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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film, TV.

Japanese animated tv series (2009-2010). Original title Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Furumetaru Arukemisuto. Based on the Manga by Hiromu Arakawa. Bones. Directed by Yasuhiro Irie. Written by Hiroshi Ōnogi. Voice cast includes Unshou Ishizuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Rie Kugimiya, Shin-ichiro Miki, Kenta Miyake, Fumiko Orikasa, Romi Park, Hidekatsu Shibata, Yoko Soumi, Megumi Takamoto and Shoko Tsuda. 64 24-minute episodes, plus twenty short OVAs. Colour.

As children the Elric brothers attempted to resurrect their dead mother using alchemy, failing disastrously; Edward (Park) lost an arm and a leg (subsequently replaced with mechanical limbs) and his brother Alphonse (Kugimiya) lost his entire body (though Edward managed to embody Alphonse's soul in a suit of armour). Ten years later they join the army as professional alchemists, planning to use its resources to find the Philosopher's Stone, in the hope it could restore them; Elric is given the name Fullmetal Alchemist. In the show, Alchemy is the science of transmuting matter from one state to another (see Imaginary Science; Science and Sorcery); others consider it a means to achieve Immortality.

Set on an early twentieth century Earth whose history and geography only loosely corresponds to ours (see Alternate History), the brothers live in Amestris, which largely resembles Germany, though its eastern territory, Ishval, is Near/Middle Eastern. The country is effectively a military dictatorship ruled by Führer Bradley (Shibata): it recently used its alchemists to commit near-genocide on the Ishvalan people. A vengeful survivor, Scar (Miyake), is assassinating state alchemists, many of whom are troubled by their part in the Ishvalan extermination; one, Colonel Roy Mustang (Miki), intends to usurp Bradley.

Centuries ago in Xerxes, a country analogous to ancient Greece, an alchemist used a slave's blood to create a homunculus that eventually destroyed the country: it kept the slave alive, naming him Hohenheim (Ishizuka) – presumably a reference to Paracelsus – and took on his appearance, naming themself "Father" (Kayumi). In order to purify himself Father expelled his vices, incarnating them into seven homunculi named after the deadly sins – for example, Führer Bradley is Wrath. Father destroyed Xerxes to create a Philosopher's Stone, which are made from human souls: now he plans to absorb the Amestris population's souls to create a Stone powerful enough to swallow God (the Japanese dub uses "Kami", a broader term which includes "Truth") (see Religion). Though successful, he is weakened by the attacks of the brothers and their allies – including Hohenheim (who is the brothers' father), Scar and Mustang – allowing God to escape and punish him. Finally, by sacrificing his alchemic powers, Edward is able to restore Alphonse's body.

The story often focuses on other members of its large cast, which includes many strong female characters: Winry Rockbell (Takamoto), the Elrics' childhood friend and mechanic (see Technology); Riza Hawkeye (Orikasa), Mustang's aide; the formidable Izumi Curtis (Tsuda), the brother's alchemy and martial arts teacher, and the intimidating – that being an understatement – Major General Olivier Armstrong (Soumi), who defends the cold northern regions of Amestris.

Fullmetal Alchemist is an engrossing, exciting Anime with very little slack despite its length. Moral issues play an important role: the brothers refuse to use Philosopher's Stones once they learn their origin; Mustang wants those Amestrian soldiers guilty of war crimes to be punished – it is implied this would include himself; whilst Scientists' use of humans to create chimeras echo Nazi experiments. The characterization is solid enough to allow some complexity: villains change sides, whilst others are given enough depth to be partially sympathetic. However, the use of Humour to lighten the tone is sometimes jarring.

A subsequent film, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011), is a standalone adventure set early in the 2009-2010 series' timeline.

There had been an earlier, also well received, tv adaption: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003-2004) in 51 episodes. Because it was made before the manga's completion, the storyline differs in the closing half: Father does not appear and Edward's attempt to restore Alphonse leads to his transportation to our Earth (see Parallel Worlds), arriving in Munich 1923. The story continues in the film, Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa (2005), where Edward's becomes involved in rocketry (see Rockets) and befriends Fritz Lang. The plot also engages with the Nazis' occult leanings, as the Thule Society try to reach Edward's world believing it to be the kingdom of Shamballa (see Theosophy); meanwhile, Adolf Hitler begins his political career (see Politics).

There has also been a live action film, Fullmetal Alchemist (2017). [SP]


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