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Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: A Celebration of Humanity


WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

My mum and I always had a tradition of watching anime together ever since I was a little kid. And because of the COVID-19 situation, both of us had been relegated to staying at home for ungodly amounts of time since, as far as possible, telecommuting has become the norm, and I had three months of summer break before my next semester of school started. So we thought, in the midst of a global pandemic, what better than to start (and complete) a new anime series?

 

A quick scroll through MyAnimeList found Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to be the top rated anime of all time, standing at a solid score of 9.23/10 above other classics like Stein’s Gate, Hunter x Hunter and Gintama, which generally averaged around 9.12. Of course, I knew that ratings were subjective and tried not to pay them more heed than necessary, but the fact that I’ve so often heard of the masterpiece that is FMAB and to see it unanimously agreed upon to be the best anime/manga of all time no doubt caught my attention very much. So it was decided, that that would be the next show we would watch.

 

I know I’m late to the show (literally), but FMAB it is undoubtedly one of the most complex shounen series I’ve watched. In essence, alchemy is, as the narrator frequently reiterates, the science of understanding, deconstructing, and reconstructing matter. However, it is not an all-powerful art. It is impossible to create something out of nothing. If one wishes to obtain something, something of equal value must be given. This is the law of equivalent exchange; the basis of all alchemy.”

 

Simply put, alchemy involves the manipulation of natural and man-made resources, such as water, fire, ice or metal, and many more. It’s a similar concept to elemental bending in the well-known Nickelodeon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, except that it veers more in the direction of science and modernity.

 

Edward transmuting his metal arm

Roy Mustang basically fire-bending

 

At this point, one might think that alchemists are overly-powerful, given that there seem to be almost no limits to what alchemy can achieve. That would almost be true, if not for the great forbidden taboo amongst alchemists, which is human transmutation. In short, the only thing that alchemy cannot create is human life, because nothing of an equal value can be exchanged for the gift of life. That is exactly the taboo that the main characters, two brothers named Edward and Alphonse Elric, commit as they engage in a naïve attempt at human transmutation as children to bring their dead mother back to life. Not only does it fail terribly, Alphonse loses his entire body and is relegated to using a suit of armour as temporary vessel for his soul, while Edward loses both an arm and leg that has to be replaced by “automail”, the show’s term for prosthetics. The rest of the story revolves around their journey to get their bodies back, no matter the cost.

 

Alphonse loses his body

Ed loses his leg


The Elric brothers' new forms

 

Yet, despite the supposed emphasis on alchemy, the show slowly but surely makes clear that power derived from alchemy cannot be the main goal of the characters. The real beauty of the show lies in its ability to encapsulate both the humorous and uplifting traits of a shounen anime, while delving into complex issues of the human condition that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time, such as the value of life and the strength of human conviction and familial love. These are the lessons and experiences that the main antagonist fails to grasp in his self-serving and devastating pursuit of power at the cost of great destruction. The main antagonist, referred to as Father, is one of many homunculi in the series, artificial human forms created through alchemy. Arrogant and prideful to the point of playing god, he craves divine power over the world and sees himself as unquestionably superior to the entire human race, who become nothing but pawns to him in his quest for power. He also spawns seven other homunculi from himself, which are named after the seven deadly sins: Lust, Greed, Pride, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Gluttony.


Father and the Seven Deadly Sins

 

But what sealed the deal for me was no doubt the ending of the show. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been emotionally invested in an anime only for it to have ended too abruptly (or lazily). FMAB, thankfully, did no such thing and in fact, managed to conclude on both an unexpected, yet completely believable and extremely heart-warming note. While the brothers start off the anime vehemently believing that only alchemy will get them their bodies back, to the point of obsession, they mature considerably throughout the series and demonstrate impeccable character growth by the end, understanding that alchemy is not the all-powerful and infallible art form they once thought it was. In the end, the answer is simple: Edward gives up his alchemy in exchange for getting his brother’s body back as he finally comes to the conclusion that he does not need alchemy to be truly happy – what’s most important are the relationships he forged along the way with his brother, his friends and his many mentors.

 

Ultimately, both Father and the Elric sought the truth; the difference was that while the Elric brothers had to undergo the inescapable trials and tribulations of life and learn from their failures with the help of the people who cared for them and loved them, Father sought the easy way out, opting for power and allowing his hubris to get in the way of experiencing the variety of life.

 


Father fails to see the truth and dies


Ed gives up his alchemy for Al


Al gets his body back


The brothers are back

 

The experience of FMAB cannot be possibly encapsulated within a single blog post, but I hope that I’ve sufficiently interested you in the show. FMAB is a wonderful testimony to the strength of humanity even in the most of trying of times, and is that not apt in the current reality that we live in right now? We can’t say we’ve truly lived life if we haven’t experienced both the good and the bad. Although times may seem bleak, let’s try our best to take things in our stride and overcome whatever life throws at us!

 

Thanks for reading and take care everybody!

 

 

 

Written by Gin

 

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