Well, here we are. The events in this episode were a watershed moment in the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime adaptation, the death of a character who had not only been around for quite a while, but had factored into the lives of several characters and whose death was surprising (to those who hadn't read the manga at the time) and tragic. It was masterfully presented by the talents of the Studio Bones staff. In the manga material it was based on, it also was significant, albiet ultimately in the long stretch. Fans of the manga and first series must have waited with great anticipation to see how it would be presented to them in this new series.
How was it this time around? Well, it was a damn good episode. Probably my favorite episode of this new series thus far.
First of all, the beginning. In the first series, we got a flashback wherein Hughes visits a deeply depressed Colonel Mustang with a pie his then girlfriend baked, in hopes from cheering him up from the trauma from the Ishbalan massacre. In this flashback, Roy states his ambition to move to the top of the military government, and Hughes declares his willingness to support this goal. Here, we have a flashback to the Ishbal massacre itself, when much of the fighting has died down and the Fuhrer visits to oversee the troops. Roy once again declares his intention to rise to the top and Maes states his support, but it almost has more of an impact here because we saw some of the brutality of the war and what it means to Roy to rise to the top to prevent that sort of thing. It's actually a scene from one of my favorite later portions of the manga, and one of my favorite scenes from that, to boot. I hope they revisit it later with the Fuhrer's own thoughts during that scene. This was a very smart way of opening this episode.
Another scene I enjoyed, but for a different reason than I should have, was when the Fuhrer stopped by to visit Edward in the hospital. Now, in the manga, this is the first appearance of the Fuhrer in the story, and him being this sort of weirdly amiable character to mask his true nature is part of what makes him so interesting. However, since we saw some of his true nature in the anime-only first episode and he's made appearances in a few episodes since, the humor of the scene is greatly diminished.
No, the reason why I enjoyed it was that all the voice talent used in the scene were the same voice talents used for those same characters in the first series. Romi Paku (Edward Elric), Rie Kugumiya (Alphonse Elric), Keiji Fujiwara (Maes Hughes), Kenji Utsumi (Alex Louis Armstrong), and Hidekatsu Shibata (Fuhrer King Bradley) were all in one scene together in their same roles from the first adaptation. It put a smile on my face when I realized it.
I noticed a different reasoning behind Ed and Al's actions in this episode than in the 25th episode from the first series. In the first series, Ed and All tell Hughes and Armstrong that they're going to see their teacher to get some information, but that's a cover story. They say they're abandoning their quest to get the Philosopher's Stone, lying so that the people around them won't follow their lead and put themselves in danger. They had no real intention of seeing their teacher, due to being afraid of her, but she ended up tracking them down because of the rumors about them and finding them in Rush Valley. In this, they truly do intend to see their teacher. I don't have any value to assign to the difference, by the way, just pointing it out.
Let's talk a little about production values for the episode. To be honest, I wasn't blown away. I saw better animation and more consistent art in other episodes, like the Tucker episode and last episode. You would think they would have spent a little more of their budget for an important event like this, but maybe they figured we'd already seen it. At least the music was decent enough, though nothing stood out. The voice acting was solid, too, especially the wickedness of Minami Takayama's Envy during the death scene.
Speaking of the death scene, I thought it was excessive. You may be able to point to the "ghost Hughes" waving to Ed at a station at the end of the first shows' episode 25 as being somewhat over-the-top, but that was the exact moment I felt the impact of his death, whereas before I'd felt shock. But here, it's the death scene itself that is dragged out, painfully. The scene lingers, much like Hughes, speaking last words as his blood pools, pouring over a dropped photo of his family. The first series' scene had the good taste to transition to the funeral after Hughes fell from the killing shot. Here, he's doing his best impression of the death of Yang Wenli (hope I didn't spoil LoGH for you). The only extra bit I appreciated was Envy's hanging up the phone, as if to cut off all possibility to relay any message.
Also, showing Roy start his investigation so soon may have been true to the manga, but it ruined the impact of the death. The first series' episode 25 ended after the funeral and the scene with the train and Ed spotting "Hughes". Come on, let the investigation start int he next episode! It's just the Rush Valley material! (At least, mercifully, we'll only be getting one episode of that.)
So, how does it measure up with Hughes' death in the first series? Let's be honest, here, the first series was the first time I ever saw that, and it shocked and saddned the hell out of me. I expected it this time, so that must be considered. Even so, this episode wasn't nearly as good in structure or style. It's an excellent episode of this series, but it doesn't quite beat "Words of Farewell" from the first.