Manga Mondays: How Have We Not Talked About FMA Yet?

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.

7 thoughts on “Manga Mondays: How Have We Not Talked About FMA Yet?

  1. So, the 2003 anime was bad? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard such an opinion about what most people consider a classic. But, I suppose that in comparison to the manga, it’s not quite as good.

    What did FMA: Brotherhood do differently from the prior season in order to make it a more worthy retelling?

    • Well, the real failing of the original anime is that it started so early in the manga’s run that they ran out of real plot pretty early on in the anime. It starts with Cornello and Liore, but the rest of it is basicall “anime original” plot, a.k.a. filler. A lot of the same characters cross over (most of the military, Nina and Shou Tucker, Marcoh, Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Barry the Chopper, etc.) but most of them have different backstories or are different people entirely (look at the other homunculi for that). In the original anime Roy is the one who kills Winry’s parents, which makes him even more of an angstbag than he already is. Winry’s character is nowhere near as empowered, also, which is a damn shame. Although as far as totally original characters go I did love Schieszka.

      It stands on its own pretty well if you haven’t read the manga, yes, and I have to give it credit because it is what got me interested in the story of FMA. However, I thought (last time I watched it, which was in high school, and before I’d read the manga) that the ending was sort of dumb, especially because the whole story was about Ed and Al getting their selves back and sticking together and then they got separated and Al got mindwiped and Ed kept his automail. I also thought that the premise that alchemy is fueled by war/death in our world, and the whole Conqueror of Shamballa movie was a bit of a ham-handed attempt to give Ed even more angst than he already had about alchemy.

      • Winry wasn’t as “empowered” in 2003, really? I’m going to have to strongly disagree on that. In 2003 much more of her character arc was on her own, about her own struggles with the fact that Roy killed her parents – and less oriented around being support for Ed. Granted, I don’t find either Fullmetal Alchemist anime or the manga particularly feminist – Winry and Riza may have had “badass” skills but they’re primarily there in the narrative to be support to men, Winry more so in Brotherhood (Riza wasn’t developed in 2003 so there isn’t much of a comparison to be made there – and the characters who aren’t defined around men (Olivier, May) are fairly static characters who don’t get developed much at all, so I’d disagree with a lot of your analysis, but I particularly wanted to take issue to this in that comment.

        Anyway the insistence that the whole FMA fanbase prefers Brotherhood is really getting old. There are a lot of us who still prefer the 2003 anime which, as medievalotaku pointed out, is considered by many to be a classic and had a better critical reception than the Brotherhood anime.

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