In the thirtieth episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, both Dr. Marcoh and Riza Hawkeye reveal the horrors of the Ishvalan genocide. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch FMA:B.
THERE ARE SO MANY SURPRISES HERE, AND I GENUINELY CONSIDERED MAKING MY REVIEW JUST ONE SENTENCE IN ORDER TO CONVEY THAT: “EVERYTHING IS AWFUL.” But then y’all would hate me, so let’s do this.
- Seriously, we’re meant to think that “The Ishvalan War of Extermination” would be a flashback from the point of view of Dr. Marcoh. Instead, the cold open is from Mustang’s view, and we learn that his alchemy master was RIZA’S FATHER. !!!!!!!! WHAT THE HELL!!!!!!
- And it’s with this cold open that we’re re-introduced to a theme we saw early on in the show when Edward and Al joined the military. There are a lot of heavy, complicated, and emotionally brutal themes and motifs in this episode, but I was most impressed by the conscious effort to analyze (and criticize) with the implications of joining a military force, only to become disillusioned by the act. Master Hawkeye is highly critical of Mustang’s decision to become a state alchemist, so much so that he has allowed his own body and mind to wither away so that his research won’t fall into the hands of the state. It’s such a deliberate act that casts the state military in a hellish light. Again, it’s not like this is new. We’ve heard the term “Dog of the Military” before. Yet Mustang truly believes that he can do good, that he can work within the system to defend Amestris, to protect the people he loves, and to change the world for the better.
- WHAT IS THAT TATTOO ON RIZA’S BACK???
- WHY DOES SHE HAVE BURN SCARS????
- Can we just talk about what a beautifully intimate and introspective scene we get from Edward and Riza??? It’s been a thing in this show that Edward is reluctant to share his feelings or emotions with anyone, and then he spills his guts about his fears and inadequacies to Riza, and I JUST LOVE THIS A LOT? It speaks to Riza’s characterization and how well she’s able to make people feel comfortable.
- OH MY GOD, A DUAL FLASHBACK TO THE ISHVALAN WAR.
- LITERALLY DID NOT SEE THIS COMING AT ALL.
- But it’s so necessary. The genocide of the Ishvalans was complex, and I appreciate that we get to see it from two sides. Usually, though, this involves an equal amount of sympathy for both parties, but I was shocked and disturbed at how much the narrative only truly sympathizes with the Ishvalans. Which is what it should do! Granted, we do get to see how multiple military officers and soldiers struggle with the horrors of what they’ve done, but it’s not done in a way to make it seem equivalent to the people who are suffering from a genocide, you know?
- While I think it’s a bit too obvious, I do understand why the writers of the manga and this show stuck with calling Bradley Führer. It’s pretty much unavoidable to compare this story to that of the Nazis in World War II, though I’d say there are plenty of other real-life parallels in history that we could bring up. What I want to know is why Father and the Homunculi specifically terminated all those Ishvalan lives. It’s confirmed later on that Dr. Marcoh helped the state alchemists create a Philosopher’s Stone with a human transmutation circle, but what I don’t understand is why a genocide was necessary to do that. Why just get rid of every Ishvalan citizen instead of kidnapping them? What purpose did this serve?
- I DON’T UNDERSTAND.
- We also learn of another disconcerting aspect of this genocide that’s been hinted at before: The war becomes a vehicle in which the military dispenses their most violent officers to commit heinous acts of war and genocide. People like Kimblee, the Silver Alchemist, the Iron Blood Alchemist, and even Mustang are unleashed on Ishval, and they are encouraged to exterminate these people no matter the cost.
- But in particular, this show takes a huge risk by showing us that Riza, Mustang, and Hughes all murdered people. They did so with reservations; they questioned their actions; they were disturbed by what they’d done; and that still doesn’t change the fact that they all killed more Ishvalan citizens then they could even remember. This is all manifested in the repeated motif of eyes. Mustang says that Riza and Hughes have the “eyes of a killer.” In this, we see examples of PTSD, of wartime mental duress, and of regret.
- Solf Kimblee, however, is purposely contrasted with these soldiers. While he is horrifyingly callous about what he’s done, he does unknowingly provide Riza and Mustang with a way for them to cope with their actions. In one sense, he calls them out for their naïveté, since they mistakingly believed that signing up for the military meant they’d never have to kill anyone. That has implications for our current world that I couldn’t help but think of. One of my close high school friends signed up to join the military in the summer of 2001. He wanted money for college, and he thought that joining the military would help him achieve that. Of course, then September 11th happened, and he was soon part of one of the battalions sent to Afghanistan, and it changed his life. For the better and for the worst, but he had to do things that scarred him forever. He came back with an intense form of PTSD, and I couldn’t help but think of him as Kimblee scolded Riza and Mustang. Sure, they might have been naïve, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it was the officers above these soldiers who ordered them to commit genocide.
- Kimblee reminds these people to never forget the people they killed, because the Ishvalans? They’ll never forget who murdered their people.
- It was appropriate, then, that the episode cut over to Dr. Marcoh, who reveals what happened in Laboratory 5, and then admits that the military gave KIMBLEE THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE.
- OH MY GOD
- Hey, Führer Bradley is like the Richard Dawkins of his time! And what I mean is that he is an awful atheist. He paints all theist cultures with the same brush, and then justifies his actions because these cultures believe in God. On top of that, he believes in that kind of rationalist, logical thought that is downright destructive because it reduces people and humanity to numbers or logic problems. The Grand Cleric of the Ishvalan religion is only worth one life, and Bradley refuses the offer to take Lowe’s life to stop the war.
- I HATE BRADLEY SO MUCH.
- I will say that this flashback does wonders to explain why both Riza and Mustang are in the military and why Mustang is so eager to ascend to the position of Führer. Of course, I have no idea how that’s going to happen, given that the upper positions in the military are manned by people who are all in on the Homunculi’s conspiracy!
- Bless Riza, though, because she wants to prosecute those who participated in the Ishvalan genocide as war criminals. Which includes herself.
- Hey! We get one brief scene with May and Al! And it’s adorable and lovely. Wow, one moment where everything isn’t all death and destruction.
- Of course, then there’s the post-credits sequence, which includes a violent bit of imagery that I’ll never forget. GODDAMN Y’ALL. WHY. WHY.
- All your fault.
Mark Links Stuff
– I have redesigned MarkDoesStuff.com! Check out this post explaining the new changes, which includes the start of a permanent archive of all Mark Watches videos!
– The Mark Does Stuff Summer Tour is happening now! Check out the posted dates, suggest new ones, help bring me to YOUR TOWN.
– Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
– Video commissions are open, and you can commission a Mark Reads/Watches video for just $25!