After last week's instalment eased off the action a little to build things up for the road ahead, episode thirty of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood continues this trend in a sense, shifting our viewpoint mostly to the past rather than the present or future via a number of flashbacks.
However, before you let out an audible groan at my use of the word "flashback", I have to be quick to say that the ground covered here is all relatively important to the bigger picture, and also astutely delivered (as has been the case with this series almost from the very start). First up, we get a glimpse of a very young Roy Mustang as he begins his career as a State Alchemist, despite the disapproval of his tutor, one Professor Hawkeye. So we learn of the beginning of the bonds which tie Mustang and Riza Hawkeye, while there's more than a subtle suggestion that there is more to Hawkeye and her father than first meets the eye.
From here, the lion's share of this episode deals with a more detailed treatment of the "Ishbal Annihilation" (a better term for it than a war, truth be told), showing the likes of Hughes, Mustang and Hawkeye as they begin to realise the enormity of what they're doing to the Ishbalan people, while we're also spared nothing in this show's depiction of the atrocities which took place there. Quite simply, it's a fantastically dark and brooding piece of work than manages to convey the needless bloodshed and violence without ever glorifying it, while simultaneously portraying the mental toll upon some State Alchemists with a simple change in facial expression and the like. It's expertly done stuff, and this is how all flashbacks in anime should be.
While much of this story comes from the mouth of Riza Hawkeye in conversation with Edward Elric, so Scar is also regaled with Dr. Marcoh's version of events, which yields more information about the use of Ishbalans to create the first Philosopher's Stone; a confession which leaves Envy with an unpleasant discovery come the end of the episode.
As so often seems to be the case with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood these days, it's hard to put into words quite how good this episode is - You simply have to watch it to gain the full effect. Even in an instalment such as this which could arguably be skipped without missing out on too much in the way of vital plot progression, it remains utterly compelling as an example of stroy telling via animation at its best - Brutal when it needs to be, but never needlessly so, and with a near effortless emotional depth thanks to decent dialogue served up by well-rounded characters. As ever, this series is going from strength to strength at present.