Episode 25, "Words of Farewell"
Synopsis: Maes Hughes requests to meet with Doctor Marcoh, supposedly in the Fuhrer's custody, about matters concerning the Fifth Laboratory. The Fuhrer tells his secretary, Juliet Douglas, to take care of it. The Elrics claim to be abandoning their research into the Philosopher's Stone and are headed to meet with their alchemy teacher in Dublith. However, Hughes and Armstrong see through their ruse. The brothers, along with Winry, leave Central on the train, but they admit to Winry that they're not going to Dublith, fearing their teacher. They plan instead to catch up with Scar and the Ishbalans to see if there's another way to make the Philosopher's Stone. Meanwhile, at an Ishbalan camp, Scar's master appears, concerned about his actions. Hughes works into the night doing research on the Ishbal war and the Philosopher's Stone, discovering something suddenly involving the Fuhrer's secretary, who calls with the news that Marcoh has arrived in Central. Hughes meets with Juliet Douglas and reveals that he knows about an inconsistency in personell records involving her. Suddenly Lust appears and attacks him, and he runs off, encountering Maria Ross. Hughes calls Roy in a phone booth, but Roy has already left for Central out of concern for the Elric brothers. Frustrated, Hughes hangs up the phone, but confronts Ross, who he knows is an imposter. "Maria Ross" reveals herself to be Envy, the shape-shifting homunculi, who changes into Gracia Hughes, catching him off guard. A shot rings out. At the funeral for Hughes, Roy cries. Meanwhile, Edward spots what appears to be Hughes, waving at him as the train passes a station, but shrugs it off.
This is just about a perfect episode of an anime. You have great suspense, good production values (art/animation, music, direction), and a lasting emotional impact. I'm sure anyone who's ever watched this series knows how important this episode is and just how amazing it is, so I don't even need to examine it very much. I will endeavor, regardless.
The episode begins in a flashback to Hughes trying to cheer a depressed Roy Mustang up, discovering his botched attempt at formulating human transmutation, and promising to help him rise to the top. That they're perfectly alone in this scene shows a bit of intimacy. It's not two soldiers on the front, it's a friend coming to help another friend in his time of need. My favorite part in this opening scene is the position of everything. How we see Roy's gun off in the background, blurred a bit, then it comes into focus, but not zoomed in on, when talk of suicide comes in. But, it doesn't linger on it. Really solid directing.
I like that Edward and Alphonse are trying their best to keep Hughes and Armstrong out of their mess by pretending not to care about the Philosopher's Stone anymore. It's interesting, because Ed and Al's experience with adults is either from their mother or the military, and trying to convince everyone they're not interested anymore in order to protect them is very much like what a parent might do to protect their child, to tell them not to worry, and maybe Ed and Al think that this sort of thing works on adults just as well as children.
It's been mentioned to me that the Juliet Douglas thing is a little haphazard, because anyone looking through records should have noticed the inconsistency already and confronted her about it, but of course it's probably more likely that nobody's had any reason to look into the matter, or they saw the name and thought it was just a coincidence and forgot about it. Thus, Juliet Douglas is hiding in plain sight, because they can assume that since she's the Fuhrer's secretary, she's probably already been vetted and there's no need for concern. The truth, of course, is much more horrifying, and Hughes never discovers the whole truth. Even the viewer doesn't quite get the picture about Juliet Douglas until the Dublith arc.
Then there's the death scene. Something the first series did better than Brotherhood, it's Hughes' death scene. The only extra flourish here is that Hughes "kills" the imposter Maria Ross before he's himself shot by Gracia-disguised Envy. It shows that he's willing to do what it takes to survive. However, it's then he's confronted with the image of his wife and that's just startling enough after he's apparently killed the imposter to cause him to hesitate, leading to his death. No lingering in the scene, no quiet final words, no Envy hanging up the phone. He gets shot, he falls, we get a flashback to him and Roy, we cut to the funeral. Brotherhood looked like it was trying to squeeze out everything it could in that scene and it came off mean-spirited.
The funeral scene is another great scene in FMA. And if you look closely you can see a cameo from a new character, Frank Archer, who'll come in again in the next big story arc and be around for a while. But the real draw is Elicia's crying and Roy's tears ("It's raining.").
I'm reminded of what a punch to the gut it was when I first watched this show. Hughes was never at the forefront, mind you, but he had been a loyal friend and confidant to both Roy and Edward, and had recently taken a shine to Winry as well.
I'm not sure when it was when I first teared up, his death, the funeral, or that scene at the end with Hughes waving at Edward. I think it was probably that last scene, when it really hit home. This was goodbye to him, and this chapter of the story was over.
5 out of 5