Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode Six: Return of the Fuhrer – **
Audience Assumptions: None
Part One: Unravel
As we get closer to the end, I notice the cohesion of the series falling apart. It’s starting to feel a lot less like a single narrative than a Frankenstein’s Monster of separate stories stitched together, and that’s the sort of thing that will not hold forever.
We forgo Ed, Mustang, Scar, May, and the Armstrongs to finally return to Greed and Ling, as they face down Bradley once more. Side characters like Buccaneer and Mustang’s men at the radio station also get a few moments, as do Fu and Hoenheim, but the emphasis for now is on Greed, Ling, and Bradley.
First, let’s cover Bradley’s return. It’s no surprise that this character is still alive, given his importance to the plot. Generally, whenever characters fall from great heights and their bodies aren’t recovered, you can assume that they’re still alive somewhere, planning their return. The trope is overused but suitable when a story knows how to use it, and this show knows how to use it. Enough has happened that the audience has likely forgotten about Bradley a bit, making his return an unforeseen complication that the characters are wholly unprepared for. Those at the radio station are in an extremely vulnerable position by claiming to be on Bradley’s side while he was missing. They have to throw their allies under the bus, and once he finds out about their story, he’ll expose their lie and execute them. Bradley is flanking the protagonists under Central as well; they still haven’t killed Father, so if Bradley starts to move in on them, they’ll be facing enemies on all sides. On top of all of that, Bradley has to be killed in order for Mustang to take his place, and everyone in the city is now watching closely.
The setup is very compelling. The stakes are high, and the path forward for all of the characters is clear-cut while still allowing for interesting maneuvers. However, the show sort of burns its good will with me in its impatience to get to the next fight.
Our over-zealous exposition is back, with characters everywhere suddenly explaining to each other their motives and how they got to where they are. The most absurd of these is probably Bradley explaining to Greed how he survived… like, yeah, you’re an immortal monster with killer reflexes, I didn’t really need specifics, Wrath.
I’ve complained about unnecessary exposition plenty of times in the past, and it’s not unique to this series by any means, but it poses some serious problems, especially for a show like this that readily has the capacity to be better. One of the casualties of exposition is character relationships — the information is for the audience, not the character the expositor is speaking to. Ross and one of Mustang’s men have a somber moment when they realize their mistake in throwing their lot in with Bradley. The lighting in this scene is excellent; they’re hidden behind a column, guns ready, looking like they’ve seen their deaths on the horizon. This could be a very good moment to explore how nervous they are, and how they feel about the decisions that have led them to this place, especially since both of them have had near-death experiences that have likely traumatized them. The visuals speak volumes about the mood in the room. However, the dialogue uses this moment to explain to the audience what went wrong, with Ross stating outright, “We should have known that publicly siding with Fuhrer Bradley could backfire on us.” It’s a surprisingly dry exchange, and not something these characters specifically need to say, alone or to each other.
The other risk that comes with exposition is drawing attention to minor plot holes and thus expanding them to the point where they break the story. No one would have questioned why it took Bradley this long to get to Central — it’s probably a long walk, and maybe he got swept downstream a bit. It doesn’t matter. But when explaining how he survived, Bradley makes a comment about how he’s old and took a while to recover.
What? Since when? How does that work? Does he have sciatica or something? The comment is framed like a setup, like it’ll factor into the fight in an important way and it’s important information for the audience to retain. But not only is that a terrible move for the character to make in-universe since he’s talking to his enemy, but if it setup, it doesn’t come into play at all to my recollection. By including information the audience doesn’t need to know, the show makes that scene a bit more awkward and directs the audience’s attention to the wrong place by accident.
Part Two: Gradient
The show has often had difficulty merging its characters into a cohesive aesthetic. I would say that the ninjas are probably the most out-of-place elements, but that might just be me not liking ninjas as much as most people. The philosophy behind ninjas and their place in history are very cool, but I find that they’re kind of used in the same way as mechs and princesses and giant spiders whenever they’re not the focus of attention — which is to say, they feel like they were plucked from a story about ninjas and just popped down without much regard for how they fit into this new world.
Fu, Ling, and Lan Fan’s collective arc is actually really cool — you have the foolhardy prince off to seek adventure, his aging body guard, and the body guard’s granddaughter who has more of an eye out for the prince than perhaps she should. They’re all highly trained in combat, Fu more experienced than the others and Ling less cautious because he’s the one calling the shots, but all capable of cooperating effectively. They make a very good team, and I could easily see them as stars in their own narrative.
But they’re not the main characters, they’re side characters in someone else’s story. Most of their scenes feel very separate from everything happening in Amestris, and their only consistent tie is Ling and Greed sharing the same body. I like the idea of this show expanding its world to have characters from different regions, but there’s often been an unusually harsh boundary between what’s happening among the Xingese characters and what’s happening in the rest of the plot. Fu and Lan Fan especially don’t have any ties to the overarching story, and Ling’s role in relation to Greed could have been played by almost any of the other side characters. The interactions between him and Ed are sometimes cute, and I won’t deny that the show has created some space for him and Lan Fan to engage with the other characters, but those connecting points have been rare. The show hasn’t really taken much time to show why these characters in particular are important to the story it wants to tell.
I say this because my reaction when Fu appeared was not, “Oh yes, awesome!” like I think it should have been. Instead, my thoughts were, “Oh right, this show has ninjas, doesn’t it?” From the perspective of the main story, it’s hard for me to connect to Fu and Lan Fan because I don’t care about them nearly as much as I care about the more important parts of the plot. They’re lovely characters, but the show just seems to want to use them as cool ninjas without putting effort into making them feel like part of the main cast. They’re just sort of asides whose arcs we need to complete in order to finish the story. This will have ramifications in the coming episodes.
The same is true of most of the side characters in the series, to be honest, but Buccaneer and Officer Fullman come to mind because this episode really wants you to be invested in their arcs, and I really do not care about them. Buccaneer is a fun big scary dude, and I would be sad to see him die. Except, this is an anime, and we can’t just kill characters, no matter how insignificant, without giving them Assassin’s Creed-style dying words and three or four last stands before they finally succumb. Longer deaths are not necessarily sadder ones, show. In fact, the most poignant deaths are those that we either don’t see, or that come out of nowhere. I know you know this, show, because you have managed that before. What are you even doing?
I liked Greed in this bit, surprise surprise. Not sure why he had to tell us which side he was on or why he waited so long to make an appearance, but Ling popping in to say hi to Officer Fullman made me very happy. Please don’t ruin this for me, show.
Part Three: Maxed Out a Bit Early There, Huh?
It’s kind of funny that I’ve been focusing so much on the military and Xingese characters in this episode when a rather important development happens with regard to Father and, you know, the main battle that I keep complaining about the show not focusing on. In reality, I’m a huge hypocrite, because I would gladly take unnecessary side characters with compelling arcs than whatever nonsense Hoenheim is involved with right now.
This is why I don’t like the ending of this show; the parts that are good have no bearing on the rest of the story, and the rest of the story is a bit shit.
Hoenheim has infiltrated Father with his blood, which is actually a Philosopher’s Stone made from the souls of living people. Apparently Hoenheim spent the intervening millennium talking to those souls and formulating a plan for how to stop Father. When Father attacked him, he took in souls who in turn attacked him from the inside, solidifying his blood into horrible spikes that have pierced the skin suit that acts as his flask. Flask broken, the Homunculus will die.
This is a cool way to bring down the main antagonist; it’s using his skills against him and exploiting his arrogance, a flaw Father probably would’t have even considered a flaw.
Except then he turns into Grimace from McDonald’s and eats his own skin.
His explanation for why he no longer needs a flask, by the way, is that he has “also evolved,” which is neither what that word means nor what Hoenheim has done, nor does it explain fucking anything. The main antagonist is now just a big purple goo fella with a bunch of eyes. What a good bad guy. I guess it was too early to have the clever conclusion, so they just opted for that right out the gate and made the rest of the boss battle the stupidest thing they could think of. Good job.
Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5