Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode 11: Miracle at Rush Valley – *
Part One: All Girls Can Deliver Babies, Don’t You Know?
How many times is it that we have to see some variant of “the miracle of birth” before writers realize that it’s not especially creative? Or pleasant? I get it, new parents are baby-crazed and think that their offspring if the best thing in the world, but you do realize that’s a physiological response, right? Your baby is not objectively better than all other babies in the world? It’s a lump of sausage that has convinced you to love it because it can’t survive on its own and needs you to not view it as a form of sustenance.
Okay, to be fair, the birthing subplot doesn’t take up the whole episode, and there are other things happening concurrently, so the episode isn’t wholly fluff. The cliché of a heavily pregnant woman having to give birth with only the heroes (who clearly know nothing about midwifery) at hand is so overused and tedious that I hate to see it in any show unless it serves some other purpose. Babies happen. Often. Sure it’s an important experience for the child’s parents, but it’s really not all that interesting for anyone else to hear. It’s just a lot of screaming and gooey bits, for the most part, and you get your lumpy sausage out at the end of it. Unless somebody dies, or the story takes place over a long enough time period that the child can serve a purpose, or it’s one of the main characters birthing, then childbirth scenes really need to stop, in animated shows or otherwise.
Also, I suppose it makes sense that Winry knows how to deliver babies while the boys are freaking out, because she’s a girl and whatnot. Girls just instinctively know how to deliver babies. I realize the episode provides an explanation in the form of Winry’s parents being doctors and leaving medical books lying around, but she was how old when they died? And she’s a mechanic; she’s never expressed any interest in medical studies nor has reason to be a suitable midwife. There’s even less reason for her to be calm and collected while Ed and Al are running around; medical knowledge or not, this has to be a new and unanticipated experience for her.
It’s not just that this cliche is overused, it’s that there’s something inherently sinister to how it often plays out. Almost every time I’ve seen a group of characters have to unexpectedly help a heavily pregnant woman deliver a baby, the one to act the midwife is always the token girl, and the reason for her qualification is always thrown out at the last minute. With no precedent, she’s capable and collected, and nothing goes wrong, then she or the mother show the infant to the other characters who before now were freaking out and they all marvel at the sight of a baby. It’s some bullshit is what it is. Do you think men can’t deliver babies? Why is the one woman in the group more qualified for baby-related things than, say, the big strapping farmer who has almost certainly had to deliver and bottle-feed farm animals?
I really dislike this cliche. Can you tell?
Actually, if you want a good example of how to do this sort of plot well, look no further than the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime. The scenario is changed somewhat — Ed and Al are staying at Mrs. Hughes’ house before Ed becomes a State Alchemist, and no one knows what to do when she goes into labor. While waiting for the doctor, someone asks Ed to heat up a tub of water and, panicked, he heats it up without using alchemy. Ed and Al are surprised to learn that he can do this, but get the water ready anyway.
Do you see how maybe making the subplot relevant by teaching them something or making it thematic (and not just with some garbage line about how “birth is like human transmutation”), makes it kind of engaging? In the original series, not only is the reveal that Ed can transmute without a circle a built-up moment, but it ties them closer to Hughes and his family, making Hughes’ death that much more devastating. And all without making Winry magically know midwifery.
Part Two: Winry Gets a Mentor We’ll Never See Again
That rant aside, the rest of the episode is pretty mediocre. I don’t mean that in a bad way, really (the one star rating mainly reflects my anger at the baby nonsense), but rather that the episode doesn’t push for much. The crew is passing through Rush Velley at Winry’s bequest, and while there, they meet a double amputee with custom automail who steals Edward’s State Alchemy pocket watch. There’s a bit of clever magic use as the boys try to catch her, but it doesn’t last long. The thief, named Paninya, leads the characters to an automail worker who is something of an adoptive father to the girl.
Winry tries to win the favor of the mechanic so she can apprentice for him, bonding with Paninya in the process. While initially reticent, the mechanic softens when his wife goes into labor and Winry helps deliver her baby (something that takes up over half of the episode for no goddamn reason). I might be kinder to the baby birthing subplot if the story were more focused on Winry and gave her more to do as a character; finding a mentor to work under is a big step in a person’s life, especially when that mentor teaches them a craft they love. However, the series ghosts Winry at every other turn, and after this episode, just leaves her in Rush Valley until she can be used as a plot device later. What is she learning here? Who knows? The episode doesn’t care enough to show us.
Paninya is fun, and her and Winry trying to open Ed’s watch is a touching moment. It is ruined a little by the story shifting from the girls bonding to Winry doting over how sad Ed and Al are, again, but before that happens, it’s nice. Paninya’s backstory is fine; she’s not a fleshed-out character and never really returns to the story after this point, so she doesn’t need much of a narrative arc, but I would have liked the show to make more use of her, especially considering that she’s the only brown person I’ve seen in the show so far, and as another person with automail, she could provide a new lens to how it works in the story. I’ll take what I can get, though.
Part Three: Two Gals Bonding Over a Watch
It was a good move for the show to slow down and focus on a more episodic plot after the packed events and weight of the previous episode. Looking at this one from a purely structural standpoint, it’s not necessary, but it’s the kind of episode I should love. I’m fond of stand-alone episodes with their own intact arcs that still manage to fill in the characters, world, and broader plot in their spare time. This episode has all of that, so I’m a bit bummed that those elements don’t quite work. If I squint, I can see an episode that I might have liked, but it’s just too simple to fulfill my wishes.
The one moment that I particularly enjoyed was when Winry finally pries open Ed’s watch to find, to her shame, that he’s etched inside of it the date that he burned down his family’s house. The connotations falter in the broader context of the series given how almost every moment of Winry’s becomes about the Elrics, but on its own, this is a nice, downplayed scene. It offers complex feelings of guilt, sorrow, regret, embarrassment, mistrust, confusion, and empathy, with relatively few words. Her confession that she opened it is also a tense scene, but in just the way you would want. It plays the characters’ ages and relationships beautifully, and it’s among the more effective Winry-Ed scenes.
This is minor material considering the relatively bland content of the rest of the episode, though, and it still can’t quite overcome the larger faults of the series. I feel like this show is fighting with itself over what it wants to be about, unsure if it wants to focus on its minor characters or use them as a lens through which to view its protagonists. It might have done better with an episodic format; then again, if this one is anything to go by, its episodes might turn out much more generic than they do now. I’m not sure I could offer a foolproof solution.