Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
BLURAY Part 4
Events in the North come to a head when Ed's group and Kimblee finally clash, but before the final blow can fall Kimblee gets new orders: carve the crest of blood at Briggs. The nationwide transmutation circle is almost complete and the new turn of events soon has "Father"'s staunchest opponents, Ed and Al, separated. With every soldier in Amestris on their tails, the two, along with a few unlikely allies, must make their separate ways to Central and to the heart of the evil that threatens their nation. They're not alone. Olivier Armstrong and Roy Mustang both have plans for Amestris's capital, and neither plan is particularly beneficial to the powers that be, King Bradley and Father included. The coup is on, and Central will burn.
If you want a demonstration of what a shonen adventure is like when it's done exactly right, you can't go wrong with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Especially now. It has always, at least since its somewhat rushed opening episodes, been a funny, exciting, occasionally wrenching action series of epic scope and deceptive depth. But it's here during the opening strains of its nearly twenty-episode climax that it opens the throttle all the way and really comes into its own.
Of course, this being the show's penultimate set, it isn't all climactic acceleration. There's a good deal of maneuvering to be done and secrets to be revealed before the show can wind up for its final blow-out. It's in this period that we finally learn Hohenheim's past, and Father's. That Ed and Al go their separate ways, create their separate alliances, and demonstrate their separate strengths. That Dr. Marcoh settles his score with Envy, and Greed breaks with his homunculi brethren. That the boys reconcile with their father and make their final preparations for the Promised Day. There's humor along the way (most memorably during Ed and Winry's ill-timed reunion), and intrigue, and poignancy (most strongly in Al's return to Liore). Brotherhood navigates this all with the same loose-jointed ease with which it has navigated nearly all of its many plot turns and mood shifts, plunking us almost carelessly down right on the brink of the siege of Central.
Whereupon it screams downhill into a pit of tightly-controlled chaos.
It's in that pit that the true mettle of Brotherhood's creators is tested. The siege of Central is an enormous undertaking during which dozens of characters, a half-dozen plot lines, and nearly as many fragmenting and recombining fights are juggled simultaneously with the inexorable advance of the main plot. That takes skill to pull off—a lot of it. And surprisingly, Brotherhood has it. As charming as that loose-jointed feel was, it gave little indication that the series would handle a Byzantine monster like the siege particularly well. But director Yasuhiro Irie and screenwriter Hiroshi Ohnogi orchestrate Hiromu Arakawa's epic climax with a clean ease that is truly eye-opening. Armies of undead dolls, the various homunculi, Central's disordered soldiers and their even more disordered leadership, Mustang and Olivier's factions, Ed's group, Al's group, the Xingese warriors, the Ishvali dissidents, Father, and a few unaffiliated faces from the past—Irie and Ohnogi keep them all moving with miraculous clarity as they bounce off of each other, joining and parting and striving each for their own ends in their own distinctive ways. It's a narrative balancing act of daunting skill, nearly as thrilling and beautifully choreographed as the fights that result from it.
It's also a narrative balancing act that necessitates a few transparent devices. The ways in which it delays and otherwise occupies some of the factions while it focuses on others aren't always artful. Ed and his crew's long, pointless brawl with a legion of flesh-eating mannequins is the worst of them, though the pitifully unconvincing "death" used to keep King Bradley out of the fray is a close second. Such tactics are necessary, one knows, and can pay off most handsomely (especially about four episodes into the next volume), but that doesn't stop them from also being irksome.
There are enough other rote elements scattered throughout this set to remind you that Brotherhood is indeed a shonen adventure, with all of the attendant trappings. Folks who somehow find the time for lengthy speeches on not leaving comrades behind or the relative efficacy of killing as opposed to sparing enemies in the midst of pitched battle, for instance. Or timely rescues by once-absent comrades. But the series gets so much else right that it's positively curmudgeonly to hold that against it. It's full of great little inventions, from Pride, a formless monster comprised of teeth and eyes swimming in jagged lakes of shadow, to the screeching, ravenous masses of eyeless man-dolls that make up Central's "immortal legion" (among anime's more unsettling sights, by the way). It's populated with characters every one of whom, from the tertiary throwaways to the late additions to the big players, is written well enough that they could spearhead a lesser series on their own. Its world strikes a perfect balance of eerie mystery and explicit detail, and it never forgets its slightly goofy sense of humor (or its SD gags), even in its darkest, most disturbing hours—of which it has plenty.
And one shouldn't forget the series' sheer technical skill either. Hiroki Kanno provides simple and efficient, if occasionally slightly sloppy, designs for the characters to inhabit, just as Irie and his collaborators at Bones flesh out Brotherhood's setting with superior backgrounds and complement its colorful, varied plot with vibrant, energetic visuals. Action scenes are pure showboating, full of "because we can" moments of sheer animated excess as characters leap, punch, slice, shoot, burn, detonate and generally wreak mayhem with every ounce of cinematic fluidity and substance that Bones can muster. Akira Senju's score, for its part, is as vast, varied, unsettling, and beautiful as the series itself.
There're no new characters added this set, so your impression of Funimation's dub is unlikely to change for the better or the worse. It's rock-solid work with just the occasional soft spot in it, perfectly capable of delivering every ounce of the series' considerable impact intact. The script appears to be pretty tight, though it's difficult to tell as the discs' settings prevent one from watching the English version with the subtitles on.
For extras we have two episode-long commentary tracks, one for episode 40 and the other for episode 46. Each features ADR director Mike McFarland with a portion of the cast and is more informative than entertaining—just the way I like 'em. The bump in video quality, for the record, is worth the bump in price.
Filmmaking is a curious art. It's as much a logistical exercise as an artistic one, its practitioners both artists and engineers. There are a good number of differences between the original Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but if one had to choose just one, it would be that Fullmetal Alchemist was controlled by the engineers while Brotherhood was controlled by the artists. The original's mechanical precision, its carefully measured ratios of action and tragedy and humor, are no coincidence. Brotherhood is the more organic of the two, ruled simply by what it wants to do rather than what it thinks it should. Which, by the serendipity peculiar to artistic efforts, results in it doing exactly what it should: Weaving an engrossing tale, the next chapter of which, thanks to this set's roiling cauldron of intertwining schemes and destinies, cannot come soon enough.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Plot tightens up and action quotient increases exponentially as the series enters the opening round of a roaring climax.
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