Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Seven: The Northern Wall of Briggs – ****
Part One: HOW CAN YOU PROMISE FIFTEEN-FOOT BEARS AND NOT DELIVER ANY ACTUAL BEARS?!
Ed and Al are in the North, with cold-weather versions of their classic outfits. Well, Ed gets a new outfit; Al could probably change his look, but he’s a stickler for tradition I suppose.
While looking for Briggs, they soon discovers the perils of the harsh northern landscape and the creatures that call it home. Creatures that, despite suggestions otherwise, turn out to be fully human. A man with some kind of strange automail attacks the brothers, heartily capturing them along with other Briggs soldiers. While technically the Elrics do make it to Briggs and offer their letter of introduction to Major General Olivia Armstrong, they do so while being held prisoner under suspicion of spying for the state’s enemies. One would think a letter recognizably from her brother would at least convince Armstrong that these two children are probably not spies, but she runs a tight ship (namely her own), and isn’t willing to take the risk. Also, from the sound of it, she probably just doesn’t get along with her brother all that well. As an older sibling, I can relate.
Ed and Al aren’t the only ones heading north; May and Marcoh have also reached the area near Briggs (off in the forest somewhere), and as Marcoh loudly exposits to his travel companion, Scar and Yoki will meet them here to find the spot where Scar hid his brother’s notes.
I have many questions about the practicality of this situation, none of which warrant discussion here, but I will say I find it odd that Scar opted to travel halfway across the country to hide his brothers notes under a frozen mountain. He is from the desert, surely he knows more convenient hiding spots.
But meanwhile, Scar (and Yoki, unfortunately) are trying to lose Kimbley’s tail. I’m not going to question how they know they’re being followed or why, from a storytelling standpoint, any of this subplot is happening; but Scar has a faceoff with Kimbley, so I guess that legitimizes it. Yes, Scar has built up animosity about Kimbley, but it’s a tenuous tie at best. I’m not ashamed to spoil that what seems like setup for an eventual epic battle (or even just some sort of standoff) between the two of them isn’t really a part of the series. Once you get this many characters running around with their own motivations, tying everything up becomes an increasingly difficult task.
Part Two: Sherlock Kimbley: Action Detective
Speaking of our problem child, the first half of this episode features a lot of Kimbley, and his dialogue is quite terrible. I remain convinced that the show has no idea what it wants to do with Kimbley, but it knows it wants him for something. Probably just to exist, really.
In this episode, the audience is wowed by Kimbley’s ability to point out obvious facts from the previous episode in his efforts to track Scar. Actually, I thought the show was going to show Kimbley heading north and catching up to Scar, monologuing about how he figured out where they were when Scar inevitably asks, “How did you find me?” But no, even that’s giving the show too much credit. Instead, it walks us through every step of a two-step process in excruciating detail.
Kimbley’s tracking a fugitive trying to lie low and avoid a tail. He comes to a junction. To the south, the obvious and more forgiving route, there is a boat. To the north, sudden conspicuous landslides. The person he is tracking has magical destruction powers. Hmm, how will we ever solve this one?
I swear, parts of this show merit a mature rating in the same way as a furby dunked in blood. Just because a show or film is violent, that doesn’t necessarily mean it requires a fully-developed mind to comprehend. I’m not saying simplicity isn’t a boon sometimes, especially when the merits of the show ride on its visuals and lore more than its ability to construct a mystery. For a series that tries to be politically and morally nuanced, though, it has a funny way of showing it sometimes.
Continuing, though, Kimbley does eventually figure it out, and he catches up to Scar’s little posse. He doesn’t find Marcoh as he was hoping, (and I really wish it had been Marcoh just with his face distorted, because it definitely seems like Kimbley would be the sort to fall for that ruse) but he does come face-to-face with Scar. Apparently, despite being, uh, a good few blocks away from the look of it, he also remembers Scar’s face. Who’da thunk? The confrontation leaves both of them in bad shape, but Kimbley more so I would say, given Scar leaves him at the back of a train with a big pole sticking out of his chest.
Honestly, I can think of no more fitting end to Kimbley, and to be completely honest, when I was rewatching this series for the first time, I honestly thought that was where he died. Three episodes after his introduction. But no, he’s still kicking, somehow. You can tell from my recollection how much of an impact his later actions had on me. Spoilers.
Part Three: Ding-Dong, It’s Confession Time!
I really like this episode. It’s not solid enough on its own to warrant a higher rating, but it makes enough cute or clever turns that I would count it among the better executed of the series. It doesn’t aim particularly high, but it hits the mark.
The humor is a big help. The episode pulls a lot of familiar tricks, but perhaps because it draws less attention to them and also opts for many strictly bizarre jokes, many of them are quite funny. Winry’s boss declaring, in what I can only describe as The Oddest Voice, that the boys going north means, “They’re going to die” is so unexpected in its wording I can’t help but love it. Another favorite line is the cart driver asking Al if he’s wearing automail, then when Al says no, responding, “Oh, well, you’ll be fine, then,” and driving off. Maybe I dig this episode’s humor because it’s so ominous.
Ed failing to transmute his attacker’s automail, the boys falling off the trail almost immediately, and of course, pretty much everything about Olivia Armstrong is a joy to watch. Even the sort of joke that would normally get a from me, Ed and Al being confused by how much Olivia doesn’t resemble her brother, kind of works. The joke is less “Oh, she’s pretty” than it is, “Oh, she doesn’t look like a baby-faced mustachioed hunk covered in sparkles who can tear his shirt off by flexing and has no mouth.”
What’s more, seeing the Armstrong family in a later episode legitimizes this confusion somewhat.
Aside from the usual comments — the subplots have nothing to do with each other, there are too many side characters, the episode has no internal structure, I’m just not into anime that much any more — the episode has its charms. The setting of the north is a refreshing change from the litany of pastoral countryside, cities, and deserts that dominate the rest of the settings in the show. Briggs has a more rugged nature to it than the other military stations we’ve seen so far, and Armstrong’s initial suspicion of Ed and Al doesn’t feel forced as much as it feels like a part of her character. Armstrong seems like she’ll be fun already, ostensibly an ally, but clearly antagonistic in a way that requires the boys to win her over. Setup, then, for later episodes. Not bad setup, either.