3P Reviews, Anime and Manga, Fullmetal Alchemist

3P Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Season Four, Episode Six (Episode Forty-Four)

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 44A

Spoilers: Yes.

Audience Assumptions: None

 

Season Four

Episode Six: Revving at Full Throttle – ***

 

Part One: Awkward Dad Talks

This episode is more cohesive than the previous one, but you’ll notice many of the same problems, namely that Al and his father have reunited in Liore, yet seem to have skipped the actual reunion scene. Yet again, this is tucked behind the credits of the previous episode.

Older films often used to do this thing where they’d show a person opening a door to a building, walking across the lobby, going up the elevator, and walking down a hallway before stepping into the apartment room that was their intended destination. Directors thought that they needed to show the character doing everything a normal person would do in order for the action to feel real. They later learned that audiences could infer quite well from visual cues and not lose track of the action or place.

In recent years, I’ve started to notice films and shows often overcorrecting this trend, cutting out important clarifying information under the assumption that audiences either won’t care or will be able to piece together the action from context. Al and Hoenheim’s reunion is among those scenes. Strictly speaking, it isn’t important; we know that Al is heading south to Liore, and we know that Hoenheim is already there, so Al getting to a train station, riding the train, embarking the train, and so on aren’t necessary for the plot. But you would still normally leave at least a small transition scene. Showing Al on a train or arriving at a station or something like that allows an opportunity to set the atmosphere, build tension, offer clarification to the audience members who missed Al’s line about Liore, and maybe throw in a bit of character for him. You don’t need to go overboard, but some sort of transition or establishing shot is actually pretty important for story flow, especially when characters are going from one environment to a very different one.

Anyway, aside over. We follow three storylines in this episode, one revolving around Ed, one around Al, and one around Greed. The latter gets its own discussion because it’s special.

Ed is back, and has apparently undergone a major character change: He traded his braid for a pony-tail! Those two chimeras he rescued earlier are helping him heal and evade Kimbley’s men, but really the most memorable thing about this subplot is how it introduces Al. It plays up Ed’s resurgence like he’s been missing for far longer than two episodes, suggesting that either he’s scarred from his injuries or has finally hit puberty, then dramatically reveals that not much seems to have changed. The cinematography goes a long ways in this episode to avoid showing a facial or full-body shot, even showing him bring down Kimbley’s henchmen surreptitiously like he’s Jason Bourne or something. It’s very odd.

Meanwhile, Al arrives in Liore and runs into the Elrics’ estranged father. There, Hoenheim tells his son about his own history, including the bit about him being a living Philosopher’s Stone. Hoenheim reveals two key pieces of information that will help them bring down Father: first, that the skin suit Father wears is his flask, and if it is destroyed, he’ll be destroyed too; and second, that the reason the homunculi haven’t acted yet is because it isn’t the right time. There is a given day when they can activate the transmutation circle, and until then, the homunculi can only wait, hence Kimbley’s earlier order to carve the seal of blood. This gives our heroes a new advantage, and the chance to make use of the alternate transmutation circle Scar’s brother came up with.

Plot aside, Al’s reunion with his father is nice – a bit awkward, but in a genuine way. Both characters still feel that familial bond, and get along well despite never really talking to each other before, but Hoenheim doesn’t know how to be a good parent, and Alphonse is overly trusting to a fault. The little personal interchanges they have with one another are honestly the highlights of the episode. It offers a good comparison to Hoenheim’s renunion with Ed. They still try to make Hoenheim look ominous, which is a bit weird, and also there’s something about a sun god, but the conversation is sweet all the same.

 

Part Two: A Beginner’s Guide to Failing the Bechdel-Wallace Test

Oh boy, this again. This might be my least liked scene in the whole series, but at least now they can’t do much worse.

When Al arrives in Liore, Rose (Remember her, from back in episode three or so? Yeah, me neither) shows Winry to a bath and talks with her about her adventures. It starts off reasonably well, with Rose asking Winry if she’s an automail mechanic, and being impressed that she’s managed so much in her life. That’s what makes the scene really frustrating — it could have been fine, or even really nice. Just Winry and Rose chatting about each other’s lives, maybe revealing something new about their little-developed characters. They’ve both lost family, maybe we could see them bond over their shared struggles.

No? They immediately dive into obsessing over and baselessly praising the Elrics, especially Ed, and the scene ends with Rose commenting that Winry likes him? Oh, goodie! That’s exactly what I wanted. You’re so generous, show.

So the Bechdel-Wallace, or Bechdel, test is a basic but useful tool for assessing the general treatment of female characters in a piece of fiction (or narrative non-fiction, too). If you haven’t heard of it before, its criteria are simple. To pass the Bechdel test, a story must include:

  • Two named women
  • Having a conversation with one another
  • About something that is not a man

It is astoundingly easy to pass if you break it down to its core components.

“Wow, Jenny, hot today, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Jennifer, it is hot.”

Wow. This review passed the Bechdel test. Such effort. Much feminism.

A lot of people complain about the Bechdel test because it’s not always representative of whether the female characters in a story are well-developed or well-treated. A lot of films pass the test that arguably shouldn’t get the credit, and a lot of others don’t pass when they feel like they should. Other variables, like the length of the conversation and characters casually referencing men even when those men aren’t the subject, complicate the quality of the test on an individual level. But I maintain that it’s still a useful litmus, especially when weighed against industry-wide trends.

What the Bechdel test is really doing is asking whether there are sufficient female characters among the cast, and whether those characters are given enough of their own personality that this could happen naturally over the course of the story. Male characters have conversations with one another about things other than women all of the time, so pointing out how uncommon it is for this to happen with female characters draws attention to the overall demographics of the cast, and how specific members of that cast are used.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood almost gets it right, but it fails so spectacularly in the finish that it would be funny if it weren’t so damn sad. Over the course of the two-minute conversation, Rose mentions Ed’s name seven times, not including pronouns. Even with characters speaking almost continuously, that’s something you would have to go out of your way to write in. I’m very repetitive in my writing, and even I don’t repeat that much without trying.

Rose also offers, completely unprompted, phrases like, “But he was being nice. That’s just how much he cares,” after telling Winry that Ed yelled something rude at her, and that upon destroying their god like colonists, “He helped open our eyes — mine and the whole town’s,” and that the town rebuilding “is all thanks to Ed and Al,” without a trace of irony.

Y

I

K

E.

 

Part Three: Fucking Finally

In much better news, who else should appear in this episode after nearly a full season with not so much as a glance, but Greed, still possessing Ling’s body. While Armstrong is given a tour of the immortal legion, informed that the unnatural corpses are soulless vessels waiting to be filled and will be completely loyal once they have souls, the chimera Beto eavesdrops. He’s been running around Central, apparently, looking for leads to where his friend might be, unaware that the old Greed was melted. The new one is patrolling the back alleys under Central, so when Beto stumbles upon the army of immortals, our new Greed chases him down. The two of them are initially confused when they figure out who Greed is, which is an amusing little exchange.

Then Greed murders the other Greed’s friend with his stabby hands.

This is where things get interesting. I’m genuinely sad that Beto dies, because this is one character I would honestly have been fine with the series keeping around. But what’s important here is that Greed starts to have flashbacks and remembers parts of the old Greed’s life, specifically surrounding the chimeras. It would seem that the homunculi are not entirely wiped clean with each new iteration — something new to Greed as much as to the audience.

His sudden confusion breaks his concentration enough for Ling to butt in and chastise him for murdering his friend. Ling’s outburst is made unintentionally hilarious by the setting inside Greed’s mind and his exaggerated face squishing against Greed’s weird mask-like one, but I’m fine with this. It’s almost a plus. It’s exaggerated in that classic anime way, but to a useful point.

We haven’t seen much of this version of Greed, but the character is well-drawn enough that we can surmise the general dynamic between him and Ling. Ling is stuck with no will inside of Greed’s head, probably yelling at him nonstop, and constantly trying to retake his body so he can ferry it back to Xing. Priorities, man. Greed of course is unperturbed, even willing to tease or negotiate with Ling here and there. Up to this point, the homunculus’ motivations have mainly been empty words, and he’s seemed content to wander around, murder, apparently, but of course, this being the same Greed in personality as the last one, it seems inevitable that he needs stuff to be placated.

And he has just broken someone’s stuff, only to find it was his own stuff all along. And now he knows who broke his other stuff, and who erased his memory so that he broke his own stuff. Greed is a simple fella, really.

I love character development, especially when it’s applied to villains to make them more morally confusing. Any time a hero turns villainous, or a villain allies with a hero, or a villain turn on another villain, I become very happy. While this series has a lot of great antagonist designs, the main antagonists aren’t especially compelling, with the exception of Greed, and possibly Wrath. The series is wise to throw us something new, and finally make use of this character the way he deserves. Can’t say that for everyone in this series.

 

 

Series Breakdown Rating:

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

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