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"Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part Two": Focus, People!

by on October 29, 2010

The second part of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood can be a frustrating watch. It contains many episodes that deal with original material, which seems to have made the show into its own thing after thirteen episodes of rushed recapping, balanced with a few episodes that are still feeling the effects of said recap. The treatment is wildly inconsistent: The episode that introduces the never-before-animated Prince Ling, for instance, is a delight, but the episode dealing with the Elric’s reactions to that one guy’s death (you should know who it is if you’re reading this) feels painfully phony. Too often, it feels like the episodes are being written and directed by somebody who has read a plot synopsis and characters sheet on the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, but has never actually read the manga or watched the first anime. Winry is probably the best example of this tendency: she’s always been a character whose screen time is split firmly between “angst” and “whacking people over the head with the wrenches”, but she was also a driving personality and a wonderfully complex person. In Brotherhood, she’s still angsting and hitting people over the head, but we’ve only got a vague idea (mostly made up of memories from the other show) about why she is doing those things. In the worst episodes, every character trait, from Ed’s sensitivity about his height to Al’s soul-searching tendencies to Envy’s contemptuous smirk, is reduced to a sort of function that the characters only seem going through with because it’s what is expected of them.

Thankfully, these flaws are also mercifully rare; out of thirteen episodes in this collection, maybe four are made acutely painful by them, a ratio which isn’t terrific but is balanced by the fact that the other nine episodes are nothing short of spectacular.

This set begins with Ed and Alphonse in the grips of the Homunculus Greed, from which they escape from, but which leads them to suspect that All Is Not As It Seems and that the conspiracy involved with the sinister Philosopher Stones goes even deeper then they had previously expected. Things are further complicated by the whirlwind arrival of four eastern foreigners: the affable Prince Ling and his duo of bodyguards, and the cute-but-resilient little girl May Chang. These four are interested in obtaining immortality, and see the Philosopher Stone as the first step to getting it.

As I’ve said before, the story is likely to only be enjoyed by those already familiar with the franchise, and this creates a problem, because that same audience is, of course, also the one that has seen all of this before and cannot be surprised. The crew behind the show neatly glosses over this problem simply by adding enough to the adaptation while always remaining faithful to its (terrific) source material, and the show quickly becomes worth watching on its own merits.

The most obvious of these merits, is that it is beautifully drawn and very well animated. The first Fullmetal Alchemist show was far from ugly, but this one takes it to rarely seen levels for a shonen anime. Every fight scene is an elaborate, well choreographed spectacle, and even those pale in comparison with the really impressive bits, like the revelation of Envy’s true form. Bones isn’t the only one who seems to have presumptively spent a lot on this series, though: Funimation’s cast is also terrific. The first anime boasted one of the best dubs the company has produced so far, and this series looks to continue the tradition. Vic Mignogna has really made Ed’s role his own, and new-to-the-franchise Maxey Whitehead is perfect as Alphonse (although the dialogue she is given to work with leaves a lot to be desired). Todd Haberkorn is a wonderfully dual-sided Prince Ling, able to believably switch from lighthearted to deadly serious at a moments notice. When the beautiful animation and talented voice actors are successfully merged with Arawaka’s plot, the results are amazing—the characters have never been in better form than in the best episodes of this series.

This set is definitely worth a purchase by Fullmetal Alchemist fans, though one can still hope the ratio of bad-to-good episodes will improve with the third set.

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