Finally finished! Below the cut are series-destroying spoilers for Fullmetal Alchemist (also, holy cow but this got long; actually, it's so long I'm separately lj-cutting episodes). We haven't seen the movie yet, so don't be an asshole by spoiling it. (I had to screen a comment today spoiling episode 50 in an old post; people never fail to amaze me.)
Frankly, I am suffering from severe information overload, even the day after—not that a mostly-sleepless night thanks to decongestants helped any, but the sheer amount of stuff that happened! I glanced at a couple commentary posts last night, and then gave up—see, information overload—but will probably do so when I can afford to spare my brain from other things. [*] I did at least take notes during the episodes, and then went back to re-watch key bits that I didn't hear properly or whatnot.
[*] Also pretty much everyone else is posting about fansubs, which makes a difference.
You know, if I had to name one thing that FMA is good at, it's always surprising me.
Episode 49, "The Other Side of the Gate": In which Ed confronts Dante, who sends him through the Gate.
Envy taunts Al with the fact that the lives of 7,000 soldiers who invaded Lior, plus all the Ishbalans from Scar's arm, went into the Stone. Al finally shows awareness of this, or admits that he'd been in denial: "There are so many moments when I should have died. . . . Why do I deserve to live, when so many others have died?"
The Tringhams are there! I thought we'd seen the last of them (and they want to help, how nice). Sounds like their Dad was working with Tucker (a man is specified) and thus learned about the "True Laboratory" (truth behind truths): an entire city buried underground in a single night four centuries ago. Dante's flashback was incomplete: it wasn't just witch-hunts and plague they used to make their Stone (which omission should've jumped out at me). Ed's verdict: monsters. (Dante puts the blame on Hohenheim for the plan, which is probably true as he's the one who actually knows how to make the Stone.)
Dante thinks Ed and Rose love each other, which I have to say is not an impression I'd gotten. Important to each other, yes; In Love, not so much. I'm personally inclined to put Rose's declaration of love down as puppetry, part of the dancing by herself, so that Ed will be willing to fuck Dante!Rose (unknowingly) after the transfer (and can I just say eeeeewwww to that).
Archer trying to convince Izumi to join them. Well, if he did it with Kimblee, why not Izumi too? Except that Izumi has too much integrity. Ross and Brosh lead a counter-attack; I wonder what they told those soldiers to get them to take up arms against their superior? Ross invokes Hughes and the need for adults to protect children in order to enable them to do what they need to, waah.
(Archer is belated evidence for the guy in episode 5 actually having been given an arm by the military, which seemed weird to me since why would they toss him after paying for it? Should re-watch that. Actually, should probably re-watch the whole damn series. Argh, my brain.)
Sciezka also remembers Hughes, talking about how nothing is ever completely negative, and thinking about the nature of the Homunculi. Are they doing a good thing by removing the Stone from cities where it's made and destroying the evidence (including people), since humans are quite destructive enough without it? Winry disagrees: danger can lead to things seeming exciting and therefore more attractive.
Dante, who is oh so very trustworthy, also thinks that "humans can't handle the Stone" and that she's benefiting humankind by acting as "Shepherd of the Sins." Isn't she human too, asks Ed? "Not anymore." What, does she think she's achieved godhood?
I love the circling "camera" views in this whole confrontation, by the way, and then the fisheye later.
Gluttony asking after Lust. I was telling the TV, "tell him Wrath did it!" And yay, Ed did. Not that Gluttony went after Wrath for it as I was hoping, but.
Dante keeps telling the Homunculi that they don't have feelings, in the face of the evidence. More on this at the end, as it's not really episode-specific.
It all comes back to equivalent exchange: Dante calls it the opiate of the masses, basically, and harkens back to Izumi's comments: how can the death of babies be justified as equivalent exchange?
My notes read here, "Why is Ed backsliding?" I'd thought he'd given up equivalent exchange as a guiding moral principle when he didn't go back after Scar in whichever episode that was. I think here, it's partly because he was jumping off from opposing Dante, who's exchanged her soul for extended life, and partly because it's aspirational—see later notes.
And then: Dante invokes the Gate, and Ed wakes up . . . elsewhere. With two arms and two legs.
Duh, that's Beethoven's Fifth, I can't believe I was so brain-fried that I didn't recognize it last night.
Hohenheim was expecting to find Ed there, but not our Ed. The logistics of this are problematic, as discussed below.
Zeppelins! Wikipedia tells me that they were used in air raids in 1915 and 1916; based on dating given early in the series, it's 1915 in Ed's world.
Episode 50, "Death": In which Ed dies. Twice.
Pride thread first:
A brief snippet of Mustang's cohort at the front. Havoc's voice sounds weird to me here, did it to anyone else watching the dub?
Pride's house; his son feels guilty for seeing his "secret treasure" in the safe. Pride gives him the key, "trusting you with my life." And now there's Hawkeye, a diversion over a heap of bodies to let Mustang get in. Archer, meanwhile, is batshit crazy at Central, not killable by a grenade, and heading to the mansion.
(Why does Pride have this, or rather why doesn't Dante have it? Has he stolen it from Dante—this seems to be a recent memory of his son, watching him stow it away. At least he's drawn with sweat marks showing that it's not easy for him to do. More on this below.)
Mustang at the mansion: clever use of an array on either half of double doors, to seal them behind Pride when they shut. Mustang doesn't care that Pride's not human; he objects to the fact that the Fuhrer doesn't care about the State, only the Stone. Another cool "camera" angle, of the two of them facing each other seen through the gaps in the wine casks; Pride spouts Dante's line about protecting humanity. Pride's "Ultimate Eye" sees Mustang's alchemy at work, even as? before? it happens.
Right, now the Ed-Gate-Dante stuff:
When Ed went through the gate, he was sucked into someone else's body—and that someone else is still in the body, though apparently subordinated to Ed.
You know, some shows could make an entire arc of just that. Did I mention information overload based on the pace of these last episodes? Yeah.
Hohenheim and Ed both saw, in the Gate, the worst tool of violence which is yet to come, the atomic bomb. And now it's time for the return of Significant Conversations with Hohenheim:
"The lives of those that have died and will die in this world become the energy for the alchemy used in ours. . . . It takes more than equal mass to restore a broken radio. The energy used to put it back together must come from somewhere too, and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only redirected."
"So that's the secret, the lives of the people who die here cross the Gate and become energy we need for transmutations? Is that what you're telling me?"
"Inside all of us, there lies a smaller version of the Gate you passed through. Alchemists have the ability to open their Gates, crossing worlds and feeding off the tragedies of this one. It happens every time you draw a circle or clap hands."
"You sound just like that headcase Dante, all the same crap about there being no equivalent exchange!"
Honestly, I'd thought the energy was either magic, or the effort of the alchemist, so I hadn't worried about it. Also, I've been much more riveted by the ethical than the physical implications.
(Ethically speaking, I think the most likely reading of this is that alchemy doesn't cause deaths, but just use what's already there. Whether it's immoral to use deaths that you didn't cause—well, that's the same question as whether it's moral for Ed or Al to use the Philosopher's Stone, isn't it?)
"Not beyond the Gate, just inside it; and she separated my mind, body, and soul while I was inside, leaving me to wander in that limbo forever. But despite her efforts, I put myself back together, and wound up here."
"Is that what happened to me?"
"Not quite. The success of alchemy seems to be the diverging point for these worlds. We share the same history before that, and much is still the same. As you see, there's a boy here that's physically identical to you; there's probably a boy like Al as well."
"That makes sense. But that doesn't explain how I got this body."
"It's highly probable that your true body's still somewhere inside the Gate, but your mind and soul have crossed over into this world and they were attracted like magnets to this Edward's body.
. . .
"You must open the Gate that's inside you. Only then can you find your way back to your true home, Edward."
"But aren't you coming too?"
"I'm afraid that's not possible. Since my body has already crossed the Gate I'm completely a part of this world now. And because alchemy seems to be impossible here, I'm stranded. But luckily it isn't too late for you.
. . .
"You should know I was relieved to find out the law of equivalence wasn't true, that people mustn't always be required to pay a price in order to gain something of value in return: because even if I lived for a thousand lifetimes, I could never do enough to deserve the gift of my children, you and Al."
"I can't agree with you. I know if I try my hardest, I'll be rewarded; and I believe that applies to all of us. It doesn't matter who you are, if you work hard, it pays off. I know equivalent exchange is true."
"But this world—"
"If it's childish to believe in this, so be it. I'd rather be considered a child than follow a doctrine of cynicism, chaos—apathy. I thought I didn't care, Dad, that I didn't need to believe in things. But I was wrong."
Various things about this:
- FINALLY someone explicitly points out the good things about non-equivalent exchange! Thank you, I've only been waiting for this since
foreverhalfway through the series, ish.
- This is the kind of alt-history guaranteed to drive Chad nuts; I'm not real happy with it either, as if the worlds diverged more than four hundred years ago, there is no good reason why there should be an other!Ed.
- Why didn't Ed's body cross over as well? Hohenheim says that Dante disassociated him, but I wonder if going into the Gate doesn't do that automatically, and so Ed's mind, body, and soul split, and the mind & soul were attracted across as said above. Because Hohenheim (a) had no equivalent (regarding which, see the problem above) and (b) put himself back together again, he came across whole. Fanwank, I know. Any other ideas?
- I'm temporarily giving up on making a coherent statement out of all this childhood-adulthood stuff. My brain is too tired. Later, maybe.
Also, "Lieutenant Colonel Churchill": a page found through Google says that Churchill was a Lt. Col. serving in France in November 1915-June 1916. (This is one of the fansub translation issues that I saw in some post or another before I went to bed last night, someone objecting that Churchill wasn't [some other rank than Lt. Col.] in 1915.) What he's doing in England, well, I don't know what the transportation situation was like then.
The burning zeppelin echoes their burning house, and Ed, in other!Ed's body, fails to save him with alchemy. Waaaah.
Dante wants Gluttony to eat Al, which I just don't understand at all. I mean, I got nothing. Anyone?
Dante activates Gluttony's tattoo to remove his mind. Wrath continues his freakout, Dante summons the Gate because his carelessness could have activated the Stone "before it's reached its full potential", which I also don't understand. The things behind the Gate take back Ed's arm and leg from Wrath and leave him bereft; but the Gate doesn't leave, and Ed falls out of it (in his own body).
Deaths in that world come through the Gate; Ed's body was there, and his mind and soul came along with the other Ed's death? At any rate, there he is. To promptly be mind-fucked by Envy (who, in passing, mentions that Marcoh was eaten by Gluttony—I was wondering about that all this time; also, I love Ed's reaction to Envy taking Mustang's form: "I don't think you could have picked an easier target!"), and then be unexpectedly, ummm, transfixed by the revelation that Envy was created by an attempt to resurrect Hohenheim's son with Dante, who died "prematurely of mercury poisoning" (stillbirth?).
This would be one of the moments at which I'd swear my heart stopped, by the way. If I'd been watching this as it aired and had to wait a week with that image of Ed lying still, blood spreading around him, eyes fixed and vacant . . .
(On a much less serious note, I remembered seeing somewhere authoritative—a DVD character profile?—that Envy was genderless. I suspect that as a shape-shifter, Envy eventually lost gender associations.)
Episode 51, "Laws and Promises": In which Ed and Al sacrifice everything to bring each other back.
Adult Swim has an additional disclaimer before this one:
Just in case that last disclaimer wasn't enough, this episode contains extreme violence.
We would rather run this than cut the violence from the episode because we are American Cowboys.
Though honestly considering Nina and Scar and Ed getting killed twice in the last episode, why they felt it necessary to disclaim this one, I don't know. No teaser.
Also, when the second half of the episode started, with Sciezka's letter, there were credits over the visuals. I thought for a minute that the recording had glitched or I'd skipped over the actual second half of the episode. Very disorienting—I mean, it's supposed to be, but really, that was excessive. (I see from the fansubs that this isn't only Adult Swim that did this. Still a terrible idea.)
Okay, once again Pride thread first, because it's simpler:
Archer ends up being the downfall of both Pride and Mustang, in a way. If he hadn't crashed into the car going to Central, the son wouldn't have gone back to the house and brought the skull into the wine cellar; and of course Archer gives Mustang that highly-symbolic head wound.
Things about this:
- I can't believe Pride killed his son. Well, I mean I can (the BASTARD), but eeee.
- Mustang's using the skull to burn Pride until he runs out of lives: lovely use of, almost voodoo, really—it makes sense to me that the connection with the remains of the intended-resurrectee runs both ways, otherwise Greed and Pride both would've destroyed the skulls rather than leave them as their weaknesses. And since Pride was able to handle the skull, I think the weakness in part might result from the intent of the person bringing the remains out.
- I hate to say it, but Mustang should've died. Head wound like that, in a crazy situation making it unlikely that he'd get prompt medical care, and with a fake-out fade-out? I thought so in (movie that it would be a spoiler to name, where a character also gets shot in the head), and I think so here.
- That said, in some of the posts I glanced quick at last night, the concern was expressed that the parallel eye patches meant nothing good for Mustang. I don't share this concern. I think it's significant that Mustang was wounded not by Pride, but by Archer, who represents even more directly what happens when the military goes drunk with power—combine this with his abandonment of his ambitions to get to this point, and his comments to Pride, and I don't think Mustang will take the same path. I suspect the parallelism instead has to do with seeing: Pride's eyepatch concealed "The Ultimate Eye," while Mustang's represents hard-worn knowledge.
(Also, the return to a civilian government (which also reverses the Ishbalan policy!) is not going to give much scope for military power grabs, I hope, even though there are still wars on the horizon. Maybe. Boy, I would love to know how that all played out.)
- Hawkeye: "Just shut up and eat." I love Hawkeye. I could deal with Mustang/Hawkeye if they aren't going to go all sappy, though I somewhat prefer the friendship/platonic partnership as a general rule.
Now back underground.
Reactions to Ed's death: Al: it was supposed to be me!; Wrath: shock; Envy: today Edward, tomorrow the world! Did it used to be this unhinged?
Gluttony starts eating Al, and then Al does alchemy to stop him and gets up from the array—what had been holding him down? Did he use alchemy to get rid of that as well? I didn't see anything but the light of the array made it hard to tell. "This is for you, brother. I'll miss you." Waaaaah!
(Al paralleling Scar again, the little brothers giving their lives to save others; except that Al's decision is far less morally suspect than Scar's, since Al, you know, didn't actually kill anyone else to save Ed.)
Al and Ed before the Gate, Al fades out. (Ed's before the Gate, about to go through; and so the energy of deaths in this world must also go through the Gate to the other world, to be used in some form other than alchemy, because a one-way flow doesn't make any sense. Oh! This must be why most resurrections fail, because there's no soul to be pulled back. Though why people end up losing parts of their body as a price—well, see below.) Envy follows, goes through the Gate, gets the little black things trying to eat it, and changes shape into—what? It looks like a dragon but without wings. And then the Gate closes.
Ed wakes up alone except for Rose. His limbs are restored to him—handy that the thingies inside the Gate took them from Wrath just a bit ago. Al is gone. Waaaaah!
Dante leaves on the elevator—and it wasn't until now that I said, "Duh, that's the elevator and city in the opening song!" Gluttony eats through the floor, advances on her (mindless, thanks to her), Dante claps her hands—and then the doors open on an empty elevator. What happens? I thought at first that Gluttony ate her—fitting end—but then where's Gluttony? Did they take each other out somehow? I don't understand . . .
Ed asks Rose to take Wrath out, and she agrees: he'll find a way out, she says, since he's got strong legs. And then Ed with the arrays all over him (not the same ones as in episode 29, I checked), and the look on his face, and just—yeah, heart-stopping.
And then the unbearable tension of waiting to find out what happened . . .
Al's return as a ten-year-old makes sense to me. Ed opened the Gate and pulled out his body (which can't have aged inside the Gate), together with his mind and soul (which must've just died when the Stone was used up, so are there as well); it would be physically unbalanced for Al to have a teenager's mind and soul in a child's body (I mean, just try and imagine arranging the neurons to accommodate), and equivalent exchange still applies to the physical aspects of alchemy. (It was also foreshadowed by Hohenheim.)
Al loses his memories; Ed loses the limbs that Al gained back for him; they both lose each other.
(And Wrath gains the automail designed for Ed, in a final (?) parallel, but rejects company. He's last seen sleeping next to a trash can. Speaking of Wrath, Izumi does less than I would've liked in the endgame, but on reflection, I think it was thematically appropriate: protect the kids and let them do their thing (Mustang's role is separate, as a military insider to fix the military from the inside). And Wrath may be her responsibility, but appears to no longer be a threat.)
How Ed ended up on Earth (and I think at this point it's meant to be our Earth) I am less happy with. Hohenheim suggests that it was a subconscious effort to keep himself together, but as Ed points out, that doesn't answer why he's alive. The problem here is that the Gate, or the little black things within the Gate, or something, apparently decides what price to extract out of people for attempting human transmutations: which bits of their bodies to take, usually, but also what Ed needs to give up to save Al (and, my handwaving about physical equivalency aside, possibly what Al needs to give up to be saved). And we just don't know much about how whatever-that-is thinks. When it comes to Scar's brother and Izumi, it seemed to take symbolically-appropriate bits (sexual organs, womb), but it took all of Al for attempting human transmutation, Ed's leg for information, and Ed's arm for Al's soul—none of which make symbolic sense to me. Hohenheim's suggestion that the journey was the price sounded good at first, but not on reflection.
I was really boggled by the existence of the German bits, so I had to re-watch to get what was going on, particularly with Hohenheim's first conversation—also, thick accents.
At first, I wondered why Hohenheim was in Germany: did he know why the atomic bomb ended up being used, and hope to derail WWII somehow? Now that I've re-watched the Munich sections, uhh, I don't think so:
Munich, 1921. Hohenheim is a Professor, and is chanting in a circle for knowledge from "this sorcery." The "Thule Society knows certain truths about the Aryan race"—oh, lord, this can't be good. They want to communicate with the ancients to fulfill their destiny—yeah, this can't be good. *googles* Definitely not.
(You know, one of the posts I glanced at last night expressed the opinion that Hohenheim gets off way too lightly, and I think I have to agree. Pretty much the only good thing he does, coming back to confront Dante, is too little too late. People who did much less (Scar, Lust) pay with their lives to get even semi-redeemed.)
Ed thinks outer space might be a portal to other words, and is going to Transylvania to see Herman Oberth (rocket pioneer). Hohenheim: "Haven't you studied Einstein's theories?" Ed: "No-one believes it." I wasn't entirely clear why Einstein is brought up here, but the fansub has Ed saying that the "ether" exists in space too, so that must be why.
(Ed's got artificial limbs but they don't seem to move, just fill out clothes and act as a crutch.)
Does the Gate sometimes not send you to parallel times? Hohenheim was sent through not long before Ed the first time, but seems to be well-established in London when Ed comes through: he knows Churchill, found other!Ed, and so forth. And he didn't land in someone else's body either, so he didn't have the advantage of an already-established life. And it's 1921 now; have six years really passed for Ed? He doesn't look six years older, but that's hard to tell.
Ending voiceover, extension of the first Al voiceover (except in non-armor voice):
Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy's first law of equivalent exchange.
In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one and only truth.
But the world isn't perfect. And the law is incomplete. Equivalent exchange doesn't encompass everything that goes on here. But I still choose to believe in its principle: that all things do come at a price, that there's an ebb and a flow, a cycle, that the pain we went through did have a reward, and that anyone who's determined and perseveres will get something of value in return, even if it's not what they expected. I don't think of equivalent exchange as a law of the world anymore. I think of it as a promise, between my brother and me. A promise that someday, we'll see each other again.
(I seem to have forgotten to mention that both Mustang and Hohenheim make speeches about how the world isn't perfect. They made speeches, they were Significant. Enough.)
The dual resurrections bring them full circle in one way; but their separation brings them full circle in another. Except that I don't think wanting to be reunited is as wrong as wanting to resurrect their mother; dead people stay dead, sure, but people stranded in another world? Yes, it's (arguably) part of the price they paid, and to change it presumably they have to pay some other price—but Ed and all the people around Al have the experience of what went wrong the first time, so they ought to go about it better. I hope. (Reminder: NO SPOILERS for the movie.)
Two leftover things about the series:
First, I realized after the last post that I'd never explicitly commented on the prevalence of disguise in the series. I don't have the energy to say a lot about this now, but I want to flag it to think about some more.
Second, the vexing question of what it means to be human. In one way, it's hard to be a materialist and think about FMA, since I don't actually believe in the soul; but there's obviously something non-material that makes up a person, since otherwise Al and the Lab 5 guardians wouldn't be possible. However, I find "is this a human?" a less interesting question than "is this a person?", which may go to show the broadening effect of science fiction on the mind. I think the Homunculi are people: they have individual personalities, emotion, and free will. They aren't human, lacking the physiology to be H. sapiens, but as far as I can tell, what this means is that they can't genetically reproduce or do alchemy—which is true of some humans too. It would be a less interesting show if the Homunculi didn't feel meaningfully distinct from humans, but I still have this urge to sic Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan on them ("Miles, what have you done with your baby brother?").
On the whole? I'm emotionally satisfied by the series, though I still have practical and philosophical questions. I'm boggled at how eventful it is, and the places it went, and the way it kept unfolding worldbuilding until the very end, and how much I loved the characters, and how much of my attention it's occupied. I'll have to update my "why watch" post, though I don't know if I have the energy to update the moral universe post, really.
Roundup: The Homunculi
|Lust||Scar's brother (attempt: his lover)||pre-1901 (per eps. 39-40)||pointy fingernails||originally the first-seen Homunculi team, working for Dante; eventually herself||wanted to become human; killed by Wrath in ep. 47|
|Gluttony||? (not Dante)||? (after Envy?)||eats through metal, tracks by taste||the H-team||devoted to Lust, but not more than he's scared of Dante; last seen in ep. 51 preparing to eat Dante|
|Envy||Hohenheim Elric (attempt: his son with Dante)||100s of years ago; "the first Homunculus" per Dante in ep. 50||shape-shifts||the H-team||went through the Gate in ep. 51 and turned into a snake-dragon-thing|
|Sloth||Elric brothers (attempt: their mother)||1910||manipulates own body as water and vapor||the H-team||masquerading as Juliet Douglas; killed by Ed in ep. 48|
|Greed||Dante (attempt: ?)||pre-1770s (130-140 years in prison)||The Ultimate Shield (carbon)||himself||imprisoned by the H-team; stated goal: eternal life; killed by Ed in ep. 34|
|Wrath||Izumi (attempt: her unborn child)||~1906? (before 1910, appears a pre-teen in 1915)||can transmute his body + other objects because of Ed's limbs; H.-specific power?||the H-team||survived on own, unlike other H., because of alchemy (per Envy); Ed's limbs were taken back by the creatures inside the Gate in ep. 50; fitted with automail by the Rockbells in ep. 51 and then leaves|
|Pride||Dante (attempt: ?)||within apparent age||"The Ultimate Eye"; ages like a normal human||the H-team, though says in ep. 42 to Gluttony that they'll take the Stone themselves||Fuhrer of the whole damn country!; seems to scorn Lust's goal of becoming human so presumably wants the Stone for something else (but we never find out what); killed by Mustang in ep. 51|
Right. Who's up for an episode-by-episode rewatch?! *ducks, runs*