FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD OVA COLLECTION isn’t all too attractive as a title. It’s plainly descriptive in the same way that stickers labeling the inventory boxes in Square Enix’s official tape library would be. Then again, “inventory” is probably the most operative word here anyway, since this disc basically just puts all the odds and ends of this series’ previous home video releases together into one place that better matches the recent, more comprehensive FMA:B boxsets. Effectively, it’s a special features disc being sold on its own.
Much like superhero comics’ Annuals used to, this OVA COLLECTION exists primarily to answer little “continuity questions” that the main series’ 64 episodes still didn’t have room to address. How did the State Alchemists Mustang and Hughes become such good friends? What made the soldiers in the snow fortress of Briggs fear Izumi so much? Where did Winry get her ear rings and why did Hawkeye grow her hair out?
As you raise an eyebrow about the apparent minutiae in that last question, you know all too well that stories like these can teeter rather shakily above a dry pit of triviality. As is the case with most anthologies, this collection’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some shorts stumble into the pit, while others make even the most tenuous inventories into something surprisingly significant.
"The Blind Alchemist"
The best short of the set sees Ed & Al visiting a wealthy estate to investigate reports that the resident alchemist's had success with human transmutation. Take heed - - the fact that this alchemist had to gruesomely sacrifice his eyes to seemingly resurrect the estate’s young girl is actually the least creepy surprise in this concise tale of gothic terror.
Perfectly distilling the “DUCK TALES does FAUST” experience of the first 20 FMA: B episodes, the tone of this jerks around rather jarringly because of the chibi humor. Just like how the mood of dramatic moments in the show would be shot down by the intrusion of super-deformed pratfalls, so too does this short nearly kill its own moments of horror and insight with the same sort of shenanigans.
Thankfully, there isn't enough chibi to derail the train, and this short ends up being much better than the sum of its parts - - a chilling reminder of the truly dangerous forces these Alchemical Kids are paying the price for playing with.
As discussed earlier, this short focusses on Winry and Hawkeye’s respective choices in fashion. Surprisingly, it actually manages to spin these seemingly inconsequential details into simple, yet effective, metaphors for these character’s relationships. Winry’s earrings turn out to be gifts from Ed to placate her during his frequent automail maintenance visits; giving us a little more development to their courtship which we didn’t necessarily get in the show. Likewise, the “cross-polination” of simple inspiration the two ladies take from eachother is a nice understatement for Hawkeye’s gradual humanization.
That said, there’s a little lame chibi in this, too, and it also picks up another albatross that repeatedly brought the main series down - - that is, the sort of “battlefield philosophizing” which sounds rather embarrassingly inauthentic. When Hawkeye starts drawing a comparison between how she wears her hair and the realities of her career as a sniper, you'll roll eyes far enough to start thinking that an absence of dialog would've been more effective than the lines that were used.
"The Chronicle of Teacher"
Since Izumi was such a battleax of a mentor to Ed & Al, it’s honestly a treat to see her as a callow and overeager apprentice here, suffering her own sort of humiliation in training. Much like some folk tale of martial arts piety, this short shows her as a youth seeking out instruction from a legendary master Alchemist. He sets her back, in turn, on a seemingly-insurmountable challenge of survival in the icy wilderness, and it's there that she becomes a terror to the troops stationed in Briggs.
Out of the four, this is the only one that really answers a question that was left lingering by the show. The state soldiers made such a hoodoo about this dangerous firebrand's return to their turf that you did actually grow curious about what earned her such a rep.
Well... question answered.
"Yet Another Man's Battlefield"
In this last ditty, a young Roy Mustang bonds with an upperclassman Hughes in State Alchemist bootcamp as the two save an Ishvalan recruit from racist bullies. Their team-up blooms into a rivalry, which in turn blooms into a meaningful friendship, and that friendship's put to the test when the two must eventually take out the Ishvalan after he goes rogue during the civil war.
While this short actually has a resonsant plot, it suffers from the same middle school Social Studies monologues as the second short - - and actually loses a lot more for it, as a result. Normally, I think FUNimation’s done a superb job with these dubs, but this honestly was a standout case where you could see a good message getting muddled in the translation.
Amusingly enough, this disc also includes a series of COMIC THEATER shorts which show that chibi can actually be funny in this world when properly sequestered. Covering nearly every beat of the series, these gags deliver a hole bevy of inside-jokes that poke plenty of rather delightful holes in the whole saga. Watching this, you wish there could be some epic re-edit of the series that cuts all the chibi gags out and puts them in a separate feature.
No surprise - - this is designed solely for fans who're already well versed in FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD. Being one of those fans, I come down on it a little harder than I might usually because these critiques are probably necessary to temper what would would be non-step praise, otherwise.