Fullmetal Alchemist

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Introduction

I’m writing this in the wake of re-watching all 64 episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in the space of three days. In brief, strongpoints of this series are the characters, the setting and theme music, oh god, the theme music.

Setting

The setting of FMA is a world that resembles post-industrial revolution Europe. Added to that is a militaristic government, headed by a Führer no less, presiding over an apparently puppet democracy. Where FMA diverges into the fantastical is alchemy, a branch of science that would be called magic in another series. What I really adore about the setting of FMA is how it mixes realism and fantasy. The idea of a militaristic government committing genocide to end a civil war is realistic, the methodology and hidden evil orchestrating the conflict is not. My escapist tendencies end up suitably titillated while the parallels to relatively are lovely brain-food.

On a related side note, I really like the automail in FMA. It’s a scar and a tool, a handicap and a advantage. It’s a visual reminder that Edward isn’t like most teenagers; he has to carry the burden of his past with him, literally. It’s also an increasing element in and of itself, it’s the one way technology in the FMA world is superior to our own. The thought-out disadvantages of sensitivity to extreme heat and cold are noteworthy as well.

My one negative about Fullmetal Alchemist is that it doesn’t go enough into the mind of Amestris. An elaborate web of propaganda, ideology and history almost always supports military dictatorships but none of that is seen in FMA. I’m not suggesting entire episodes ought to be devoted to politics (others would not like that as much as I would) but I’d be more realistic and thought provoking if we saw something over than weariness when civilians spoke about war.

Characters

There are a plethora of fascinating characters in FMA, including a satisfying number of women. Envy is probably my favourite, followed closely by Olivier Armstrong. I find the way Envy skips between jovial and viciously demented to be fascinating. While Olivier has the mentality of a tank, she could take on the world and win, either with brute force or the tactical intelligence she displayed while dealing with Sloth.

The most unnerving homunculi are undoubtedly the childlike ones; Gluttony, Pride and, at times, Envy. Gluttony has the naivety of a child; Envy has the inexperience while Pride only has the outward appearance. Envy’s death is made heart wrenching because of how hollow his life seems to have been. He could mimic humans, he could kill them, he could even manipulate them but, to the end, he could never quite comprehend humanity; only stew in burning jealousy. The tragedy of it all is doubled by how pathetic Envy looks and sounds before he kills himself. Arawawa takes a simple concept; the seven deadly sins, and brings them to life in a way that’s both entrancing and imaginative.

Other characters I especially like include, but are not limited to, Scar, Kimblee and Lan Fan. Scar is interesting because he’s such a warped person. He justifies a quest for revenge against using questionable theology and even attacks Edward, who obviously had no part in the conflict having been 12 when it ended. Yet, he isn’t closed off from the truth and even displays humanity towards Winry, Mei Chang and the Nina chimera. Kimblee just dances between suave and murderous yet he still seems human underneath it all. Other comments are that Hohenheim was a really crap dad, regardless of his backstory or his best efforts.

The relationships between characters are complex and at times extraordinarily subtle. Mustang and Hawkeye’s relationship is the prime example. There is a sense of trust and familiarity between them that makes you wonder if either would be self-sufficient without the other to rely on. Mustang needs Hawkeye as a support and a moral guiding light while Hawkeye lives off the sense of purpose Mustang gives her. Whether or not there relationship is romantic is left ambiguous, but I could hardly imagine either of them marrying other people. I adore all the unsaid emotions that seem to pass between them.

Plot

In FMA there is a sense of seamless continuity that I quite like. In many shounen, the mangaka constantly has to ‘up the anti’ to maintain tension, usually by powering up the villain or making them more insidious. In FMA, by contrast, the homunculi and their plan are pretty consistent throughout the series. This makes the ending all the more satisfying because it feels natural. Having said that didn’t particularly enjoy the breakneck pacing at the beginning of the series or the way everything goes a bit wobbly and unfocused towards the middle. This series is defiantly one that improves as you go along.

The best parts of FMA in my opinion are the chilling bits. FMA is masterful at getting under your skin, which makes it all the easier to sympathise with the main characters. For example, the horror of the Elric’s failure to revive their mother sets the stage for the series perfectly, two boys who’ve made an innocent, but terrible, mistake and now want to move on with their lives, but can’t. The Shou Tucker fiasco also deserves mention because never have I felt that appalled before (although I do think it was a little better done in the 2003 anime). It’s how nonsensical it is; you think beforehand that the whole reason Tucker is so desperate to keep his job is for Nina. There are many more disturbing moments in FMA from Envy’s true form to the Mannequin Solders. I’m not actually a horror fan, but I wish more series were as skilful as FMA when it comes to shocking you.

Other particularly good bits include the Lior episode and anything to do with characters I’ve mentioned. In Lior, on top of Edward coming off so awesome its unhealthy, you get the wonderful conversation with Rose. The Elrics could have been Rose quite easily; supposing they couldn’t turn to alchemy, because Rose had barely heard of it, I’m sure Ed and Al might also have turned to religion in desperation.

At times, the humour in FMA was brilliant. The Armstrong family are pure genius. There’re just hilarious, particularly the episode where Olivier and Alex fight of being heir. Of course, that’s not the only funny part of FMA; Izumi Curtis is great as well. The only annoying thing about it is that sometimes humour creeps in where it really shouldn’t. There are quite a few scenes were a joke in the background deflates the tension a bit too much.

I have two main critiques of the story in FMA. Firstly, lots of parts seem contrived, to the point it breaks suspension of disbelief. Hohenheim, a man at the centre of the entire plot, just happens to be Ed and Al’s father. The Rockbells just happen to have been killed by Scar and two witnesses just happen to run into Edward in the middle of the freakin’ desert. Also, how lucky is it that Winry and Pinako are Automail mechanics? The market for prosthetics is so small that I imagine they’re the only ones for miles.

My second critique is that there’s a bit too much human nature focus. I know it’s a fairly common theme in anime but whenever characters go on a long rant about how good/bad humans are it frustrates me. We don’t know any organism that’s comparable to humans when it comes to morality, so it’s completely baseless to go on and on about what makes humans special. It’s not even possible, in my opnion, that a being  could exist with all the ‘good’ traits of being human and none of the ‘bad’. Having said that, it’s not always terrible in FMA. A few of the comments made by the homunculi are really thought provoking.

Music

How I adore the OPs/EDs in this anime. Apart from maybe the 5th ED, I would put everything on a top 50 list of anime music. After careful deliberation, I’ve decided the 4th Opening and the 1st ED are my favourites. Some themes make you feel pumped, others make you feel emotional but either way they’re all effective at making you feel something. The only vague critique I can give is that most of them have a bit of a slow start

I didn’t really notice the background soundtrack. I’m not sure if that means it was crap or that it was good at subtly setting the emotion of scenes. What I can’t say is that FMA doesn’t have memorable backtracks in the same way Fairy Tail or One Piece do.

Art

I’m going to kay my cards out and say that I don’t really like the art style in FMA. I find the characters a bit…rounded while settings are interesting but not exactly say there’s much eye candy. Despite that, there are some parts of Arakawa’s style that I do really like. Each character looks distinct despite relatively little gunk. Take Kimblee and Mustang for example, both have same hair and eye colour yet, even without the difference in hair length, you’d be hard pressed to get them confused. The art is also good how subtle the emotions of characters can be.

The action scenes in Fullmetal Alchemist are well done. You’re suitably disturbed by the homunculi and thrilled by the alchemy. Having said that, I found the obviously CGI’d bits (particularly Envy’s true form) to be a bit jarring.

Enjoyment

It’s odd, I feel as if I ought to like FMA more than I do. Technically, the series is amazing, amzing characters, amazing setting, amazing moments but for some odd reason it isn’t my favourite anime ever but rather just very high on the list.

Overall

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an experience I can’t imagine regretting.

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