DISCLAIMER: This review assumes you have seen the first 33 episodes of the series as collected in "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Collection One)." This review will touch on plot developments in those episodes that are most definitely spoilers.
When we last left our heroes the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, they had been stopped by a mountain detachment of soldiers and Edward finds his automail skills are no match for one of the more seasoned soldiers, Captain Buccaneer. The final 31 episodes of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" in no way disappoint those who have made the lengthy investment in the characters and story thus far; in fact, I'd go as far as to say that the final third of the series is a far more gratifying emotional journey than the two-thirds that build up to it. This is no small feat, given that the sudden and shocking murder of Colonel Hughes, despite happening around one-fifth of the series, still resonated many episodes later. As Edward grows closer to obtaining the Philosopher's Stone in hopes of restoring Alphonse's soul to a proper body, the paths of the series' numerous supporting characters, who are just as fascinating, even if I don't have time to fully discuss them, come together for a conclusion that could have been a convoluted mess, but manages to stick the landing quite admirably.
The highlights of these final episodes aren't so much the conclusion of Edward's journey but the revelations of origins of the ominous homunculi, personified figured of the traditional deadly sins, and their connections to the world at large. Naturally, equally revealing developments regarding Edward's nemesis Scar come to light and "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" tests its viewers and characters with some surprisingly heavy moral burdens. While I appreciated, but not necessarily fell in love with the series up until now, the storytelling hits a certain level of quality that made me reconsider whether my biases were justified. Ultimately, while I think most series' and movies, with rare exceptions, could always stand a bit of editing here-and-there, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" doesn't bog viewers down with unnecessary plotlines and diversions. To trot out an old cliché, while it does follow a familiar path, "expectations are turned on their head."
The incorporation of familiar mythology in an original setting makes the series very easy to digest, as there's never a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the world, trying to figure out minor details. Simple conventions like naming choices for characters and plot elements give us an idea of underlying themes. For those willing to look beneath the surface, there is some sly character development, which takes place, especially in the growing relationship between Winry and Edward; bottom line, Winry's repairs far extend beyond the physicality of Edward's automail. Likewise, the character of Roy Mustang, who is often a character easier to root for than any other in the series, undergoes a character arc that addresses the personal struggle to professional loyalty and the right ethical decision.
Personally, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" would never make my own top ten list, but I wouldn't even try and debate anyone feeling the opposite. The more "whimsical" and "grating" aspects that popped up from time-to-time in the early part of the series actually prove to be part of a clever emotional shield for characters and the ultimate conclusion of the series enters some very dark territory that I would have never expected. The writing is crafted in such a way that on one's first viewing, revelations are satisfying and often shocking, whereas on a repeat viewing, provide a different perspective on character's actions and key events.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is an incredibly solid, but not perfect offering. Fine detail in the animation is noticeably absent for objects in the background of shots, but up close, things are quite remarkable. It's a clean image with consistent color reproduction and minor compression artifacts. Whether artistic in intent or not, one can't help but wish the colors were slightly more vibrant than they are, but ultimately, the show offers a competent visual offerings from start to finish.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 track is a nice offering as well, with adequate usage of the surrounds, good low-channel usage at appropriate times and a relatively balanced sound mix that makes sure the dub sounds quite natural alongside effects and score. That said, sometimes voice work can be slightly shrill and just tad, artificially removed from everything else, but these instances are only noticeable under careful scrutiny; chances are the story will engage you enough that you'll quickly become unaware of it. The Japanese stereo track offered is well balanced, but obviously lacking in the dynamic range of the dub. English subtitles are included.
The only extras are five commentaries throughout the release's 31 episodes, an outtakes reel and textless openings and closings.
The second half of "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" rewards patient viewers with numerous payoffs, seeing character arcs fully realized, while managing to be truly entertaining and exciting on a visceral level. Along with the first half, "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" is a series not only worth watching once, but revisiting in the future. Highly Recommended.