"Once again, I'm going to have to hear the colonel's long-winded, snide remarks. 'You struck out on the philosopher's stone at Liore, huh? Just how much of the military's budget are you going to spend on this fool's errand before you're satisfied?' "
-Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist S1E13: "Fullmetal vs. Flame"
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Edward decides to challenge Mustang to a battle assessment in order to get information on Marcoh.
TITLE SIGNIFICANCE: This episode shows the assessments that state alchemists must go through in order to renew their status. Ed decides that he wants to do a battle assessment, going one-on-one against Colonel Mustang. Their titles are the Fullmetal Alchemist and the Flame Alchemist. Thus, the title of "Fullmetal vs. Flame" reflects this battle assessment.
It goes beyond that, though. It really speaks to all the interactions between Mustang and Ed. Mustang is constantly antagonizing Edward, mocking his height, proving his dominance, refusing to give him all the information he knows. Ed sees this as a battle of wills between the two of them. He sees this as a battle to force Mustang to respect him.
MORALITY OF ALCHEMY: Now we begin to see a little bit more of the war. Roy Mustang sees a cowering rebel fighter, a woman with wide eyes, quivering with fear and holding a gun. He hesitates, struggling with the morality of using his alchemy to kill her. Then she raises her gun and he burns her alive using alchemy. It's a pretty heavy scene, and one that weighs heavily on Mustang, enough so that he feels those who deserted were the most sensible alchemists there were.
War is a horrible thing, and many people in real life come back feeling like they have done horrible things, much like Roy Mustang. In this case, there isn't even the buffer of a gun. The alchemists are human weapons, and they are able to decimate the Ishbalans in a horrific manner, an event that ignites Scar's hatred. Is it okay to turn these human beings into weapons?
Success of morality: We don't see much, but what we do see is really well done.
What "Fullmetal vs. Flame" does right:
* Significance of events - Up until now, most of the series has felt like random stops during Ed and Al's search for the philosopher's stone. Then Mustang begins listing them. By Mustang drawing attention to all these different stops, it gives them a greater significance. Maybe there was more going on. Either way, it ties the events of the first ten episodes together.
* Memories of the war - Col. Mustang's memories of the war were incredibly well done. There was an incredible amount of emotion as he faced down the Ishbalan woman. Suddenly, he just got a whole lot deeper. It obvious that these memories have shaped who Mustang is. They're very powerful, and the imagery was haunting. I think the whole thing was just stunning.
* Hughes and Mustang - At the end of the episode, we get Hughes and Mustang chilling in a bar and discussing the events of Liore. We saw Ed take down the minister in charge there, but Hughes claims that the minister is still in power, and Mustang tells him to let Ed believe he helped the town. It's a very sad scene, and the fact that they're sitting at a bar, drinking, really adds to it. By letting us know and not Ed, the show really makes the audience feel something for Ed and his naivete.
What "Fullmetal vs. Flame" could have done better:
* Animals - There is so little time in these episodes to get really good stories going on, so I'm always disappointed by subplots like this. All these random animals are being found shivering in the rain, and all the military personnel decides to save them. Al smuggles in a cat, Hawkeye ends up adopting a dog. Though it's all very cute, and it's good to get to know the personalities of the military through their reactions, it's just a silly, fluffy plotline.
* Battle assessment - I found the whole battle assessment to be a bit odd. Ed goes leaping into the crowd. How is that allowed? While parts of it did show Ed's intelligence (getting rid of Mustang's glove), for the most part, the things Ed did weren't very impressive. He was incredibly overpowered from the get-go How did he pass? It just felt very weird to me.
* Silliness - So, I'm okay with some silliness in my anime. I think Ed's rants about being short become endearing. However, Col. Mustang's pose and declaration that all female military personnel would have to wear miniskirts falls flat with me. Maybe it's because I haven't seen quite this level of silliness from him before, and it brought me out of the world. (Hawkeye's reaction, however, was phenomenal).
Overall: I didn't really love this episode.