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What do you get when you combine anime, a philosopher’s stone and a great story? ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ Brotherhood”

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

October 8, 2010

I have what some might call a love-hate relationship with anime. I hate it because the only stuff that ever comes close to becoming part of pop culture is garbage like “Pokémon” or “Yu-gi-oh!” I love it because there are occasional gems like “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” (FMA). With a solid story, quirky characters, and a fully developed world and back story, FMA manages to be very entertaining if you are willing to expand your tastes.

Imagine a world, a world much like our world but with one key difference: Alchemy has developed like chemistry and physics have in our world. While you may have heard of the idea of turning lead into gold, or of the philosopher’s stone (sorcerer’s stone for the “Harry Potter” fans), the alchemy of this series is derived from the concept of equivalent exchange.

In “Fullmetal Alchemist” there are a few rules to alchemy. In order to obtain an object of a certain value, something of equal value must be lost. Attempting to transmute (alchemically create) gold is a crime and the ultimate taboo is to attempt human transmutation. The premise manages to strike a good balance between being both fantastical, with alchemy, and believable. Even the nation they reside in, Amestris, is reminiscent of 19th century Europe with the other named country, Xing, much like China from about the same time. The fantastical steps in with elements of the alchemic world, such as chimeras and homunculi (created beasts and “humans” respectively).

“Fullmetal Alchemist” is the story of Edward (Ed) and Alphonse (Al) Elric and their journey to find the legendary philosopher’s stone. Why are they searching for a relic that can bypass equivalent exchange? Because it is their best chance at correcting a mistake they made in the back story; they attempted to transmute their deceased mother. The fiasco cost Ed his left leg and Al his body. Luckily with some quick thinking Ed sacrificed his right arm to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armor; yet the whole ordeal cost Ed an arm and a leg, literally. Their quest leads to Ed becoming the youngest government sponsored State Alchemist in history as they pursue any and every lead to the philosopher’s stone. During the course of 64 episodes the story takes the occasional turn—including what may be the most unique marriage proposal I’ve ever seen—but never really veers off track from its initial path. The plot darkens and develops in complexity as nefarious organizations attempt to manipulate the Elrics for their own purposes. What really sets this show apart was the pacing paired with the complexity. The show started very simply but at an almost unnoticeable pace became complex enough that three to four storylines would occur simultaneously, all coming together at the end. You can start watching anywhere in the first five episodes and you will be able to pick up the plot easily; starting around episode 60, however, would make it much more difficult to keep track of everything, even if a friend was present to help explain things.

While the world and plot are great, the show would be nothing without the characters. Aside from the Elric brothers there are many other characters all with very humanizing traits and flaws. There’s Winry Rockbell, the Elrics’ childhood friend and self-professed gear head, which is a good thing when Ed’s mechanical limbs need repairs. Colonel Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist, is both Ed’s superior officer and an advisor/guardian of the boys. While he is an accomplished alchemist, he’s useless on a rainy day (when he cannot generate fire), which helps to bring him down to a human level. The importance of this is that Roy becomes relatable. Roy and his team of loyal officers are all, for the most part well-developed and, when a member of the team dies, it has a very heart-wrenching effect.

Additionally, the ruler of the country, Fuhrer-King Bradley, takes an interest in the Elrics beyond assigning Edward his state title of “Fullmetal” (he names all state alchemists, like Mustang being the “Flame Alchemist”) but under his eye patch is something much darker than a benevolent ruler.

With a great story, well-developed world and characters you quickly grow attached to, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is both entertaining and thought provoking. Equivalent exchange, for instance, adds insight to the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free meal.” While a show does not need to be thought provoking to be entertaining, I always have found more enjoyment from shows that make me think (like “Boston Legal” as a non-anime example) to shows that are purely story but don’t encourage additional thought (such as “Dragon Ball Z”). The entire series is available subtitled on Hulu, is currently being released with an English dub on DVD and is available on Funimation.com. “Fullmetal Alchemist” also airs Saturday nights between midnight and 1 a.m. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

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