Spring 2019 Anime: Official Twitter Hashtags & Pages
That was it for the first season of 2019. Many good titles graced our screens, but if we want to be honest, there are too many series in the new season we have been waiting for quite a long time.
Fullmetal Alchemist has managed to nest itself in the hearts of many fans, and regardless of how old it gets, its message and story still profoundly touch the viewer. A common thing that you hear fans say about the series is, ‘I wish I could forget it and watch it all over again’. This shows how enjoyable watching it actually is: it’s an experience that fills you with strong emotions and allows you to fully empathize with the plot and characters.
However, the hidden value of the show (and in the humble opinion of this fan, its greatest accomplishment) is the manner in which it gently introduces and discusses human nature and history. Without becoming overly preachy and dictating its politics to the viewer, Fullmetal Alchemist manages to get its point across by using ‘parables’, or, if you prefer, by showing the consequences and results of the characters’ choices through short stories. In that way, it makes complex concepts simple and easy to digest for the average viewer and democratizes its content so that it is easily understood by everyone who is willing to hear. In the following article, I am going to look at some of the ideals Fullmetal Alchemist represents through its story and characters and in what way it achieves to do so.
For anyone who has the slightest clue on history and World War II, it is rather hard to miss the parallelism between the Amestrian and German society that takes place pretty much everywhere in the show. German military culture, a common theme in anime and possible leftover from the Axis alliance established between the Japanese and the Germans during the war, is evident and dominant in Amestrian society. The head of the state casually goes by the name of Fuhrer and walks around sporting a massive mustache, always dressed in a military uniform, as is almost everyone who works for the government. Amestrians are blue-eyed, blonde, and white, the very archetype of the Aryan race. Issues of race and war are constantly present throughout the show: the expansive politics and warfare Amestris casts upon its neighbors is a horrible one. The eradication of the city of Ishbal is one such example, with the scene of the blue-eyed soldiers walking towards the doomed city being perhaps the most memorable one. After the invasion and genocide of the Ishbal people, they are now forced to live scattered around like nomads, without a place to call home.
Contrasted to this vile government that destroys human lives exist the Fullmetal Alchemist protagonists, Edward and Alphonse. Both perfect examples of a humanist ‘homo universalis’, not only are they bright, educated, fit, and talented, but are also sworn pacifists that refuse to take away human lives, even if that could cost them theirs or the fulfilling of their ultimate goal: getting their bodies back. An essential part of their composure is the fact that they travel despite their youth; another common anime theme. Their travels are essential to their exposure to different cultures and humans from all walks of life who they willingly and selflessly help out on several occasions, like the in the case of the city of Lior and Rose, where not only did they overthrow the religion that had taken over people’s lives but also helped Rose get over the death of her loved one without really gaining much out of it. Their kindness and altruism demonstrate to the audience the juxtaposition between their quality of character and the horrors caused by the totalitarian government they work for.
It is common for shonen anime to place female characters as accessories to a plot that revolves around male protagonists, but in Fullmetal Alchemist the ladies are far from conventional. What is admirable, however, is not the fact that Hiromu Arakawa decided to have a few strong female characters around. There is such incredible depth and credibility to their stories that their ‘girl-power’ does not come off as intimidating ‘boobs-with-guns’ in-your-face bad-assery. We can investigate this through the following examples:
Winry Rockbell: Winry is the protagonist’s love interest, a relationship that plays low-key in the background of the story and only manifests properly in the very end of the show. Despite her conventionaly effeminate cute looks and starry-eyed appearance, Winry is a passionate engineer willing to go as far as moving away from her hometown to hone her craft and improve her skills. She is also Edward’s mechanic, which renders her presence in the show essential instead of cosmetic.
Izumi Curtis: Another important persona in the lives of the Elric brothers, their teacher and mentor’s existence is thrilling, and to be fair, a story of its own. A master of both alchemy and martial arts, she has basically instructed Ed and Al in her ways and made them who they are. She gets easily angry and has a few screws lose (let’s not forget she abandoned two kids to live alone on an island to see if they’ll survive), but her actions are easily justified by the tragic aspect of her backstory, that of losing her intestines trying to bring back her dead child. An ordinary housewife, alright.
Olivier Mira Armstrong: Olivier (and not Olivia, as I always mistakenly say) is the head of the Briggs fort, the ‘Ice Queen’ that guards the borders to the north were Amestris connects to the nation of Drachma. Her character is not only reinforced by the fact that her brother’s personality is the exact opposite of hers, but also by how the entirety of her subordinates treat her around the fort: as their unquestionable leader.
Trisha Elric: Last but not least, the central female figure in the lives of Ed and Al is their mother; not as skillful or strong as those aforementioned, but loved and remembered for her role as a parent, and a loving, understanding housewife. Trisha’s role in the show is never looked down on; whoever remembers her does so dearly for her kindness, patience, and good nature – she is still one of the most important characters in the show despite being an actual housewife, unlike Izumi.
The variety of ways in which the anime handles female characters keeps them on a level equal to that of the male ones: versatile, autonomous, and respected, with their gender being an additional aspect to their personality, not the dominant one.
The strongest theme referring to human nature in Fullmetal Alchemist is, inevitably, death. The show is built on the concept of death and everything revolves around it. It’s one of the reasons the show is so compelling. Despite the humorous intermissions and small moments of the characters having a somewhat joyful youth, they carry the burden of their mother’s death everywhere they go, and its occurrence is repeated numerous times. The very core of the plot is basically death: not only would the characters not have lost their bodies trying to reverse it, but even the dwarf in the flask could have never managed to expand so much and gain such power had it not been for the folly of some humans trying to escape death.
Alphonse’s existence is, of course, taking the concept of human existence a bit further; it implies the continuation of life without a body and the moral dilemma of whether someone existing in a different shell than the one they were born with are still themselves. Alphonse often finds himself contemplating the authenticity of his existence and even goes as far as suspecting Edward for having created him and given him false memories to live with, and him never being real in the first place. Fullmetal Alchemist handles this delicate matter that is not exactly new to anime (it is one of Major’s main worries in Ghost in the Shell) in its own way and through the sensitivity that describes Alphonse’s childish personality, making it more relatable to the audience.
Last, but not least, how can we not talk about the Shou Tucker’s chimera incident and how it made us all feel? In just one episode, this guy became one of the most unpopular anime characters of all time by doing something not exactly violent or disgusting; just very abject and morally corrupt. The interesting part on how everyone hates Tucker is the nature of what he did – it disturbed people for being something that renders an innocent human less… human. There’s no painful description of the process, just its result, and it’s enough to freak you out. There’s just something uncanny about being half human, and that’s what Tucker’s story capitalized on.
What Fullmetal Alchemist does by referencing human history, societal norms familiar to us, and the questionable ethics of what is considered human, is to create an effortless educational dialectic between the show and its audience. By watching something as enjoyable as a shonen anime and simultaneously being educated in important human values and ideas, an average viewer is exposed to material that can be too heavy to digest otherwise. Essentially what Fullmetal Alchemist does, is what all media should do: it democratizes important philosophical themes and communicates them to the public through great entertainment.