Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Ten: Inside the Belly – ****
Part One: Way to Ruin the Surprise, Marcoh
For an episode framed around an action setpiece — and an impressive one at that — this episode is surprisingly eager to cut away to more mundane activities, including a child reading an age-appropriate essay on why he loves his dad. Dope.
The tangents aren’t bad, really, especially for what this series sometimes has to offer. It wants to give a sense of plotting and manipulation, which I’ve always felt was a ruse to make the show seem more nuanced than it was, but some of these scenes have a nice cadence to them. The first of these — the one the show opens with — seems to be a brief sidestep to the homunculi’s lair, where they’re keeping Doctor Marcoh. It turns out that the doctor wasn’t killed as supposed a few episodes back, but instead captured and held for some nefarious purpose. He supposes completely out of the blue that the homunculi are building an enormous transmutation circle around the entire country, intending to use it to make a Philosopher’s Stone.
And let me stop right there, because, what? Later episodes will show specific characters that this is true, and that the thing Sloth is constructing is the outside of the circle. It’s a good reveal, actually, because we get sufficient hints that build to that reveal, and it’s appropriately epic. But here Marcoh is, barging in on the story and spoiling something we really don’t need to know yet. WHY?
The exchange is really about Envy and his character, as we see him toying with Marcoh and dangling freedom above his head with the caveat that his village will be destroyed. It’s going to be destroyed anyway, but Marcoh is done with murder and can’t bring himself to sacrifice them. Envy mocks him for being a weak human, because Envy has a Napoleon complex as the episode is keen to remind us on several other occasions. Subtlety is not the script’s strongest suit.
We also get a few short scenes with Bradley, one where he’s speaking to an unseen or disguised Pride, the last homunculus to be revealed, and another where his small son reads him an essay. I’ll bring that essay up later, but aside from being notably bad in the way an essay written by a small child would be, it also only gets funnier the further you get into the series.
Part Two: Belly Indeed
The final scene diverging from the main fight appears toward the end of the episode. Mustang tries to find government allies by hinting to a high-ranking officer that he knows Bradley is a homunculus. And by “hinting,” I mean all but saying outright, “Hey, Bradley is a homunculus.” This turns out to be a bad move, because not only does this officer, and every other high-ranking officer in Central know about Wrath, but they’re all on board with the homunculi’s plan, whatever that may be. Mustang has no influential allies who could help him topple Bradley’s regime, and furthermore, now Wrath himself knows the extent of Mustang’s inquiries.
So why did Mustang decide to trust this guy? The episode wants to frame the exchange as Mustang weaving a web without realizing he’s already caught in a bigger one, but for all the show’s efforts to present Mustang as a crafty planner in it for the long game, all it really ends up doing is bypassing the genuine work involved. A shady associate of his tells him that he might be able to trust this other shady guy, and he immediately blurts out scandalous information he himself only learned, what, an hour ago?
This is partly a problem with trying to depict smart characters. Mustang falls into the trap immediately, but because the episode doesn’t have time to show him genuinely failing, it has to resort to him making an obvious mistake in order to get him where it wants him to be. If you tell the audience that a character is good at something, that’s fine, we’ll accept it, but if you show us something to the contrary, you’d better put the legwork in to back it up. Or, at the very least, make it lead to something worthwhile.
Part Three: The Rarest of the Wild Anime Jokes — One That’s Actually Funny!
But of course, the main draw of this episode is the fight promised at the end of the last one. Just outside of town, Gluttony has turned into a fearsome beast capable of devouring swaths of land in an instant, consuming anything in his path. The mortician takes the injured Lan Fan and Mustang away, leaving Ed, Al, and Ling to fight Gluttony themselves, shortly before Envy shows up. Realizing that the homunculi can’t kill Ed and Al because of their status as “sacrifices,” the Elrics decide go after Gluttony while Ling faces Envy.
I like that the fighting techniques the human characters use against the homunculi, and those the homunculi use, aren’t just boring brute strength. There’s a fair bit of planning and reaction dependent upon the homunculi’s abilities, such as their regeneration and physical limitations. One odd element of the fight is that the episode goes out of its way to show us that Envy sinks into the ground more than he should and seems unusually dense and cumbersome. This is never used as part of the battle. I’m sure we won’t have an overly-long flashback to explain this very obvious thing to us in case we somehow missed the multiple seconds of Envy sinking into mud in a high-stakes fight.
The fight visuals are nice, with some creative animation on the homunculi’s unique abilities. Gluttony as a many-toothed monster is especially intricate. The fight itself isn’t overly complex, but it has some qualities to it; both sides slip up not because they’re outmatched, but because they fail to keep track of where their allies are. Characters re-working their plan mid-fight leads to small notes that make the fight better. Case in point, evacuating Mustang and Lan Fan, though it’s a brief scene, actually feels tense and earned. As much as I like a struggle, fighters where characters are near-fatally injured but still capable of taking a beating without dying offer little risk. By having those characters falter and need to be rescued, the delay in rescuing them heightens the sense of danger for those who decide to stay back. And when they get eaten, even though we know the show won’t actually kill them, it’s still a gruesome conclusion.
Oh, and hey, this episode is actually kind of funny, in an appropriate way. Not every joke lands, but a few are charming, and I love the banter between the various characters. The homunculi being irritated that they have to make sure the fight is non-lethal as far as the Elrics are concerned is an utter delight, and the show knows when to give Ling and Mustang empowering moments and when to leave them just a little bit useless. Combined with solid fight choreography and interesting animation, it’s enough to make me forgive the usually weak dialogue in the rest of the episode.