Ani-Gamers blogger Ink contributes a weekly column in which he examines the differences between the original Fullmetal Alchemist and its re-telling, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. To read previous entries, click here.
Hell is being trapped in your own personal clip show, the daemon responsible is Stray Dog brand scotch whiskey, and the saviors are morning’s light and the intangible human clock. Although this episode ends with classic overkill (showing and then telling), the structure is rather brilliantly leveraged for sake of story specifically hints of Hohenheim’s back-story. But before we get to the big contrast, let’s look at what these flashbacks to clips of yester-episode have to offer and how they come to offer it.
Framed intermittently by Hohenheim and Pinako contemplating the human condition while sitting out a bonfire dance, each clip adds to the linear telling FMA2’s story up to date. The ongoing theme for each clip is one of sacrifice, determination, or perseverance. Some clips offer seconds of new material (extended scenes), while others are cut and pasted verbatim, both for sake of some exact phrases/situations chosen match the corresponding theme. Separately, each set of chronological clips forms an essay co-authored by Hohenheim or Pinako. As any essay is an argument, so each individual thought is a plague of doubt.
The framing of each clip, then, forms the battlefield which is Hohenheim’s soul. This is very nicely illustrated by some of the animation direction (multiple Hohenheims, time/knowledge incongruities). The level of emotional appeal, rare to FMA2, stems very competently from a Romantic combination of the music (more along the lines of FMA1’s entire score) and the visual metaphors employed throughout the frame story. The latter includes men and women of all ages dancing euphorically, dramatically around a bonfire under Hohenheim’s solemn, apathetic observation. The dancers visages, reflecting in the light of the fire, represent the ongoing zest for life, while their shadows, at times just 2D castings and at others threateningly snake-like, show the twisted intent of what lurks unseen beneath their glowing skin.
It is through this visual and narrated argument, offered respectively via the interposition of frame and flashbacks, that brings about the main contrast that can be revealed for this episode: FMA1 never dealt with Hohenheim’s internal struggle with the paradox that is humanity, never set him up as a judgmental pessimist, and certainly never made him out to be a villain. In FMA1, Hohenheim was driven by the quest for learning, ignobly making a sacrifice of his humanity each time he made a sacrifice of others to continue his research. FMA2 makes Hohenheim, “Father,” to make him embody the shadow, Ed’s foil. This sets up a stage for a mighty confrontation of personal convictions Ed’s reluctance to kill vs. Hohenheim’s callousness to killing that will inevitably lead to an epic battle true to FMA2’s lust for action, but also one that evokes a sorrowful familial confrontation never allotted in FMA1.