Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5
Audience Assumptions: None
Episode Nine: Emissary of Darkness – ****
Part One: Silly Coat
I had fun with this one. The episode has a narrow focus, which allows it to do more with the characters it has and gives the audience some breathing space – both good qualities in the lead-up to the end battle.
Ed has reunited with his father and learned the truth about where his father comes from. Not a lot has changed since their last encounter, but there’s a tantalizing little thread running through this sequence that I’d like to pull for a moment. The episode draws attention to Ed re-making his iconic coat (which he almost immediately tosses into the bushes afterward), but through most of the episode, his outfit very closely mirror’s his father’s, right down to the pony tail. I don’t really care if there’s an in-universe reason for it, like he had to borrow his father’s old clothes back at the Rockbells’ place; the visual implication is that Ed is steadily growing into the same sort of person as his father. The show has also explored this idea through other characters commenting on how similar Ed is to his father, and in the episode where Ed uses himself as a philosopher’s stone.
Comparing a male main character to their estranged father isn’t exactly an original move. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common ways to parallel characters, because our society places a lot of emphasis on heritability and patriarchal figures. But it works here to add a bit more to Ed’s character, perhaps more than the series realizes.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that Ed’s discomfort around his father partly stems from a desire to be a better person than him, and the realization that he’s not. He blames his father for abandoning and failing the family, for being distant and inhumane, leaving him and his brother to fend for themselves. Yet, Ed also feels guilty for dragging Alphonse along with him, both in his military escapades and in resurrecting their mother. Ed was the one who insisted on bringing their mother back, and his overconfidence cost Al more than him. Throughout the series, Ed fails people, again and again, coming to the rescue too late, or being useless despite his skill and power.
His father has always been an antagonist in his mind, because life is easier when you can blame your ills on something other than yourself. Ed is a lot like his father, though, and his failings are not dissimilar to he father’s. Through most of the series, Ed rejects any comparisons to his father, or even reminders that his father exists. On some level, he probably knows that his frustration is somewhat irrational. He hates an imagined version of his father, but doesn’t know enough about the real thing to judge him honestly.
Now that Ed needs help and must get to know his father in earnest, he’s disconcerted by what his father is really like. But, crucially, he doesn’t hate it; Ed has grown a bit since their last encounter, and he’s willing to talk to his father on equal terms, not just as child and parent. He’s still not entirely to the point where he’ll willingly work alongside his father, still insisting on reclaiming some of his old identity by way of his coat, but he’s getting there. For a character who doesn’t change a lot over the course of the story, that’s pretty significant.
Part Two: Nights Out
The bulk of the episode is an action sequence, but it has a nice twist that makes it less of a battle and more of a board game. Anime battles often stop partway through so the characters can monologue or exchange barbs, which is a mainstay of the genre’s aesthetic, but also mostly done for budget reasons. Used effectively, it can add character development to a fight, used ineffectively, it makes all of the participating members look like they’re clinging too hard to their drama class days.
In this episode, the fight against Pride is cut short when Ed douses the lights. Pride can’t attack until the lights go back on, but no one else can see, either. It becomes a race to find and stop Pride before the power returns and the main characters are at a steep disadvantage again. Greed offers information about the other two homunculi, and sends one of the chimeras goes off to attack Pride’s body. Pride is a homunculus, so killing him is somewhat optimistic, even if he can’t do much to fight back. On top of that, Gluttony can track them by smell, so while he can’t see any better than the rest of them, he’s a danger to be reckoned with.
The lull in the fight gives the characters sufficient time to reconvene, and also an excuse for them to talk to one another. Because it’s an animated series, the artists can draw the scenes dark enough that it’s plausible none of the characters can see, without obfuscating what the audience is viewing. As a result, the audience can see a little bit more than the characters.
What can you do when the audience knows more than the characters? Build up anticipation, for drama, or comedy. At one point while stumbling around, Ed, one of the chimeras, and Greed run into each other. They soon realize that Gluttony is around, and decide they need to find a way to take him down. Gluttony knows they’re in the area, but his sense of smell doesn’t allow him to react quickly, making him an easy target for the chimera. The chimera figures out roughly where Gluttony is and punches him with exaggerated grace, and lands his finishing blow on Ed, because neither of them can see anything. It is glorious.
Part Three: I Will Not Fanbaby… I Will Not Fanbaby… Fuck it, I’m Fanbabying.
Yes, yes, yes, the fun part of this episode is Ling and Greed swapping control over their shared body and cooperating, and I fucking love it. The cliche of characters who are possessed or have DID talking to themselves, arguing with their other identity, and eventually coming to some sort of agreement over how to work together is hackneyed and goofy and has practically no relevance to real life.
But I love it.
This is 100% my trash. If anyone ever let me write a soap opera, every single character would have a minimum of two other people living inside their heads. I love characters who yell at their ghost friends that no one else can see, I love characters with Jekyll/Hyde complexes, I love werewolves, and shapeshifters, and people who are secret aliens or have magic powers and don’t yet realize it. All of this nonsense fills me with the purest, most concentrated joy.
And Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, for all of its other flaws, absolutely delivers in this area. It is truly amazing.
I don’t even really like Ling that much as a character, but I cannot express the dumb baby grin that sprawls across my face when Greed freezes up because Ling can sense the homunculi. They even give him the whole covering-your-face-with-your-hand-to-hide-the-transformation thing, which is the corniest thing since maize. And you get this moment where Gluttony eats Ling’s arm off, except he’s a homunculus now, so it grows back, and I love that. Dearly. Very dearly. It almost makes this entire ordeal of reviewing every episode of this show I mostly don’t care for worth it.
See? I’m delirious now.
I… don’t really have anything else to say. This is a fun episode. It made me briefly happy.