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Live Blog Let's Rewatch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
AXavierB2010-12-15 00:41:07

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Episode 4: "An Alchemist's Anguish"

I'd like to randomly point out that making this liveblog is much easier than making the liveblog for Shin-chan was. That show is an endless stream of jokes with little plot, so liveblogging it pretty much meant I had to pick out each and every funny part and talk about it. So fucking tedious because the whole freaking thing is hilarious. Argle bargle.

This episode revolves around everyone's favorite alchemist, Shou Tucker. Who doesn't love this guy, really? A kind, caring family man who puts his daughter first. He's an inspiration to all of us. Except not. But everyone familiar with this franchise knows that so I'd be preaching to the choir if I droned on about what a horrible person he is.

This arc spanned several episodes in the first anime. I forget how many, but it was a bit longer. It was also set before Ed had officially become a State Alchemist, and he was staying with the Tuckers to study for his exam. It seemed like the reason for this was to get the audience more attached to Nina so that her death seemed that much more shocking. And while I thought the arc was interesting, I just didn't really care that much about Nina. OK, yeah, she was an unfortunate victim, and what happened to her was tragic. But I just never really felt that much for her. I felt for her situation, but not Nina as a character. I honestly didn't care much that she died. Maybe it had something to do with her incredibly annoying voice in the dub of the first anime—Baby talk? Really, FUNimation?

So you're probably expecting me to say that it was different this time around. But honestly? Not very much. Not because this episode doesn't deliver, but because I saw it coming. It was a very sad episode, to be sure, but I got into Fullmetal Alchemist a few years ago, which was pretty much enough time for me to get over her death and say "Oh yeah, here's the part where Nina gets killed off," when I had to watch it again in this version of the story. I knew it was gonna happen, never really cared much about Nina in the first place and had less time to get to know her character here so I wasn't quite as affected by the tragedy as other fans of the series tend to be.

That's definitely not to say that this isn't an excellent episode. My personal bias aside, the pacing is pretty good and the episode manages to properly convey the mood and atmosphere of the manga source material. The production values in this episode are very good, too. The art looks slightly off at certain points, but not really off-model. There's a part near the end where Al again has a different number of openings on the rectangular plate under his chin, but that's an easy mistake to make. Other than that, Ed's face just looks a little different than it does in other episodes, but not in a bad way. Probably just had a different team of animators.

Anyway, on to the actual episode. It opens up with Scar confronting Basque Grand, the Iron Blood Alchemist, in the streets at night. Scar kills State Alchemists for straying from the path of God, and Grand is next on his list. I dunno why State Alchemists walk the streets at night when there's a serial killer out to murder each one of them. They can't be that cocky, can they? Scar's already murdered several State Alchemists so obviously he's a real threat and not some novice. They need to take some caution. This is Basque's only appearance in Brotherhood, excluding a flashback or two. I don't really know what his characterization was supposed to be like in the manga because I didn't read much of the earlier chapters, but I understand he was much less of an asshole than he was in the first anime. Would've liked to have seen more of him in Brotherhood but I guess I'll have to go back and read the manga chapters he was in. But speaking of the manga, his murder at the hands of Scar apparently happened off-screen there. Nice of BONES to animate it for us instead of just alluding to it.

And this scene is pretty well-animated, too. But I've done enough nerdgasming over how gorgeous this show is for now, so I should save it for some of the really amazing-looking scenes later on in the series. Grand transmutes a series of cannons and chains to attack Scar with, but Scar's too fast and Grand ends up having to seal him up in a giant box. It kind of annoys me how Scar is apparently fast enough to dodge anything thrown at him, even despite his size, but he's critical to the story so I guess we just have to roll with it. But it really pushes my suspension of disbelief at some points, and gets incredibly annoying when even Riza can do little more than graze him. Anyway, Grand thinks he's got Scar trapped and foolishly walks over to the enclosure, at which point Scar uses his deconstructive alchemy to break out of his prison and make his kill. Bye, Grand. Scar's alchemy operates by disassembling things. Alchemy is a process of breaking things down and then reconstructing them, but Scar stops at deconstruction. So basically what he does when he kills people is destroy their brain. How brutal.

Hughes and Armstrong, along with Denny Brosh, Maria Ross and a few others, are inspecting the scene of the murder. Hughes warns Armstrong to watch out, because he could be Scar's next target, and the undeniably human Bradley arrives. He tells Hughes that if he needs assistance, he should request it immediately, because Scar must be taken down by any means necessary. We then cut to Riza and the rest of Mustang's men apparently doing the paperwork he shirked off on them. For someone who wants to lead the country, Roy can be pretty lazy and irresponsible sometimes. There's a document with a picture of Lieutenant Yoki, who has been on the run ever since the Elric brothers exposed his actions in the Youswell coal-mining town. I would've liked to see the Youswell arc, which was featured in both the manga and the first anime, but only gets a mention here and a flashback later in this show. It's not crucial to the story except for the fact that it's the introduction of Yoki, who becomes a major player later on, but even that's not a big loss since the events of Youswell are still presented in Brotherhood, if rather sloppily so.

Fuery is fumbling with a broken radio when the Elrics show up and Ed fixes it with his alchemy. One wonders why he can't just do that when he breaks his automail but I guess the design for that is more complicated. After all, there's mostly just 19th century tech, so I doubt the structure of automail is common knowledge. Anyway, Riza tells them the colonel wants to see them, and the two go to his office to report what happened in Liore—Yeah, apparently I was wrong; the official spelling in the manga is Reole, but on Brotherhood maps of Amestris it's spelled Liore. Fixed me. The brothers mention that Cornello made a chimera, and begin to wonder if perhaps that kind of biological alchemy could help restore their bodies. Roy offers to introduce them to Tucker, the Sewing-Life Alchemist, and the two are surprised that the colonel would go out of his way to help them like that. One thing I noticed here is that Roy is a lot less... dickish toward Ed. It seems like here Ed is the one being insufferable while Roy keeps up a more or less professional demeanor. In the first anime, Mustang was always picking on Ed with sarcastic, snide little quips, and he was such a smug bastard that you just wanted to punch him in the face. I like this Roy much better.

Tucker became a State Alchemist two years prior to the events of the story for making a chimera that could speak. However, its only words were "I want to die," and it eventually starved itself to death. That alone should be proof enough that Tucker is shady and untrustworthy, but I guess Ed and Al care too much about possibly getting their bodies back to worry about that for now. Ed is tackled by Tucker's dog Alexander almost immediately after setting foot near the house, which is always amusing no matter which version of Fullmetal Alchemist you happen to be watching/reading. Tucker and Nina greet the brothers and Roy, and invite them inside.

Tucker's house is an absolute pigsty. He explains that his wife pretty much took care of most of the household tasks, so things fell apart when she left him. He tells Edward that in exchange for showing him his work, he needs to know why he's interested in biological alchemy in the first place. Ed takes off his coat to show Tucker his automail—And to provide me with more fanservice with DAT BICEP—and tells him about the failed human transmutation. Tucker says that the brothers had a pretty rough past, going through that at such a young age, and lets them see his library. He's got a bunch of ugly-ass chimeras caged up all over the place and says that despite people seeing him as an expert on biological alchemy, his chimera experiments haven't been going very well.

Ed and Al are amazed at his collection of books and dive in right away. Ed's adorably nerdy here. He's so wrapped up in his reading that he can't even hear Roy when he says he'll be sending someone to pick him up later. Tucker seems to find this endearing too, but it's creepy hearing that from him, what with the pedophile vibes he and his light-up glasses give off in every given scene. It doesn't take Ed very long to literally surround himself in stacks of books, but his studies are interrupted by the sound of Al playing with Nina. He goes to scold his brother for playing when they should be working, before Alexander pounces on him again. Heh, I remember this scene from the manga, Ed telling Alexander that he'll use all his power to vanquish him the way lions put all their effort in when hunting rabbits. Alexander looks hilarious when Ed's chasing him here.

Havoc comes to pick them up by evening, and Ed's frustrated that he barely even got to get much studying in because of Nina and Alexander. Tucker says the two are welcome to come back any time, and Al tells Nina they can play again tomorrow. Gee, Al, you could be on your way to finding out how to restore your body. Do you really have time to be playing with some little kid? I know I'd be annoyed by Nina getting in my way if I were in either brother's place. Eh. I guess they're just better with kids than I am. Havoc reminds Tucker that it's almost time for his assessment, and Tucker looks visibly distressed. Nina asks what an assessment is, and her father explains that State Alchemist must report the results of their experiments once a year. He failed his last assessment, and if he fails this one he'll have his State Alchemist title taken away. You can understand the stress Tucker's under right now, on the verge of losing his job. That doesn't justify what he's going to do, but still, you can understand what pushed him to it.

The next day, Nina tells Ed and Al about how her mother left and went back to live with her parents. She says that for the most part, she's content with having only her dad and Alexander, but that it does get kind of lonely when her dad spends all his time in his lab. Ed remembers his own father and how he used to spend all his time cooped up with alchemy books, and decides to play with Nina and the dog in the courtyard. Ed really is good with kids. This scene is exceedingly adorable... until we fade to Tucker sulking in his lab. Then it's just creepy.

We cut to Central, where Hughes and Armstrong are discussing Scar, wondering why he only targets alchemists with state certifications. Armstrong postulates that Scar holds a grudge against State Alchemists for acting as human weapons even though alchemists are supposed to work for the good of the people and search for the truth. He adds that there are many people who would hate them after what they did in Ishval. Maria shows up to report that a man with a scar on his face was seen at the Central train station, suggesting that Scar may have run off.

Back at the Tuckers' house, Shou tells the brothers that he needs to pass his assessment because he can't bear to go back to how his life was before he got his state certification. They were very poor back then, and he says his wife got fed up with living in poverty and left. Nina says that if he fails his certification, she and Alexander will go and scold the higher-ups. Heh, how naive. And it's not like you'll even be around for the assessment anyw—Ow! Tucker asks his daughter how she feels about playing tomorrow, and she's ecstatic. Goodbye, Nina. Your daddy has a very sick definition of "play" and I'm not just talking about the fact that I think he's a child-molester. This scene is so pretty, by the way.

It cuts from here to Ed and Al visiting the next day. I know I've said it a million times, but BONES really knows how to utilize atmospheric lighting. This scene is done with a very muted, almost gray monochrome color palette. The brothers enter the house, and Nina and Alexander are nowhere to be found. They come across Tucker in his lab, where he shows them his newest chimera, which he claims can understand human speech. He has the creature say Edward's name, satisfied that he gets to keep his job.

Ed is impressed until the chimera calls him "Big Brother", at which point he realizes what Tucker's done. He'd become a State Alchemist with his original talking chimera two years ago; the same time his wife "left". The chimera had been made by transmuting her and he made up the story about her leaving to cover it up. Ed then asks where Nina and Alexander are, and Tucker's dismayed that he's been found out. Although really, it was pretty obvious to begin with. Ed attacks him, pissed that he would toy with human life like that, but Tucker points out that Ed isn't so different. After all, he and Al were also toying with life when they tried to bring their mother back. They saw an opportunity in front of them and they took it even though they knew it was a taboo. Edward loses it and repeatedly punches Tucker with his right arm, screaming that they're nothing alike, and Al has to hold him back before he ends up killing the man.

Alphonse apologizes to the chimera, saying that he and Ed don't have the power to restore it to normal, as it asks over and over to play. Tucker's only concerned with staying a State Alchemist, pissing Ed off even further. You can really tell how completely insane he is at this point. Earlier it seemed like he wanted to keep his job to continue to support his family, but now you can really see how selfish it all was. He's not ashamed of what he did to his daughter at all. Even though I don't really care about Nina as a character, I can't help but be disgusted by how far Tucker was willing to go just to keep his job.

In the next scene, there's a downpour of rain, which is kinda cheesy but I think it's a really good way to accentuate the mood of the scene. Ed and Al are sitting outside on the steps of the command center, and Roy tells Ed that he's never going to get anywhere as a State Alchemist if he lets one case like this completely cripple him. He says that as a soldier, Ed is likely to come across many similar tragedies, and may even have to get his own hands dirty eventually. It comes off as cold, but it's also true. Ed is a soldier, so he should have expected to witness such gruesome acts as part of his occupation. But the brothers are frustrated with themselves because they're just powerless, insignificant humans who couldn't even save a little girl. In the first anime, this scene happened after Ed's first encounter with Barry the Chopper, and it came off as a bit more emotional. It carried a little more weight, but it also does its job here. The use of "Trisha's Lullaby" really helps here, and it's a beautiful track. I'd say it even rivals "Bratja" from the first anime.

Tucker really is out of his fucking mind because he laments to Ninalexander that "no one understands me". Forget not caring; does he even comprehend what he's done to his daughter? Does he even realize she's in pain? Someone kill this man, please... oh, hey, Scar! He's already taken care of the guards in front of Tucker's house, and he's come to exact God's wrath. Ninalexander is distressed at the sight of her... rather, its father's corpse, and tears run down its eyes as it repeats "Daddy". I guess Nina still loves him even after he's turned her into a chimera. Scar gives the poor thing a mercy kill, since Nina and Alexander will never be restored to normal. The use of a lightning flash filling the screen to suggest the chimera's death instead of explicitly showing it was a nice touch, too. Scar leaves the house, asking God to welcome the souls he's sent to them, and the episode ends with a final shot of Ed and Al in front of the command center.

All in all, an excellent episode. My inability to care about Nina doesn't really affect my views on "Rain of Sorrows" at all, and I'm actually glad the arc was dealt with in one episode. Not saying I didn't like it, but this way it's just short and sweet instead of dragging on like it did in the first anime. And Nina was given a much better dub voice this time around, thank goodness. Oh, and I forgot to mention, those little tadpole-like chimeras that Tucker keeps in jars appear in one of the later OPs, I think, and images of them were also shown when Ed was pulled through the Gate in the second episode. I wonder what's so special about those? But yeah, great episode.

4/5

Comments

Dec 15th 2010 at 7:28:48 PM
It's funny you should say that she was given a much better dub voice, since it's the exact same person doing it in both dubs. However, she's definitely improved her "little girl voice" in the time between the first FMA and Brotherhood.
Dec 15th 2010 at 10:00:46 PM
Ah, same voice actor? I didn't know that. =d She does sound better though, yeah.
Dec 16th 2010 at 8:17:02 PM
On the note of Tucker's Not So Different Speach, I stand by what I said in my liveblog:

"Hey, Tucker? They were twelve, had no idea what they were in for, and were doing it out of love for their mother, while you are a full grown man who knew exactly what the hell you were doing, and did it just so you could keep your job. TWICE. You donít deserve that kind of comparison (Although he is essentially out of his mind at this point)."
Dec 17th 2010 at 5:31:29 PM
There's also the fact that the brothers weren't expecting anyone to get hurt in the process.
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