Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is a masterpiece that will stand the test of time. It is larger than life yet deeply personal. It touches on loss, the meaning of life, cultural diversity, the dangers of science, Nazism, the Iraq war, and the list goes on. Arakawa seamlessly weaves so coherent a story from such divergent threads that it mirrors the skill of a first-rate novelist. She is a brilliant world-builder and her characters are exceptional.
For instance, Arakawa’s representation of women breaks with convention. There are strong, independent women like Izumi Curtis, Riza Hawkeyes, and Olivia Armstrong. These characters are complex and unique, as one can notice from each character’s distinct source of independence – confidence (Izumi), resolve (Hawkeyes), and leadership (Armstrong). There are tenderhearted mothers like Gracia Hughes and Trisha Elric; and those who cannot be captured by such umbrella terms like Winry Rockbell, Maria Ross, and May Chang. I suppose it’s only natural for Japan’s most successful female mangaka to embody such an ambitious project – to portray the totality of womanhood: thèse, antithèse, et synthèse. Furthermore, she gives plenty of time and space to include the backstory of every character. None of them has an uninteresting backstory and they all somehow play key roles in this mysterious world.
Despite the presence of alchemy, the world of Fullmetal Alchemist is very similar to ours. It is full of racism, hatred, war, greed, love, compassion, and courage. Alchemy is used as a metaphor for power, knowledge, and science. It seems magical at first, but one soon realizes that its rules cannot be bended much like the laws of nature. Even though they have such a powerful tool, we keep encountering those who wish to go beyond its limits. Alchemy is, arguably, a reflection of our weakness. As the philosopher Julian Savulescu noted, humans are much better at solving abstract problems than learning how to work together as a whole. Edward’s final decision in the show alludes to Arakawa’s message that we do not need to rely on knowledge and science to lead a meaningful life. Instead, we need to accept the human condition. Similar to Aristotle’s notion of the Good Life, Ed and Al choose to pursue virtues like friendship, altruism, humility, and compassion. Humanity was not meant to know everything, and the human condition bids us to focus on the Good rather than the Truth. It appears that Arakawa is a pragmatist– knowledge is useful insofar as it is practical.
The animé-adaptation successfully captures the strengths of its illustrious source through fast-pace, quality animation, and stellar opening and ending themes. This animé is one of my favorites, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good work of art.