Working from home forces my eyes to stare at screen, screens, screens constantly. It is absolutely exhausting. I’m playing less games and watching less anime because, after a full day of sitting in my house staring at a screen, the last thing I want to do is sit in my house staring at a screen! It has propelled me to revisit my original and favorite form of anime-esque media, manga. And with this resurgence, I am having the pleasure of going back and reading some of my favorite childhood series, one of them being the original work of the theoretical greatest-anime-of-all-time, Fullmetal Alechmist.
My first experience with FMA was in high school. Even thought I never watched the 2003 anime, it was impossible to not know about the series; it was all over the internet and a huge presence at conventions (there were FMA cosplayers everywhere). It just took me until high school to finally give it a chance and, instead of going back through the original anime or checking out the remake that was currently airing (you may have heard of it, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood), I stuck with my roots and started reading the manga online. Legally, of course. Totally, totally legally… and I was brought on an amazing and fascinating steampunk-ish adventure that grabbed me from beginning to end.
My claim to fame is that I got to read the last hand full of chapters monthly with the rest of the world. I caught up right at chapter 100 and got to experience the grand finale with everyone else. The month waits were impossibly long; FMA’s closing chapters are absolutely thrilling. I remember running into my brother’s room after every chapter begging him to catch up so I could talk to him about it . It was an ending that the world was waiting for and it delivered. But that is something I will get to a little later…
Fullmetal Alchemist is a truly well-balanced story. Its drama, action, political intrigue, shenanigans, and romance are intertwined beautifully (or at least as elegantly as a shonen can be) to create a fulfilling and captivating story. Its characters are vibrant, rounded and witty, never quite falling into stereotypes; Ed, Al and crew stand their own ground and are one of of the most memorable casts I can think of in manga. And the world building is top notch; Amestris truly feels like a real country, with all the angst, drama and faults that historically come with countries and their baggage. If you’re bored at this point and just want to know whether to read FMA, the answer is yes. Do it. Jump in. You will not be disappointed. It’s got at least something for you to grab on to. And if you don’t like it, shoot me an email or something. I would love to talk to you about it more.
But let me continue.
I won’t go into the story specifics because you either know them already or don’t know them, and if you don’t you should leave and start the series. But I want to go back to talk about the cast. This cast of characters truly does run deep. You have your main crew, Ed, Al, and Winry and they are absolutely lovely. The three of them have a great dynamic and have the power to carry a scene individually. FMA is known for its powerful female cast, which is unfortunately rare in shonen manga. Winry has ambitions, goals and dreams beyond her two male protagonist friends. She has personality, punch, and inner conflict that is interesting and provoking all on its own. What a shame that this is a novel thing in many series in this genre and time frame, but Fullmetal’s ladies rule. All of them.
Speaking of that, yes, I'm supposed to be talking about the cast. There are so many interesting and fulfilling characters outside the main trio. And I’m not just talking about the major secondary cast. Roy, Mustang, Ling and friends could all carry their own series, but even the lesser characters leave a big impact. The situation surrounding Maria Ross is so impactful because the series make you care about her even though she doesn’t get a ton of screen time. Hiromu Arakawa’s nuanced and effective writing allows readers to form a connection with her in a microscopic amount of time. One of my favorite characters in the whole series is Second Lt. Jean Havoc and he’s barely in it! These characters make such great and lasting impressions that you don’t want to let them go. And they all get great pay off at the end of the day which is extremely satisfying.
Fullmetal Alchemist gets its ending right.
It’s hard to end a long running series. There’s really no right way to do it. Plenty of wrong ways, sure, but having a completely, 100% satisfying ending is hard. FMA gets really, really close. Everything gets wrapped up and all the main players in the plot get their loose ends tied. The Elrics fix themselves up, Winry gets her closure, the military team gets put on the right path and Hohenheim finally gets to rest. FMA never bites off more than it can chew and that shows in its conclusion. You don't leave the adventure with a bad taste in your mouth. It feels complete, something that should be celebrated (I'm looking at you, Bleach).
Obviously, I could sing this series' praises forever, but there’s one crucial thing I want to hit on— its message. Fullmetal Alchemist constantly pounds its readers with the inherent value of human life, no matter its form or shape. From Winry delivering a baby in one of the opening arcs to the Elrics constantly refusing to use a Philosopher’s Stone, human life is always treated as the one sacred thing in the universe. It is the only thing alchemy cannot create, the one form of matter that cannot be forged through study. Life is an unreplicable phenomena that many chase but cannot grasp. And there is insurmountable strength and freedom that comes from that force. In a few ways, it reminds me of some of the best aspects of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann— it empowers its readers by showcasing the unique vivacity and power of the human spirit. How, when working together, humans can surpass the odds and accomplish anything. Team Elric have their backs against the wall for almost the entirety of the second half the story. Father keeps them alive only for utilitarian reasons; he could’ve basically killed them at any time. But our heroes still never gave up or backed down. They always believed in themselves and their friends and were able to reach their goal.
This series teaches all of us that, as humans, we are born with a heart made fullmetal, able to rise against any challenge and face any foe. I love these kinds of stories— the ones that show the lowest and highest aspects of humanity and give people hope that a better future is attainable no matter their situation. In its purest essence, Fullmetal Alchemist is a story about humans struggling to right the wrongs of the past. So simple, right? But executed so powerfully. Arakawa truly did an amazing job weaving together this cathartic story. It addresses the perfect themes for its plot and in the perfect length, not too long and not too short. It is known as the theoretically perfect anime. So yeah, it checks out.
Everyone loves Fullmetal Alchemist, me included, and now you know why. It is a fully rounded tale of of hardship and woe that focuses on the strength of human character. And it's funny and sad and thought provoking and philosophical. You can't go wrong with Fullmetal Alchemist. Jump on this ride and enjoy it.