While not everyone agrees, I find that Fullmetal Alchemist perfectly balances comedy and drama. One minute Winry, the close friend of the Elric brothers who’s also an avid mechanic (certainly useful for restoring Ed and Al’s busted metal limbs after an intense battle), will be bouncing off the walls, and the next minute things will turn solemn. While this sort of approach could be annoying and forced, the way Fullmetal Alchemist executes it feels strangely natural. And because this second set contains a wide range of emotions, both silly and serious, meticulous execution is essential. Luckily, it pulls it off.
Fullmetal Alchemist‘s second partial season set contains episodes 17-28. Numerous events take place that make our heroes, Ed and Al, question their quest to regain their old bodies through the recovery of The Philosopher’s Stone. At one point the two brothers are so frustrated with their supposed lack of progress, and so rattled by the secrets they uncover and their near-death experiences with villains out to kill them, that they snap at each other.
One incident in particular shows how high tensions are running: Al starts to question whether he’s really who Ed, Winry, and everyone else say he is. These doubts worsen when Ed hesitates to tell him something—which Al interprets as reluctance to tell him something that he won’t want to hear—and are solidified by an enemy’s taunting. When the normally calm and collected Al tells Ed to shut up, chills went down my spine. You know morale is less than ideal when Al acts like that.
Speaking of chills, get ready for some more tense antagonist encounters. While nothing quite matches the mad butcher in the first set, there are some fights where Al and Ed’s survival looks in doubt. BONES did a good job of animating the fight scenes, accentuating the blows with the necessary oomph. However, sometimes the more powerful moments are what happens in between the sword slashing, as when Ed makes a surprising discovery concerning a villain, Number 48.
As I said in my volume 1 review, death is a big theme in this show, and it becomes even more prominent in set 2. Besides the tragic and unexpected killing of someone in the cast (which I won’t give away, and it is in one of the strongest episodes in the set), there are numerous musings between Ed and Al about what life means. A particular flashback scene in episode 28 shows the two stranded on an island, realizing that they’re not so special because millions will replace them once they die, and thus nobody will remember them. Much like a certain popular Disney film says, they’re just elements that will return to the soil, completing the circle of life.
Because of that epiphany, as well as the death of their mother through alchemy gone wrong, Ed and Al gained a new-found appreciation for each other, and a respect for why death is an important factor in life. It’s this respect that factors into an ideological choice Ed is faced with in one of these episodes. Will Ed take a quick fix to bring his body-less brother back to normal, even if it means killing innocent victims?
As with the first set, the discs are the same as the singles releases, so special features are thankfully untouched. Arguably the best extras on these three discs are two commentaries from English dub cast members. They’re more casual than fact-after-fact recitation of interesting info, but they’re still very enjoyable to listen to, especially since everyone involved is clearly a big fan of the show, and it comes across in their vocal performances. Some art galleries, Japanese commercials, FUNi trailers, and character profiles round out the extras. Thankfully, FUNi also included the booklets from the singles releases, which contain many pages of artwork from the series. Those who skipped the first wave of FMA releases won’t be shafted here.
While many have probably already seen the entire series thanks to Adult Swim and the DVDs, I’m still reluctant to throw spoilers around, especially concerning this set. Let’s just say that there are some satisfying emotional scenes, some solidly-executed sword battles, and even some comedy to brighten things up. I highly recommend Fullmetal Alchemist to the few who haven’t seen it yet; it has a little something for everyone.
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