Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 25th 2011
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
DVD Part 5
Mustang's coup continues and the Elric faction moves forward as friend and foe alike fall and Father's plan unfolds, opposed but unabated. The being once confined to a flask has planned an assault on god himself, using the lives of millions as his weapon. It falls to a fragile few, a makeshift alliance of mortals, to undo his colossal metaphysical scheme. They cannot do it without sacrifice. After all, that is the law of equivalent exchange.
Epic is a much-abused word. Anything anymore can be called epic. Fights, hairdos, intestinal distress. It makes it difficult when something truly deserving of the word comes along. Like the culmination of Father's scheme. The entirety of FMA:B could be called epic—it has the sprawl to justify it—but Father's plan is of such scale and its result so mind-bogglingly spectacular that it can't be called anything else. It's a plan, centuries in the making, to sacrifice an entire nation in order to consume god. If not epic, then what? It is so huge in scale, in fact, that a goodly portion of the series' finale comes completely unmoored from reality, ironically making this set's epic quality its greatest weakness. In pushing the limits of scale, parts of the final episodes come very close to being magical gobbledygook; and the twists and countermeasures of a huge magical gobbledygook battle are a lot harder to get behind than the turnarounds and counter-turnarounds of concrete military actions or smaller, more personal battles.
Whatever the finale lacks in other areas, though, it more than makes up for in sheer spectacle. There's no better chance than when the lid blows off of reality to let the imagination run rampant, and run it does. There are sights to be seen here that you quite simply will never see anywhere else. Continent-sized spells, eyes in the moon, planetoid shadow-men throwing open the doors of the world and pulling planes of reality together, and other, harder to describe things. This is what animation does best: bringing life to things that otherwise could only have existed in the imagination. The spectacle does a good job of toeing the line between comprehensible and incomprehensible, of establishing a process beyond human understanding while keeping its consequences clear. Not since End of Evangelion, perhaps, has anime created something so strange, awe-inspiring, and infuriatingly difficult to wrap your head around.
The set's real strength isn't its ending, though. Rather, it's simply the quality of its story, carried over from the last set. To the end the show juggles its storylines expertly, moving them forward quickly and confidently. It's hard to overstate just how great it is to see a show that doesn't dither, wander or hesitate. Every episode is a buffet of new developments, unexpected encounters, and meaty action, all moving relentlessly forward. Old grudges, new alliances; schemes that are coming to fruition, and those being torn apart by returning foes or armies of zombie mannequins—all play themselves out as the vast cast gets drawn ever closer and the doom of the nation looms. It's a pleasure in itself just to watch how the series pulls everything together, tying loose ends and resolving its many internal and external conflicts. It's an even greater pleasure to lose yourself in it and just ride the coaster, screaming all the way.
If you have a favorite character—and if you've been watching this long you'll definitely have one—somewhere along the coaster you're going to see them shine. Like its plots, FMA:B's characters also intersect and intertwine as they barrel towards their conclusions. Mustang meets Envy, and unleashes the fury that destroyed Lust. King Bradley rampages through the Briggs soldiers and butts head with Greed/Ling and Ling's retainers, proving all the while just how freaking cool a middle-aged dude can be. May, Buccaneer, Izumi, and the chimera brigade all make their contributions, Scar steals most of his scenes, and the younger Armstrong gets a fabulous fight. Against all odds (popular entertainment abhors unrepentantly strong women), the elder Armstrong maintains her unwavering strength and ambition throughout, while Ed proves that compassion is as powerful a weapon as anything and Al shows just how deep his protective instincts and fraternal devotion go.
And those are just the highlights. The sheer logistics of keeping the show's enormous cast in play is impressive enough, but even more impressive is how much it makes us care for them, down to the bit players and even the villains. Envy gets perhaps the set's most touching moment, and Pride's ultimate fate is as forgiving as it is viscerally satisfying. That's a goodly part of what makes FMA:B great: it may be epic in scale, but it's always human in its consequences, and those consequences are rarely predictable. Especially here, as it draws to a close.
It's been 64 episodes, so if you were going to get used to the soft spots in Funimation's dub, you would be by now. If, for instance, you don't like the way Ed Blaylock's Bradley compares to Hidekatsu Shibata's—and it isn't always well, so that's understandable—then turn on the Japanese track and move on. The dub isn't about to change its stripes at this point in the game. Which is a good thing in general. Chances are when the original hits you, the dub will hit you in the same place, and you can't ask more than that.
There are two important extras in this set: one a nice, lively commentary (for episode 64, featuring Mike McFarland, Maxey Whitehead, and Vic Mignogna), and the other a seven minute compilation of amusingly profane outtakes. A note on the DVD version: while the difference between it and the Blu-ray isn't likely to be revelatory, the monstrous spectacle of the finale and the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink showboating of Yasuhiro Irie's action scenes mean that you may want to spring for the HD version anyway. Every little bit extra helps when something is preparing to blow your eyes out the back of your head.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is hardly perfect, even as it hits its screaming peak. The designs remain somewhat inconsistent and the sponge-painted backgrounds will always be an acquired taste. There are also some hitches when combining multiple fights and if you sniff hard enough, you can definitely get a whiff of cheese off of the final couple of episodes. That has always been part of FMA:B's charm, though: that it never strove to be perfect. The series is content in its messiness. Which makes the completeness of its conclusion that much more remarkable. It's a stubborn viewer who'll leave Brotherhood without their fist raised and their heart full.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ A sprawling, exciting conclusion to a sprawling, exciting series; a feast of visual imagination.
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