Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

“Better Call Saul” Season 2 – Pride, Love and the Different Paths of Corruption

Better Call Saul Season 2 Poster

    “Better Call Saul” is a show that may surpass “Breaking Bad” in the end if it continues to have this level of quality in storytelling and character development. From the minor characters to the big ones I’ve come to care about them in different ways (though not Chuck) and can’t wait to see where their stories go. The major themes this season were the different roads to corruption…ranging from love and wanting to impress another, to pride and all the pros and cons that come with it.

    Vince Gillian and Peter Gould is a truly an amazing storyteller and the way he expresses character and themes and intertwines them so richly is just masterful.

SPOILERS ahead

The story continues Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) path to becoming Saul. This season he becomes a member of his brother Chuck’s (Michael McKean) Law Firm. Things aren’t all they are cracked up to be though…Elsewhere Mike (Jonathan Banks) is pulled deeper into the world of the Cartel.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Arthur Albert continues to shoot beautiful shots in this, especially in regards to the isolation of Chuck, Jimmy and Mike. They are all different types of alone and he uses darkness and light in a space to show this, creating some stunning storytelling.

The Soundtrack – Dave Porter did a great job with a soundtrack, the soundtrack gives  a feeling of desolation but manages to create moments of hope, humor and power within it.

The Writing – Vince Gillian and Peter Gould once again have wrote gold. Whether it is characters, themes or events…they capture the action of it all so well. In this season we truly get how the Saul character came about and by the end can guess what prompts the name change.

The Characters – Gould and Gillian are amazing character writers and the characters are what really drive the action of the show. There are many more “Breaking Bad” cameos but none of them feel shoe-horned in. They fit the story and events and are a part of it.

Lawson – Jim Beaver is fantastic in this! This is his return and we see him helping Mike choose a gun a few times. He plays a guy who loves his weapons and can also be generous with them too. He’s all business yet personable.

The Cartel – The Salamanca family and the Cartel are a fascinating group who we never really fully got to know in “Breaking Bad,” this season explores more of their history and the politics of their organization as Hector is still healthy so we see how he runs his area of the operation.

Leonel and Marco Salamanca – The Twins are back! These two don’t do much but the aura of threat they give off is impossible to get away from. Whether it is showing Mike they could kill his Granddaughter from his pool, or just hanging around as Hector’s bodyguards. You don’t mess with these guys.

Tuco Salamanca – Tuco is back when Nacho contracts Mike to kill him. We see how much this guy scares everyone around him and how everyone knows he’s unstable and crazy. After what went down last season between him and Jimmy it is great to see him in relation to Mike who ends up getting him arrested, though later Hector frees him by having Mike lie to the police.

Hector Salamanca – Mark Margolis is back as Hector and Hector is in his prime with no threats that he knows of. This leads to him walking all over Mike which almost leads to his death, until someone stops Mike from taking the sniper shot. Can’t wait to see how this character ends up in a Wheel Chair.

Nacho Varga  – Michael Mando continues to humanize a character that would be a bit part on any other show. In this we see his main goal was just power and surviving and Tuco going to prison made that possible. He’s in deep with Mike though and has a respect for him even though he sees Mike doesn’t kill and he thinks that is stupid. I don’t see him surviving the series just due to how dangerous the Salamanca’s and the Cartel are.

The Protagonists – The protagonists are really the big drivers of the action and the main protagonists this season are Kim, Mike and Jimmy…each bringing us a different perspective on the choices they make.

Kim Wexler – Gillian and Gould finally know how to write a fully well rounded female character and Rhea Seehorn plays it masterfully. In this we see her go from cautious to finding pride in her work and going Independent with Jimmy. She is also there holding Jimmy in check and reminding him to not leave a trail as she knows Chuck wants to destroy them both for not being under his power.

Mike Ehrmantraut – Mike has been developed so much more in this show versus “Breaking Bad” and I love how it has been handled. We see an ex-cop who goes full mercenary and in the end is ready to kill another, which is one thing we’ve seen him swear off many times this season. Someone stops him from killing Hector and I think it is Gus as he wants a much more complete revenge against the man who wronged him.

Jimmy McGill – This season we see everyone around Jimmy likes him more than Chuck. From Chuck’s wife, to their mother and most of the people at the firm. This envy leads to Jimmy being targeted as well as Jimmy’s own wanting to do his own thing. This season we see how the look of Saul comes around as he’s inspired by a balloon person and begins being a terrible person at the office so they’ll fire him but he can still get the money from the case he brought them. Odenkirk is awesome as we see a man acting from his love of Kim but also his need to do his own thing and be free. I really like Jimmy, in the end it is his love for his brother that may cost him all he’s built…as his brother records him admitting to a felony.

Independence and Agency – Jimmy and Kim represent this best as we Kim sticking with the Firm even as she’s walked all over, while Jimmy seeks a way out and has a hard time accepting them as working together but not partners. He does come to accept it because he loves her, while the Firm keeps trying to take away all she built. This story is a constant dance as we see Jimmy’s extreme agency leads to him illegality and also ability to be manipulated by Chuck, while Kim though she was miserable was in a stable position with money.

What Makes a Good Person? How Do you Measure it? – This is a question the show poses and we see represented in Chuck and Jimmy. Jimmy does a lot of questionable things, but they often lead to good ends and often come from a place of love. Chuck follows the rules and is a manipulator who does everything for pride an ego. They are the inversion of one another’s intentions and through them and other characters this question and measure of the what it means to be “good” is explored.

The Ending – Chuck uses his “condition” to manipulate Jimmy into admitting he changed the papers and replaced them back as we see Chuck will go to any length to bring his brother down.

Okay: Chuck McGill – He isn’t sympathetic, which is a shame as he’s acted really well. More could be done to humanize him I think as I sympathize more with the Salamanca’s than I ever could with Chuck. They are honest in what they are…Chuck is just an awkward sociopath who wants to hurt his brother.

Cliffhanger Ending – If the show was canceled I’d hate this ending, but knowing it probably won’t be i’m okay with the cliffhanger, with the note on Mike’s car saying “Don’t,” and Chuck recording Jimmy’s confession secretly. So much happens and the way they ended it is like a punch in the gut.

This season was nearly perfect! The only things that could have been handled differently were the cliffhanger ending and humanizing Chuck more. all he does is act cruel and manipulative. I get he hates Jimmy but he must have loved him at some point too, or he’d have never got him out of prison. I hope Season 3 will humanize his character more as we see the fallout from the choices made this season. Peter Gould and Vince Gillian are two of my favorite folks in television right now. “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are some of the best stories I’ve ever watched and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Gargoyles – Season 1, Episode 10 – “The Edge” – A Matter of Pride

Gargoyles The Edge

 

We continue our review of “Gargoyles” with the 10th episode in Season 1, “The Edge.” “The Edge” was written by Michael Reaves and directed by Saburo Hashimoto and Kazuo Terada.

The story involves Xantatos being free from prison and is plot as he gives a Jewel to the city called the “Eye of Odin,” but later has it stolen by members of the Steel Clan (his robot gargoyles) to frame the gargoyles and turn the city against them. From here the story unfolds as the Steel Clan targets Goliath and his Clan when they are investigating the robbery and returning home.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Goliath – Goliath is great in this episode, as we see his anger issues but how in the end he does see the big picture…whether it is staying to fight the Steel Clan so they won’t find their new home or not killing Xanatos, knowing it would turn the city against them for good and they’d have no way to clear their names. We see that alone the Red Steel Clan member is overpowering him and it is only when he figures out that Broadway, Brooklyn, Lexington all work together they can defeat the Steel Clan.

Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway – These three show team work in this episode as they outmatch the Steel Clan as far as numbers go, but individually the Steel Clan are more powerful. This is where we see Broadway think to use one of the arms from a dead Steel Clan member to stab through another while Brooklyn distracts it. It’s a pretty cool fight.

Xanatos – Xanatos’s pride is the theme of this episode as it begins with Owen defeating him in a fight and him being glad he was since if he was given victory he wouldn’t have to earn it. We see how this affects his pride though as when he’s insulted at the giving of the “Eye of Odin” he steals it back out of spite and to test the Gargoyles and himself. We see that he is the Red Steel Clan leader and went out to fight to prove to himself he was still a great threat as he was defeating Goliath through most of the battle and only ran away when the other two Steel Clan members were defeated and he was outnumbered. He learned that the gargoyles were getting smarter and learning to work together, and that he could still defeat Goliath on his own if it came to that. This episode shows his pride as an asset as it strives to make him better.

Okay: The Steel Clan – The fact that Xanatos was leading them is cool, but the fact that they were once again identical didn’t make them interesting. Xanatos was the only one that was unique which missed out that the Gargoyles succeed because of their diversity and skills. I hope Xanatos realizes that after this episode.

This was a good episode, though in my opinion, most Xanatos centered episodes tend to be. He is an intriguing villain and in this episode we see how pride defines him. Pride makes him spiteful and wanting to improve himself. He is an antagonist who learns from his mistakes and is willing to get in the thick of things to learn first hand, which I have to respect.

Final Score: 9 / 10. It was great.