Magical Mondays: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the Consequences of Alchemy

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood Elric BrothersA while back I talked about Dragon Ball Z and how it handles death and raising the dead in a previous Magical Mondays post. To recap, I found the way Dragon Ball Z went about this to be lacking. DBZ didn’t offer nearly enough consequences or limitations on its magic, and as a result, the narrative suffered. Raising the dead—or rather, attempting to—is a big part of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and unlike DBZ, the story sets hard limits on its magic that are never broken. This means that the characters are never able to pull a deus ex machina and instead they have to operate within the story’s rules in order to learn about themselves and develop as characters.

Trigger warning for body mutilation up ahead.

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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.

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