The Elric Brothers now know the terrible truth behind the Philosopher’s Stone. The question now is: will this deter them from their goals?
What They Say
When the Elric brothers recklessly attempted to raise their mother from the dead, the horrors they unleashed marked the beginning of a long journey into the darkest corners of the cruelty of mankind. Now, destinies are converging for those who remain to fight for the light of salvation.
The hunt for the truth behind truths is growing more desperate, and ruined Ishbal waits at the end of a road choked with wreckage both human and soulless. Amid rumors of new war and resurrected horrors of the past, hidden masters rush their pawns down this path of betrayal and doubt. As these seekers of the Philosopher's Stone grasp for answers, the most sacred tenet of Alchemy is questioned: the Law of Equivalent Exchange.
But the harshest judgment is reserved for the belief on which the Elrics have built their lives - the faith in an unbreakable bond between brothers. Weary and broken, Edward and Alphonse must face the ultimate sacrifice. Will it be enough to make them whole?
Contains episodes 26-51.
For the purposes of this review, I listened to the English 5.1 dub. 2.0 tracks are also offered for English and Japanese. The audio was clear throughout, with no distortion or dropout, and there was some decent left/right directionality with the sound effects. Dialogue stayed central. With the amount of action in this title, front/back directionality would have been nice, but it was a solid effort.
Shown in its native 4:3 aspect ratio, this release looked really nice. Coloring was nice and bright, and there were no real technical problems to speak of. My only issue was that the picture did not seem quite as clear as other recent releases, but that is an issue I seem to find with many full frame titles. Otherwise, this looked pretty good.
Decent packaging for this release, with an artbox housing four thinpaks and a sleeve for the guide books. Each disc has its own thinpak, and has a wraparound picture of one of the characters around the cover. The covers are technically reversible, but the reverse side has the same picture as the front side, just without any text. Overall, it is nothing special, but it looks nice.
The menu is also decent, but nothing special. The background image is the same as picture from that disc’s cover. The selections are very large and noticeable, with the highlight in orange, so it shows up well against the grey background. A deep, tense melody plays in the background while the menu is up. Decent effort, though oddly, the menu is widescreen, while the feature is full.
There are some decent extras on this release, though all video extras are relegated to the last disc. There are the standard textless songs, a 30 minute “Inside Look” with some of the English cast and crew, and a commercial for the Square-Enix FMA game. There is also an English commentary for the final episode, which is either selectable through the episode menu, or by switching audio tracks during the episode.
But the best extra by far is the inclusion of the guide books from the singles releases. The seven singles that made up season two each came with a 15-20 page book filled with production/cast notes, art, and episode information. They are extremely well put together, and are usually the sort of thing that is sacrificed for collections. The cynic in me might suggest that Funimation printed way more than they needed, so that’s why they included them in this release, but regardless of the reason, they are a nice inclusion.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Full Metal Alchemist ended on a fairly dramatic note, opening up all sorts of possibilities for this season. For starters, Ed discovers the secret of the final ingredient of the Philosopher’s Stone: that human sacrifice is needed to make a true stone. Obviously deciding that killing people to get their bodies back is no choice at all, Ed and Al now have to journey to see if there is another way the stone can be made.
In their way are the homunculi: artificially created human beings. Through the first season, Ed and Al continually ran into Lust, who continually antagonized them, but never seemed to openly oppose them. We were also introduced to Gluttony and Envy, with the promise that the other Seven Deadly Sins would soon appear too.
Unfortunately, in his investigation into military secrets, Maes Hughes discovers that the Fuhrer’s secretary is also one of the homunculi and is murdered for this discovery. His death marks a shift in military protocol, as the ambitious Frank Archer takes his place, and atrocities committed by the military increase, all seemingly sanctioned by Fuhrer Bradley. Between Hughes’s death and this shift in military politics, Roy Mustang now has to begin his final push to take over the military, and many of his hopes lie on the shoulders of Ed and Al.
This season marks quite a shift in FMA. The series already had a nice build of tension through season one, but this season loses much of the lightheartedness that marked the background of the story to delve deeper into the darkness. And again, I was quite surprised at how well that tension sucked me in. And some of the reveals, like how a homunculus is actually created, were fascinating and added levels of depth that I really did not expect to see in FMA.
One of the neat things throughout FMA is that no matter how dire events in the world get, the Elric’s never shy away from their own personal goal. They go on thinking they are allowing the military sort its own problems out, even though they are really being led around by the different interests that surround the military conflict. It marks a nice change from the ‘One for All’ hero we often see in these situations. It did not make Ed and Al any less likeable, but actually helped highlight the fact that despite all of their abilities, they are still just young teenagers in reality.
Another nice shift in this season was that each episode was just part of the larger whole. There were none of the throw-away, repetitive episodes that marked portions of the first season. FMA really has a breakneck pace, and those episodes killed the momentum at times in the first season. This season starts with a theme and sees it through to the end.
Unfortunately, I have a fairly major complaint about the plot. Trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, we learn a truth late about the world that FMA takes place in, as well as the truth behind alchemy, and it is a truth that I just could not wrap my head around. I have seen a few anime that have attempted to play around with themes similar to this, and they have never really worked well with me. And unfortunately, this idea plays a fairly large part in the final conflict for FMA, so it casts a bit of a shadow over everything that comes before it. I may be in the minority on this one, but it is something that dampened my enthusiasm for the entire experience.
Over two seasons, there was a lot to like about Full Metal Alchemist. It had a really interesting plot, some great characters, and quite a surprising amount of tension, and it never really fell into some of the traps that other shonen titles tend to live on. I could pick a few nits here and there, especially with a certain aspect of the ending, but overall, it was a very fun title. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System