Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Eleven: Doorway of Darkness – ****
Part One: This Would Make a Great Video Game Level
The majority of this episode, as its name suggests, takes place inside the endless netherworld of Gluttony’s belly. The setting stands out as one of the more distinct in the series, visually and conceptually; the floor is entirely covered with about a foot of blood, miscellaneous debris sticking up like little islands, and the only light source is from scattered patches of fire. Ed and Ling wander around for a bit in this endless realm, searching for a way out, but when they find Envy, he tells them why that’s not possible.
Gluttony, he says, is a crude copy of a door of truth, which is how they all got to this place, but the door is incomplete and only opens one way. Whatever goes in stays in. Even Gluttony himself can’t do anything about it. Back in the real world, Gluttony and Al sit awkwardly together, unsure of what to do. Gluttony is going to get an earful for swallowing one of the all-important sacrifices and Envy, and Al recognizes that no amount of fighting is likely to get his brother back. (I’m just going to assume that no one particularly wants Ling back, which, I mean, fair.)
As for the other characters, Mustang is being held captive by Wrath while his crew is reassigned all over Amestris to keep his allies far from reach. May has regrouped with Scar and Yoki, but is distraught over losing her pet panda, Shao May. After giving a backstory to how she found the creature stunted and abandoned by its mother (and… taught it martial arts?), Scar agrees to help her look for it.
The episode ends with Al forming a truce with Gluttony and asking him to take them to Father, who as it turns out is located in Central (which I think we already knew, but eh, Al didn’t, I suppose).
Part Two: GOO FACE DINOSAUR!
The number one thing that stands out here is the design of the Envy monster. After Ed, Ling, and Envy finally accept that they’re going to be stuck in Gluttony’s belly until they die, Ed starts to interrogate the homunculus and he readily spills the beans on most of their major projects. When Ed accuses them of being behind the Ishvalan genocide, Envy gleefully claims credit for murdering a child and starting the whole thing. Ed punches him, realizing as Ling did earlier that Envy is unusually heavy. He transforms into his true shape, that of an enormous dragon-like creature with human heads emerging from its back.
Kudos to the design team that worked on him, because he looks awesome. The shots incorporate 2-D and 3-D animation to handle the many moving parts of the creature and better manage its size, similar to how other animes deal with giant mechs. Admittedly, I find the traditional 2-D animated shots much more impressive to look at, as the heads have other heads emerging from them and move in grotesque ways, but the whole of the creature is well-made, especially for an anime series.
Monstrous Envy has the look of familiar creatures, being reptilian with a few mammal characteristics, but it’s all so contorted and drawn out of proportion that it looks distinctly unnatural. The teeth, for instance, are flat and square like human incisors, but they’re still huge and menacing, fitted into jaws halfway between those of a dog and a crocodile. They could snap you in two just as easily as a guillotine blade.
There are a lot of little details that add to the creepiness of the monster, too, like how one eye has five pupils instead of one, or how the heads are all different proportions and look melted. And yet, despite all of that, the monster still has elements of the human design of the character; it has that leering smile, the black strands of hair hanging in front of its face, and the same voice, just amplified to fit a larger body. It’s impressive, its revelation a good climax to the episode.
Part Three: Well, We’ve Been Stuck Here for a Few Hours, Surrounded by Blood, So Surely We’re Starving. Time to Eat Our Boots!
This is the sort of episode that could easily win my affections, and it does so for a lot of its run. The visuals have never been more impressive, and the horror of Gluttony’s stomach is a much-needed element to ground the character’s reactions. When Ed and Ling realize there’s no way out, their mortified reactions are believable. I don’t get that in this series nearly often enough, because the degree of the responses is so frequently beyond what is appropriate for the given situation or framed with absurd reasoning. The setting helps a lot here, and it offers some truly gorgeous shots with its black background and scant lighting. Even aside from Envy (who requires the animation to be on its A-game), this is probably the best-looking episode of the series so far.
But those strong qualities can only make up for so much. I almost feel like if the episode had only taken place in Gluttony’s stomach and Ed and Ling had more time to interact with Envy on neutral grounds, it would have been stronger. May’s backstory is cute, but since it’s only tied to her panda (which I resent for its unimportance to the plot), the entire sequence could be cut. It’s only there to show how Scar is a nice guy when he agrees to look for the animal, and that strikes a sour note when May has already been steamrolled by Ling’s backstory and had little to contribute on the whole. Add to that little annoyances like Ed and Ling resorting to eating boots when A) they haven’t been stuck for very long, and B) they’re surrounded by a literal lake of blood. You know what’s edible, guys? Blood. He’s an alchemist, surely he could create some sort of food from it, right? He creates a sword from it.
Any given negative in this episode is a minor complaint, and on their own, I would be readily willing to overlook them for the quality of the overall episode. However, there are just too many sidetracks and low points and failed jokes for me to consider this one a five-star episode. It’s one of the better ones, but it has ample room for improvement.