I haven’t seen too many anime, but out of the ones I have seen, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is by far the best. I was hesitant to start watching it mainly out of spite (Josh nagged me on a biweekly basis to watch it and drove me crazy), but I am SO glad that I finally caved and agreed to watch it with him. There are a million reasons why this show is the best thing ever, but unfortunately I don’t feel like writing a novel of praise so I’ll limit it to the one element I thought was the most successful: character development. This version of FMA was also based on the manga, which I thought was a definite improvement on the “original” FMA anime.
In this world there exist alchemists, people who study and perform the art of alchemical transmutation—to manipulate objects and transform one object into another. They are bounded by the basic law of alchemy: in order to gain something you have to sacrifice something of the same value.
The main character is the famous alchemist Edward Elric—also known as the Fullmetal Alchemist—who almost lost his little brother, Alphonse, in an alchemical accident. Edward managed to attach his brother’s soul to a large suit of armor. While he did manage to save his brother’s life, he paid the terrible price of his limbs.
To get back what they’ve lost, the brothers embark on a journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone that is said to amplify the powers of an alchemist enormously. However on the way, they start uncovering a conspiracy that could endanger the entire nation, and they realize the misfortunes brought upon by the Philosopher’s Stone.
For me, characters are of the utmost importance in terms of my enjoyment of a show/novel. I can love the plot and love the world, but if I hate the characters then it’s all over. Let me define what I mean by ‘hating a character’. It’s fine if I dislike a character as a person–they can be an odious person and still a likable character. Does that make sense? Let me give an example: let’s say there’s an antagonist who is so insidious and vile that you want them to fail and want them to die, but at the same time, they are so well-crafted and nuanced that I enjoy them as a presence or force within the story. Using that definition, I don’t think I hated a single character. Even the homunculi and characters that in most other anime would have been overlooked were given back stories and brilliant personalities.
Of course the main characters–the Elric brothers–are made into complex characters, but that isn’t unique: the main characters of shows for the most part tend to be detailed and fleshed out if the show is even of middling quality. What really makes FMA Brotherhood unique, however, is how it gave the same level of attention to all the characters in the show, which is what I’d like to focus on. Every last member of the enormous cast of the show had a back story and a fleshed out personality, which made me ecstatic. I would never have expected someone like Major Armstrong or Envy to have enough of a motive/backstory to make them real to me. An entity like Envy usually occupies a place in a show where they are an evil humanoid force without any real likability, but when he goes from this:
It’s legitimately sad and depressing. He is just so pathetic and even confesses the reason behind his bitterness that it’s impossible to hate him even though he’s kind of a jackass. I was honestly depressed when he killed himself, the depth of his desperation and self-loathing was so poignant and tangible that his suicide really touched me. It was an emotion I never expected to have for an antagonist in a show. Yes, he did horrible things and was overall an awful creature, but there was just enough humanity in him to evoke a powerful emotional reaction from me upon his death.
Then someone like Major Armstrong–usually the stock ‘muscle-head character’.
Someone like this is usually in the show for comic relief and that’s it. Ok, I’ll admit he was mostly for comic relief, but at the same time, he wasn’t the standard bumbling buffoon that one usually finds in this type of character. Armstrong had a legitimate past involving the Ishvalan War and that gave him a complex in which he feels inadequate because he backed off from the front lines and ran away. This follows him throughout the show and you can see how it impacts his character and fuels his redemption at the end of the show during his showdown with Sloth.
Another thing I’d like to point out is how awesome the female characters in this show were. I mean first you have Winry a badass female mechanic–I know that it’s a common cliche to try and buff up a female character by giving her a manly profession, but it really worked for Winry. She was definitely passionate about what she did and the show made her passion believable and refreshing. Also, on a tangent, can I just talk about how upset I would have been if she and Ed didn’t get together in the end? End tangent. Then there’s Risa Hawkeye. She’s a freaking sniper I mean come on (and apparently I’m potentially cosplaying as her or something) and she manages to keep her humanity and composure throughout the entire show even after all the people she has to kill and all the insanity of being Roy Mustang’s right hand (wo)man. The last one I want to talk about is the bossest of them all. That’s right. Olivier. She is probably the coolest female character ever and probably could have taken out the entire pantheon of homunculi all by herself if she had alchemical abilities. I think that would have been a perfectly viable show: make Olivier an alchemist and then have her steamroll everyone and bring an early conclusion to the show. ‘Nuff said.
Of course it wasn’t just the characters that made the show amazing. I’d love to write up another whole post about how much I loved the mythology and mysticism used in the show (hey maybe I will!) and talk about how the world was awesome and the plot was brilliant and complicated without being too contrived. AGH! So many feels! This show was amazing and if you haven’t seen it please do. I won’t nag, I promise, but I’ll make puppy-dog eyes and strongly encourage it ;).