I’m going to start off this post with a passage from Bill Simmons’, aka the Sports Guy, (one of my favorite writers) column on the 13 Levels of Losing:
Level III: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we’ve moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play, or B) one of your guys failing in the clutch … usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all … always haunting, sometimes scarring …
In my opinion, “The Stomach Punch” (and all levels of losing actually) can apply to more than sports, and can be a nice analogy for many of these things we go through in life. I think many of us can think of time in life when we felt that “stomach punch” and yes, those times are “always haunting” and “sometimes scarring.” So for this Set the VCR moment, I focus on a great “stomach punch” moment that led to one of the saddest sequences ever in an anime series.
Fullmetal Alchemist (anime)/ dir. Seiji Mizushima/ Episode 25 “Words of Farewell” / 2004
Hit the Jump!
This isn’t the first time I’ve used this wonderful series for a Set the VCR Moment, and this won’t be the last time. Fullmetal Alchemist is a complex narrative complete with a corrupt government and military, a secret underground “evil” enemy, and many touching and also comedic moments set to a backdrop style of the European Industrial Revolution, where Alchemy is a real science. The story revolves around two brothers, Ed and Al, who have suffered and lost much because of the ancient science of Alchemy, and their quest for redemption.
For the first 24 episodes of the series, we see Ed and Al travel all over the place and get into many misadventures in search for the fabled “philosopher’s stone” that will help them regain what they lost. During these first 24 episodes, we get to know (the then) Major Maes Hughes, an intelligence officer in the State Military. We witness the birth of his first born daughter, Elicia, his love for both his new daughter and his wife, Gracia, and even his promotion to Lt. Colonel. Maes knows that some corrupt shit is going on inside the government and the military, and he has sworn to help both his friend Colonel Roy Mustang reach the top of the ladder to Fuhrer in order to stop the corruption, and to help Ed and Al redeem themselves. Even though seen as comedic character at times, at episode 25, after a rollercoaster of surprises and events, Maes Hughes is smart and resourceful enough to finally have the vital information to bring down the corrupt military and government. In his attempts to warn his friend, Roy Mustang, Maes is hunted down by the “evil” homunculi who are behind the corruption of the state. After we think Maes has escaped and is safe, the shapeshifter Envy recovers and takes the form of Maes’ wife, Gracia.
This is when the next Set the VCR moment happens…
Maes is momentarily stunned at seeing the sight of his wife, the shapeshifter Envy then takes this moment to take out a gun and shoot Maes at point blank range. Maes falls back and utters his last words “Elicia…Gracia…I’m sorry…I don’t think I can…keep my promise…”
At Maes’ Funeral, Elicia, Maes’ daughter screams at why they are burying daddy when he has so much work to do as Maes’ wife Gracia, does her best to stay strong and explain the situation. After the ceremony a shaken, stunned, and emotional Roy Mustang looks on at Maes’ grave, wondering and pondering the scope of the situation. Meanwhile on a train, Ed and Al have no idea that their friend has just passed away, and are unaware of the turmoil at hand.
Watch this beautifully staged and sad funeral sequence here:
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When thinking of a “stomach punch” moment from an anime series, this is the first one that came to mind. Let’s go back to Bill Simmons’ definition shall we:
“any roller-coaster game that ends with A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play”
Yes, if you watch this series, there were many rollercoaster moments, and the pivotal scene here was the death of Maes Hughes.
B) one of your guys failing in the clutch … usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all
Where was Roy Mustang? Where was Ed and Al? Where was anybody? It was amazing that no allies were around when Maes’s death went down. And at the funeral, I think the look on the face of Roy Mustang said it all. Honestly this series could’ve been the standard 26 episodes had Maes informed Roy Mustang of everything. We’d have episode 26 to wrap up the series, complete with Roy becoming Fuhrer and trying to stop the corruption in the land, and Ed and Al having the secret to the philosopher’s stone.
But therein lies why this series was remarkable and memorable. This was not the way to end the series and the writers and director knew it. We needed one “stomach punch” moment in this series to reset and to create more tension and drama. In the end, it made all the events that happened after that more enthralling. And if you watch the funeral sequence one more time, you will see that Roy Mustang needed that moment to come to grips with what needs to be done.
Don’t get me wrong, the “stomach punch” sucks, and it hurts… sometimes for a very long time. And yes, it is…
… always haunting, sometimes scarring …
Yet… sometimes…. very necessary… *sigh* *tear*