Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 4 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, March 18, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, April 05, 2011

So many forces begin to come together as the plans made and carefully laid out are in place to deal with the coming of the Promised Day.

What They Say
Edward and Alphonse Elric's reckless disregard for alchemy's fundamental laws ripped half of Ed's limbs from his body and left Al's soul clinging to a cold suit of armor. To restore what was lost, the brothers scour a war-torn land for the Philosopher's Stone, a fabled relic which grants the ability to perform alchemy in impossible ways.

The Elrics are not alone in their search; the corrupt State Military is eager to harness the artifact's power. So too are the strange Homunculi and their shadowy creator. The mythical Stone lures exotic alchemists from distant kingdoms, scarring some deeply enough to inspire murder. As the Elrics find their course altered by these enemies and allies, their purpose remains unchanged - and their bond unbreakable.

Contains episodes 40-52.

The Review!
Audio:
The bilingual presentation for the series is solid across the board as we get two Dolby TrueHD audio tracks for it. The original Japanese language track is in stereo as that's how the show was broadcast while the English language version gets the 5.1 upgrade which is no surprise. Both mixes are very good as the stereo mix has a very strong presentation to it with a fair bit of placement and depth throughout while coming across as very clean and sharp. The 5.1 mix naturally bumps things up a bit with a more full sounding effect, particularly in the opening and closing sequences with the music, but it makes good use of the overall soundstage throughout and prominently during the various action scenes. Both tracks are good and having them both in lossless is a very good thing. It's worth noting that you cannot change settings on the fly for this release as they're locked and you must go to the menu to do it.

Video:
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this HD native TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a nine/four format with the first disc being dual layered. I've read comments by some that have seen this disc and they tend to be very disappointed in the release. After watching this via streaming and comparing it to the DVD, I came away very pleased by it. The vibrancy of the animation shines through beautifully here as the colors are rich and generally free of gradients outside of a couple of scenes that almost look intentional. Backgrounds and character animation is solid with no visible noise and just a layer of natural high definition grain that's very minimal overall. By all appearances and comparisons, this release looks identical to the Japanese Blu-ray release outside of being slightly brighter which is a common occurrence.

Packaging:
No packaging was provided with this review copy.

Menu:
The menu design for the show is of the very simple stripe as the only actual menu aspect is the small navigation strip along the upper left, which is what the pop-up menu doubles as well. The rest of the menu is given over to some decent clips from the series that highlights its action and intrigue pretty well and with the music it sets the atmosphere nicely. But the only real menu aspect with the design is that tiny strip and it’s got a little bit of style to it to fit with parts of the cover, but it’s pretty minimal overall. Unsurprisingly, the discs don’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles. Navigation is a breeze and everything loads very quickly which is a big plus.

Extras:
There aren't much in the way of extras here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and two English language dub commentaries by the people behind this production.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the fourth installment of the series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood moves past the slow down of the third set that spent too much time in Briggs and felt like it was less than focused. There's been so many plans made throughout the series once the revelations came to light for Mustang and the others that it did need that time, but the story arc involving Ed and Al up north had potential but never felt like it fully come together. The big positive to the arc was the introduction of Alex Armstrong's sister as the General of the north as she brings the kind of cold and powerful menace that's needed to complement the 'softer' side of Mustang could be a hindrance.

While events are still proceeding apace here and the set ends with the start of some significant actions, a good part of this set deals with how it's all getting there. It's all rather necessary and thankfully with so many subplots operating here, it comes together beautifully. The set starts off with a strong and very key episode that deals with how all of this truly started. It goes back to when Hohenheim was known simply as “slave number 23” who had an encounter with the homuculi in the flask. In the kingdom of Xerxes, we see exactly how the king there followed the advice of this creature as Hohenheim became tied to it. With the king wanting immortality, the project that we see in the present is the same as there, just on a smaller scale, and explains the tragedy of the country. It's a fantastic piece that humanizes Hohenheim even more while taking the homunculi and making a lot of things clear about it and why he adapted Hohenheim's form over the years that followed.

A good part of the set focuses on the continued unraveling of events that are in place as Marcoh and the others work through the notes from Scars brother. The group that has come together in the north for this is rather interesting to watch since there's been so much conflict between them and they have all have very different backgrounds, especially with Scar so closely involved now and something of a truce made between them. Marcoh's attempts at redemption is a really solid part of the show that gets little real notice and it fits in with what we see of some of the others as well, particularly the chimera who end up coming onto Ed and Al's side. That a pair of them work hard to protect Ed after the events in the north say a lot about them too, though partially that they're just looking for the right place to be and he seems to be it, even when Ed signs on to follow Greed in an attempt to get closer to Central.

A subplot that I really like here has Olivier making her report to the Fuhrer and we see how she goes up strong against him as she takes over the seat that she herself created. She has the confidence to pull it off but she also does it really smartly be being surprisingly truthful with him about it and what caused Raven's death back at Briggs. She's definitely the odd one out within the group that the Fuhrer has assembled in Central but it's amusing how her personality makes her the perfect fit and you can see how the Fuhrer would want her there not only to just keep her close but also because she has the potential to root out any problems that may have been overlooked by him with all that's going on.

All the setup in the world doesn't matter if it can't capitalize on it though. With the last few episodes here, everything starts to kick into gear and while it's a slow build, it's a powerful one as we see the Fuhrer attacked in the east while Mustang sets his plans into motion in Central. With the Briggs forces moving into place, the return of Maria Ross to the scene with some crafty help from Havoc and then the unusual group that Ed is sort of leading, it's pretty chaotic since it's going in so many different directions. It becomes a public event since there's a decided effort to crack down on those loyal to Mustang and that helps to propel events forward in a speedier fashion as more and more forces get involved. The two main areas that it focuses on though makes it hugely worthwhile. The first is seeing Olivier and Alex going up against a very angry Sloth since he has to go all out and then the entire underground segment as the immortal legion is let loose, only for those who had created them there to discover they don't actually control them. It's very creepy watching them mill about at first and seeing them making more concerted efforts to get out into the world.

In Summary:
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a series that really packs a lot into each episode and is one that I'm glad I got to cover in that form since there's so much to talk about. Doing it in top level form like this feels awkward since you have to pick and choose the things you want to talk about and always feel like you're missing out on talking about so many things. The wonderful dialogue between father and sons, the battle with Selim that occurs and the attack led by the Drachma on the Briggs wall. With the start of the action arc of the series as the events start to culminate, the series gets pretty powerful pretty quickly. The last couple of episodes here are some of the best to date but even then it's just prelude for what's to come. With a lot of background brought into play early on and more scattered throughout, this is a well layered set that has a lot of payoff to it overall. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese Dolby True HD Language, English Dolby TrueHD Language, English Subtitles, Cast Commentaries, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 14 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 54.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist