Whenever a human being is told that they must absolutely not do something, an primal piece of their soul interprets such a statement as more challenge than warning. A hubristic section that refuses to acknowledge personal weakness and believes that they are the exception to the rule, that all those that all who failed before them were simply weaker. In extremely rare cases, such manner of thought is correct and paves the way for impossible discoveries; however, more often than not, it simply results in tragedy.
Now, I honestly don’t think I can find an anime fan out there who hasn’t at least heard the name Fullmetal Alchemist. Heck, even if you haven’t heard it I’m sure you’ve seen the characters floating out there in the world of merchandise and cosplay. For this reason, I’m not going to pretend that I’m viewing this series through brand new eyes. It would be disingenuous to say the least. So, we shall begin our journey with knowledge of what is to come and trek through a world once seen, with a few details forgotten in the passage of time. Not that beginning though, whoa boy, it is really difficult to forget two children literally tearing themselves apart in an attempt to eschew the natural order of life itself. Trust me, it does not for a pretty picture make; however, it does kick off one hell of a series. After all, when you begin with such horror, it can only be uphill from there…right?
It’s not. It’s not uphill at all and we damn well know it. From reviving a horrific facsimile of their dead mother, the Elric brothers traipse down a path of chaos and carnage that no human, real or fictional, should ever have to see. Said compounded terror is also brought home by the constant reminder that our main duo are still children. This is no upbeat Shonen series where fifteen is the age of self-sufficient heroism, the Elrics need every bit of help and guidance they can get from those around them. True, it is a harsh kind of compassion more often than not, but it is true to this series’ veil of pain and simple refusal to lay down and die. Not that it skirts around these issues mind you, a fair amount of time is spent bobbing between various interpretations of what it means to survive and the justifications one must make to themselves in order to do so. I won’t say that it is always a fun journey into the tattered psyches of soldiers and criminals, but it is a necessary one in order to learn the motivations that drive the clashing forces of this world together. Be they enemy, or friend.
Speaking of, this series creates a rather interesting dynamic between its characters, both hero and villain alike. Owing to their grander ambitions, the Homunculi who comprise our faction of evil are unwilling to see the Elric brothers come to serious harm; as such, there is more than one scenario wherein enemy must protect enemy and even sit down for a cordial conversation. The continued use of humour throughout these sequences also firmly cements them as oddly fun, with genuine threats to the safety of existence being treated with the same violent fervour as any hapless citizen who happens to call Edward short (Note: Edward is not a fan of being called short). Such a complex relationship is also used to further the plot in an interesting way, with Edward relying on his mysterious importance to the Homunculi to lure them out when a third party, Scar, threatens his life. It’s a rather alchemical solution to a problem, using all materials in one’s possession in order to create a desired result. Equivalent exchange indeed.
Speaking of, this series definitely has a rather strong conviction to its own rule set, which is a truly great strength of its narrative. From the outset, alchemy can never create more than is given. It is simply an impossibility to defy the conservation of matter and thus the mystery of the human soul is ever present. By chemical means, the ingredients for a human being are recorded and readily available; so then why is it impossible to transmute a human? What is missing in the balanced equation? This question is drawn to its logical extremes with the advent of the Philosopher’s Stone, a powerful artifact that can ignore the laws of the physical universe and create something from nothing. One could call it a coincidental conceit to make in such a scientific series, but the existence of a single object beyond the realm of logical thought makes for an amazingly interesting goal. If one were to put it in slightly more cynical terms, this entire series is a quest for a deus ex machina, the object that will right the wrongs of the Elric brothers and resolve this tale happily. Of course, even one glimpse of this series would let someone of that school of thought know that nothing is ever so clean in this world. It’s nice to dream, though.
If there were more strengths of this series I would like to call into focus, it would be pacing and scale…so I’m going to do that. From a story which begins with attempting to raise the dead, events somehow spiral even further beyond the realm of man and accelerate at a frightening pace. Political intrigue, corruption, secret societies, war, murder, revenge, misunderstood villains, misunderstood heroes, religious overreaching, medical atrocities, medical miracles, love, hatred, platonic respect, depression, pride, death, life, pointless chaos, pointed self-analysis, familial disputes, abandonment, intentional intolerance of lactose; there really isn’t much ground this series doesn’t cover and we’re only halfway through it. Honestly, if I didn’t already know what was waiting around the corner in this series, I would definitely be wondering what was waiting around the corner in this series…because it cannot be good.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an amazing series. Do you want to know how I know that? It’s because I had serious reservations about watching it a second time. That may sound counter-intuitive I know, but I have found that the series that truly move and impact me are ones that I hesitate to look at twice. Anybody can throw on a series that they kind of like in the background, one that they will glance at, or watch simply to pass the time. This is not one of those series. I don’t mean to sound too cruel, but anybody who can witness the story of Nina and do anything for the rest of the day are monsters and I don’t wish to know them. Okay, so that was a touch hyperbolic, but still…the hell, man? That is some heavy stuff and it happens four episodes into the series. Four. There are sixty episodes after that. I just…it’s all so…just watch the series. It’s really good, trust me. Just don’t watch it if you’re already feeling kinda down…or even remotely tired. Also, definitely don’t watch it if you have a soft spot for children and animals. But you should definitely still watch it.