Fullmetal Alchemist

>Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the best stories of all time, the manga especially. This was the second manga series I ever got into, after Hetalia. As of late, I've been a lot less involved, but this is still a fandom that means a lot to me and is worth a lot to the world.

my fma tag







The only reason Izumi Curtis didn’t die in Briggs is because she was determined not to die a virgin and basically said no to death, and honestly that’s the most iconic thing any character has done ever.


 
the first and last pages of fullmetal alchemist






I think the difference between FMA ‘03 and the manga/Brotherhood can be summed in the fact that the end of FMA ‘03, Ed and Al learn that equivalent exchange isn’t a hard and fast principle, because you can get back less than you give, but in the manga/Brotherhood, they learn it isn’t a hard and fast principle because you can give back more than you get. It’s kind of like looking at the glass of water: FMA ‘03 is seeing the glass half empty while the manga/Brotherhood is seeing the glass half full.




   
   
   



“Al and I are all each other have,” Ed says, around a mouthful of Granny’s stew, his arm propped up for Winry to work on while he hangs out with Team Mustang, fending off a hug from Major Armstrong with the other arm, under the worried care of no less than seven (7) parental figures.






So when Ed and Al go to Central City to read Marcoh’s research notes, there's

Thomas the Tank Engine



 

Meta

 

The fictional country of Xing in Fullmetal Alchemist is heavily inspired by the real-life country of China. From the weapons, food, flora, fauna, clothing, architecture and art, we can see the Chinese influence.
Xing is a country made of 50 clans, ruled by an Emperor. Similarly, China is a country made of 56 different ethnic groups, and had a monarchy for thousands of years until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. In Fullmetal Alchemist, we know three of the clans: Yao, Han, and Chang. The Yao (瑶族) is an acutal ethnicity in China that lives in the South and Southwest, with a population of 2 million. The Han (汉族) is also an ethnicity, who are the majority of the Chinese, with a population of 1.2 billion and making up 92% of China’s population. The Chang clan is fictitious, however, from the Chinese translation, the clan’s name is “张”, a common Chinese last name, commonly transliterated as Zhang.
The form of alchemy, called alkahestry, in Fullmetal Alchemist is also likewise based on Chinese alchemy. Chinese alchemy is similar to Western alchemy as both seek to create gold from common base metals and finding the elixir of life. The elixifir of life was thought to be created from gold and cinnabar (mercuric sulfide). There is also a focus on herbal and medicinal treatments in Chinese alchemy.
Other forms of Chinese culture influencing the country of Xing is Ling’s dao sword, Xiao Mei the panda (pandas are only found in China), and Fu and Lan Fan’s masks, which resemble the masks used in Beijing Opera.










So this isn’t meant to start a “2003 vs original” fight or anything, but make a larger point about how lady characters can be handled in narratives, and I think the difference between how Winry’s handled in the manga and the first anime is a pretty good illustration of that.
See, the first anime made it so Winry did nothing during a certain scene that was adapted from the manga. Winry basically TRIED to say the same things in that scene but Al TALKED OVER HER so he could angst some more- and basically Winry continued trying really hard to help after that but kinda wasn’t acknowledged as doing so. There’s no such thing as a bad character. I truly believe that. It’s about whether the character is given room to develop and used to their fullest potential. 2003 anime Winry is basically the same character as Manga Winry, only a lot less developed and repeatedly sidelined by the other characters and the narrative itself.
Winry’s character is shown TRYING to impact the plot in 2003, but is rebuffed by the other characters and the circumstances the narrative constructs. She saves Ed and Al on a tractor, they tell her to go home. She tries to talk to Al, he talks over her. She tries to talk to Roy about you know, killing her parents, he decides to ignore her and give a speech to Ed and Al instead. She goes on a secret investigation with Sheska and discovers Sloth… and it’s completely useless because she can’t warn anyone and Ed and Al find it out on their own. She’s kidnapped the second she enters the narrative and not given the oppurtunity to save herself, she’s made to stand silently and watch the brothers fight. She’s not allowed to put her foot down, say it’s my way or the highway and have others listen to her. It’s not that I’m shortchanging Winry’s character in either continuity. It’s that one continuity allows her actions to have impact and the other doesn’t. One narrative respects her and the other doesn’t.
And that’s a larger problem in fiction. A female character can be presented a kickass, proactive lady who tries really hard, but it the narrative refuses to focus on her or let her accomplish things and if the narrative constantly suppresses her or even punishes her when she tries to have a voice- that’s just, really bad. It’s like saying “Girls, don’t try to accomplish anything, the world won’t let you.”
And no, I don’t care if it’s because 2003 focused more on Ed and Al. That’s not an excuse. You can focus on the protagonists without shortchanging other characters. In fact, if Ed and Al exist in a bubble and no one else can impact them or have a role, why the hell do other characters exist at all? And on a personal note, I think 2003 Ed and Al had really circular, self-centered, shaky development precisely because of the “all about them” attitude. How the hell am I supposed to sympathize with an Ed and Al who don’t listen to Winry when she has good advice and treat her like shit?
On a final note, Ed has an entire character arc in the Manga/Brotherhood where he learns not to keep the truth from Winry and to respect her decisions and not coddle her. He goes from keeping from her who killed her parents because he wants to protect her to after discovering this is a hurtful and disrespectful thing to do, telling her immediately when she’s in a hostage situation because he “doesn’t want to betray her by decieving her” and then following her plan to get them all out of the situation because even though he doesn’t like the risks she’s taking, he respects her right to take them and do what she wants with her own life. So basically, Ed has a whole arc where he learns it’s better to respect and listen to the woman you like rather than keep things from her and try to control her in the name of protecting her.
In an anime aimed towards boys, this is a really important lesson to have. The manga is specifically teaching young boys that girls have important input and you should respect and be honest with them and listen to them. It’s a really great and uncommon lesson in a shounen story. But the 2003 never shows anyone learning to listen to women or respect them. The protagonists ignore Winry’s input and keep things from her and sideline her till the end. So boys come away from that thinking what every other shounen manga teaches- “it’s okay to take girls for granted and ignore them and treat them as secondary.” Y'know?


 
 
 

 

So watching the theme songs to fma last night I came across this narration from Father and I’m glad that he also noticed that Ed goes into crying fits a lot. It’s totally crying even if it isn’t shedding tears, the villian is calling you on that Ed. Ed just doesn’t think it counts because he doesn’t shed tears but it is. He’ll curl up into a ball of Ed and moan and shudder and scream and sob and breath really hard and even throw up from sheer trauma and do everything but actually let tears come until the very end of the series. But that doesn’t mean he’s not crying. He’s just making it harder on himself by suppressing the tears part of the breakdown, as Winry and Al have pointed out. Both of them seem to agree it’s not a matter that Ed doesn’t cry, just that he doesn’t really let himself.
I think it’s because he’s genuinely afraid he’ll be unable to stop if he does let himself really cry- also that he doesn’t like to see other people crying so he goes out of his way not to do it himself. He doesn’t really feel he deserves to. Like, he sees it as a burden rather than a release. And I gotta wonder if he allowed himself to sob while digging up his Mom’s grave would he have thrown up quite so much? Stuff like that. I really do think the fact that Winry can cry without restraint, but can also easily control her tears if she decides to, is a sign of her being emotionally stronger than Ed in that area.
I think it’s important that Ed did let himself cry with tears, even if it was just once, before he reached his triumphant conclusion. I think that was really the final step in his character development right there- he needed that moment of release. He needed to not supress anything to truly see the answer. Not only did he let himself shed tears, he did it in front of a crowd and in that moment he was able to say a lot of stuff he’d never actually said honestly before: “I resent dad for not being there for me, but he is my dad and I still care about him- I’m lost and panicked and I don’t want to lose anyone else and I don’t know what to do.”


Did Miles Have The Right to Lecture Scar?

Yes and No. It’s not definitive but let’s look at this in different ways. So, Scar. He’s been through a lot, including a state-alchemist-wiping spree due to his experiences in Ishval. His whole family had died there, including his dear brother, who sacrificed his life for him. Scar got his brother’s arm with the power of deconstruction alchemy, and used its powers to decimate the forces that caused the most damage in the Ishvalan genocide: state alchemists. Now remember that Scar was also a warrior priest, meaning he devoted his life to the religion. But alchemy is forbidden by Ishvala, and him possessing the power was enough to drive him from the religion.
So in effect, Scar’s family, religion, and home were completely destroyed during the genocide. It gives him a good, justifiable reason for wanting revenge, because he literally had nothing left. I personally believe that Scar had every right to seek revenge on state alchemists, except Edward Elric, because really, he was teeny tiny at the time of the war, and while he might benefit from the military and have privilege as an Amestrian, Ed really had done nothing wrong to Scar.
But the “don’t seek revenge” thing can get a little iffy in terms of race, because while the message is “don’t be blinded by your hatred, which will only destroy you, endure what has happened and seek to improve the system”, it can sometimes be interpreted as “lol don’t do mean stuff to oppressors”. Because it can sound like that. The message is a double-edged sword.
Now think about Miles. He’s definitely suffered at the oppression of the Ishvalans, mostly because he looks exactly like one of them. He’s definitely lost family and suffered discrimination, and was fully prepared to be fired from the military.
But remember: His commanding officer is Olivier Mira Armstrong. And even during the war, he’s her second-in-command, and the highest ranking soldier in all of Briggs, and basically takes charge when she’s gone. That’s a large amount of power for anyone. And he’s wondering: “why doesn’t she get rid of me?” And he’s fair to wonder. Why does she want an Ishvalan. simple: She doesn’t discriminate. It’s not that she doesn’t care what race you are, but rather she appreciates the difference and the perspectives that can be given by having a feet in both worlds. And Miles gets used to this version of the military. Simple, effective, undiscriminating.
And perhaps this is the reason that he lectures Scar, since he is used to a family at Briggs, and not the rest of the corrupt military. Miles has his experiences to go by as well, and this at least, gives a reason for why he lectures.
But does he actually have a right to tell Scar how to deal with Ishval’s aftermath? Well, not really. At least I don’t think so. While Miles does suffer under the Amestrian military, he didn’t do so as much as Scar. Scar’s whole family was taken from him, and from what Miles mentions, he still has a wife and family. Scar’s whole life came crashing down, while Miles has been steadily climbing the ranks. While Miles knows some of the things the military does, ultimately, he doesn’t have the trauma Scar has and doesn’t have the right to tell him what to do. Is there a better way to deal with this rather than going on a murderous rampage? Probably. But someone who doesn’t know his pain lecturing him? Not a good idea. I know Scar’s master does it, but this is because he knows Scar and went through the same thing. He gets a say.


My only major complaint about the Brotherhood adaption of the FMA manga has always been the unusual gutting and cutting of Riza’s recount of Ishval. It’s stripped bare. For perspective, the retelling spans the entirety of volume 15 of the manga. Most manga volumes after Ling’s introduction are given about 2.5-3 episodes for adaption. The recount of Ishval was given one episode– episode 30.
And they did some clever shuffling to at least make this slightly more reasonable. Roy’s declaration to Maes that he intends to overthrow Bradley and fix Amestris is given as the cold open to episode 10, even though this is part of volume 15. Scar’s backstory was presented in episode 22. Riza burying the nameless Ishvalan child and then asking Roy to burn off her back is in episode 54. All of these were relocated in the telling, but not cut.
Yet that doesn’t explain the sheer volume of stuff that DID get cut. Or changed even. Episode 30 seems to be missing the aspect of humanness that comes across in volume 15. It’s almost 2-dimensional since it seems to cut most things that display an element of human fallibility and moral ambiguity. It’s like “Yes the Amestrians are Evil except not our Heroes they are Different”. I always chalked that up to an unfortunate consequence of the cutting choices. I finally realized though–I think that’s the intent.
I think Brotherhood modifies the story to make the named, known characters less morally implacable for their actions. All the cuts seem to get rid of the morally-gray–or even downright evil–things that Mustang, Hawkeye, Armstrong, and Hughes do, and amp up the evil in the actions of the unnamed Amestrian soldiers.

Here’s a list of things cut or modified in episode 30:

On the whole, the cut pieces paint a far more brutal picture:

When Riza talks to Ed about Mustang’s plan to bring the Amestrian genociders to justice (himself and Riza included) it makes a lot more sense to the reader. Because we saw Roy and Hughes step over rotting bodies, and saw Riza snipe the gore and brains clear from a man’s head, and saw Mustang incinerate a harmless dog, and his injured, elderly owner. There is no dancing around what these people have done.
Yet in the anime, all these cuts modify the perspective we’re given. We don’t see Riza shoot and kill anyone (at least, not up close, not with a face). We don’t see Mustang incinerate the dog and the injured old man who gently cursed him to hell. We don’t see the people Armstrong attempted to aid getting wiped out. We don’t see Hughes’ quiet complicity with mutiny. Nor his stoic disaffection when the Ishvalan high priest’s offer is shot down by Bradley. We don’t get Mustang’s named subordinate soldiers who thank him for protecting them in war so they can go home to their families.
We lose the truly awful things our known characters were a part of. And we lose the humanity expressed by the background soldiers working beneath Mustang and the others.
What we get instead is divide. We know Mustang and Hawkeye killed people in Ishval, but they refuse to show us. We just see them acting remorseful, or planning self-immolating ways to fix everything wrong with Amestris. Opposite them, we get Generic Amestrian Soldier™ who gleefully commits genocide and has one, singular character design, when in the manga several of these people are named and are presented as honest, kind people.
The whole thing, to me, comes across as censorship. Like it’s maybe an attempt to separate Mustang, Hawkeye, Armstrong, and Hughes from their awful deeds. To make them more likable, to destroy the moral ambiguity that is otherwise clear in the manga. It makes them safer to present as good guys. And instead lumps the evil on this flanderized, straw-man Amestrian soldier. For whatever political or cultural reasons, I think the anime studio was afraid of implicating Mustang and the others for their involvement in the Ishvalan genocide.


 

Whether for time or pacing or some other reason, this small moment never made it into the FMA:Brotherhood finale. It’s so small, but it speaks volumes, so I think it deserves some recognition.
This whole series has been big on the theme of “there are worse things than dying”. Death itself is natural, and trying to defy it–trying to not be the person left behind–is selfish arrogance; it’s punished continually. Hohenheim faced what may be considered a fate worth than death via immortality. Ed, Al, and Izumi were punished for trying to undo death. Roy, Riza, and Scar were haunted, possessed, driven to despair by being the survivors in a death-laden atrocity.
Convention states that the “selfless” thing to do is to sacrifice oneself for another. And Ed would do ANYTHING for Al. You’d think it’s logical, that Ed would just sacrifice himself to bring Al back and be done with it.
But that isn't Fullmetal Alchemist's philosophy. The survivors suffer. The ones left behind are left to deal with the grief and loss and loneliness. Ed knows that. He knows that all too well, to the point that even Roy is aware. Ed would much rather bear the burden of loss and hurt and grief himself. He’d rather shoulder the worse fate. He’d rather live in a world without his brother. Because the alternative would mean putting Alphonse through that survivor’s life, and that’s something Ed could never do.


Edward and Winry exemplify the friends to lovers trope in the best, most traumatically wonderful way. They grew up in a small town together, and supported one another through the hard times. Winry’s parents dying, Trisha’s death, and even the transmutation that took away Ed’s limbs and Al’s body. Winry didn’t have any qualms about helping Ed carry his weight, even when he was younger, literally in terms of automail and emotionally. She was willing to cry for him and Alphonse when they couldn’t, and she took it upon herself to help, even during the automail installation
Then shit starts really going down, and Winry doesn’t back up or get scared on her own behalf, she gets worried for him. The manga has so many implications of her caring for him when he was in bad situations. Stopping work to come to Central when he was injured, putting aside customers to fix his automail, pulling all nighters to make sure he could return to the search as quickly as possible, even covering him up when he falls asleep at his desk.
She’s one of his closest friends before she’s any kind of love interest, and that’s such a unique quality to their relationship. She realizes she loves him first, but she doesn’t have qualms about him not having some deep love confession at the ready. Winry knows how determined he is to help his brother, and she is at the ready when he needs her, just like how he is willing to put himself on the line for her sake. She doesn’t devote herself to him, she travels and takes other customers and begins her life while he does his thing, and becomes well known for her talents, she just remembers him and has time for him when he needs her.
As for her talents, Ed recognizes them and jumps on every opportunity to flaunt how great she is, bragging to Greed about the quality of her work, bragging to other people, and getting irritated when people insinuate her automail is anything but top notch work.
Not to mention, Ed wants to see her happy. He goes to great lengths to make sure he doesn’t make her upset, from screaming a promise to make her smile at the train station to literally refusing to die because “I can’t make her cry over something this stupid.” He has a metal rafter lodged in his hip, and he’s worrying about the feelings of his childhood friend. This boy is a man on a mission, and that mission is to make Winry stress less.
Then you have how her feelings and emotions make him want to be a better person. A lot of things forced Ed to grow up and become a better man, but Winry was the sole reason behind him learning the importance of humanity and empathy. Her delivery of the baby in Rush Valley was a turning point for Ed. He realized alchemy can’t solve everything, and that sometimes, the simple, sheer determination of one teenage girl can save a human life.
And then you have where Ed comforted her after her meeting with Scar, which was a MASSIVE ed/winry moment in itself, especially with him literally throwing himself in harms way to keep anything from happening to her.
Even after that, he lets her cry about the loss of her parents freely, but only after reassuring her that she didn’t do anything wrong by not being able to kill Scar. Which resulted in his “Your hands aren’t meant for killing people. They’re for helping them live.“ speech.
But that scene didn’t disappear, it resurfaces during Ed’s talk with the ever-wise Riza Hawkeye, when he belittles himself for not understanding her feelings. Ed was angry with himself for not being able to help her, and resolves to do better. He resolves to be a better person because of her. Riza notices this and spots his less-than-friendly feelings before he does, which says something about their whole relationship. He wants to be a better person for her, not for their relationship. He wasn’t thinking of any type of romantic relationship when he was concerned for her feelings, he was concerned for her.


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