But seriously, you guys, Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the best and most feminist shounen mangas out there. It was written by Hiromu Arakawa, a wonderful author with a unique style of illustration, and a hero among female mangaka, and the series is clever, and heartbreaking, and funny, and literally everything you want from a manga series.
And I’m not talking about the crappy 2003 anime here. First rule of FMA is we don’t talk about 2003, unless it’s about the music (come on, L’Arc~en~Ciel, AKFG, Porno Graffiti? That shit was good). I’m talking about the manga, or at least the more recent anime adaptation (FMA: Brotherhood).
Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, living in the country of Amestris (it’s sort of loosely like 1920s steampunk Germany). The brothers learned alchemy as children, and when their mother passed away, they attempted one of alchemy’s greatest taboos—human transmutation—to bring her back. But alchemy is based on the principle of equivalent exchange: something of equal value must be given for what is received. And nothing is equivalent to a human soul. What they bring back is not their mother, and they pay dearly for the attempt; Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body, only surviving because Ed binds his soul into a suit of armor. The story picks up on them as teenagers, traveling the country and trying to find a way to get their missing body/body parts back. Ed has taken a commission from the military to be a State Alchemist to help fund his search (they give him the title of Fullmetal Alchemist because of his prosthetic arm and leg, hence the series’s title), but the military complex is corrupt and has a history of asking its alchemists to commit atrocities in the name of the homeland. Ed and Al’s search eventually leads them to rumors of the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary item that, when used, allows the alchemist to bypass the laws of equivalent exchange. But the price of creating a Stone is beyond their wildest nightmares, and the corruption in the military extends further than they can imagine, and is linked to a plot older than the country of Amestris itself.
This is a really amazing manga.
How is it feminist, though? It seems like it is centered solely around two brothers, and stories about two brothers dealing with paranormal enemies while traveling around the country searching for answers to a higher question are not so feminist, right, Supernatural? Well, no, actually. FMA is chock full of excellent and badass ladies from every walk of life, who exemplify that there is no single right way to be an awesome lady. There is the Elrics’ childhood friend Winry, who builds Ed his amazing prosthetic automail limbs when they are like 11, is not afraid to get into a fight, and is a total science nerd when it comes to anything automail/mechanical. There’s Lt. Riza Hawkeye, who is ostensibly the subordinate of Ed’s commanding officer Roy Mustang, but who takes no shit from any person (including Mustang) and will shoot with deadly accuracy anyone who screws with her. There’s Ed and Al’s alchemy teacher, Izumi Curtis, who proves that being able to destroy an alchemically powered monster and being a housewife in a loving and stable relationship aren’t mutually exclusive. There’s Gracia Hughes, the other side of the housewife equation, who shows that being a traditional, non-ass-kicking housewife and mother requires its own kind of strength. There’s Paninya, an automail tech who shoots a cannon out of her automail leg. There’s General Olivier Mira Armstrong, a hard-boiled military woman who has held off invasion from Drachma, the country north of Amestris, through sheer military genius and force of personality for years. There’s Rose, who stays strong and charitable even when Ed and Al pull down her belief system around her ears. There’s Lan Fan, a killer ninja bodyguard who will sacrifice anything to help her charge, and May Chang, a Xingese princess whose skill at her country’s brand of alchemy saves Ed and Al more than once.
Yes, I did just spend longer talking about the ladies of FMA than I did the plot. They’re that amazing. (And that’s just the good ladies; we’ve got villainesses too.)
But anyway, like I mentioned, this story is filled with funny moments, heartbreaking backstories and motivations, richly developed characters, tremendously skilled world-building, exciting battles, realistic romance, and a satisfying-but-not-exactly-happily-ever-after ending.
If you haven’t read it yet, what are you doing with your life? Get out and read right now.