Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: What does Alchemy represent?

fmab-alphonse-edward-alchemy

Art by @yuumei on Deviantart

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the second adaptation after the original manga created by Hiromu Arakawa in 2009 is an extremely memorable anime and known as one of the classics to watch. 

There are a lot of interesting things to discuss for example the realistic characters, the exceptional animation considering the time it was published or the top-tier storytelling. Today we’re going to focus on something else. We’re going to look at the concept of Alchemy, what it represents and what we can learn from it. 

What is it exactly that Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood wants to tell us?

Before we continue, this blog post will delve into the story and the lore of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. If you haven’t yet watched the series I would strongly recommend doing so before reading this post so this is your official spoiler warning!

 And if it has been a while since you did, here is a short recap of the story.

The Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse are raised in a faraway town by their mother and estranged father. As their father also pursues alchemy they both start learning all they can about this craft. They are both fascinated by the principle of decomposing and creating everything that is around them, and believe that the ‘equivalent exchange’ is applicable to almost every situation.

“In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed.”

So much so that when their mother dies, they both break the ultimate taboo of alchemy.

Human transmutation.

The brothers know only one solution and that is Alchemy. So without thinking of the consequences they both attempt to bring back their mother. With the principle of equivalent exchange in mind, and their hope that bringing together the physical components of a human being they attempt what is unheard of, and are shaken by the consequences.

Edward loses his leg, and his brother Alphonse’s body is gone completely, while the creature they bring back is not even the shadow of what their mother once was. In a desperate attempt to bring back his brother, he offers his body up to bring back Alphonse’s soul and bind it to an armor, therefore losing his arm as well.

That was the start of the Elric brothers’ journey to bring back their bodies with the help of the infamous ‘philosopher’s stone’. 

On this journey, they encounter numerous friends and foes, while piecing together the puzzle pieces needed to achieve their goal, while always remembering the date when they chose to turn back from their hometown. 

Do not forget 3rd October 11.

Everyone brought up to speed? Well then, let us begin!

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood shows us the world from the perspective of the Elric brothers. It all starts with the country of Amestris. A fictional country with no set timeline in the real world, yet it looks very close to what we could describe as post world war II europe.

In this world alchemy is a fundamental part of people’s life. It is shown as a science that one can pursue and very noble work especially if one works as a state alchemist. 

Acquiring Power: a Military State

Amestris is a military state, using alchemy as not only a science for technological advancement but also as brute force through state alchemists.

In their first pursuit of the philosopher’s stone, Ed and Al need to access the restricted files that are only foreseeable by state alchemists. Without looking further into the intentions of the state, or in other words ignoring what the oath Edward has to take means, he becomes a state alchemist as a means to an end.

We are now introduced to the indoctrination of state alchemists, also known as horribly powerful tools of the military, which are the three restrictions.

Number one: obey the military, number two: do not transmute items to gold and number three: do not transmute people.

Amestris represents not only a state that seeks control in the war and governmental authority, but also the desperate use for everything profitable in science to be under their control. Technological advancements in the past were often made by scientists who only worked and explored for the sake of human accomplishement, but were ultimately controlled or endorsed by the military. As alchemy is the highest form of science in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (a.k.a. FMAB), it is no wonder the government made sure to restrict all alchemists working under their wing.

Alchemy has become a means to an end, and we find different people use it in different ways.

The Elric brothers have an innate drive for knowledge since their childhood, which lead them to be restricted into a huge bundle of problems after going out into the world to right their wrongs. Yet with their mistakes made, they strive to become better people and realise that Alchemy had a natural flow that shouldn’t be disturbed by the will of man.

Other characters though, like the former state alchemist Solf J. Kimbley who has no shame and no moral compass that lets them shy away from using alchemy to suit their own needs. In this case it is also important to mention that Kimbley was a pawn of King Bradley, who was playing into the hands of Father also known as the Man in the Flask.

The anime clearly distinguishes between the ones who use alchemy for research and knowledge, and the others that use it for selfish needs like power and military.

Using Power: What for?

Sadly, we can also observe the thirst for scientific breakthrough kindling the flame of horrendous acts and experiments. Shou Tucker is one of these examples, in which he took no remorse as he merges his own daughter Nina and family dog Alexander to make another one of his talking chimeras.

As Edward realised what Tucker had done, he attacked him and demanded an explanation, but the Sewing-Life Alchemist can only laugh and mock Ed as he compares himself to the young alchemist and tells him they are one and the same.

Didn’t he go against natural law and try to bring back his mother?

How far should science go?

In minimal comparison we could look at laboratories and how small animals are used in real life to try out what would later become our medication which might salvate a lot of people. A sacrifice that might be justified to many people out there, especially since we see the human species as the most superior on the earth and everything else beneath it.

Can the same be said about conventional safety-checks for make-up and drugstore items? Even though the correlation between this anime and our reality might be a stretch in this day and age, it is interesting to say the least if we take prompts from our media and applicate it to our reality

The goal of getting their bodies with a philosopher’s stone suddenly stretches far away as the brothers now realise that the stone exists, but it is made by sacrificing multiple humans and therefore not usable with their moral conscience.

We see engaging growth in the Elric brothers’ character, when both of them slowly realise that the alchemy they adore so much requires sacrifices that are higher than just any of their limbs.

Is that a sacrifice worth taking?

Losing Power: What is a Sacrifice?

When we lose something, especially when it is someone we love very dearly, we go through stages of grief. While that is a fairly common concept, the stages of emotions we go through vary from person to person, but in a lot of cases we stumble upon one particular one that holds significance even in FMAB.

Bargaining.

We lose something, and our brain simply is unwilling to accept what has happened to us, so we as humans who have evolved throughout the years and constantly find new solutions to problems, we bargain.

“Can I trade their life for mine?”

I would do anything to bring them back!”

“Please give me back what I have lost!”

A plea for anything that could help in restoring whatever has already left us, and as you probably already know what concept I am getting at, it is the last taboo that shan’t be broken that we selfish humans resort to.

Human Transmutation.

A human cannot be brought back to life, it is a natural flow of existence that cannot be changed, still we have multiple instances in which alchemists couldn’t bear with their reality so they tried to bend it to their will forcefully.

Alchemy is not only a vessel to show power, destruction and creation, it also opens the world to the concept of self-sacrifice which is embedded into the transmutation of living beings. Without a perfect explanation for it, it is implied that the reason one can’t transmute the living without other philosophers’ stones or sacrifices, is that a soul isn’t something physical.

Even though Edward and Alphonse brought together the perfect amount of elements that are in a human body, what they couldn’t acquire was a soul.

The desperate humans that tried it anyway became prime examples of what can happen if humans play around with the natural order of the world. 

Izumi Curtis, the Elric brothers’ so-called master and guardian, suffered such pain after losing her child during labor that she saw no other solution but to use alchemy to bring it back. 

To no avail, it did not work. 

Still, the prize was to pay and it is almost ironic how the “gate of truth” takes away what is not only important to you, but also what represents your yearning. 

Izumi lost part of her vital organs which led her to be very ill for the rest of her life, but also permanently took away her ability to bear children. 

A grotesque slap in the face for a mother who only wished to be with her child. Very similar to the Elric brothers who only wished to have their mother back, a part of their family, only to have Alphonse be stripped away from Edward.

Without Ed’s second sacrifice he would’ve been separated from his brother as they longed for the warmth of their family and almost lost each other in the process. 

What can we learn from the concept of alchemy? 

Well, even Edward who believed that alchemy is the only priority in life realised that relying on only one ideology for the entirety of their life’s is wrong. 

His solution in the end was to sacrifice the ultimate power- the ability to use alchemy itself. 

We learn from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood that the knowledge we have as a human often blinds us to the possibility that there are things out there much more powerful than us. 

Not to discredit science in any way shape or form, but what we know at this can change drastically in the future.

The same way we used to believe that the sun turned around the earth, it is not impossible that future science epiphanies will change our entire world. 

We evolve constantly as humans, and we are part of nature that is only slowly making more sense to us. 

With an anime like this, we can explore the ‘what if’s’ in a healthy way, but we should also reflect on our history and current reality. 

What are we sacrificing in life, and what can we gain from looking at the creations around us to find a way to peacefully live our lives? 

If you have similar questions or want to add something to this discussion, please make sure to leave it down below! Let’s all discuss together (in a civil manner of course)! 

I hope to see you all soon again! Until then, make sure to steer away from weird dogs…

-Nissa

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