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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 2
In my review of the first Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood boxset, I said that the show promises to be great. The second collection takes the ball handed off by the first and runs away with it. This set does not disappoint and lays down many more layers to an already deep and fascinating storyline. Kick back, grab some Pocky, pop open an ice-cold bottle of Ramune, and prepare yourself for anime awesomeness.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood follows the journey of Edward and Alphonse Elric to restore parts their bodies. In an attempt to use alchemy to bring back their mother from the dead, Edward lost his arm and leg and Alphonse lost his entire body--his soul is now fused to a suit of armor. Edward is now a state alchemist in the military of their nation, Amestris. As they seek out the Philosopher's Stone, which amplifies an alchemist's ability and may be the key to bringing back Alphonse's body, they are caught in an enormous tale of intrigue that reaches the highest levels of the Amestrian government.
While Edward and Alphonse are fantastic lead characters, the supporting cast is what nudges Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood above all the rest. This is a huge supporting cast and most of the characters have subplots deep enough to warrant spinoff series. Characters such as Col. Mustang, Ling, Hawkeye, Winry, and Scar are all fleshed out in this set of episodes. Perhaps the only disappointment is that Winry, who seemed to be on her way to becoming a main character, leaves the Elric boys after a very emotional scene. Hopefully, she is given more to do after this than just serving as the Elric's personal automail Ms. Fix-It.
Col. Mustang receives a lot of attention in these 13 episodes. He is an intriguing character. He's highly ambitious and seeks to someday become Fuhrer of Amestris. However, it's apparent that there is much more to his motives than he ever lets on to any other characters. Col. Mustang proves himself to be quite the scheming puppeteer in a scene dealing with the death of a certain character.
Early in this collection, Ling Yao makes his debut in the series along with his bodyguard, the tough as nails, Lan Fan. They hail from the empire of Xing, a large nation east of Amestris on the other side of a desert. Ling seeks to achieve immortality. This cannot be achieved through alkahestry, which is the Xingese form of alchemy that specializes in healing. He thinks that perhaps Amestrian alchemy might lead him to his goal of eternal life. Lan is a badass tough girl, but to explain why would ruin a pretty rad scene. I didn't like them in the earlier portions of this set, particularly Ling Yao. He seemed greedy and self-serving, which he is, but there's much more to this character than his quest for immortality. Ling's fighting style is crafty and very dirty for a supposed "good guy." His action scenes are fun to watch as he uses the homunculi's overconfidence against them. I had major concerns that the pair's addition to the series would knock the show down from the pedestal I placed it on. The cast was already enormous and more characters may have become overwhelming. However, Ling Yao and Lan Fan turn out to be awesome characters that grow on you in later episodes.
The homunculi firmly establish themselves as the front line of antagonists in this set. Homunculi are human-like creatures fashioned into existence through alchemy. There is a small group of them who follow an individual known only as Father. They are named after the seven deadly sins, such as Lust, Greed, Envy, and Gluttony. Their origins are explored in some depth--what they are, what they are made of, and, surprisingly, who this mysterious Father truly is.
I would love to make it through this gushing review of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Collection 2 with no complaints. There's something, however, that I just can't let go: why did the producers have to change the opening and closing theme music? The first episode in this set begins and ends with the original, epic music and then, they're never heard from again. I'm sad to say, the change is for the worse. The original themes, "Again" by Yui and "Uso" by Sid, were a perfect match for this series and among the best theme songs for any anime show. Switching music actually happens frequently in anime series, especially longer ones such as this one. But does it always have to be a switch to a lesser song? The new theme music is not bad, but it's typical. They don't stand out whereas the original songs made me want to run to the nearest anime store and throw down some of my hard-earned cash for the soundtrack. The theme music will change again in the next set, so I look forward to hearing what's next.
This is a rare series where there is never a dull moment. The show is constantly adding new variables to the equation and answering questions with deeper questions. You find yourself pondering just how the writers are going to write themselves out of this corner. Revelations you expect to take an entire series to be revealed are thrown out there quite early, and then more layers are added upon them. The only thing that's frustrating is that the set contains just 13 episodes--I could watch the entire 64 episode series in a weekend. My reaction to the huge cliffhanger at end of the last episode in this set: "Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!" I need more Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Now.
Audio: Once again the English language, 5.1 Dolby Digital track sounds great. The fronts and dialogue are crystal clear and the surround sounds get used to good effect. I already grieved over the unfortunate loss of the original theme music, but the excellent soundtrack within the show remains intact. I have really come to enjoy Maxey Whitehead's work as Alphonse Elric. There's a sadness in Al's voice that echoes with every line. It's not depressing, but you feel his longing to break out of the armored prison even during the lighter parts of the show.
Video: Stunning. The image is bright, vibrant, and free of any noticeable artifacts or line noise. The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The style of the characters is relatively simple, but executed to perfection. The image here is about as good as you will ever see from an anime television series on DVD format.
Extras: The special features include textless opening and closing credits for the new themes. Yay. There are also two episode-long commentaries with the English voice actors. The first commentary has Mike McFarland, the ADR Director reprising his role as mediator. The other two voice actors in the first commentary are Vic Mignongna (Edward Elric) and Chris Patton (Greed). Mike interviews the two about their characters and their feelings on the new series versus the original anime. I loved that they debated the gender of Envy and settled on gender-neutral--I'm glad that I'm not the only one who is confused about whether the homunculus is male or female.
The second commentary features Mike McFarland, again, as the mediator, Todd Haberkorn(Ling Yao), Monica Rial(May Chang), and Trina Nishimura(Lan Fan). This is a newcomers' commentary as all these characters are introduced in this set. The commentary is solid and informative with the actors discussing their roles. Is it bad that I miss the hilarity and chaos that ensued with the unmediated commentary in the first collection of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood?
Final Thoughts: I'm going to lay it out there like this: Every self-respecting anime fan needs to have this series on their shelf. Period. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the best anime series to come out in quite some time. I have only seen the first 26 episodes of the 64 episode series and I am fully confident that this show will become one of the pillars of anime against which future series are measured. This is a series to pull out and show newbies how awesome anime is. And then hook them. I love this show and you will, too. Highly Recommended.