Monday, July 14, 2014

Classic Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode Six: "The Alchemy Exam"

Finally arriving in Central after a series of adventures, Ed and Al begin their journeys towards becoming State Alchemists. Ed learns he has a strange ability, while Al is ultimately given some disappointing news. "The Alchemy Exam" sets up an interesting multi-part story, once again laying groundwork for some of the subplots we'll see through the life of 2003's "Fullmetal Alchemist."

Copyright Square Enix
Mustang Assigns Al to Shou Tucker
Upon arriving in Roy Mustang's office in Central, Ed is told that it is his responsibility as a State Alchemist candidate to find someone to train him. Even so, Mustang suggests, or gently insists, that Al go to work under Shou Tucker, the so-called Sewing-Life Alchemist. Tucker apparently has experience bringing things to life, even going so far as to create a doll once that could replicate human speech, though it only ever said "I want to die." The fact that Ed and Al are looking for the secrets to human transmutation and Mustang assigns them to the expert in a related field, well, it shouldn't be seen as coincidence. 

Through Tucker, Ed and Al meet Nina, Tucker's daughter, and the family dog. Throughout "The Alchemy Exam" you see Ed and Al take joy in being part of a family again.

More Hughes!
If you thought we'd seen the last of Major Hughes after "The Man with the Mechanical Arm," worry not. We're treated to visiting Hughes in his home, and we're introduced to his pregnant wife. In a moment of panic, as Hughes' wife goes into labor, Ed slaps his hands together and accidentally heats a basin of water for Mrs. Hughes'. This is, we're told, the first time Ed consciously uses alchemy without a transmutation circle.

Ed discovers his unique ability.
Copyright Square Enix
Ed Earns Status as State Alchemist
The most important develop this episode is Ed earning the rank of State Alchemist. Unfortunately, Al, because of his unique, em, predicament, is forced to drop out of the running. Otherwise, Mustang promises, he risks revealing his secret and putting Ed and himself in harm's way.

From here on out, it's all kicking ass and taking names for our young State Alchemist, Edward Elric.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Coming Back to Gunpla After a Decade

Like many kids I knew growing up, Toonami was my introduction to some of the most enduring anime series to date. Dragon Ball, Rurouni Kenshin, Cowboy Bebop; if you were to ask people my age, we late 20- something grandpas, what the first anime experience is they had, I'd be willing to bet they'd mention one of these series, and I'd be further willing to say they first saw that anime on Cartoon Network's Toonami.

Bandai's Real Grade Mk.II A.E.U.G.
For me, Gundam Wing is the big series from Toonami that springs to mind when I think of what got me hooked on this often derided animation genre. (derided in the States, mind you) As so often happens when young children get hooked on something, it's their parents who suffer. This meant dropping many a dollar on Gundam plastic model kits, or Gunpla. I only built a half dozen of them when I was 15 or so before lack of funds and an increasing lack of time pushed the hobby out of my life.

Finding a Connection in Gunpla
I'd always wanted to get back into the hobby. I remembered it being a meditative experience, and it was a good way for someone without much artistic ability, at least in the way of physical art, to express themselves. Anyway, for fear of the reaction to my increasing age or just a lack of initiative, I kept the hobby limited to my memories.

Flash forward to March 2014: my younger brother urged me to watch Gundam Build Fighters. It's worth mentioning that I don't even like Gundam that much anymore, but that's a post for another day. After my brother pushed me to watch Gundam Build Fighters and hinted that he'd like to start building Gunpla, well, that was that. A few trips to GundamPlanet.com, and the shelves are running out of space at an ever quickening pace.

My brother is 17. Ever tried connecting with a teenager when you're increasingly an old man? It's not an easy thing to do, but the multiple suits we've built have given me that. Of course, I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't like the excuse to pick up an extra kit or 10 -- as the case may or may not be --  when I'm putting in our latest order.

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Do you use build Gunpla to connect with someone, or are you an old hand in it for passion of the hobby? I'd love to hear your stories and see some of your builds in the comments below!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Classic Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode Five: "The Man with the Mechanical Arm"

After their run in with Majhal and his pseudo-human dolls, Ed and Al continue on their way to Central to meet with Colonel Roy Mustang and begin their training as State Alchemists. As you should come to expect by this point, things aren't going to go to plan, and the Edward brothers will be forced to take care of business. Once again, this episode builds on some of the earlier plot points, laying out some important character dynamics along the way.

Mustang Starts Manipulating the Elric Brothers
One of the most important things about this episode is, perhaps, the development of the dynamic between the Elric brothers, Ed in particular, and Colonel Roy Mustang. Mustang, you may recall, found the brothers after the accident at their family home, inviting Ed to have courage and pursue a life as a State Alchemist.

For the first time, we're given a glimpse at Mustang's want to manipulate the Elric brothers into taking care of some situation that threatens Amestris. We don't really know yet whether or not he's doing it to help strengthen Ed, or if he simply wants to use him as a pawn. Definitely something to keep in mind.

Major Maes Hughes: the Best Damn Character in All of FMA
The best part about "The Man with the Mechanical Arm" is our introduction to Major Hughes. He's a competent soldier and, ostensibly, Roy Mustang's best friend and right-hand man. I'm not sure whether he's an alchemist or just an able combatant, but his combat abilities mixed with his sarcastic wit and humor make him one of the show's most interesting characters.

Major Maes Hughes
Major Maes Hughes in action.
Copyright Square Enix
Dissidents of the State
The action of the show centers around a guerrilla group of anti-government soldiers looking to take a train full of hostages for use in their schemes. And wouldn't ya know it, this is the train Mustang insisted the Elric brothers get on. The idea of dissidents in this world isn't new, not if you paid attention to what was happening in the first few episodes. "The Man with the Mechanical Arm," the leader of the paramilitary extremists, puts a face to the revolutionaries for the first time. ( As an asides, how can you expect people to react to you when your state leader calls himself the King Fuhrer?)

The Man with the Mechanical Arm FMA
The Man with the Mechanical Arm squares off against Edward Elric
Copyright Square Enix
The Ol' Ricocheting Bullets Gag
While not an important part of the story, I loved the scene where Al was faced by multiple gunmen in one of the train cars. He tries to warn them that if they shoot, they'll wind up hurting themselves. A flurry of ricocheting bullets later and one of the attackers takes a bullet to the knee. (Skyrim before Skyrim?) The gag is repeated a second later with another shooter. Like I said, not really important to the story, but a great example of the show's style of humor that I love so much.

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Is Major Hughes the series' best character so far or what? If you're not a fan, who do you like? 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Classic Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode Four: "A Forger's Love"

"A Forger's Love," the fourth episode in 2003's "Fullmetal Alchemist," picks up right after episode three -- no time jumps this time around. The Elric brothers are on their way to meet the mysterious Roy Mustang in Central, where they hope to begin their journeys toward becoming State Alchemists. In truth, "A Forger's Love" is mostly more of the same: people are doing bad things, so Ed and Al stop them. Even so, there are a few things that stand out in this episode as reoccurring themes, reoccurring problems, and important character points.

Image copyright Square Enix

Who's Driving This Train?
While watching FMA, it's easy to get the idea that Alphonse is just along for the ride as Edward tries to save the day. "A Forger's Love" clears this up at the very beginning of the episode. A brief exchange between the brothers reveals that Al chose to leave home with Ed, and that he can't imagine leaving his brother to try and accomplish this near impossible feat on his own. It's an important character moment.

The Phenomenon of Sudden Alchemy Circles
Episode four really kicks off what I like to call "the Phenomenon of Sudden Alchemy Circles." So far, we know that with the exception of Ed, alchemists cannot transmute without using an alchemy circle. Now, don't get too excited just yet. If you thought that was going to be an interesting world rule that would make the writers have to get creative with getting their main characters out of sticky situations, you were sadly mistaken. When these characters need an alchemy circle, it just suddenly appears, as one did when Ed and Al stopped the mugger on a layover station on the trip to Central. I guess people can just draw really fast in this world?

Majhal: Yet Another Dude Who Wants to Play God
On their way to find Roy Mustang in Central, Ed and Al make a pit stop in a small village. The village, coincidentally, is said to be haunted by the dead. Majhal, the town's alchemist, is apparently the only one able to fight the creatures off. Recognizing Majhal's name from their father's letters and knowing him to have knowledge of human transmutation, Ed and Al head off to investigate.

Through the normal course of anime heroes/heroines being nosy, they come to discover that Majhal is the cause of the "dead people" terrorizing the villagers. Turns out he lost his dear beloved some years back and has been abducting young women, all so that he can use their souls to power dolls he's made to look like Karin, his long lost love.

Is Alchemy Something Like the Force?
"A Forger's Love" got me to start thinking about the nature of alchemical power. Is it anything like the Force in "Star Wars?" I know it's meant to be a science with rules and all that jazz, but it seems to hold the same magically seductive power over people. So far, you see very few people in Fullmetal Alchemist's world making anything good happen with their powers. Ed and Al are among those very few.

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Do spontaneous alchemy circles bother you? Have you picked up on some theme I haven't? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

The overview of episode five, "The Man with the Mechanical Arm," will be live on July 12.