Fullmetal Alchemist

Season 2 Episode 7

Soul of the Guardian

1
Aired Saturday 12:00 AM Mar 26, 2005 on Cartoon Network
9.5
out of 10
User Rating
110 votes
4

EPISODE REVIEWS
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Episode Summary

EDIT
The battle in the Fifth Laboratory continues. Separated, each now face a formidable foe: Ed faces off with Number 48 while Al deals with the insane Number 66. After an exchange with Number 66, though, Al soon comes to question his very existence.

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SUBMIT REVIEW
  • It’s amazing how well FullMetal Alchemist suits metaphysical musings. This episode takes the philosophy and morals of the series to an entirely new level.

    9.3
    “Soul of the Guardian” marks the beginning of FullMetal Alchemist as a series that embraces ideas and develops them. “Night of the Chimera’s Cry” touched on themes of the dignity of life and euthanasia, but none of the episodes since built on it. This episode takes a metaphysical idea and runs with it, and that is a definite strength. It helps separate FullMetal Alchemist from other fantasy animes.



    Before discussing the strengths of this episode, there is one major issue with it, and that is the teaser, essentially a replaying of the final minutes of the previous episode. It smacks of manipulation and lazy writing. Evidently the only reason these scenes were in “The Truth behind Truths” was to give that episode a cliffhanger. Why didn’t the writers use the end of that episode to present some other information, or embellish this episode a little? It’s a rare case of laziness in writing for this series, but it’s annoying.



    Beyond that, this episode is extremely satisfying. The two fights set up in “The Truth…”, between which the episode intercuts throughout, reach their respective culminations. Al and 66’s fight is more comical than tense, which is in contrast with Ed and 48’s fight. It’s great that Ed thinks he wins earlier than he actually does, and the reason he is mistaken is sensible. It’s a cool idea to affix two souls to one set of armor, and also tactically advantageous. Ed finds himself in dire straits at this point, and his method of saving himself is a clever reference to Scar.



    Speaking of affixing souls to metal, I like the explanation Ed gives of how blood seals work. It’s a prime example of the best type of sci-fi explanations, ones that are based on actual science—in this case, that iron is a component of blood cells—and combining it with the story’s milieu sensibly. The only issue I have with the soul affixing here is that psychotic criminals inhabit the armor. Psychos don't make the most reliable guards.



    Once 48 is defeated, the episode reaches another level and introduces philosophical and metaphysical ideas in order to further develop the series’ canvas. This doesn’t appear from nowhere, because the seeds of this idea were planted in “House of the Waiting Family.” The central question here is whether Alphonse is really human, and if he’s not then what is he?



    The Slicer brothers, the two criminals whose souls inhabit 48, demand that Ed destroy them after the fight, but he refuses since he doesn’t want to kill anyone. Their argument is that it wouldn’t be murder because they’re not really human, but Ed’s viewpoint is clear: If they’re not human, then Al isn’t either, and he refuses to accept that. Ed’s metaphysical reasoning is sound, because he equates Al’s soul and personality with his identity and thus considers him the same person through time since his soul has been unchanged. 48 makes a good point at the end though, which is that when they were criminals they were not even considered human; people called them animals and they were used for experiments like lab rats. Stupid irony indeed!



    66 really gets into Al’s head, so although he has trouble killing him, his dialogue regarding soul transfers that also involve transferring memories might prove to be even more damaging. He makes Al doubt everything he knows about himself and his life. Skepticism is a healthy outlook on life, but self-doubt is a big problem. I think one of the best characteristics of FMA’s execution of this concept is that there are numerous hints from earlier in the series. Furthermore, the question of how memory is tied to identity is very fruitful. This creates richness in the series’ canvas that only enhances its effectiveness and power. While “Soul of the Guardian” does have some minor flaws, it represents a major step forward in the series’ storytelling.moreless
  • Isn\'t it incredibly eerie how all of this works out? I love this episode in so many ways...

    10
    Isn\'t it incredibly eerie how all of this works out? The prisoners, the lab, the stone...

    This is one of those episode where I watch and I get a knot in my stomach. The fight scenes are beautiful; this Lab Five excapade is exactly what I\'d expect from Alchemist.

    It\'s serious, it\'s got action, everything, and yet doesn\'t reach that melodramatic stage. What I love about this whole series is how much each character stands out; and yet there are how many re-occuring roles? They\'re the only reason I watched this far. You fall in love with them immediately. I prefer the manga way over the anime, but after this episode I kind of sat back and just said, \"Woah.\" Just \'woah.\' It\'s flawless.

    Anyone who knows me can tell you that Episode 20 is my favorite. It compiles all the elements of the show into the actual beginning of the plot. In comparison, the first 19 episodes only build up to it. And from here, everything just falls into place for the heart-wrenching finale. Which sets up beautifully for the movie.



    This show is one of the only things in the world that can make me cry. Even the manga, which doesn\'t have mood-set music or voices, can jerk a few tears from me.

    I know people who watched the first few episodes of Alchemist, decided they were confused, and gave up.

    If only they knew what they were missing.moreless
  • Such a pleasure to watch. It has it all, action, fights, and makes you think

    10
    I really liked this episode. I loved how ed got beat up and still kept going. Plus to use the technique that scar used. I thought it was great how ed got beat up and shows he is not all and mighty. Plus to bring back the butcher who was the one who took winry and dearmed ed. Plus the ending made you think about the soul being stuck to the armor. Are they still human even though the body is gone. Plus how the butcher tricks al into doubting his brother. Its like nooo. You can\'t have him doubting everything.moreless
  • As Ed and Al spar with their condemned foes, the boys and the viewers alike take a closer look at what truly constitutes the human soul. Full of drama, metaphors, not-so "stupid irony," twists, and even humor, this is an episode that should not be mimoreless

    9.5
    Note: This review is spoiler-free (that is to say, major revelations-wise), except for the last few paragraphs.



    I always wondered why this episode was rated the highest (so far) here. Well, I found out why.



    "Soul of the Guardian" is where the show comes to the heart of the matter: What is life and death? What is a soul? What is human? All of the themes (religion, science, human control, immortality, emotion, etc.) that we’ve seen so far begin to come to a climax. Appropriately, the layers of truth begin to peel off and more startling discoveries are presented to the viewers and characters simultaneously in each episode of this fantastic "Truth Behind Truths" arc.



    Speaking of simultaneous, the juxta-position of Al and Ed’s fights was an excellent device in this episode. Plus, there were no other outside scenes to detract from the tight focus of the story (save that very short scene with Armstrong, Bloch, and Ross, which was fine.) This made the episode feel more real, as if the proverbial camera was actually right in the middle of the fights. Keeping the plot confined to Lab 5, in conjunction with the close-ups and the POVs (i.e. a weary Ed backing away from Number 48 while losing blood, the overhead shot of Al at the end), made “Soul of the Guardian” work really well stylistically and structurally.



    The combination of fighting and talking can be a very effective technique. Granted, there are some other fine Adult Swim anime shows that use this, and heck, several other animes out there that haven’t been on Adult Swim. Yet never has talking and fighting been this profound and well-done before (okay, perhaps an exaggeration, but it’s definitely really well done.) This is one of the great things about Fullmetal Alchemist.



    What it does and what it discusses appeals to nearly everyone, but it doesn’t have to use clichés, generalizations, and dialogue breaking the fourth wall to make that appeal work. The show always finds innovative ways to let its message be heard, it doesn’t force things down your throat, and it never stops pleasing the masses. There are many examples of this in "Soul of the Guardian," but I’ll just use one to save time: Al, who is young, innocent, and internally vulnerable, plays off of the corrupted, maniacal, and manipulative Number 66 (a quasi-appropriate number) while a more jaded and externally vulnerable Ed faces off with an inverted reflection of his brother…and then some. I doubt I could have plotted out that situation any better.



    Okay, I’ll get to the point: the ending. That’s why you’re here reading this after all (at least, that’s why I’m here. If you’re not here for that, then good for you! You have more patience than I do.) Everything about the ending was beautiful: the choir music from episode 3 ("Mother"), the joy of Number 66 having skull-white sparkles appear around him a la Armstrong, the foreboding ironic laughter of Number 48, and Al’s horror (possibly the viewers’ as well) as something utterly horrifying is revealed to him.



    Everything just clicks together (or at least, begins to), with parallels from episode 8 ("The Philosopher’s Stone") included. The point that Ed, and possibly the writers, seem to make is that what makes one human is ambiguous. The idea of a soul (or an equivalent of such a thing) is what truly makes one what they are. The idea that Al is convinced into believing that his memories aren’t real is of course, at the center of all of this. We don’t know at this point if they have been fabricated by Ed, but what we do know is that, based on what we’ve seen so far, Al acts just like a human. Number 66 simply telling him something, from my point of view, doesn’t seem to change who Al really is. Try this analogy for size:



    When we simply are who are we are and don’t think about it, we are just like Al before Number 66’s revelation. When we take an intro-spective look at ourselves, that’s when we may begin to have doubts about who or what we were before examining ourselves; that’s when we become lost in our thoughts, as Al was in those final moments of the episode. Now, Al must deal with this new feeling, the feeling that he might just be a giant piece of cold, indifferent armor that awaits nothing but the meaningless of the world that vanished from his eyes 4 years ago (I’m trying to be dramatic. Run with me here.) What awaits him? I don’t know, but they had better be good things. Or else. *shakes fist.*



    Did I mention we get an expanded ending credits sequence?



    In the end, "Soul of the Guardian," while seemingly a short episode (it might just be Ed), is very powerful and very well written. It sets the stage for the twists and turns to come in the next two episodes, and most certainly the final episodes of the show (so I’ve heard.) I highly recommend that you see it. Though…you probably already have. ;)

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Jerry Jewell

Jerry Jewell

Number 66

Guest Star

Bill Jenkins

Bill Jenkins

Number 48

Guest Star

Ricky Page

Ricky Page

Additional Voices

Guest Star

Sonny Strait

Sonny Strait

Maes Hughes

Recurring Role

Christopher R. Sabat

Christopher R. Sabat

Maj. Alex Louis Armstrong

Recurring Role

Wendy Powell

Wendy Powell

Additional Voices

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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