3P Reviews, Anime and Manga, Fullmetal Alchemist

3P Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Season Four, Episode One (Episode Thirty-Nine)

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 39.png

Series Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Creativity: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Dialogue: 4
Sum: 30/50

 

Spoilers: Yes.

Audience Assumptions: None

 

Season Four

Episode One: Daydream – ***

 

Part One: Out with the Old, In with the New

We have a shiny new opening, and you know what that means: new season!

Well, sort of. This show is highly linear, so season deliniations are iffy at best, but I do like having a way to differentiate sections of the story. We aren’t actually at the end of the northern escapades, but we are nearing them. Ed and Al have found Scar and formed a shaky truce in order to learn alkehestry from May. All they need now is a way out of Kimbley’s grasp.

I’m honestly a bit bemused that the show opted to present a cliffhanger at the end of the last episode, especially one so hackneyed. Of course Scar didn’t actually kidnap Winry; it’s part of Winry’s plan to provide a distraction so that they can escape. This episode, thankfully, doesn’t draw out the twist. It gets to the point quickly and efficiently.

The idea is that Kimbley is hunting Scar, so he needs to disappear in order to be useful to the crew as a translator. Winry also needs to disappear, now that she knows she’s being used as a hostage. However, Kimbley will immediately suspect the Elrics for interfering if either of these things happens on their own. Therefore, if Scar kidnaps Winry, Ed can blame Kimbley for negligence and avoid falling under suspicion himself. Because Kimbley isn’t exactly known for his precision, he won’t be able to take down Scar without hurting Winry, whom the homunculi need alive.

It’s a bit of a half-baked plan, reliant on coincidences like a sudden snow storm and Kimbley not noticing where Winry went, but fantasy series aren’t exactly known for their tightly-knit plotting, so I won’t begrudge the show here.  Most of the episode backtracks to Winry’s conversation with Scar, and features the characters trying to figure out their escape through some mine tunnels.

Most of the scenes are occupied by negotiations, promises, and characters coming to understandings with one another. Normally this is my jam, but the only characters I would consider to have meaningful interactions are Winry and Scar, the former of whom decides not to hold a grudge over the latter for her parents’ deaths. This rings a bit hollow for me because I didn’t buy the melodrama of her breakdown back in Season Two. Perhaps if the series had clarified Winry’s relationship with her parents, or gave her moments to think about them before introducing the idea that Scar murdered them, their reconciliation in this episode would be more meaningful. As it is, I imagine it could probably work well for a more sincere fan of the series, but the character interactions here aren’t really my cup of tea. Scar’s conversation with Miles is a little interesting, but other than that, I feel like the plot could have been pushed alone at a faster pace.

 

Part Two: I Lied; Yoki’s Useful Twice

This is one of the curious few episodes that has a theme to it — at least, insofar as a theme can still be that when all of its uses are laid out in the text.

About halfway through the episode, we meet Kimbley’s two chimeras properly. They’ve been tied up since losing their fight in the previous episode, but when Miles threatens to kill them, Alphonse steps in to stop him. The chimeras tell Al that they’re dead either way, as the only one they have to go back to is Kimbley, who would likely kill them for failing to catch Scar anyway. The chimera’s dejected outlook on life upsets the young Elric, which prompts a conversation about bodies. Al sees the chimeras as reflections of himself, as they have alchemically-altered bodies that make them look and act inhuman much like he does.

The chimeras, inspired by Al’s resolution to restore his own body, resolve to do the same and join the main crew. While perhaps a bit optimistic, wondering if the solution to their mutation lies in the journal, their enthusiasm gives Al hope.

This conversation becomes relevant later in this very episode when Al realizes his unusual body has its occasional advantages. He can’t feel cold, so he’s impervious to the blizzard — or so he thinks.

Much of Alphonse’s character arc revolves around him feeling uncomfortable in his artificial body and figuring out how to use it effectively. In this episode, it provides a useful talking point that allows him to relate to and befriend the chimeras. But as if we’re in need of more drama at this point, Al’s armor shuts down, showing him his real body as Ed saw it, and leaving Alphonse a hunk of sheet metal in the snow.

 

Part Three: Let’s Talk Dialogue

I frequently accuse this series of having bad dialogue, which is such an unhelpful phrase as to be almost meaningless. As this episode consists of a lot of dialogue and good examples of where I feel the series falters, it offers a good opportunity to explore what bad dialogue is in writing and how well-written series mitigate it.

Dialogue is obviously a means of communication between two or more characters, but what’s being communicated is not always what’s being said. Likewise, dialogue is most interesting when what each player gets out of the conversation is slightly different. Characters can’t read minds, but they’re also unlikely to speak their minds directly. When characters do speak their minds, it’s often driven by emotions and inarticulate. Flaws in speech are good; they make the conversation feel real, and aid its flow. If you record an actual conversation between you and others, even a conversation that’s going well, you’ll notice that it’s full of awkward pauses, fumbled wording, and especially abrupt changes in topic.

In fiction, most conversations do not go well. That’s where drama comes from.

I don’t intend to lecture about what to do and not do in your writing when working on dialogue, because to be honest, instructional writing advice is often uninteresting to read. It tends to be repetitive at best and condescending at worst, and I hope that I don’t do it much in my reviews. Dialogue is very complicated, just as language is, so there is no discrete formula for good dialogue. What works in one situation won’t always work in another. Recognizing a problem and the severity of it is far more important than figuring out what would sound good in the first place. As with most aspects of writing, “good” is really more of akin to “lacks gaping flaws.”

But to return to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, here’s a conversation (dubbed, fight me) that I found rather awkward in this episode:

 

Winry: “Why? Why did you kill my mother and father?”

Scar: “There’s nothing I can say that won’t sound like an excuse. And nothing can change the fact that I am responsible for their deaths. I killed them… Young girl, you have every right to pass judgement on me.”

Winry: “Your arm. You’ll die if we don’t bandage it.”

Ed: “Winry!”

Winry: “Quiet, Ed. I think… I think this is what my parents would have wanted. Mom and Dad saved his life before, after all. There has to be a reason for that.”

Scar: “Does that… mean you’re forgiving me?”

Winry: “Oh, don’t get me wrong! I don’t forgive your wanton murdering.”

Ed: “Winry…”

Winry: “It’s all right, I won’t cry. Didn’t I promise that the next time I cried, they would be tears of joy?

 

The ideas communicated by these lines is not itself bad — a girl confronts the man who murdered her parents, he confesses that he’s remorseful but it doesn’t matter because they’re still dead, and she shows him pity because she’s the bigger person. We also have Ed, who hates Scar and knows how hard this is for Winry, jumping in occasionally without much of anything to say.

I’ll ignore the character expressions and the other filmic elements of the scene, some of which help and others of which hinder its delivery (like the too-loud choir music that plays through the whole scene). As written, the dialogue makes sense, but it’s very bland. Very little is given to indicate voice for any of the characters, so they all sound very similar and robotic. Many of the lines are awkward to read, full of antiquated cliches like “wonton murdering” and “tears of joy,” which reflects in the way the voice actors deliver the  scene.

The dialogue itself is bare-bones, which makes sense for the more emotionally-charged parts of this scene, but not for Winry’s conversation with Ed toward the end there. Every line is practical and direct, with characters saying exactly what they think. This has the result of making them all seem honest, but empty-headed. Likewise, a lot of the dialogue in this exchange is unnecessary. Winry doesn’t really need to explain why she’s bandaging Scar, because the audience should understand through her actions that she’s decided not to hold a grudge, and Ed doesn’t really deserve an explanation even though he might need one more. This is Winry’s moment, so the emotion of the scene plays better with only the necessary dialogue in crucial moments.

Scar also seems to have a sudden change in motivation over the course of about five lines. He starts the conversation expressing guilt but an unwillingness to elaborate on the circumstances. The circumstances in question involved him being confused, not knowing his power, and dealing with immense grief when he killed Winry’s parents — amounting, basically, to an accident. That Scar refuses to explain it was an accident tells you something about his character — he doesn’t see much value in trying to remedy past mistakes, he regrets what he did but doesn’t feel capable of fixing it, and he knows he’s the bad guy. These are more or less consistent with his characterization up to this point, with the exception of how the character expressed guilt. However, then he seems surprised and over-eager that Winry is forgiving him, which fits his character not at all. Scar’s mopey. He doesn’t want forgiveness, he wants punishment — or, at least he has in all previous encounters. If Winry’s kindness is enough to change him that much and show him the lighter side of life, we probably need more time for this act to sink in before he expresses how much it’s changed him.

For maximum effect, the scene probably should have held on Winry and Scar, had Winry interrogate Scar more prominently so that her full anger could come out, as it did in Season Two, before petering out as she realizes hurting Scar won’t help her heal. This is the important part of the scene. Clarification that Winry doesn’t forgive him, and her narrating what she’s doing are both unnecessary and insult the intelligence of the audience. The scene could end with Winry bandaging up Scar and Ed comforting her, and it would probably be more effective.

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