Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode Fourteen: Journey’s End – ***
Audience Assumptions: None
Part One: Pictures of a Cast
We get a few different jumps forward in time to establish where the characters have ended up, the first two months, then two years, then presumably many more years in the future. because this episode is largely concerned with wrapping up arcs, we’ll go in roughly chronological order.
Their wounds healed and Al’s muscles mostly built back up, the Elrics have returned home as promised with their original bodies. Winry is there waiting for them.
Mustang is still in Central, recovering alongside Hawkeye and trying to learn as much as he can about Ishval to start peace talks. Marcoh and Doctor Knox show up to offer Mustang a remaining Philosopher’s Stone to restore his vision, and Mustang agrees to use it, but only if they’ll restore Havoc’s spine first.
Scar is injured, but still alive and in recovery as well. Miles and Major General Armstrong invite Scar to join them in the north to work to preserve and restore Ishvalan culture. Scar accepts, but chooses to remain nameless.
Ling and May have headed back to Xing, Ling with a Philosopher’s Stone and therefore set to win the throne. However, he promises to protect the Yao clan with his new power.
Moving forward to two years in the future, Ed and Al are older and taller, and have the travel bug. They formulate a plan to pay back the people who have helped them over the years by trying to pay them pay with interest. Al intends to travel to Xing and beyond, learning about Alkehestry from May and exploring new lands, while Ed intends to do the same with the west. Before he leaves, Ed makes an awkward proposal to Winry.
Darius and Zampano, the two chimeras who wanted to be human again, are going with Al to see if they can complete the same mission he once had.
Mustang, curiously, is not fuhrer yet, but has deferred that choice to General Grummin for the time being while he’s in Ishval. Grummin checks in on Mrs. Bradley occasionally, and her son Selim. Pride, it turns out, is still alive, growing up as a human boy under careful surveillance. He appears to have no memory of his former life as a homunculus, and is far kinder with his mother’s guidance.
Finally, the show ends with a montage of photographs on an old corkboard showing the characters a few years further, with Al and the chimeras in Xing, Ling as emperor, Mustang with a mustache, one of Mustang’s men still up in the north with a family, Scar with a pony tail, May visiting Amestris again, Winry’s dog with puppies, Ed and Winry with kids, and various other characters still going strong where we last left them.
The show ends on a photograph of Ed dressed as his father with a smile on his face.
Part Two: Watch What You’re Fixing
I do almost want to give this episode four stars, because it’s much better than I remembered and I ended up enjoying more of it than I thought I would. There are a lot of quiet moments that permeate the atmosphere, and they’re sorely needed after so much action these last few episodes. I love moments like Mustang’s men testing him on his knowledge of Ishval, or Winry’s exhausted dismissal of Ed when he tries to propose to her using alchemical terms. These exchanges work surprisingly well, maintaining the established characters, but softening them appropriately for a post-cataclism world. I also like the emphasis on restoration, which I maintain is difficult for a series so based in violence to transition into. I would like to see more of it, certainly, but the show is willing to make at least some effort to standing behind the time it takes for restoration to happen — Ishval isn’t restored by the end, and Mustang isn’t the leader of the country. We don’t just skip forward to when everything is all good. I appreciate that.
However, you know the other shoe has to drop sooner or later, and there are plenty of reasons holding me back from bumping up my rating on this one.
First and foremost among them is something that sours the entire ending for me, and that’s the show’s insistence on restoring Mustang’s eyesight. I hate this. Truly, I do. Look, disability is complicated and there are times when someone can and chooses to get surgery or aid devices that can make them function like an able-bodied person. I have terrible vision, but I can wear glasses to correct my vision to near-average, so I am not blind or visually impaired. However, not everyone has that option available to them. Further, some people who do have that kind of option might not want it for various reasons. Acting like disability is a problem needing correction rather than addressing faults in the way our society treats disabled people and refuses to accommodate them ignores the problem at hand. Disability is defined by what a person is unable to do compared to their able-bodied peers, but putting pressure on the disabled person to improve is callous. People just want to be happy and comfortable, and having to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more on medical treatments and devices, and often tolerate discrimination and a baseline level of discomfort anyway, is tiresome.
Obviously Fullmetal Alchemist is not directly trying to insult blind or other disabled people, but it’s one of many fantasy series that is entirely uninterested in exploring what it means to be disabled in a world with magic, and instead insists on moralizing disability as an ailment that must be cured. Mustang is doing fine without his sight. In fact, the main things he intends to do, open up negotiations with Ishval and talk to the people of the region, very pointedly do not require vision to accomplish. Yes, he would probably be happier sighted, given that he’s used to being able to see and Amestris doesn’t seem to have a lot of accommodations for blind people, but him being blind is not a prominent obstacle for him.
Furthermore, the means by which Marcoh opts to restore his eyesight is rather inappropriate, as much as the show might try to justify it. Imagine a German chancellor is trying to make reparations to victims of the death camps in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and they need a new set of dentures or something like that, unrelated to their reparation efforts but which could maybe make it easier for them. How horrible would it be if the chancellor opted to use a set of dentures confiscated from the Nazis, made from the teeth of death camp victims?
Because that is more or less exactly what’s happening here. It kind of flies in the face of what you’re trying to accomplish there, doesn’t it, Mustang? The protagonists are essentially profiteering off of past atrocities simply because they’re in need and otherwise the Philosopher’s Stone will go to waste. At least let the Ishvalans decide what to do with the stone instead of using it on yourself, asshole.
That’s not the only thing that bothers me, but it’s the big one. I’m also not overly fond of the unmitigated optimism the characters have moving forward. Some amount of positivity is necessary, but mourning and acknowledgement of the past is also important, perhaps even more so. When our fiction presents the future as progressive and full of opportunity, and places any sense of caution or guilt as a negative attribute to be discarded, it encourages people to make the same mistakes over and over again. Ed and Al are trying to learn and discover through their travels, but Al also explains that it’s partly for their enjoyment. Maybe I’m just too jaded at this point, but a couple of white boys travelling to far distant lands in the hope of helping people they know nothing about, and also for their own amusement, is not my idea of a happy ending.
I also think it’s worth noting that the show ends on most of the major characters having kids or falling in love, and living out the lives they more or less expected to. Winry stays home while Ed goes adventuring, and they both have two kids just like Ed’s parents. Al and May become an item. Ling gets Lan Fan and the throne. Mustang is the only one who curiously defers power to someone else (and it’s General Grummin, of all people…), but the show strongly implies that he still has Hawkeye and will rule Amestris eventually. Even the dog gets a love interest and puppies. As someone who doesn’t want any of that, just once I’d like to see a series where characters can have happy, fulfilling lives without having to settle down with kids. Just once. Just once would be nice.
Part Three: HAT IS FREE!
It’s over. It’s done.
I come away from this series with a sense of pride, but also absolute and utter exhaustion. Also a few questions, like do I actually like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood?
My inclination is to say no, but I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification. I don’t think I’ve ever presented my attitudes toward this series as any more favorable than they actually are; there are brilliant moments here and there, but on the whole, I’d rather watch something else. It’s not for me.
However, I have watched it through multiple times, and I did finish this review series with over a hundred thousand words (god…). You spend that much time with something and you’re bound to grow attached to it in some way or another. I think there’s something here — I’ve mentioned it a few times — that speaks to me, but it’s hidden so deeply under the mess of everything that suits me far less that I have difficulty isolating it. I really don’t ever want to watch this show again, yet I have a strange desire to understand it still. I kind of want to go back to the original, or check out the manga, or watch the strange Netflix film that I know utterly nothing about other than it’s live action. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
But for now, I think I’ll just bask in the feeling of finishing something. It’s a wonderful feeling all its own.
So I’ll leave you with my final assessment.
Is this the best anime series of all time?
Is it a good fantasy series?
Maybe. It has a fair bit of worldbuilding and you might as well put it on in the background if you want the familiarity with references people will occasionally bring up. It’s a popular fantasy, and I think the parts that appeal are right there on the surface for all to see. But good? I think that’s more subjective. I would say it has good parts. There’s potential for an amazing story to be told from the parts that exist here, but as is, I find it a bit undercooked.
Should you watch it if you don’t like anime?
No. Not unless you have a very open mind or find you enjoy the broader fantasy elements on their own. The characters and style leave something to be desired, and I think if you’re looking for an anime or non-American animated series for people new to the medium, there are better options. Its sense of humor and drama can be enjoyable, but they can just as easily be annoying.
Would you recommend it to someone else?
Here’s what I would recommend if you’re curious. Watch All is One, One is All, then watch Interlude Party. You’ll get a good sense of the show’s better and worse qualities. If you still like it after that, you’ll like the show, and I don’t think those episodes will have given away so much of the plot that you’ll be spoiled. Much of it won’t make sense even in context with Interlude Party anyway. Otherwise, you can start from the beginning. If you like it there, go for it. But if it’s not your thing, you don’t need to struggle to understand it. This is a show for its own fans, after all.
All right, phew. We’re done. No more Fullmetal Alchemist! You have no idea how fucking elated I am right now.
Let’s never do this again.
Series Breakdown Rating:
Characters and Character Development: 7
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Overall Plot: 5