Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Six: Father Before the Grave – ***
Part One: Daddy Issues
Here we have a turning point in the series that traces all the way back to the boys’ original goal of getting their bodies back, and the events surrounding the attempted resurrection of their mother. Hoenheim, Ed and Al’s father, has returned to Resembool after being gone for many years, and Ed happens to run into him when he visits home. As established early in the first season, Ed harbors strong animosity toward his father for abandoning them. The intervening events of them losing their mother, damaging their bodies, and him becoming a State Alchemist haven’t soothed his feelings.
Hoenheim doesn’t seem overly pleased to see him either. He’s an imposing figure, eyes often obscured by the glint of light off his glasses, and throughout the episode, he holds information above Ed’s head (not that it’s particularly difficult, mind you). Hoenheim speaks in riddles except when he criticizes Ed directly, calling him a child and berating him for burning down his house. He shows little sympathy for Ed and only makes the barest effort to relate to him.
Despite this, we learn that he does indeed have feelings. Hoenheim’s heartlessness comes in part from a woefully inept attempt to manage his emotions. He relates to Ed, though he has a funny way of showing it, and at least some of his anger at Ed and Al, as he puts it, running away from their problems is directed at himself. As we learn later, Hoenheim himself is the one who actually flees in the face of danger, while Ed and Al at least try to face their monsters head-on. Hoenheim tries to comfort Ed, but declines, dropping some plot hints to Pinako then leaving without another attempt to reconnect with his son.
Unbeknownst to Ed and presumably Pinako, Hoenheim appears to be the mysterious Father the homunculi have mentioned. This creates a bit of an intriguing situation for the audience, as we suddenly have some humanity thrust upon what we might assume is our main villain. If he is Father, Hoenheim is in on the conspiracy to rule Amestris and presumably do something horrible through it, and we’ve seen him framed as an actual monster, eating Greed after melting him down, and commanding a hierarchy of sub-villains who are more than willing to get their hands dirty. Merging the image of a flawed but empathetic Hoenheim with his apparent monstrosity presents the show with a unique tension, especially given Hoenheim’s relation to the protagonists.
Part Two: Bones in the Basement
Outside of our first real introduction to Hoenheim, this episode splits into two major sections. The first is the more dramatic and well-executed.
Ed overhears Hoenheim talking to Pinako about the monster Ed and Al brought back to life, questioning whether it was actually their mother at all. We never learn why Hoenheim is curious about this, but it spurs Ed to dig around the foundation of their old house until he finds the bones of the grotesque creature. In doing so, learns that it wasn’t his mother’s body they brought back at all, but some unfamiliar person. After a physically and emotionally grueling task, Ed finally has some closure about his mother’s death. From his perspective, this proves that he wasn’t just an incompetent child who messed up a bit of necromancy, but rather the attempt to bring back their mother was a futile effort to start. I was under the impression they already knew this, or could have deduced it from Izumi, but I suppose it’s nice that Ed feels relieved. If nothing else, him returning home and burying the bones of the attempted human transmutation works as an emotional culmination.
Meanwhile, back in Central, Al has an existential crisis in which he decides he’s on borrowed time and that his body could reject his soul at any time, effectively killing him. Ling (who’s just hanging around mooching food in a way I lowkey love) interprets this as Al being immortal, assuming his soul could be transferred into another vessel. Winry gets upset at his suggestion and runs off to cry in the other room.
When Ed returns to central with the news that human transmutation isn’t only dangerous, it’s physically impossible, he and Al become once again set on finding a means of returning to their original bodies. Again, I very much thought this was their quest already. Whatever, they have renewed motivation for it, I suppose. Ed calls Izumi and she shares in the delight at Ed’s discovery. The episode ends with Winry realizing that puberty exists.
Part Three: The Damage Inventory
As you may be able to tell, my feelings about this episode are somewhat mixed, but the weak points are easy to separate out.
Dear god is Winry insufferable. Obviously, the solution to her poor characterization is for the show to give her some independence and autonomy, but given it was clearly never going to do that, I’m left wondering if it would have been better to remove her altogether from most of the plot. It’s bad either way, but at least if she were stuck in her automail shop for most of the plot, I could pretend she was off doing cool stuff related to her personal interests. The only reason Winry’s here other than to build her up as a weak-ass romantic interest is so that she can shoulder some of the introspection Ed and Al would otherwise have about themselves. She makes them look more humble because rather than moping about themselves, they have an external character mourn for them. It’s the sort of lazy writing patch that makes me think this series was dreamt up by a teenage boy.
I can stand a lot of the anime tropes, like Hoenheim’s artificially gravelly voice, or the shot where a character appears to be crying but they’re actually laughing, or the astonishingly limp excuses for jokes, but Winry’s continued obsession with these dopey boys is nails on a chalkboard. Here’s a piece of advice to anyone who is, or ever was, a teenage boy: literally no girl will ever think about you as much as this. Ever. That’s not how girls work. Girls think about things like books and pizza. Trust me. I knew many a girl in my youth.
The repetition in this episode and the continued insistence on guiding the audience through every single emotion the characters are feeling through dialogue makes me feel like I should be watching better shows. It reminds me why I grew tired of anime as a genre.
However, there are things to like. The visuals are some of them. This series stands out among anime shows for me in its use of color and framing. It is very “baby’s introduction cinematography” at times, with dark colors and clouds acting as metaphors for such complex ideas as “sadness” and “bad feelings.” But some of the imagery is surprisingly effective. Ed’s expressions (when they’re not overwrought) are more complex than the show usually offers, and the episode throws in a few clever angles.
I particularly like the shot of Al, in a memory, hunched up in a dark room trying to make himself as small as possible. This comes as he realizes he can’t sleep when he’s in his metal body, and it’s a nice little moment of vulnerability for him. Al isn’t especially reserved or reluctant to voice discomfort, but it’s rare that the show demonstrates the tragedy of his situation so effectively. I wish the show had established his acceptance of his situation earlier, rather than dropping it here before Al immediately declares he can’t stand being in a suit of armor anymore, but the little memory is nice.