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Andrew Osmond says goodbye to Fullmetal Alchemist… again

It’s the sad time when we have to say goodbye to another anime epic, with the release of the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood OVA Collection. Okay, we said one farewell to the series with the final TV box-set last year (which was chronologically the end of the story), though recently we’ve had The Sacred Star of Milos to tie us over. As a cinema film, Milos was a big adventure for the Elrics and company. These video releases are small yet significant, four short stories plus a heap of comedy skits. The stories throw fresh light on the characters and their journeys; the sketches show the BONES studio pre-empting fans by lampooning their own saga.

The four main stories are set before the TV series, or in the early days of the brothers’ adventures. The first tale shows the Elrics as they were when we met them, travelling as a pair, exploring their world, innocently optimistic about finding a spell to restore them to normal. In “The Blind Alchemist,” they hear of an alchemist who’s succeeded where they failed so horribly, a man who’s perfected human transmutation. The brothers hotfoot to an elegant chateau, where the alchemist serves a lady and her little girl. The little girl’s presence will ring alarm bells if you remember the early TV episodes; the resolution this time is different, but still dark. Ed’s damning last line is a challenge to the audience, dividing viewers over whether he’s right or not.

The brothers return in the second story, “Simple People,” which is a much lighter tale of the Elrics with Winry. The youngsters’ relationship is still in its spiky phase; when Ed snaps his automail in a fight, Al glumly wonders if Winry will throw a spanner or a wrench at them! It’s a slice-of-life tale, juxtaposed with the show’s life-or-death conflicts, as the kids’ comic squabbles are contrasted with the view of sharpshooter Lieutenant Hawkeye.

The third story, “The Tale of Teacher,” is the most comedic, about the young Izumi, the brothers’ terrible schoolmarm in the ways of alchemy. You may remember how, in the TV show, she exiled the Elrics to an island to live or die. Now we see the 18 year-old Izumi’s own trial, as she battles to become an alchemist on the snowy slopes of Briggs Mountain, turning into a bigger terror than any of the locals. A meet-cute postscript suggests the best pick-up line for a lady like Izumi would be, “Excuse me, you dropped your bear.”

The last story, “Yet Another Man’s Battlefield,” is perhaps the strongest. It’s another training tale as army cadet Roy Mustang, not yet the revered Flame Alchemist, struggles through training. He befriends two people, both of whom look very familiar, although only one of them is who we think he is. This is a story of male rivalries, friendships and shared traumas, as the tale moves from the academy to the bloody Ishvalan war. If you see the war as Vietnam, then it’s perhaps it’s not too fanciful to think of the story as homaging its near-namesake, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

After that heavy drama, you can move on to the wonderful DVD extra, “Fullmetal Four-Panel Comic Theatre.” It’s the anime equivalent of one of those quickfire TV contests where comedians deliver lightning jokes – the subject here being, “Ways to make fun of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” Memorable scenes are mocked, and tragic highlights skewered. Remember that bit with the phone booth? Wait till you see how different that looks if the operator sticks you on hold and forces you to listen to Mustang’s singing!

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood 4 OVA is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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