1 Fullmetal Alchemist
Edward (Romi Pak) and Alphonse (Rie Kugimiya) Elric are two of the most talented fighters in the land. Ed is an alchemist, someone who through intense study of the sciences and rigorous training is able to transmute the physical world, allowing him to manipulate metal. Al is a soul bound by alchemy to a suit of armor, able to battle beyond the strength and endurance of a regular man.
The two of them work for Fuhrer King Bradley (Hidekatsu Shibata) and are called upon to hunt down Isaac McDougal, an alchemist who is able to manipulate water. Isaac insists that his quest to destroy Central (think the pentagon) is an attempt to stop the evils being done by the military, but Ed and Al are skeptical that this accusation has any truth.
For a first episode, there’s a decent amount of action mixed with a lot of setup. We get a decent sense of what the world is, the form of government and the state of the world. This doesn’t give us a whole lot of time for the characters to fully form yet and it feels like we’re still missing a bit about what makes Ed so special. His youth is obviously part of that, but for some reason it’s made a big deal that he can use alchemy without a transmutation circle, although I have no idea what that means.
2 The First Day
This episode delves into the origins of Ed and Al and it’s a dark, tragic tale. Sons of an alchemist, the two boys took an interest in their father’s work and library at a young age and began transmuting before the age of ten. When their mother dies, the two boys attempt to do the forbidden: human transmutation in an attempt to resurrect their mother. The cost is dear as Al loses his physical body and Ed loses a leg. However, in the process Ed is given a glimpse into the secrets of the universe, part of which gives him the knowledge to bind his brother’s soul to a suit of armor at the cost of his own right arm.
For a show about two young boys, the tone here is surprisingly dark and dramatic. The price they pay is dear, but combined with the hubris at work, even as children, makes the tragedy a bit dampened. Ed in particular has an arrogance about him that costs him a lot. This loss leads both to seek a way to regain their former bodies and when offered a job working for the state, it seems like a good opportunity to gain the resources to find what they are after.
3 City of Heresy
Ed and Al investigate Father Cornello (Seizô Katô), a man from the Church of Leo who gains a following by the ability to transmutate without observing the law of equivalency, which says matter can be changed, not created. This leads the boys to believe that Cornello may possess a fabled philosopher’s stone, an item that allows one to amplify transmutation’s power. Their investigation becomes entangled with Rose (Satsuki Yukino), a devout follower of Cornello who believes he will resurrect her dead lover.
This episode is an interesting examination of science, faith and the hubris of man. The idea of resurrection is core to many religions and Ed’s conversation with Rose teases out a lot of ideas about how the two differ in their respective worldviews. Adding yet a whole other interesting dimension to this is the appearance of two characters named Lust (Kikuko Inoue) and Gluttony (Tetsu Shiratori) who appear to be the puppet-masters behind Cornello. While certainly dealing with ideas of naturalism, there are heavy religious overtones to the show so far as well.
Wrapping up this set of episodes, the biggest takeaway is that the show works best when it’s at the most dark and dramatic. The story takes the characters and story to dark and twisted and explores the negative effects of the pursuit of power. However, the flip side of this is the horrendous attempts at comedy. There’s a lot of typical twee anime humor at work with that minimalized, exaggerated style for a lot of gags and it doesn’t fit the show at all. It’s consistently unfunny and occasionally ruins what should be a dramatic moment.
© 2015 James Blake Ewing