Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Seven: Hidden Truths – **
Part One: The Truth Within the Truth… Whatever that Means
From the start, we have a bit of a location problem. Amestris is divided into cardinal directions with a major city in the north, south, east, and west, as well as the very round Central City. Mustang is apparently posted in East City, but I think Ed and Al are back in Central looking for Marcoh’s notes. The reason I’m unsure is that both cities look nearly identical in style and we don’t really have a good bearing for key features other than the Fuhrer’s mansion that would clue us in to which city a character is running through.
Upon their return to urban life, Ed and Al find that the library where Marcoh kept his notes has just recently burned to the ground. Bad luck, I suppose. Not at all suspicious. Luckily, one of the ex-librarians turns out to not only have read every book in the library, but also by tremendous coincidence has an accurate photographic memory of all of them. Almost like we didn’t need the library to actually burn down at all for the sake of the plot.
So she copies down all of Marcoh’s notes for the Elric brothers, who learn to their dismay that Marcoh was an avid chef and actually just wanted them to find his famous chocolate cake recipe. The notes are coded, which the boys determine almost immediately. A quick montage later, and they’ve fully decoded the notes.
There are some important revelations that I’ll get to, but first, I want to note that there are so many plot cul-de-sacs in this episode, and I don’t know why they’re here. After several episodes that really could have used more time to explore their content further, this one is 90% padding. As amusing as Sheska the neurotic librarian is as a character, she’s not fundamental to the plot, and there’s not really anything important she does in this episode that couldn’t have been written around through more succinct means. I do like Sheska, genuinely, and wish the story featured her more prominently. She’s delightful as a background minor character whenever she comes up. However, she doesn’t come up that often, and that means that time spent on her tragic (albeit hilarious) backstory briefly derails the rest of the story.
We do, however, get to know two of the low-level officers assigned as bodyguards to the Elrics — Sergeant Brosh and Second Lieutenant Ross — and that, I would argue, is worth the time spent. Like Sheska, these are minor characters mainly introduced as comic relief. Tastes will vary, but I don’t find them especially funny. Some anime gimmicks and tropes are charming, and some are just a bit too off-tone, and for me, Brosh and Ross’s antics fall into that latter category. They do get character arcs, though, and that’s enough to warrant their presence here. We need to become familiar with these characters before bad things start to happen to them.
Part Two: The Philosopher’s Stone is People!
So all cards on the table, the main purpose of this episode is to reveal that the Philosopher’s Stone is created by sacrificing living humans — and a lot of them. Obviously this casts a grim shadow on Ed and Al’s efforts to get their bodies back, and makes their journey not only more difficult, but morally questionable. Before now, the Philosopher’s Stone was something rare and tricky to make, its unknown recipe just one hurdle to overcome in the process of creating it. As it turns out, this was a misconception; the Philosopher’s Stone has only one ingredient, one that’s readily available, and presumably not too technically difficult to turn into a stone. Ed and Al being are disgusted by the moral decrepitude necessary to go through with creating one, and reasonably so. Even just using a Philosopher’s Stone would put blood on their hands, knowing as they do now where it came from.
This line of thinking also introduces the first proper glimpse at the military state’s corruption. Between our introductions to Bradley and the Ishvalan Civil War, as well as terms like “military state” and “Fuhrer King,” we probably could have guessed something was a bit off. What makes this revelation particularly interesting is that Armstrong, Brosh, and Ross are all there to witness it alongside the boys, potentially putting any and all of them in danger and straining how much they can trust one another.
Ed and Al don’t get much time to ruminate on what they’re going to do about their bodies before Ed realizes that there’s something else. He and Marcoh call this “the truth within the truth,” which is basically a meaningless phrase, but I think it’s meant to imply that, given Marcoh’s research, he’s already created at least one fully-fledged Philosopher’s Stone, and they need to find it. What they’re supposed to do when they do find it is a bit of a mystery, but presumably he means for them to use it, either to restore their bodies, or to bring down the corrupt state.
Part Three: But Wait, There’s More!
By narrowing down their search to the research laboratories in Central, the boys discover an abandoned laboratory right next to a prison, which they take their sweet time explaining to the audience would provide humans for use in Philosopher’s Stones.
The episode is a two-parter, ending on a cliffhanger when the boys sneak into the abandoned Fifth Laboratory and discover it’s not so abandoned after all. They’re separated, and confronted with guards who we’ll get to know well in the next episode.
There are a couple of other minor threads that crop up in this episode, notably a fight between Scar and the homunculi Gluttony and Lust. Scar appears to have died, but mystery about whether he got away is immediately shattered when Gluttony confirms (for no reason other than to hold the hand of the audience) that Scar did in fact get away. This is kind of an unimportant scene, except that it shows the homunculi are antagonistic toward Scar as well as, presumably, the Elrics, and also that Mustang sees Scar as his ticket up the career ladder.
I do have to say, this is not a very challenging series. Not all series have to be challenging, and some of the better qualities of the show might make it worth a watch to someone who doesn’t normally like anime. However, at the same time, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in particular trends toward over-explanatory and repetitive, especially in its earlier episodes, to the point where I’m kind of surprised this series has the reputation that it does. I realize a lot of effort went into this series, and it shows. I do, though, find myself struggling to talk about anything of much substance beyond the number of characters and little details like what’s happening in the plot. Maybe as we get further on I’ll find something to latch onto, either an interesting concept or something I can fully geek out over. Whichever comes first.