This is a really difficult episode to review.
My favorite volume of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga is volume 15, an entire volume dedicated to a flashback to the Ishbal War. There are a few pages in the beginning with Ed coming to give Riza her gun back and a couple of panels of Scar with Marcoh, but the rest of it takes place in the past. The note from Arakawa at the beginning of the volume mentions that she interviewed WWII veterans on their experiences to get this volume just right. And her research paid off: it's the finest volume of manga I have ever read in my life.
It's a real heart wreching, disturbing volume, as well. The Ishbal War is more hell than most fictional military conflicts I've ever read about. There's all sorts of chaos and brutality, and only short reprieves, which are all puncuated by even grander acts of wickedness. But it also has a lot of heart in its tragedy, as ideals are destroyed, minds are lost, and dreams die. And it involves/affects nearly all the adult characters in the story thus far: Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes, Alex Louis Armstrong, Zolf Kimbley, Tim Marcoh, Doctor Knox, the Rockbells, Scar, Fuhrer King Bradley, and others. This is a volume wherein Ed and Al are only seen for a moment, comforting Winry while her parents are in Ishbal. This one is about the adults, not those kids who would later grow up in the consequences of those actions.
This is not a review of that volume of manga. This is a review of the single episode of this series that adapted that volume of manga, 174 pages of beautiful agony. Needless to say, with a single episode as its runtime, it did not have the same impact. In fact, it had little of the impact the volume had at all.
So much is missed: Most of the Scar bits (which were inserted into a previous episode), all the scenes with the Rockbells, the discovery of Aerugo weapons, the locking up of soldiers with Ishbalan blood, Armstrong trying to help civillians to escape (with Kimbley killing them before they could, then telling Armstrong, "That was a close call."), Basque Gran shooting an uncooperative and bloodthirsty commander, Marcoh talking to Knox, Kimbley's assignment to kill the Rockbells, and him arriving too late to do so, and Kimbley blowing up a bunch of commanders when they try to get him to return the Philosopher's Stone (and one is apparently Envy).
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