Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Part 4 (Mania.com)

By:Mark Thomas
Review Date: Thursday, April 21, 2011
Release Date: Tuesday, April 05, 2011

As the series starts to move into its conclusion, we start to learn that humans might not be quite as helpless against the homunculi's plans as was previously thought.

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:
For this viewing, I checked out the English dub, which is offered in 5.1. The mix is decent, with some nice left/right and front/back directionality on the sound effects. The dialogues stays centered, though, but there is no dropout or distortions on any of the tracks. With a series based in action like this, I would have liked to have seen some more directionality on the effects, and I am always a sucker for directionality in the dialogue, but this is still a nice mix.

Video:
This release is very pretty. Colors and lines are solid, and I did not see any technical issues at any point. It handles the brightest of reds just as well as the deepest of blues and anything in between. It should be noted that there is an obvious disconnect in style between the background and foreground in many scenes, especially outdoor scenes. The characters appear to be cell shaded, while the backgrounds are done with a more traditional color scheme. This is not as apparent on lesser setups. I personally love this style of animation, but I know that there are plenty who do not, so it is worth mentioning.

Packaging:
This is a fairly simple box, but it has a nice design. The two discs come in two thinpaks, with a slip sleeve art box to contain them. The front image of a young Hoenheim holding the origins of the homunculi known only as Father, which has a bit of a foil effect, so it shines to varying degrees based on the color. It is a pretty cool image to boot. The back of the box has some screen shots, summary, and technical details, all with the same foil effect. The thinpak covers have some nice images too, one Ed and Al and one of Ling/Greed and Lan Fan. Nice pictures can be seen from the inside too, and though I do not think they were specifically designed for it, they would work well as reversible covers.

Menu:
The menu is really basic. It is just a plain red screen with some white splotches near the edges. It looks a bit like some red paper that has gotten its edges wet and bled some of its color. The selections are in black, too, which can make it a little hard to see on smaller setups, especially from a distance. It does not look bad, but they certainly did not spend a lot of time designing it.

Extras:
Not a whole lot of extras on this release. There are textless versions of the opening and closing, and some commentaries for episodes forty and forty-six. The best extra though are the four collector's postcards included in the box. While there are some cool pictures here, I am still saddened that Funimation has been ignoring my pleas for more Winry.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With General Armstrong called back to Central and Fort Briggs firmly in the control of Bradley's minions, it begins to look as if any resistance to the plans of Father and the Homunculi would be futile. But Ed, Al, and the rest keep on trying. As Ed has stayed behind to help try and stop Kimblee, Al has left to go on a journey to find Scar, Winry, and the rest of their party to warn them of Kimblee's residence at Briggs.

When Ed disappears in the attack on Kimblee, Al opts not to go find him, and instead journey to try and collapse the section of the country-wide transmutation circle under Liore after discovering the counter-measure to the transmutation circle. He arrives there to find the citizens of Liore happily picking up the pieces of their lives after the religious riots from months before. But, more importantly, he also runs into his father, Van Hoenheim, who was also in town to look at the tunnels beneath the church. Hoenheim explains to his son that he unwittingly assisted the Homunculus known as Father gain the powers that it currently has, the process of which also granting Hoenheim his powers. In some ways, Hoenheim and Father are two sides of the same coin. With a better understanding of what Father is trying to do, Hoenheim decides it is now time he takes a role in blunting the Homunculus's plans.

Ed, on the other hand, finds himself seriously wounded at the hands of Kimblee and needs time to heal. While doing so, he discovers he is now officially a fugitive of the law, which suits him just fine. While searching for his brother, he comes across the new Greed, now in Ling's body, who is also on the run after an impetuous attack on King Bradley, also known as Wrath. The two decide to join forces as their end goals are similar. They decide to hide briefly in Rizenbull, where they run into Winry, who informs them of what Al had been up to and the appearance of Hoenheim, who is now stationed right outside central, which is where Ed is heading next anyway.

While Ed and Al slowly put together all the pieces around the country, the rest of their allies are falling into place. Mustang has been gathering his forces covertly and hiding them in the Armstrong mansion, and with Olivier Armstrong now in Central and under the direct command of Bradley, the forces of Briggs take it upon themselves to leave the northern border and join with the Eastern armies who were already allied with Mustang. Now, it is just a quick trip to capital.

I do not have a lot to say about this set that I have not already said about Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood previously. With it being tied more directly to the manga, this series makes a lot more sense than the last one did, which sort of meandered quite a bit in the late stages. The pacing is much better, and they are doing a really good job of building the tension.

What I loved about the last set of episodes was just how well they built up the seeming invincibility of Father and the Homunculi. Sure, Mustang had managed to kill Lust, but overall, the Homunculi were playing everybody like fiddles. I especially loved that Bradley was openly acknowledged as a Homunculus, but he was so confident in their plans that he basically let Ed, Al, Mustang, and the rest put any plans they might have into motion with the idea that they could be stopped at any time. The scenes in which Mustang finally confronts Bradley only to learn the true scope of what they were up against were truly chilling.

What was so great about those episodes is what they did to these episodes. We spent a lot of time seeing just how unstoppable the Homunculi are, so when the humans finally start putting their plans into action to counter-act Father and have success in doing so, it really does a good job of building the resourcefulness of the protagonists. While I am sure that there is at least one more major pitfall for them to avoid in the final twelve episodes, for the first time, we really get a feeling that they might be up to it.

I am also glad to see Hoenheim take a more active role in the series. After his name was thrown around so much in the first series, it was disappointing that he basically played no role in it. So far in this series, he has been seen here and there, but has also been mostly absent as he sorted out his own feelings. But now that he has joined the fray, I feel like a lot of questions about him are finally being answered. He is such a fascinating character, for the mystery that surrounds his life, that is was almost criminal that we got nothing about him until now.

What will also be interesting to see play out is that by the end of this set, there are seven or eight completely different motives and desired outcomes for various characters at stake for the final confrontation. Ed and Al, Hoenheim, Mustang, Greed/Ling, Father, Bradley, Grumman, Scar, and possibly a few others have their own particular desired outcomes to the conflict. With that many plot threads coming together at once, it should make for a feisty conclusion.

In Summary:
There really is not much to say here; this set puts the final gambits of both sides into motion and set up well for what should be an explosive finale. Everything has been built up so well at this point that I am not worried at all that there are so many plot threads that need tying up over the last twelve episodes. I have faith it will all work out. I cannot wait to check it out. Highly recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Cast Commentaries, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Magnavox 37MF337B 37' LCD HDTV, Sony BDP-S360 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection upconverted to 1080p, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 14 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 49.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist