For Dr. Marcoh, who feels too ashamed of his role in the massacres to help the Ishbalan people more directly, helping someone who in turn will help Ishbal recover is the next best option.
Scar and Miles are recruited into Mustang’s Ishbalan team, but we don’t get any information about Olivier and Briggs. We know that the Briggs battalion suffered immense casualties in the fight against Father and we also know that Olivier and Briggs were vilified for their role in the coup to overthrow Bradley. Did Mustang and Olivier somehow patch things up after that? Does the general public know that she and Mustang were in on it together? If not, it seems that Olivier got a singularly raw deal in all this.
Lin Yao, now back in control of his own body, claims the Philosopher’s Stone and the favor of the Xing emperor but promises May to look out for her and her clan back home.
Finally, Edward and Alphonse return to Winry, who, in a really touching (if slightly drawn out) scene is overjoyed to see the end of their journey.
We flash forward a couple of years; Alphonse is fully recovered and looking to return to the East to visit May, explore eastern alchemy and help some of the chimeras return to their old bodies. We also get confirmation that Edward still can’t use alchemy. We also find out that Selim Bradley is alive and well; but has no memories of being Pride. He is raised by Madam Bradley who just seems to be happy that her son is alive, even if he isn’t what she thought he was. General Grumman, now Fuhrer President Grumman, is keeping an eye on Selim – though it was a little chilling to hear him threaten Madam Bradley when he implied that he would have to kill Selim if Selim caused trouble.
We see Edward bumble through a really strange proposal to Winry. I’m not even sure what he was proposing but given how nervous and incoherent it was, I’m sure Winry got the message. She accepts, of course, and the whole exchange is funny and adorable. Edward’s whole attitude and look reminds me very strongly of Hohenheim’s but the tone of the scene is very different from that of Hohenheim’s departure. The latter event was a sad, traumatizing one for the boys, but this one is a happy moment, filled with promise and hope for the future.
And that’s the series! As mentioned above, I’ll be back in a week with a review but for now, if you have any videos or articles and stuff that you think helped you reach a deeper understanding of this series, now’s the time to send them my way. Till next time!
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