What They Say:
In the shadows beneath Central, the Elrics encounter Father, the creator of the Homunculi. His face is familiar, but his alchemy is unlike anything the brothers have ever seen. As Father’s dark plot takes shape, Ed and Al brave the frigid north to meet the top officer of the fortress Briggs: General Olivier Armstrong. With icy nerve and burning intensity, she commands the hardest soldiers in the land, leading the warriors of Briggs in battle against the unstoppable, rampaging Sloth.
Contains episodes 27-39.
The bilingual presentation for the series is solid across the board as we get two Dolby TrueHD audio tracks for it. The original Japanese language track is in stereo as that’s how the show was broadcast while the English language version gets the 5.1 upgrade which is no surprise. Both mixes are very good as the stereo mix has a very strong presentation to it with a fair bit of placement and depth throughout while coming across as very clean and sharp. The 5.1 mix naturally bumps things up a bit with a more full sounding effect, particularly in the opening and closing sequences with the music, but it makes good use of the overall soundstage throughout and prominently during the various action scenes. Both tracks are good and having them both in lossless is a very good thing. It’s worth noting that you cannot change settings on the fly for this release as they’re locked and you must go to the menu to do it.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this HD native TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs in a nine/four format with the first disc being dual layered. I’ve read comments by some that have seen this disc and they tend to be very disappointed in the release. After watching this via streaming and comparing it to the DVD, I came away very pleased by it. The vibrancy of the animation shines through beautifully here as the colors are rich and generally free of gradients outside of a couple of scenes that almost look intentional. Backgrounds and character animation is solid with no visible noise and just a layer of natural high definition grain that’s very minimal overall. By all appearances and comparisons, this release looks identical to the Japanese Blu-ray release outside of being slightly brighter which is a common occurrence.
This release has a standard size Blu-ray case inside of a cardboard slipcover that has some nice metallic elements to it. The slipcover and the case use different artwork which is a nice thing to see as it makes it worth keeping the slipcover. I’ve enjoyed the first two covers as they’ve looked really good, but this one is very striking with General Armstrong standing with a very intense pose as she looks over the wall of the north. The blues are really very rich and appealing here and her harsh look is very captivating. The back of the slipcover has a lot of empty space to it with a nice strip of rough red along the bottom which contrasts the Blu-ray logo strip along the top. There’s a small two column summary of the show which covers a fair bit of the setup and a clean listing of how many episodes and the basic extras, including the collectables. The top has a nice box of some images from the show, though nothing that really stands out strongly, while the bottom has a clean yet stylized technical grid. I was very pleased to see that in the video section they denote that this is an “HD Native” program. Inside the slipcover we also get four postcards that are numbered which have some very good pieces of artwork from the series.
The single Blu-ray case inside holds the two discs on either side of the interior while the exterior features another good piece of artwork. Ed and Al get a very serious pose here with a hazy and smoky style background to it where there’s a whole lot of shadow to it that really makes them seem even more serious and darker than normal. The back cover is kept painfully simple with just a full red piece with the number one in the middle and the series name below it. I’d have preferred more artwork to be sure. I really like the reverse side artwork a lot more as it has a very serious shadowed image of Winry in the foreground with Scar standing behind facing away while the back cover is simple but actually useful with a breakdown of what episodes are on what disc by episode number and title.
The menu design for the show is of the very simple stripe as the only actual menu aspect is the small navigation strip along the upper left, which is what the pop-up menu doubles as well. The rest of the menu is given over to some decent clips from the series that highlights its action and intrigue pretty well and with the music it sets the atmosphere nicely. But the only real menu aspect with the design is that tiny strip and it’s got a little bit of style to it to fit with parts of the cover, but it’s pretty minimal overall. Unsurprisingly, the discs don’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles. Navigation is a breeze and everything loads very quickly which is a big plus.
There aren’t much in the way of extras here as we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences and two English language dub commentaries by the people behind this production.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood moves through the middle period of the series, it’s covering some very interesting ground. Ground that does slow the show down a bit but is important for establishing more of what the larger picture is. The show opens with a look at the first encounter that Ed and Al along with Ling have with Father hidden deep under Central Command. Father is an interesting character at this point because he’s gathering his sacrifices, his pawns, who are only just becoming aware of what their role is in things or that they even have a role. So much of what has come up until now has been reaction rather than being proactive as the brothers seek out a way to return to their bodies but ended up caught up in something far more.
The encounter with Father has one very fascinating event that dramatically changed one of them though. While Ed and Al can’t be dealt with all that harshly because of their position as sacrifices, Ling has no such luck and Father has Envy all set to brutally shred him. But there’s always been that something about Ling that lets him get away with things and seeing him convince Father that he wants something more, enough to have Father imbue him with some of the material that makes homunculus, is positively creepy. That he becomes the new Greed, with Lings personality being consumed by it, makes watching the body of Ling move about even creepier. He has this air of confidence combined with the smoldering brutality just below the surface that’s positively disturbing.
With Ed and Al finally getting some things clear in that the Fuhrer and the military are all part of this conspiracy in Central, a conspiracy that has extended for centuries as is found out, they’re feeling a bit hopeless in it all. Though they weren’t counting on Mustang, they’ve found that his small group has been split to the four corners and Mustang is under constant watch in Central now while Riza has been shifted to the Fuhrer’s personal assistant. So with the intent on going after Scar and working more towards their own issues with regaining their bodies, the brothers head off to the north in order to search for May as her alkahestry may provide them with a clue towards what they need.
The journey north is rather quiet for the brothers, but there are events afoot that start to impact it. Scar’s moving north himself to catch up with May and the doctor in order to go over the research notes that he has but the military wants him taken out so they’ve brought Kimblee out of jail to go after him. Considering Kimblee’s role in the Ishvalan war and his general viciousness when given the go ahead, being freed by the homunculi doesn’t give you the warm and fuzzies. There’s a good bit of cat and mouse with them and the story of the journey blends well with the events that the Elric brothers face when they reach the fort at the northern border known as Briggs.
This is an impressive area as it serves as the main defense against their larger border nation, Drachma, of which there is a lot of animosity. Blisteringly cold, desolate and imposing, the area is brutal but the fortress itself is just as impressive. What’s most impressive about this area though is the woman in charge of it, Major Armstrongs older sister, General Olivier Mira Armstrong. She’s a harsh woman who serves on the front lines and takes nothing from anyone as she works with men and women who all have their own secrets that have caused them to be sent here to protect the country. The arc is fascinating for this alone, but it also brings the Sloth homunculi into play as he works his tunnel through the area and starts to expand on what the larger plans that Father has.
One of the things that I really love about this show is just how many subplots are running and are independent of each other for a lot of it before they do come together. There’s a definite complexity here that works beautifully and shows off some good, solid writing that makes other shows look simple in comparison. The core characters for it, the Elric brothers, certainly keep events moving along but there are many times where they’re not central to events and the supporting cast have very strong roles. It’s hard to call a lot of them supporting cast because of the roles that they have in it. The cast does continue to expand and the introduction of the General is one of my favorite moments. The main stories are all working here but there are so many small subplots as well that expand and build on it that it continues to impress me. It’s holding up well and in a lot of ways it works even better than the simulcasts I saw because all the connections become more apparent and more engaging. Slow moments and intense moments alike are highly engaging here and this set builds upon an impressive foundation so far while exposing more and more layers to what’s involved. Very highly recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Audio Commentaries
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 28th, 2010
Running Time: 320 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.