New Excerpt posted on the Animated Discussions Kickstarter!


The Kickstarter just passed the 1/2 mark! As promised, I’ve posted an excerpt in the updates:

In a passage from near the end of “Fullmetal Alchemy” I unpack the meaning of two symbols prominently associated with Ed in Fullmetal Alchemist:Brotherhood, the diagram of the Sephiroth on his Gate of Truth and the crucified serpent on his jacket, and how both relate to Ed’s story and character.

We’re just $290 away from revealing the first stretch goal!

A brief Fullmetal Alchemist fanfic

Sorry, I was hoping to have more Faultless but my week has been kind of shitty and it just never happened. So here’s a brief Fullmetal Alchemist fanfic I wrote last year, pretty much because the Mark Watches community dared me to. It could conceivably be the beginning of a longer fic, but I have no particular intention of ever extending it, and I think it works well enough on its own.

Sergeant Lem hesitated in front of the door, checking as she always did to confirm her uniform was buttoned correctly and her hair properly up in a regulation twist. Not in front of every door, of course, but this was the door of the Director of Military Intelligence’s office, her boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. It was a big deal to be called in here.

Proper attire confirmed, she knocked. “Come in, Sergeant!” came the voice of Colonel Focker.

She entered the room and saluted, but he waved at her to close the door and sit. “At ease, Sergeant,” he said. He laid a folder he’d been reading from on the table. “I’ve been looking over Cryptography’s initial reports on the documents from the Drachman embassy. Looks like they do have a spy in Briggs, and Cryptography thinks there might be enough information there to figure out who. Well done–if this pans out fully there’s probably a medal in it for you, maybe even a promotion!”

“Thank you, sir!” she answered.

“However, it’s going to take them a couple of weeks to fully decrypt everything and compare it to who knows what at Briggs, so we need a short-term assignment for you.” He laid a hand on an envelope on the desk. It was sealed and marked Top Secret. “I have something for you, but it’s highly sensitive, and I can’t tell you much without you accepting the assignment first.”

She smiled wryly. “More sensitive than working in an enemy country’s embassy’s mail room so that I make copies of all the documents I handle?”

Focker sighed. “Honestly? Yes. This could be two weeks of sitting around in a manor garden reading books–or if it goes south, it could get you killed. Either way, there’s a case to be made that taking part will make you an accessory to any of a dozen crimes, from invasion of privacy on up to public endangerment and possibly treason.”

“You had me at ‘reading,’ sir!” Sciezka Lem smiled. “What can you tell me?”

“Well, how do you feel about working with children..?”

Four days later, Sciezka found herself sitting in a chair in the garden of the Bradley manor, enjoying the bright late-spring sun and listening to a small boy playing with tin soldiers. A shadow fell over her, and she looked up. “Hello, Ma’am,” she said politely, and the middle-aged woman above her smiled.

“Hello, dear,” said Mrs. Bradley. “Selim behaving himself?”

“Always,” Sciezka answered. “He’s been a delight.” This was true. Selim was a cheerful, quiet, and easygoing child, happy to play with his toys or have Sciezka read to him. Sciezka had never been around children much, but he seemed more mature than she had expected. She quite liked Mrs. Bradley, too–she felt bad about deceiving them both by pretending to be a substitute tutor, replacing the regular live-in tutor while she “visited her mother,” actually a cover for the biennial training and recertification everyone in Military Intelligence had to do.

Guilty as she felt, however, she understood why it was necessary. She’d read the case file, and therefore she remembered every word of it: the autopsies on the Briggs soldiers murdered by the being known as Pride, the report by Hawkeye on her confrontation with Pride, by Mustang on being forced through the Gate, by Ed Elric on how he’d fought Pride and reduced him to a fetal state. She didn’t quite understand the alchemy of it all, but as far as she could gather, Ed had reduced Pride from many souls to one, turning him into effectively a normal human and erasing his memories, after which Mrs. Bradley had adopted him.

However, the other known single-souled homunculus–briefly, Sciezka wondered who that might be–had possessed frightening powers of the sort typical of homunculi, but aged normally. There was reason to believe Pride’s powers might manifest within Selim–and if they did, Sciezka was to report it immediately.

“Well, I don’t know about always,” Mrs. Bradley answered. “Selim, dear, can you come here for a second?”

“Yes, mother?” he asked, standing and walking over to the two of them. “What’s wrong?”

“One of the maids found this in a fireplace,” she said, holding out the mangled remnants of a toy soldier. “Care to tell me what happened to it?”

Selim grinned proudly as he answered.

The moment she heard his response, Sciezka’s blood froze. She stared in horror as Mrs. Bradley snatched up her son and clutched him tightly to her chest.

“Mother!” Selim laughed, squirming. “No, I’m too big for that.”

“Please,” said Mrs. Bradley. “It wasn’t… it was just a child’s prattling. Don’t, don’t tell…”

“You know,” said Sciezka. She could barely breathe. She could see the tears in Mrs. Bradley’s eyes, refusing to fall. “You know who I am.”

“Your face,” said Mrs. Bradley. “When he… you know, and if you know, that means you’re one of Focker’s…”

“Is something wrong, mother?” asked Selim, stopping his struggles. “Did I do something bad?”

Mrs. Bradley clutched her child even harder. “No, Selim,” she said firmly, glaring at Sciezka. “You haven’t done anything.”

“I’m sorry…” Sciezka said. “I’m sorry. I have to.”

“Do what you have to do.” The bitterness in Mrs. Bradley’s voice cut Sciezka to the core, but she really didn’t have any choice.

Three days after that, Sciezka slouched despondently in a corner of a meeting room deep inside Central Command. This is not how I wanted to meet the Fuhrer! she thought despondently. Even if she hadn’t been miserable, she would have been deeply uncomfortable in such a high-powered meeting. Besides her and Mrs. Bradley, who sat alone on one side of the room’s long conference table, straight-backed and expressionless, there were Fuhrer Grumman himself, Colonel Focker, Lieutenant General Mustang, his aide Major Hawkeye, and Lieutenant General Armstrong with her aid, Captain Falman.

That was the reason it had taken three days to have the meeting–in the Fuhrer’s words, when Focker had dragged her into his office three days ago, “It sounds like he’s starting small and not fully aware of what’s going on, so we don’t have to move immediately. I want to bring in Armstrong and Mustang, since they’re the only others outside of military intelligence aware of the Selim situation, so we can decide precisely how to proceed.”

Wait they had, while the telegraph went to Armstrong in Briggs and Mustang in Ishval, and then a longer wait while the two traveled to Central. The meeting had finally begun three hours ago… but to Sciezka, it felt like weeks as she sat in the corner, imagining huge black clouds hovering over her head.

“I fail to see why we’re still discussing this,” said Armstrong. “Kill him and be done.”

“No!” snapped Mustang. “He’s a child who has harmed no one–”

“He’s a mass murderer with tremendous alchemical powers, nearly impossible to contain,” countered Armstrong. “If he learns to use them effectively–”

“That was a previous life!” countered Mustang. “He has never shown any signs of violent tendencies until now.”

“Oh, a previous life of slaughter,” said Armstrong, nodding sagely. “I suppose you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Hero of Ishbal?”

Mustang was half out of his chair, his face contorted with rage, before Hawkeye’s hand on his shoulder gently but firmly pushed him back down. “She has a point, sir,” Hawkeye said. “Selim is a potentially very serious threat to national security, and we have to take that into account.”

“So we’re back to slaughtering children in the name of national security?” asked Mustang bitterly.

“Child,” corrected Armstrong, “and not even that. He’s a homunculus, a created thing, not a child.”

“He is a child,” said a quiet voice. It was the first words Mrs. Bradley had spoken since the meeting began. She drew her shawl around her shoulders, looking very small and very old. “He’s my little boy.”

Armstrong tsked. “With all due respect, Madame Bradley, every man I’ve killed was someone’s little boy. It’s a soldier’s duty to protect this nation from those who would harm it.”

Grumman nodded. “I take it your opinion is that we should kill him, then. Yours as well, Focker?”

Focker nodded.

“And you, Mustang?”

Mustang ground his teeth. “We should watch him more,” said Hawkeye. “Keep forces ready to attack if he makes a move, but until then, do nothing.”

Mustang nodded.

“Hmm,” said Grumman. Sciezka sank a little lower in her chair, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, especially Mrs. Bradley. She knew what was about to happen, and wished fervently the earth would open up and swallow her before it did.

That was when the shouts started outside, followed by the thuds.

Sciezka couldn’t even see the three of them move, let alone which one was first, but somewhere between one blink and the next Armstrong, Mustang, and Hawkeye were on their feet, Armstrong’s sword and Hawkeye’s pistol drawn, while Mustang’s hand was outstretched and ready to snap.

Their came a ringing crash, metal slamming into the metal door of the room, and it dented slightly. Another crash, and then another, and the door burst open, the automail foot that had been ramming it slamming into the ground.

A tall, blonde man in his early 20s stormed into the room. “And just what the hell do you think you’re doing!?” he demanded.

“Fullmetal–” Mustang began, but Ed cut him off.

“That’s not my title anymore!” he snapped.

“Who told you about this meeting?” demanded Focker.

“That’s for me to know!” shouted Ed. “Who told YOU you had the right to sit here and debate killing a kid like it’s a zoning petition?”

“I told him,” Sciezka said quietly. “I sent a telegram before I went to you, Colonel Focker.”

“Sorry I took so long,” he said. “It’s a long trip from Rush Valley.”

She shook her head. “You made it in time, though.”

“This is a violation of the Official Secrets Act,” said Focker, his face drawn and expression full of cold fury. “Maybe treason.”

“That would make you and Mrs. Bradley the only people in this room not guilty of treason,” answered Riza, smiling slightly.

“Put your weapons down,” said Grumman. “Fullmet–I mean, Professor Rockbell, if you leave now we won’t press charges.”

“I kept him alive for a reason,” said Ed. “Mrs. Bradley deserves a chance to raise her son, and it sounds like she’s doing a good job. I won’t let you kill him.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Bradley said quietly. “Both of you…”

Sciezka stood. “Ex-exactly! We won’t let you!”

“Sit down, Sergeant!” snapped Focker.

Sciezka dropped back into her chair, again sinking low. I am in SO much trouble…

“So, what happened?” asked Ed. The telegram had been very short, just a travel itinerary, with the first letter of each town spelling out the words “SELIM IS PRIDE. COME TO CENTRAL.” Sciezka had remembered Ed’s own notebook, and used a similar code. “Selim’s shadow sprout teeth?”

Mrs. Bradley shuddered.

“No,” said Mustang. “He blew up a toy with a firecracker.”

Ed scoffed. “I did worse than that when I was five.”

“Then he said it was his imaginary friend’s idea,” Mustang continued.

Ed shrugged. “Urey has an imaginary friend, too, and tries to pin things on him sometimes. It’s pretty normal, Trish will probably do the same thing in a couple of years.”

“Yes, but Urey’s imaginary friend isn’t named Solf Jackson Kimblee,” said Armstrong.


Favorite vs. Best

Since there’s no new episode of Friendship Is Magic today, have a short post instead.

Do you distinguish between your favorite examples of a genre or form and the best examples? I was musing the other day about the fact that my five favorite anime and the five anime I consider the best of what I’ve seen are the same five anime, but if I were to create actual top five lists, they’d be different.

In fact, here are those lists, plus an explanation of why the anime is where it is.


  •  Princess Tutu: The most badass anime about a ballet-dancing duck ever. Also, super-secret ultra-hidden direct Neverending Story reference.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: It makes me laugh, it makes me punch the air and cheer, and certain episodes make me cry no matter how many times I watch them. Also it just looks great.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Total brainsink. I can just watch and think about it for hours. Also, it’s absolutely visually stunning.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Compelling, emotional, intriguing, great fight scenes, and an utterly kick-ass soundtrack.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Explosions, giant plot twists from nowhere, and an emotional continuity that more than makes up for the plot spending most of the middle part of the series meandering aimlessly, and then, just as it’s finding its feet again, collapses into total incoherence.


  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: The most semiotically dense thing I have ever watched, easily surpassing any other TV show or film.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Packs more thematic complexity, character growth, and intriguing ideas into 12 episodes than most series manage in 50.
  • Princess Tutu: Masterfully constructed as a pastiche of dozens of classical ballets and folktales, and yet despite the fact that in each episode the characters are playing out the roles of characters in a given source story, there is also a strong character arc for each of them across the series as a whole.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: The last two episodes are a staggering work of absolute genius and the best-executed narrative collapse in all of anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A masterclass in creating a sprawling, complex plot with a massive cast (by the Promised Day arc, there are fifteen separate groups of characters being independently followed by the narrative) and still making sure that everything is driven by the choices of the characters, and every character’s choices are consistent with their distinct and idiosyncratic personality.

How about you? Do you distinguish between “favorite” and “best,” and if so, what are some examples?

Are deliberately confusing premieres a thing now?

Started watching Baccano! along with Mark Watches. The first episode confused the heck out of me, and it occurs to me that the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is probably almost as confusing for someone who doesn’t already know the characters. (Though, admittedly, at least FMA:B’s first episode occurs in linear time, with one clearly demarcated flashback.)

This isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it, just… that was clearly designed to be disorienting, which for me is intriguing, but it’s also surprising. Most series start out by trying to ease new viewers in, take them by the hand and explain things to them. There might be, for instance, a bizarre opening scene that will eventually be explained, but the entire first episode of Baccano! is essentially made of scenes like that.

Again, I’m not complaining (except about Ladd, he’s horrifying and awful), just curious if this is starting to be a trend. Is it an adaptation thing? FMA:B is obviously based on a wildly popular manga, and Baccano! is based on a light novel series. Is the idea for the first episode to showcase all the characters and have a lot of cool moments for the current fans, as opposed to explaining things to new fans? Does that mean that, like FMA:B, the next episode or two will be about spelling things out for us newbies?

Well, I guess I’ll find out as I go.