Episode 25, "Doorway of Darkness"
In which a lot of people find themselves in desperate situations. (Mark's post.)
Three strands: Ed, Ling, and Envy in the defective Portal that is Gluttony; the military; and Al and Gluttony (and Xiao Mei).
Going episode-by-episode doesn't do this any favors, because it is so clearly a middle part of the story. I mean, we have Envy's scary monster form, and the dispersal of Mustang's subordinates as hostages, and Al asking to go see Father, but it doesn't feel like much on its own.
Okay, the bit about Portals is interesting, not just Gluttony's but also that that's what they want in a human sacrifice (I think it's been implied but not stated so far; for instance, when Wrath says that Mustang shows promise, it's after he's seen the lengths he went to when protecting Hawkeye and Havoc, so I presume he's thinking he can use that to force him to open one). And the Xiao Mei + Al show is fun (also sad, poor Al).
Oh right, Mei, Yoki, and Scar are also in this; Mei is looking for Xiao Mei and we get a touching bit of their backstory. Yoki has a weirdly wise moment when he mentions the Ishbalan genocide [*] that made me look up from my stitching and wait for him to be a jerk, but no. Now I'm wondering if my impression, that he never really gets redeemed, was wrong, or if it was just OOC for the purposes of narrative convenience.
[*] My first draft, before I looked at Mark's post, didn't mention Envy's bragging about murdering that poor Ishbalan child at all, partly because I was tired, partly because it was also in the first anime. But yes, Envy is horrible and that was awful beyond words.
Finally, I don't think I'd mentioned it before, but Ling's constant hunger for food is another great detail leading up to his transformation.
I'm tempted to just watch the next episode instead of stopping for the manga, but no, I should see how the manga balances these storylines first.
This corresponds to vol. 13, ch. 51, "A Portal in the Darkness," and a small part of ch. 52, "Lord of the Demon's Lair."
The anime expands the Xiao-Mei backstory bit to make it more touching/sad. Otherwise it's very close.
Since I was curious, chapter 51 ends with Envy assuming its true form but knocking them flat, not Ed and Ling resolving to attack, and Gluttony agreeing to take Al to Father (it also has the Xiao-Mei search in the middle). The military bit, of Mustang's team being dispersed, is saved for the start of chapter 52, and that's the only thing from that chapter in this episode. So chapter 51 concerns itself with one fewer plotline, at the cost of leaving us wondering what's happening in Central.
(Also, the manga makes explicit that Hawkeye has indeed been standing there all night. Oh, Hawkeye.)
Finally, gifs of my favorite Ed-Ling dialogue over in a comment at Mark's.
Episode 26, "Reunion"
In which Ed returns to the Portal. (Mark's post.)
Oh, so that's the reunion, Ed with Al's body, briefly! I was sure that there was too much plot to go through before Ed and Al-in-armor were reunited.
I was surprised how much of Father's plan is revealed at this point. The idea of taking the souls of everyone within the circle to fuel a transmutation that sets Father above God is, as I recall, the big-picture endgame for Father, and I don't remember realizing that until late. Maybe I'm misremembering the endgame (I recall some of the fan translations of the last chapters being somewhat difficult to follow, philosophically speaking; and while I did watch the dubs, it was mostly during the throes of extreme sleep deprivation during the Pip's early days), or maybe I was just waiting for confirmation.
I also vaguely recall some more angst about using Philosopher's Stones than we got here, but I can't remember whether that was the first anime or whether it comes back again. Not that Ed letting Envy swallow him isn't plenty of angst! But from what Ed discovers in the Portal, it does seem that Envy is right, that a body bereft of its soul still needs nourishment, and Xerxes was destroyed so long ago that there is nothing Ed can do for the souls that make up Envy.
I think the voice that gave Ed the Nina flashback must be coincidence, or maybe Envy fucking with Ed, because I don't see how that could be Nina's soul.
(Poor skinny Al's body, waiting for its soul! Eat more, Ed! Drink your milk! => )
Mei's comments about something underground, "Are those people?", I didn't understand the significance of first time through; I didn't realize the quasi-zombies were hinted this early. (I imagine I thought it was a reference to the Homunculi's multiplicity.) Also, how weirdly cute is her and Scar's teamwork? Very.
Here is someone in Mark's comments talking about Ed and Al's doors. (Someday when I am less in a hurry, I will go back and see if I can tell what Izumi's door looked like.)
Anyway. Ed through the Portal, Al stepping in to see Father, Mei and Scar fighting off chimeras . . . and cliffhanger! The next episode is titled "Interlude," which can be nothing good.
—ah ha ha, I wrote this offline. When I got back on, I read Mark's post. How did I completely forget Bradley's expository dump of backstory horror? I guess because I'd already thought about it when the high command's involvement was revealed and it doesn't advance the cliffhangers at all. Anyway, yeah, that was in this episode.
This corresponds to vol. 13, ch. 52, "Lord of the Demon's Lair," and ch. 53, "Signpost of the Soul."
Huh, Mei's comment in the manga is, "Is it . . . a person?" No wonder I didn't flag the difference in her comment in the anime! (Especially since it was a little hard to hear.) I feel better now.
Chapter 53 does not end on a cliffhanger, well, not the same one. It has Al in Father's lair and the ones inside Gluttony's stomach being spit out; it ends on Ed asking whether Father is Hohenheim. (So not a lot of plot before the brothers are reunited, I was wrong.) It also isn't quite as dramatic as the anime, in a more sensible way; Ed's big declaration to Al's body about coming back is not after he punches the door back open, but rather while it's closing.
No other changes of note.
The in memoriam for vol. 13 is empty! (None was included in vol. 12, that I could find.)
And one final note above the cut: if you're reading the manga for the first time, DO NOT READ the preview at the back of vol. 13, as it spoils a really great plot twist. (If you can't remember which volume, you're probably safer just not reading any of them, because seriously, it is just egregious.)