Reviewby Sean Broestl,
DVD 2: The Scarred Man of the East
In this series of flashback episodes, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are traveling to Central City to take the State Alchemist certification exam. Once they are state alchemists, they will have access to the knowledge they need to return their cursed bodies to normal. Unfortunately for them, even the trip back to Central will be a trial as they unwittingly become the frontline against a group of ex-military train hijackers.
And as if passing the certification exam wasn't enough, Ed and Al will already have a mountain of troubles plaguing them after the exam is over, including risking one friend's life and losing another. But rumors of the legendary Philospher's Stone drive them onward, to whatever fate it brings them.
Fullmetal Alchemist continues to entertain and amaze with its eclectic mix of humor, action, mystery and drama. To say that FMA is the best show this year is selling it short. It's among some of the best anime ever to grace TV or DVD. The Elric brothers continue to play off each other extremely well, though not to the point of being stale.
Volume two, “The Scarred Man of the East” is jam-packed with more plot development than could be thought possible for a disc this early in the series. At only eight episodes in, we have more insight into the past of Edward and Alphonse than would normally be expected in a show half FMA's length. This volume looks like it wraps up the six or so episodes that have been spent on flashbacks to the Elric brothers' terrible sin and Ed becoming a State Alchemist.
Now, not to nitpick too much, but the choice of title for this volume couldn't more inaccurately describe the content of this disc. A scarred man does appear, possibly of eastern heritage, however, we're never given a name or much of an introduction to this character. Luckily, the profile in the excellent DVD insert booklet provides his name, Scar. He does appear to be someone who will give the Elric brothers trouble later, so he may be something to look forward to next volume.
The real meat of this disc is the history behind Ed becoming a State Alchemist at the age of 12, why Alphonse doesn't become a State Alchemist and how Ed came to earn the name “Fullmetal.” While there is a brief introduction of Scar, his influence on the events of these episodes is relatively small.
Naming of volumes aside, on this disc FMA shines the most at portraying Ed and Al for the children they are. The brothers begin to run up against Roy Mustang in these episodes, as Ed's childish naiveté comes into direct conflict with Mustang's well-intentioned but scheming nature. It's most enjoyable to watch the brothers try to work through this adversity, as the show does a wonderful job of showing that while Ed is a genius alchemist, Ed and Al still don't know how the world around them works.
For that matter, Ed's youth and inexperience is punctuated by the first few episodes on this disc. During the train hijacking episode, Edward comes up with some smart and clever transmutations under pressure. When it comes time to make a grand demonstration of his alchemy skills during the state alchemist certification exam, though, Ed is dumbfounded as to what to do. This serves as a good example of how far from all-knowing Ed is. He has a thirst for knowledge, but lacks the experience to make a unique demonstration of his knowledge. Rather, he makes it on luck and discovery of an innate ability to pass the test, rather than an impressive demonstration of alchemy.
Wasting no time after Ed's certification as a state alchemist, the story quickly moves back towards the hunt for the Philospher's Stone, a plot left that was left hanging after the first two episodes. So we're also shown another personal challenge of morals versus the reality of the world before the quest can really begin. There's also some wonderful insight into Ed's character, as we find again that deep down he's not as ruthless or invincible as he purports to be.
FMA has been enjoyable so far, based on the strength of the plot alone. It's been eight episodes out of 51, now, and with most series, it would be time for a a filler episode of some sort. But there has yet to be anything that could be called filler, or for that matter, even a throwaway scene. The pace is fast but not overwhelming, interesting but not confusing.
The packaging used to wrap up this volume of FMA is excellent, just like the previous volume. The cover features a very imposing picture of Al poised for battle, while the reverse side has a great action shot of Ed and Al sparring. The trend of including a thick insert booklet continues from the first volume too. This volume contains lots of character art and two-page spreads, plus some mini interviews. While stuff like this could easily be done as on-disc extras, this definitely feels much more significant and adds more value to the disc.
Fullmetal Alchemist continues to be an altogether excellent release with a lot of appeal for almost any viewer. This volume is required viewing for anyone planning to go the distance, as it provides a lot of information on the background of the Elric brothers and what caused them to choose the path they do. It's been an enlightening flashback, but it'll be nice to get back to the main plot with the next volume.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Important plot episodes handled very well, still strong animation and art quality.
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