Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anime Talk: Fullmetal Alchemist 「鋼の錬金術師」

Ahhhhh!! The time has come. It's time to write of my tumultuous feelings surrounding Fullmetal Alchemist or, as known in Japan, 鋼の錬金術師 (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi). There are a few things I want to say first. 1. I have watched Fullmetal before, but never in any particular order. During my middle school years, I would sometimes watch an episode during my wait for Inuyasha to start (or maybe after Inuyasha ended...I can't remember which aired first). In total, I watched maybe 5 episodes of FMA. I found it entertaining, but didn't commit to the whole series. I decided after my 2012 trip to Japan that I should really watch the series from beginning to end. I now know that there are two Fullmetal animes: the original Fullmetal Alchemist which diverges from the manga storyline into it's own separate story entirely and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which stays faithful to the manga. I opted to watched the original FMA first, and this is the anime I will be reviewing today. Also, another quick thing to note: I watched the subbed version of FMA, meaning that the audio was entirely in Japanese. Due to this, I may slip into referring to FMA as "Hagane" or "Fullmetal", sorry about that in advance. 
Ed (left) and Al (right) as children with their mother, Trisha

Before starting the anime, I already knew the general premise, but it was great to start from the beginning and see once again the strong bond the Elric brothers share. Edward and Alphonse Elric have trained in the use of alchemy, which holds one rule to be absolute: in order to obtain anything, something of equal value must be lost; this is named the Law of Equivalent Exchange. However, as children, Ed and Al's mom passes away. Their father has been gone for years, and so they attempt to bring their mother back from the dead. They gather all the ingredients that compose the human body, but of course, there's no way they can gather the ingredients that make up a human soul. As such, during the process, Ed loses a leg and Al's entire body disintegrates as equivalent exchange for their mother's soul. However, Ed is able to see a glimpse of their "mother", whom they have brought back to life and he realizes that she's really just a glob of human flesh. In a desperate attempt to save Al, Ed then sacrifices his arm in order to be able to pull his brother's soul back and bind it to a suit of armor. Now, Al's soul is bound within an empty suit of armor while Ed carries a metal arm and leg. With Ed's talents in alchemy, he is recruited by Colonel Roy Mustang to become a State Alchemist under the command of the military. In return, Colonel Mustang allows the brothers to conduct research on the famed Philosopher's Stone, which the brothers believe, will allow them to restore their bodies.

Al and Ed's new "bodies" after the failed transmutation. 
Of course, their quest is not as easy and in their search for the philosopher's stone, the boys become embroiled in politics and learn the truth behind the deaths of the people of Ishbala. They also learn the identity of their father and face much heartbreak over the loss of good friends and mentors. While the first few episodes of this anime are sad, it also has great comical moments and leads the viewer to believe that the worst has passed. Ed quickly grows angry when he is mistaken for Al because he's 1. shorter than Al and 2. Al's entire body is made of metal, can you blame people for thinking he's the Fullmetal Alchemist? Ed's anger manifests itself in a comical way, as he believes everyone spites him for being short whenever they assume Al is the Fullmetal Alchemist. In addition, Ed likes to argue with Colonel Roy which really creates a lighthearted atmosphere. It became clear to me early on that the Colonel really likes and cares about the brothers. In addition to the Colonel and his officers, viewers meet Granny Pinako, the Elric brother's next-door neighbor who cares for them after their mother passes away as well as Winry Rockbell, Granny Pinako's granddaughter. Winry grew up with the brothers and lost her parents due to the conflict in Ishbala before the brother's mom passes away. Winry grows up to be an excellent automail mechanic and regularly takes care of any issues that Ed faces with his automail arm and leg. Ed is very thankful toward her for her help and consistently boasts that he has the best automail mechanic around. So, it's no surprise that I totally wanted Ed to finally own up and tell Winry how he feels about her, as it was also pretty obvious early on that he really likes her.

Aside from the great side characters, Hagane also has great antagonists. First off is Scar, an Ishbalan
man who is able to perform alchemy, but considers the use of it a sin against God. He states that his brother somehow gave him an arm inked with alchemy marks and this is what he uses in his journey to exterminate state alchemists. In addition, there is Lust,
Gluttony and Envy. Named after the 3 of the 7 deadly sins, they seek the philosophers stone as well. However, they cannot create one and instead, focus on keeping Ed searching for the stone, with the intent that once he finds or creates one, they can take it from him.
From left-right: Gluttony, Envy, Lust

I felt like FMA started out very strong. I was immediately drawn into the storyline and absolutely loved the soundtrack. Among my favorite pieces is Brothers. In addition, I loved the first two openings, "Melissa" and "Ready Steady Go" and the first ending song. While I normally skip opening and ending songs, these were some of the few I watched in their entirety because I loved them so much. Granted, I knew of Ready Steady Go by L'arc~En~Ciel before I watched FMA, but it was great to watch it in the opening.

Somewhere along the middle of the anime however, my interest began to fall. I wasn't as excited to watch the next episode and felt like the plot was starting to all flat. The last 10 or so episodes however, definitely salvaged the plot. I neither liked nor disliked the ending. Of course, I still have yet to watch "Conqueror of Shamballa" which I hear is the proper ending to the first FMA series. However, I actually really like those animes/books/dramas that end in an unexpected manner. Hagane definitely had an unexpected ending and coupled with its many twists and turns, it was an overall enjoyable watch. Does part of me wish it would have ended differently? Of course! But, I'm also strangely satisfied with the way it ended, even if I weren't to watch Conqueror of Shambala. I think it stayed true to the theme of equivalent exchange until the end and created amazing characters with whom it was hart to part. Ed is definitely my favorite of the Elric brothers, but Al is such a sweetheart that he is easily my second favorite character. Despite how amazing the main characters were, I couldn't help but love the side characters as well, such as: Winry, Colonel Mustang and Maes Hughes. I would love to own the series someday (Hulu commercials can be trying). While I will be watching Conqueror of Shamballa and FMA Brotherhood, the original FMA in its 51 episode glory will hold a special place in my heart.

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