As the layers start to be revealed, the depth and complexity of what's going on is given a surface view, but a tantalizing one.
What They Say The path to the Philosopher's Stone now enters unfamiliar territory, as the Elrics face exotic strangers who use alkahestry, a version of alchemy native to the distant kingdom of Xing. As insight is gained into the secret world of the Homunculi and their enigmatic creator, Lust feels the fires of Mustang's rage in battle - and the outcome of the clash will shock you. Winry endures the trial of her life when new horrors of the Ishvalan massacre are revealed.Contains episodes 14-26.
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.
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.
This release has a standard size Blu-ray case inside of a cardboard slipcover that has some nice metallic elements to it. The slipcover and the case use different artwork which is a nice thing to see as it makes it worth keeping the slipcover. While the first volume went with a sense of simplicity with a serious image of Ed, this one gives us Mustang with flames all around him that's very serious and has a good sense of presence about it and a really solid choice for colors. The back of the slipcover has a lot of white space to it with a nice strip of rough red along the bottom which contrasts the Blu-ray logo strip along the top. There's a small two column summary of the show which covers a fair bit of the setup and a clean listing of how many episodes and the basic extras, including the collectables. The top has a nice box of some images from the show, though nothing that really stands out strongly, while the bottom has a clean yet stylized technical grid. I was very pleased to see that in the video section they denote that this is an “HD Native” program. Inside the slipcover we also get four postcards that are numbered which have some very good pieces of artwork from the series.
The single Blu-ray case inside holds the two discs on either side of the interior while the exterior features another good piece of artwork. Ling makes his debut here with white light coming from behind him with Fu and Lan Fan on either side of him. The blue background works nicely and Ling gets a fairly powerful image here where he's serious but it's not deadly. The back cover is kept painfully simple with just a full red piece with the number one in the middle and the series name below it. I'd have preferred more artwork to be sure. I like the reverse side artwork a lot more as it has a very serious shadowed image of Hawkeye in her uniform sans jacket with rifle in hand while the back cover is simple but actually useful with a breakdown of what episodes are on what disc by episode number and title.
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.
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)
Watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in its second collection is definitely proving to be an interesting challenge now that watching the simulcast is done and over with. With this phase of the series, we're seeing more of the layers to it revealed and it's very easy to leap ahead with where these little subplots that are introduced end up going. And this series, while complex yet simple, has a lot going on in it and a good deal of it is fairly obvious, but they introduce things early on that you get surprised that they're as overt about it as they are. But it's done that way simply to get to the crux of the story in a more interesting way. Having Bradley talk easily about who he really is with people like Mustang at this stage and having it still kept a relative secret has you asking more about who knows what, rather than what it is that they know.
The thirteen episodes here run across a few different areas but one of the main themes about it is the coming together of key players really starting to understand that there is a significant threat at hand, and it may not be what they thought it was. While up until this point you essentially had just Ed and Al getting a handle on the reality of homunculi running around, especially after the things they saw in the 5th Laboratory, here we're seeing more people coming to grips with it. The most amusing is with Mustang as he has a sort of back and forth practically with himself over it, but there's a sequence that involves Ed and Al trying to draw out Scar and they end up getting Gluttony as well. And that has Hawkeye putting in a ton of bullets into him with no real effect, as well as an eventual scene where Ling cuts him up well and he rebuilds himself. With more people seeing the homunculi running around, the more it cements in reality.
Across these episodes, there are some main things that are revealed and dealt with. One of them involves the boys father returning to Resembool where a little hint is planted into Ed's head that he may not have actually transmuted his mother into existence again, and that leads to him unearthing her remains to find out. That in itself has a really powerful moment, but much more so it when he talks to Izumi about her own transmutation and their understanding about what can be done with alchemy is made clearer. When you realize certain things are possible and others are not, it frees you up from worry and you go forward with what you can and work with it.
One character that has a much stronger role in these episodes and as time goes on is Ling. With his attendants at hand and the dealings with the homunculi, he's a curious character since he wants to know their secret since immortality is important to him as an aspiring member of the imperial family and he can see this as a method to ensuring his ascension to power. Or at the very least being able to play a long game at gaining control of it. Ling does manage to hold his own though in several scenes and shapes up into a key character. He initially has a really good running fight with Bradley and he later gets involved with the capture of Gluttony which ends up dropping him into a very unusual situation in which we start to really see him humanized. He has his moments before that, particular with Lan Fan, but it's when it's him and Ed stuck inbetween reality and unreality that we see him humbled.
What impresses me the most with this show, especially at this point considering it goes for quite a few episodes more, is that it manages to bring some key things out early instead of dragging it out. One of the early issues we've seen as a background piece is what's gone on in the past. Xerxes is examined lightly here but it plays more significantly later. The Ishvalan war is a big piece here where we see snippets of how it all started and the level of involvement in it, the kind of planning that's been going on for a long time. Scar is also humanized in a lot of these flashbacks as we see what he went through and that leads to Ed finding out about his past when it came to Winry's parents. The humanization of Scar in his flashbacks and to where we see he is out of his mind leads him to one of the best moments of the series where Winry gets to confront him with this knowledge, not in the best way, and she has to make an important choice about what to do. Her growth in the show is often cut short, or it seems forced, but what she goes through here remains one of the highlights of her arc overall.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has a good run in these episodes as it plays the setup aspect in a lot of ways but it also does a good number of reveals. Some shows will keep its secrets until the final ten episodes or so when they run this length, but we're getting answers fairly early on. And those answers are the best because they lead to new questions that deepens the context of everything. The cast is pretty expansive in the show to begin with and we're getting new layers of them added here which makes it richer. Having watched it weekly as it aired, there's a very definite difference in experience watching it this way. The story does flow a lot better and it has a stronger feeling where each episode blends to the next rather well that with a bit of nudging it would work really well in a marathon play format. With this second set of episodes, the show cements itself more, begins to really bring in a lot of differences and decidedly goes its own way compared to the previous series. And it goes in a far, far better way. This set reminds me again easily why I loved each and every episode.
Features Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Episode Commentaries
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.
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