Fullmetal Alchemist

By Shamus Posted Monday Aug 28, 2006

Filed under: Anime 37 comments

I am way overdue in writing about this series. Usually I write about a show as I watch it, but in this case I’m up to disc 10 and other than talking about Armstrong I have yet to mention it. I stepped away from the series for a few months when the Big Project at work came up, and I’m just now getting back to it.

Fullmetal Alchemist is unlike most of the other anime I watch. For one thing, it’s actually on television where normal people tend to watch shows. It’s part of the Adult Swim lineup, which I guess is a series of cartoons for grownups on the Cartoon Network. So, the show is a little more mainstream than most of the stuff I watch.

The premise of the show is that alchemy is real. It works, and there is an entire science based on turning stuff into other stuff. There are laws that govern this, and a person usually has to study for a long time before they can do alchemy. Some people can’t do it at all. It seems to require both an innate gift and lots of knowledge.

Transmutation Circle
Transmutation Circle
To transmute something, an alchemist needs a fancy ring of symbols – the transmutation circle. They can then convert any object into another object of the same mass and composed of the same elements. So, you can convert a broken teacup into a fixed teacup (assuming you have all the pieces) but you can’t convert (say) water into wine. This is called the Law of Equivalent Exchange. Every episode begins with a recitation of this law, which is then applied with varying degrees of consistency throughout the course of the show. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is all but repealed.

Once in a while an alchemist gets it into his head that he could bring someone back from the dead. All he needs is the base elements that comprise the human body in the right amounts, some really complex and evil-looking transmutation circles, and a truckload of hubris. This is called “human alchemy”, and it is strictly forbidden.

The Elrich brothers & their mother
The Elrich brothers & their mother
The story centers on two young boys, Edward Elric and his younger brother Alphonse. They live with their mother, growing up in a small town, studying the alchemy books of their absent father as a way to amuse themselves. When their mother dies, the boys decide to bring her back. They know this is forbidden and dangerous, but they are desperate, foolish, and over-confident.

The series opens with the results of their experiment. Ed has one of his arms and one of his legs disintegrate when he attempts to bring back their mother. Al has the same thing happen to his entire body. Ed manages to bind his brother’s disembodied soul onto a suit of armor before it is gone forever. Thus he saves his brother, but also dooms him to life as an empty metal suit.

Eventually Ed gets a prosthetic metal arm and leg, and the two boys embark on a quest to recover what they lost.

Edward Elrich, The Fullmetal Alchemist
Edward Elrich, The Fullmetal Alchemist
Ed is a talented alchemist, and he also has a very unique gift: He can perform alchemy without using a transmutation circle. Usually when you capture an alchemist you take his circle (and writing tools!) away so that he can no longer perform alchemy, but Ed can do it be simply clapping his hands together. This makes him formidable in combat.

Ed is pretty short for his age, and one of the running gags in the show is how he hates being called short, and throws a chibi-style hissy fit whenever someone refers to him as such. This is compounded by the fact that he’s been named the Fullmetal Alchemist, but he travels with his brother who is a giant clanking metal suit. Most people assume that Al is the Fullmetal Alchemist, and when Ed corrects them they usually say something like, “You? But you’re so short!” Mayhem ensues.

Ed has an arm and leg made of “automail”, which as far as I can tell is made from some very advanced robotics. This is a bit odd since the world is otherwise mostly Victorian-era technology. He can move it at will, and since it’s made of metal he can also transmute his arm. By using alchemy he can turn the arm into a spike or a bladed weapon or any other number of tools.

Alphonse Elrich
Alphonse Elrich
Al is twelve years old. He’s also immense, towering over most adult men. His metal body is very tough. He can’t feel pain. His body looks grim and perhaps even evil, but he still has the voice of a boy. When he speaks, the voice comes from within the suit with a strange, echoing quality. He’s very much a boy deep down, often innocent and unsure of himself. He’s also gentle and idealistic.

Al is also shy and prefers to let his older brother handle things, which is difficult since he tends to stick out in a crowd. Most people assume he’s a guy wearing a suit of armor, and are shocked and frightened if they find out the truth.

I loved this show from the outset. The characters are interesting. The combat is intense and varied. The plot is compelling. The premise is unique. But now that I’m 36 episodes into it, it’s starting to wear on me.

Any clumsy show can have characters fighting to find out The Secret. In a more intelligent show, they might struggle to find out The Secret Behind The Secret. That’s certainly a lot more interesting. Occasionally an elaborate show will come along where we learn The Secret Behind The Secret Behind The Secret. But once a show gets half a dozen levels deep in secrets, it all blurs together and I stop trying to figure things out. Oh look, another mysterious person who knows the brothers, knows the Next Secret, and isn’t inclined to just freaking tell them. After a while the show starts to lose its air of mystery and becomes a series of fights.

So it’s a good thing the fights are so interesting. The combat in this show is very tense and sometimes gruesome. The alchemy keeps it varied, with lots of special effects and unexpected tricks to keep things lively.

Having said that, I am getting tired of it. I prefer short series. Barring that, I prefer a series which has an ending, and it doesn’t look like this sucker is going to end soon. I love the characters and their quest, but I’m getting the feeling that despite their struggles are aren’t really getting anywhere. If this was just about a couple of guys who travel around and have adventures, that would be one thing, but at the start of the show they pointed us in the direction of a real destination and now I’m keen to get there. A major problem is that we never know how much more we have to go. We’re always on the verge of learning the Next Secret, so for the last eight discs I’ve had the feeling we’re just a few episodes away from the end. Then the door to the Next Next Secret opens up. The show could keep this up forever, so even though a lot is happening it seems like nothing is happening.

I’m curious if the end has been written yet, but I’m very very careful about spoilers so I don’t want to go sniffing around and learn something that will ruin it for me.


From The Archives:

37 thoughts on “Fullmetal Alchemist

  1. Alex says:

    It ends at episode 51, with a movie. The manga’s still going, though. I can’t recall if it was an ending that everyone loved, or everyone hated, or a mixture of the two.

    1. Kaliam says:

      Loved. I know the ending, and it’s good. Although, with alchemy, when something is gained, something is lost. That’s all I will say…

  2. Michael Davis says:

    The series is 51 episodes long, and there are 13 discs in all. Disc 11 has been out since the beginning of August, and 12 and 13 will be out September 5th and 12th, respectively.

    There’s also a movie, and that’s also supposed to be released on DVD on September 12th, last I heard.

  3. Ubu Roi says:

    I have not followed the show either on CN or on DVD, but you hit the nail on the head for my problem with it — and also with InuYasha, which I was once a big fan of. The problem is, the writers have a winning formula with interesting characters and a good premise; so instead of wanting to just get on with telling the freaking story, they want to milk it for all it’s worth.

    As a result, I got tired of InuYasha around ep. 40 (make up your mind, you stupid dog — the live magical girl that’s kinda sweet on you, or the DEAD girl that’s now sucking souls out of people), and just couldn’t get into FMA more than briefly. I love the concept and the characters are interesting, but every time I sat down to watch it, a filler episode with almost nothing of the main characters was on.

  4. Michael Davis says:

    In response to what Alex mentioned, don’t draw any conclusions from the fact that the manga is still going. After lots of small differences here and there, the manga and anime begin to head in different directions somewhere around episode 28 or 29 of the anime. By disc 10, they’re basically two different stories that happen to have some of the same characters.

  5. Cineris says:

    There’s a Full Metal Alchemist movie that I guess you could say is “the end.” The anime series does end (think it’s around 120 episodes) and the movie picks up where it left off. I think they’ve got another movie or OVA planned or somesuch, but like you I lost interest in it. I can’t remember whether I watched about 26 episodes or 52 episodes, but it doesn’t really matter — I regret it either way.

    I feel like Edward is a fundamentally unlikeable character. He’s really quite a jerk. The first episode has him condescending to Rose in such a know-it-all fashion… And he never stops with that. It’s not unusual for anime to have know-it-all teenage protagonists, but the subject matter in this anime tries to be mature so that I find it pretty unforgiveable. To me, Edward is the villain in this series — No matter how hard the anime tries to spin him off as the hero he comes off as childish, selfish, and arrogant.

    That’s not to say the other characters are any better, they’re usually not. But it’s one thing to be one of the usual weirdos or villains that show up to kill people and cause havok for sketchily drawn reasons. It’s another thing to be the main character and have me hoping you get knocked off. Even Alphonse is whiny and angsty most of the time.

    What it comes down to for me is that Full Metal Alchemist is basically just DragonBall Z except without likeable characters or a sense of humor about itself.

  6. Cineris says:

    Ha, guess I was corrected. 51 episodes then, and I stopped around 26.

  7. bkw says:

    I thought FMA started out very strong, lagged in the middle, and ended pretty strongly. IMO it starts out as light-hearted comic fare (as comic as something can be whose genesis rests in dead mothers, alchemy, mutiliation and death) — the middle drags, and the ending is pretty wrenching. Also somewhat open ended.

    If you’re short on time and have other things to do, I wouldn’t recommend finishing it — especially if you’re not a fan of series that change their tone mid-stride — especially when they take a sharp left turn into darkness and angst.

  8. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    with all that said I’ll probably have disc 11 to you by the end of the week

  9. Wonderduck says:

    Don’t mention the war. Or the guy with the moustache.

  10. Shamus says:

    I’m really glad it ends at disc 13. I’m enjoying the series enough that three more discs is worth it to see the end. I’ve seen a few ads for the movie, WHICH ARE SPOILERS, RIGHT ON THE FRONT PAGE. The fact that we see Al in human form, as a normal teenage boy is a pretty big givaway about the end of the show.

  11. bkw says:

    How you see (redacted) may not mean quite what you think it means, and the person you saw may not be exactly who you think you saw.

    And yeah, it’s really irritating.

  12. DrHeinous says:

    I dunno. I actually really liked the series, though I do agree it dragged a bit in the middle. Still, it does stand as one of my favorites.

  13. Comte de Saint Germain says:

    Alchemy is a real thing. Your universities dismiss it because they are told to.

  14. 2nd son of hohenheim of light says:

    i dont care what any of you say!!! fullmetal alchemist is my favorite anime series. edward is not a jerk. maybe alphonse is whiney because he has no body and he is stuck in a suit of armor. may i remind you that edward and alphonse are just kids. you cant say the show sucks if you havent even finished it. if you read about the movie you would know that the person on the cover is not alphonse but a boy that looks like alphonse. fullmetal alchemist is nothing like DRAGONBALLZ that show was played out and boring.

    1. DarkGirl says:

      i so agree wit u……FMA RULES!!!!!

  15. HikamiTZ says:

    Personally, I thought that after the whole Greed stuff the anime started to go into the crapper, which is ironic because after those episodes the anime breaks up with the manga. I suggest reading the manga if you want something really worthwhile. The story is stupendous and there’s actual character development. Also, it’s not going to last forever. It’s at like chapter 66 and it’s supposed to end somewhere around chapter 80, which is a small yet decent size for a manga.

  16. Istariel says:

    I’ve only read the first manga, so I could be wrong, but I thought that Ed lost his leg trying to bring back his mother; then his arm making his little brother Al into a suit of armor when he lost his body. The reason that Ed doesn’t need to use a circle is because (sometime during the whole tragic alchemical affair)he met some sort of powerful being that changed him in some way. I’m also pretty sure that it happened to someone else (a female, more powerful/older alchemist. You’re entitled to your opinion, but based on that first book, I thought that the series sounded very interesting. Ed and Al can’t help being children, and acting as such. Sheesh. Just because the show is meant for an older audience, and has more serious issues it deals with, it doesn’t immediately follow that the characters have to be just as mature.

  17. misha says:

    te amo con todo mi corazon ed

  18. Nusha says:

    Viva el RoyEdo!!!
    Yaoi al poder!!!!

  19. VIOLETA says:


  20. Traiden says:

    Just kinda have to tough it out near the middle… but the movie was very open endded and could have been a bit more final for my tastes… The manga is the real deal when it comes to plot mixed with action and a bit of comedy.

  21. Dokart says:

    I didn’t like the ending of the series too much, had a bitter ending for my taste. At least the movie salvaged it by giving a good, realistic ending.

  22. September says:

    I was scrolling through your article and some of the comments and found what they all said very interesting, ex. it’s a long series with nothing but fillers, I got that one a couple of times. I”ve thought this through many times and there was only one filler episode, one episode where the characters didn’t show up again or had no influence to the plot (Ep. 5). And, yes, Ed is a jerk most of the time, like most of us teenagers, but you can see that he really does everything for his brother. The anime also makes a point of showing HE”S JUST A KID. Usually the teen hero comes along and saves everybody without a problem, but it’s often pointed out that he’s just a kid and can’t do everything. As for ‘FMA is like INuyasha and Dragonball Z?’ Well, I’d like to know how you came to that conculsion. InuYasha: 168 episodes. (That says it all right there. XD) DRagonball Z: AT least 167 with lots of fillers. So…yeah. Just thought I’d voice my opinionss. ^^;

  23. Retlor says:

    DBZ was actually 291 episodes, along with 153 of the original Dragonball, and another 64 of GT. And it’s so flakey and all-over-the-place that it’s difficult to know what’s filler and what isn’t if you haven’t read the manga. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but FMA blows it out of the water.)

  24. starky person says:

    I agree, I love the series and thought the begining was preety darn good. Then came the thick of the story, Wow I almost droppped it then. But near the end it picked up again so I
    stayed. And yes there where WAY to many secrets, but it kept me entertained. So over all I really liked the series because it was so original. The people acted their age, though the main girl doesn’t look fifteen or act like it. I really like that there are no girls with oober skiny body’s and double D’s. That always pisses me off. But the movie sucked! I mean the ending was ok but the rest sucked bad!

  25. Jason says:

    I think the fact that their quest never gets anywhere untill near the end is somewhat tiresom, but also it kind of reinforces what everyone has been trying to tell them all along.

    They are kids fighting for their imposible dream, despite the fact that all the adults point out the imposibilty of the act. After 30 or so episodes of effort and getting no closer to their goal, it feels a little bit like a comming of age story.

  26. fion says:

    i luv fma even though the mood totally changed around the middle. i thought it was supposed to be a comedy!!! anywayz, it was very entertaining but i kinda spoiled it myself when i saw the movie 3 episodes into the anime *punches myself*. it’s so frustrating that the sacrifices they made revolted against each other. *hope i didn’t spoil it for anyone (punches myself again)* the secrets are so pressuring!!!! XP i luv the drawing though. and the overall story plot it pretty good. 4 stars and 10 thumbs up from me!!!! XD

  27. fion says:

    btw i hate the fact that ed gives up on using the philosopher’s stone after searching for it for years!!!!!

  28. Katrani Merack says:

    I LOVED FMA. It’s my fave anime ever. Seriously. But I didn’t like the story, or the graphics- they’re both good. But this could just as easily be a novel, or an essay. Because to me, it’s a coming-of-age story. If you watch the first ten episodes, then the last ten, it’s obvious that Ed and Al both do a lot of growing, and the other characters who don’t die change a lot, too.

    BTW, Winry is a couple of years older than Ed. And the movie was a bit of a copout with Roy’s characterization. Seriously. Bu totherwise it was good. I like the manga better than the anime, though.

  29. Katrani Merack says:

    Also, it’s ELric. Not ELrich. Just caught that. And I call myself a fan. xD

  30. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Eh, I saw a few episodes. It really seemed really cool, but then I forgot about it. I’d be willing to see it again, though… the kid in metal was awesome.

  31. Koiya says:

    Loved this series though i was a little sigruntled about the movie ending its still one of my favs

  32. Jesielle says:

    winry is actually the same age as ed, in that one where he went back to risembool, after they stick his arm and leg back on, she says “it’s hard to believe someone the same age as me” bla bla bla…or something along those lines. and isn’t al 14 for most of the story…?

  33. Cloud says:

    I have only seen up until the world change which I believe is the end of the first season. The movie has gotten good reviews but I haven’t had the time to see it recently. the mangas always seem to take away from the anime in everything I’ve seen except Deathnote. FMA has released a new series aswell and I’m going to catch up with that this weekend. as for the ‘FMA being like other shows’ i can see where you’re coming from but thats like saying Lost is like House. it just doesn’t work.

  34. DarkGirl says:

    well i dont know bout all u guys but iv seen FMA like 100 times nd i still luv it. its an awesome show. i like all da karicters specily Ed he’s HOT!!!!!! and i say if u havnt seen it then go see it. its AWESOME!!!!

    ~DarkGirl out~

  35. Transmutation circle is the changing one item into other item. It changes one time chemical structure into other form. And the circle protects the any person from the negative powers. And it also help to contains and hold the alchemist power.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.