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Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Second Season

FUNimation // Unrated // March 10, 2009
List Price: $69.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted March 25, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Series:
Let's face it; there is a lot of mediocre anime out there.  It seems like you have to sit thought a handful of so-so shows in order to discover one good one.  So why do we otaku do it?  Answer:  in the hopes of discovering a show like Fullmetal Alchemist.  It's the great shows that make it all worth while, and Fullmetal is definitely one of them.  Filled with exciting battles, a convoluted yet not confusing plot and some truly touching drama this show is one of the better shows to come along.  While the first season was excellent, the second is even better.  Building off the earlier episodes this season expands the world of the Elric brothers and alos answers a lot of lingering questions,  though they're not always the answers we want.
The Background:
Edward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers who live in a quite village with their mother, their father having left them years before.  The two brothers, especially diminutive Edward, excel at the science of alchemy, and are able to change the shape and function of objects using this ancient art.  When their mother takes ill and dies before either of the boys reach their teens, Ed makes a disastrous decision:  although it is forbidden, they'll use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. 
Gathering the elemental components that will form their mother's body and adding a drop of their own blood to make her soul, the two boys perform the ritual they've worked out only to have it backfire horribly.  The thing that they make, a zombie that bears little relation to their beloved mother isn't human, but what's worse is that Al's body is disintegrated along with one of Edward's legs.  Thinking quickly, Ed uses his own blood to draw a binding circle onto a suit of armor and links his brother's soul to the metal form.  Something has to be given for the spell to work though and Edward gives up the only thing he has available:  his right arm.
The binding spell works however, and the giant suit of armor carries the wounded alchemist to the village healer who is able to save his life.  Not only that, she crafts a metal leg and arm for him, but while his body is healed, his mind has not.  Edward is wracked with guilt over imprisoning his younger brother into a suit of armor and vows to one day give him his real body back.
Edward knows the only way he can possibly get his brother back into a real body is to have access to the great alchemy library in the capital, but only State Alchemists, scientists who are deemed worthy to join the military, are able to access this great source of knowledge.  So Edward trains and at the age of 12 becomes the youngest State Alchemist ever.  With every step forward he takes one back.  Edward soon discovers that the only way he can achieve his goal off restoring his brother is with the possibly mythical 'Philosopher's Stone' and object that increases an alchemist's power greatly. 
At the end of the first season, Ed finds out the secret of the Philosopher's Stone:  in order to make one you need to take hundreds if not thousands of human lives.  He discovers this from a group of Homunculi, half human/half animal abominations that are incredibly powerful and wish to generate a Philosopher's Stone so they can become human.
This season:
The stakes are raised this season as Ed and Al realize that any Philosopher's Stone they find was created by killing many people.  That's the least of their problems however.  It seems that there's someone in the government working with the Homunculi and trying to create a Stone.  Someone very high up.  There's also the problem of Scar, an assassin from an oppressed minority, who is out to kill all of the State Alchemists, and Ed is no exception.
There's an awful lot that goes on in this season, so much that I hate to give anything away.  It starts out with several unrelated plot lines; the hunt for Scar, the Homunculi, and the traitor in the government, but as the series goes along these disparate threads come together to form a picture that is much larger than originally anticipated.  That's one of the nice things about the show, the writing is very tight and small throw-away comments from one villain may turn out to have great importance later in the series..
Another aspect of the show that makes it so enjoyable are the well developed characters and the fully realized personalities.  Al and Ed act like true brothers, they fight and bicker at times, but their bond is extremely strong due to the tragedies they've experienced.  Even the supporting characters are more than just stereotypes.  People like Alex Louis Armstrong, the muscle bound military officer who is constantly crying, and if not he's bragging about his (impressive) physique, starts off as a cliché comic relief but slowly develops a personality.  Over the course of this show he turns into almost a father-like figure for the boys.  Mustang, Ed's immediate superior is the same way.  He seems to be a subdued officer who enjoys putting Ed in dangerous situations but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that he has hopes and aspirations and that there is a reason for everything that he does.
This second season is more dark and depressing than the first was however.  There are a lot of revelations made, and many of them are unpleasant stories.  There is more death and maiming in this season but it never comes across as gratuitous.  The violence always has a reason and it's painted as very unpleasant. 
There are a lot of mysteries before this season begins.  Why can Ed perform alchemy without a circle?   What happened to their father?  Who created the Homunculi, and just what does a Philosopher's Stone do?  Since I knew this was an on-going manga in Japan, I was afraid viewers would be left hanging in a lot of cases.  Happily this isn't the case.  All of the things I was wondering about were resolved and so were several things I'd forgotten about.
Ending worry me in anime.  There are some excellent shows that just didn't end well (*cough* Neon Genesis *cough*) and so I'm always leery that the last couple of installments will be a letdown.  That's not the case with this show.  Though there is room for expansion (the second series is starting in Japan in early 2009) the program wraps up many of the loose ends and comes to a satisfactory conclusion.       
The DVD:


The 26 episodes that make up this second season come on four DVDs each with its own thinpak case.  In addition there are six booklets that were originally included with the single volume release of this season.  They contain character sketches, background info and short statements from the creators.  It was very cool of FUNimation to include these as they're fun to read.

This set presents the show with the original Japanese stereo soundtrack or an English dub in both DD 5.1 and stereo.  While I really wish the Japanese track had a DD 5.1 option too, both tracks sound very good.  People who prefer dubs will be happy with this one; the voices aren't artificially high for the women or filled with fake accents.  The English actors did a good job and brought their characters to life.  The Japanese track sound a bit more 'natural' to me however and the optional subtitles offer a nice translation without any glaring grammatical errors.
Full frame image looks great.  There was a tiny bit of aliasing in the background occasionally but the colors were vivid and strong (and they used a wide palate too) and the blacks were nice and dark.  The level of detail was fine, what you'd expect from an anime series that's about 5 years old, and the lines were nice and tight.
The meager bonus items are all located on the last disc.  They start off with An Inside Look, a half hour talk with the English voice talent.  Each of the voice actors discusses their character, lists their favorite scenes and what the show means to them.  It doesn't really offer any insight to the series or its production but it's nice to see what the actors looked like.
There's also a commercial for the videogame, a textless opening and closing, and a series of trailers for other FUNimation releases.
Final Thoughts:
Exciting, thought provoking, and a whole lot of fun, Fullmetal Alchemist has quickly become one of my favorite shows.  Easily in the top 10 anime shows of all time, and probably in the top five, this is a program that should be in every anime fan's library.  This is a keeper that will have a lot of replay value.  This set belongs in the DVD Talk Collector Series.
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