Fullmetal Alchemist, on MBS/TBS/Animax
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This series can be funny, lighthearted, even goofy. But mostly it's very serious, and at times, very, very dark. It's about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are alchemists. For most of the series, Ed is 15 and Al is 14, though the story jumps around in time somewhat. Anyway, I should say that Ed has something of a bad temper, at times. Especially when anyone calls him short. (This happens often, and he always totally spazzes out and blows the comment out of proportion. It's always terribly funny.) But he also gets mad when anyone misuses alchemy, or basically does anything to mistreat people- especially people he cares about, like his little brother. Al also cares a great deal about his big brother, and their friends, and everyone. They're both very good people, but Al is more naive, trusting, and calmer than his brother. He does his best to keep Ed's temper in check. Basically, a really sweet kid, though he's sometimes too much of an idealist and not enough of a realist. But when need be, he can be pretty tough, too....
Anyway, the story begins in February of 1910. At least by our calendar; I'm not sure of the year by whatever dating system they use in this show. Which brings up an interesting and important point: this series is set on an alternate Earth. It takes place in a large European country, rather like Germany in some ways, which in the manga (which I haven't read as yet) is apparently called Amestris; however, in the anime it is simply referred to as "the State." Christianity has not been practiced in this world for centuries, though there are various religions practiced throughout the world, and we'll hear of a few in the course of the series. However, of more immediate importance to the story is the practice of the science of alchemy. It is also important to understand alchemy's first law: equivalent exchange. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
In the following paragraphs, there will perhaps be some mild spoilers, because... aside from firmly establishing the premise of the series, I'll need to introduce the major characters of the series, which necessitates explaining a bit of the plots of various stories within the series. Still, I'll try to keep from revealing any major spoilers. Because there are a hell of a lot of secrets in this show, and a great deal of the fun of watching it is learning the truth along with the main characters.... Anyway, at some point I suppose I'll have to cut way back on plot revelations because saying anything about what's going on won't make much sense without first giving away things that happened earlier, things I refuse to give away. So... bear with me....
As I said, it begins in 1910, in the small town of Resembool. Edward Elric (age 11) and Alphonse (age 10) are trying to bring their mother, Trisha, back from the dead, using a forbidden form of alchemy called human transmutation... Chemically, it's a simple enough matter, but... there's something more to a human life; science can't account for a soul. And speaking of souls... Al nearly lost his. The boys were ignoring the law of equivalent exchange, because they thought they had nothing left to lose. And of course, they were wrong. Al lost his entire body, but Ed managed to attach his soul to a suit of armor. Meanwhile, Ed himself lost his left leg and right arm, which would later be replaced with mechanical "automail" limbs. And what did they receive for their loss? That... will be revealed later (though not by me). But it sure as hell wasn't their mother. In fact, for most of the series, it will seem like they didn't get a damned thing.
But of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. The brief yet harrowing scene of the attempted resurrection is, well, brief. And confusing. Then the show quickly jumps forward about 4 years. Ed (now 15) and Al (now 14, but just a suit of armor) are traveling in the desert, and soon come to the town of Lior. We will learn that Ed is now a State Alchemist (given a symbolic title, as are all State Alchemists: he is the "Full Metal Alchemist;" these titles are always fitting, yet Ed's often leads strangers to assume his brother is the Full Metal Alchemist). Ed and Al soon meet a girl named Rose. Her boyfriend Kain, the only person she had in her life, died awhile ago, and she's been hoping a prophet named Father Cornello will someday bring him back to life. He has made the town of Lior quite prosperous, with his "miracles," claiming to use power given to him by the sun god Leto, and everyone loves him. However, he's really a fraud, using alchemy, enhanced by a small red stone. He believes it to be a Philosopher's Stone, something many alchemists have sought after, over the centuries. Ed and Al are looking for one, themselves, hoping to use its power to restore Al's body and Ed's missing limbs. Unfortunately, the stone Cornello was using turns out to be just about as fake as he was. It enhanced his alchemy... but it didn't have the power of a true Philosopher's Stone. Oh yes, we'll also see a chimera or two, and learn that Ed, unlike most alchemists, doesn't need to draw a transmutation circle to perform alchemy.
Anyway, Cornello had acquired the imitation Philosopher's Stone from someone named Lust. She is almost always accompanied by someone called Gluttony. It will be learned a bit later in the series that they are actually homunculi; there are several other homunculi we'll meet in the course of the series, and they're each named after one of the 7 deadly sins. Homunculi clearly want to get alchemists to search for, and eventually try to create, a Philosopher's Stone; people like Cornello, to whom they give fake stones, are basically just bait for such alchemists. Why they want the genuine Stone is one of the show's major mysteries (this is also related to the mystery of who is actually controlling all the homunculi). Just what exactly homunculi are, and how they're created, is another. For now I'll just say that all homunculi have special powers, though they can't use alchemy. Another homunculus we meet at the end of these events in Lior is Envy, who can take on the form of anyone he chooses.
Anyway, then the series flashes back to tell some of Ed and Al's backstory. They were aged 6 and 5 when they first began studying the books their father, Hohenheim of Light, left behind. He was a great alchemist, but he's been gone since they were too little to really remember him, and Ed has always been angry at him for leaving them and their mother. In these flashbacks, we also meet a girl named Winry Rockbell, who's about Ed's age. The boys performed their first alchemic transmutation to create a doll for her. Then the show jumps forward 2 years, when Winry and her grandmother Pinako learn that Winry's parents, who were doctors serving in the Ishbal War, have been killed. This is when Ed first mentions having read about homunculi, soulless dolls that might be used for human transmutation. Of course, at this point he didn't even remotely understand what homunculi truly are.
Another 2 years pass, and the Elric brothers learn that their mother has been hiding an illness from everyone for years now. But she couldn't hide it any longer, and soon dies. Ed and Al went off to study alchemy with a teacher for some time, before returning to secretly try to bring their mother back to life. After their tragic failure, Al, now a suit of armor, carried Ed to the Rockbells' house for Pinako to fix him up. She was an automail mechanic, and she and Winry gave Ed his prosthetic arm and leg. Also on that fateful and stormy night, a State Alchemist named Lt. Col. Roy Mustang (the Flame Alchemist) showed up, having received a letter, one of many the boys had sent out to previous known addresses for their father, trying to find him. When Mustang learned what the boys had tried to do, he became interested in them, and told them they should look him up in Central (the State's capital) sometime. Ed later decided that he would go try to become a State Alchemist himself, so he could gain access to the National Library, which he hoped would hold the information he needed to learn to restore his limbs and Al's body. Plus, of course, State Alchemists get pocket watches that enhance their transmutations. He had no love for the military, and Pinako even less so, so she tried to talk him out of it. But he was adamant. So, at ages 11 and 10, Ed and Al burned down their family home (don't ask me why, I still don't really get it), and headed for Central to become State Alchemists.
Along the way, they have a couple of adventures. In the course of one of them, they first met Major Mäes Hughes, an investigator in the State Army (but not an alchemist); in the days to come, he will sometimes share information with Ed, though mostly he just gushes about his wife Gracia and new daughter Elysia (not yet born at this point). In the months before taking the State Alchemy Exam, Ed and Al stayed with Shou Tucker (the Sewing Life Alchemist). Two years ago Tucker had created the world's first talking chimera, though it died fairly soon. Nevertheless, it was quite a distinction. He and his young daughter, Nina, were given a mansion to live in, and he was endorsed by Brigadier General Basque Grand (the Iron Blood Alchemist). Now Tucker helped Ed and Al prepare for the alchemy exam. They were happy to be there, because he had more books on alchemy than they'd ever seen (though still not nearly as many as the State Library). Meanwhile, Nina thought of them as big brothers.
On Ed's 12th birthday, he, Al, and Nina went over to Hughes' house for a birthday party. And then Gracia went into labor, and while Hughes went out into a blizzard to fetch a doctor, the kids helped deliver Elysia. This was also when Ed first discovered that he could perform alchemy without a transmutation circle. That would come in handy later, during the third part of the alchemy exam. After Ed and Al both passed the first part of the exam, Mustang told Al he shouldn't continue with the second part, because the Elric brothers' secret (that they'd attempted human transmutation) could be exposed. Ed agreed, because he didn't want Al to have to become a dog of the military and serve a State they didn't fully believe in. Just one of them would need to be certified to gain access to the library to search for the information they wanted, anyway. So, Al quit, and at age 12, Ed became the youngest State Alchemist ever.
Soon after that, Tucker's assessment was coming up, which State Alchemists have to go through every year. Last year's didn't go well, and if his research failed to produce results this time, he could lose everything. And so Ed eventually learns a terrible truth about the chimera Tucker had created two years ago, and a new one he created for this year's assessment. (But this truth would be too spoilerish to reveal here; suffice to say both chimeras felt terrible pain.) The new chimera ended up being put out of its misery by a man who would come to be called Scar, who was going around killing State Alchemists, for reasons that will become clear later.
Mustang assigns Ed to inspect the coal mine in the Eastern town of Youswell, which turns out to be under the thumb of a corrupt lieutenant of the State Military, named Yoki. Yoki is assisted by an alchemist named Lyra, who wants to become a State Alchemist someday. Ed ends up tricking Yoki to turn over the deed to the mine and the town to him, and he passes it on to the oppressed townspeople. After this incident, Ed begins to gain a reputation as a hero of the people. Meanwhile, Mustang is promoted to full colonel, and his assistant, 2nd Lt. Riza Hawkeye, is promoted to 1st lieutenant. They're both transferred to the military's Eastern command center, in East City. I should probably mention that Mustang hopes to eventually rise to the level of Führer (so he'd be in a position to change the world for the better), and his staff, including Hawkeye, all support him (as does his friend Mäes Hughes). The others include Major Alex Louis Armstrong (the Strong Arm Alchemist, who's obsessively proud of his muscular physique, and of the entire Armstrong lineage), 2nd lieutentants Jean Havoc and Heymans Breda, master sergeant Kain Fuery, and later warrant officer Vato Falman (who previously worked under Hughes).
Then, the series jumps ahead 3 years again, picking up after the events in Lior at the start of the series. Ed and Al are heading to East City to report to Mustang, however, Ed decides to stop off in a city called Aquroya, where he ends up capturing a thief called Psiren, who uses alchemy. She tells Ed she heard that someone was researching the Philosopher's Stone in a town called Xenotime, a formerly prosperous town whose gold mines have now dried up. A non-alchemist named Mugear is attempting to create Red Stones (fake Philosopher's Stones like the one Cornello had), using toxic red water that is making the townspeople sick (unbeknownst to them, of course). They all appreciate the work Mugear is doing, trying to create Philosopher's Stones to revitalize the gold mines. Helping Mugear are two brothers, Russell and Fletcher Tringum, who claim to be the Elric brothers (so no one in town believes Ed and Al when they show up and claim to be the Elric brothers). However, Russell wants to make sure Mugear doesn't get the credit for creating Red Stones using his father Nash's research... which is why they're using assumed identities. Also, it should not be surprisng to anyone who's been paying attention, to learn that Mugear was working for Lust. Oh, and I should say that Fletcher is alot like Al, and has a similar influence on his own big brother. Anyway, the Tringum brothers end up helping the Elric brothers put a stop to Mugear's evil plans.
It was in Xenotime that Ed and Al first heard of an alchemist named Dr. Tim Marcoh (the Crystal Alchemist), who is a fugitive from the miliary. And Ed would ask Mustang about him when he made his report about his recent activities in Lior. Of course, Mustang already knew all about what Ed had been up to, not only in Lior, but also Xenotime and Aquroya, which rather annoyed Ed. And since it was now time for Ed's assessment, he chose to battle Mustang. Afterwards, Mustang gave him information on Dr. Marcoh. Meanwhile, many of the bigwigs from Central- Führer King Bradley and his entourage (including his secretary, Col. Juliet Douglas, who bears a striking resemblance to Trisha Elric)- were moving to East City, because of the alchemist killer in Central- Scar, who now decided to head East, himself. Hughes, now a lieutenant colonel, provided some information to Mustang, including the fact that there's now a civil war in Lior (a fact which they decide not to let Ed know).
Ed and Al go to find Dr. Marcoh, to learn about his research into the Philosopher's Stone. Marcoh has been using an imperfect stone he created, to heal otherwise incurably sick and injured people, as atonement for the uses to which his work was put by State Alchemists during the Eastern Rebellion (or the Ishbal War) about 14 years ago. Ishbal had been annexed by the State and was fighting for independence. (And will become a very important part of the series). Ishbalans reject alchemy (or "the Grand Arcanum," as they call it) as a sin against their god, Ishbala. They exile all of their own people who practice it... which includes Scar, who is using alchemy to kill State Alchemists, as punishment for their sin against god, as well as for what they did to his people, particularly his older brother.
Marcoh isn't the only one who regrets his part in the Massacre inflicted upon Ishbalans in the war- others included Mustang and Armstrong. However, not all State Alchemists regret the horrors of the war. Führer Bradley was all for crushing the Eastern Rebellion, as, apparently, was Basque Grand, and the psychopathic Major Zolf J. Kimblee (the Crimson Alchmist). Anyway, Dr. Marcoh is taken into custody by Col. Douglas, who transports him to Bradley, but not before he manages to leave a note for Ed that lets him know where his notes are at the First Branch of the National Library in Central. Later, Lust learns from Marcoh where he's sent the Elrics....
Before heading to Central, Ed and Al return to Resembool so Winry and Pinako can repair them after their battle with Scar. They are accompanied by Major Armstrong, who acts as their protector, in case Scar should come after them. Later, the three of them return to Central, and Armstrong relinquishes his protection duties to a couple of non-alchemists, 2nd Lt. Maria Ross, and Sergeant Denny Bloch (who is infatuated with Ross). Ed isn't happy to have "baby-sitters," but he's excited to finally get to the library to find Marcoh's notes... Except that he's too late. The First Branch burned down the night before they got there, during a battle between Lust and Gluttony and Scar. However, it turns out a former employee of the library, Private Scieszka (which may also be spelled "Sheska"), had read pretty much all the books in the library, and had a photographic memory, so she could reproduce the book the Elrics were looking for. But it turns out to be a cookbook. Ed figures Marcoh must have written it in a secret code, however, to prevent people from learning of his research. It also turns out that all of Hughes' case files were stored in the First Branch, so Scieszka ends up reproducing them for him, too.
After deciphering Marcoh's code, Ed discovers the shocking truth about the final ingredient for a Philosopher's Stone, which I absolutely cannot reveal to you, even though lack of that knowledge will make it nearly impossible to say anything of significance about anything that happens from this point on. Suffice to say, Ed was ready to give up on the search for the Stone, but Maria Ross convinced him to keep looking. They figure out that testing involving the Philosopher's Stone must have been conducted in the now-abandoned Lab 5, which was under the authority of Brigadier General Basque Grand. It's also right next to a prison, which is convenient for reasons I can't reveal.
Ed and Al sneak into the lab, and each end up encountering a guard they'll have to fight- and they're both suits of armor with souls attached, just like Al! Except that their souls are of condemned serial killers. In the course of Al's battle, Scar shows up, and to escape him, Al's opponent causes an explosion, which inadvertently releases a homunculus named Greed, who has been sealed away for 140 years (apparently by the other homunculi, with whom he is at odds). He calls himself the Ultimate Shield, for reasons that will later become apparent; suffice to say, he's nearly indestructible. However, he, like all homunculi, has a certain weakness.... Meanwhile, Ed encounters a chimera- Shou Tucker, who was supposed to have been executed three years ago. Instead, he's been doing research in Lab 5. Then, as Al follows Scar, who is searching for Ed, Lust and Gluttony show up, and Scar informs Al that they are homunculi. Al has trouble believing this, however, since he thought it was impossible for anyone to create homunculi (which is ironic, but I can't explain why). At the same time Greed was freed, so were several prisoners, including Kimblee, who's spent some years in prison- though he was supposed to have been executed- for killing his own men as well as the enemy during the Ishbal Massacre; also several former soldiers who had been experimented upon in Lab 5, and turned into chimeras, though they still look human, the three main ones being Marta (who we like), Law, and Dorochet. They all became Greed's followers.
Later, Ed and Al head to an Ishbalan refugee camp to look for Scar, and try to learn a different way of creating a Philosopher's Stone. Along the way, they, along with Winry, stop off for awhile in Rush Valley. Before they could continue, Ed and Al's former alchemy teacher, Izumi Curtis, shows up with her husband Sieg. It should be mentioned that Izumi has a mysterious ailment which, though normally she seems fine- quite strong, actually- occasionally causes her to cough up blood. Anyway, Izumi is angry at Ed for joining the military, and takes him and Al back to her home town of Dublith. We see flashbacks to shortly after Trisha had died, when Ed and Al went off to study alchemy with Izumi for the first time. Izumi gets even angrier when she learns that after they left her, they attempted human transmutation on their mother. So, she sends them to repeat a lesson they learned years ago, a lesson they had to learn while surviving for a month by themselves on the uninhabited Yock Island. This time when they go to the island, and remember that lesson, they end up finding a boy with an arm and leg that don't match the rest of his body, and Ed believes they may be his own missing limbs. It also turns out that the boy, who doesn't know his own identity, can perform alchemy without a transmutation circle, just like Ed and Izumi. Though the boy doesn't quite realize at first that he's actually capable of doing alchemy at all.
Izumi takes the boy home with her, though Ed remains suspicious of him, even coming to believe he is a homunculus (despite the fact that he can perform alchemy). He eventually remembers having seen the boy's face in the Gate, a mysterious portal that Ed and Izumi each saw at different times- Ed while he and Al tried to bring their mother back to life. Ed thought whatever lay beyond that Gate was "the truth," because it seemed to implant him with all kinds of knowledge he hadn't previously had, and this is what allows him to perform alchemy without a transmutation circle. It's also where his arm and leg were taken, of course, and how he learned to attach Al's soul to the armor. Despite Ed's suspicions, Izumi feels responsible for the boy, and insists on taking care of him.
Yada yada yada, leaving tons of stuff out.... Izumi sends Ed and Al to fetch her some medicine from a pharmacist named Dante, who turns out to have been Izumi's alchemy teacher... And Lyra is now Dante's apprentice. Ed and Al also learn that Dante used to know their father, Hohenheim.... Let's see, what am I leaving out? Um... how many homunculi have I named? Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Greed... That leaves Wrath, Sloth, and Pride. I guess I won't say who any of them are, but they're all characters I've already mentioned in one capacity or another. Anyway, as far as plot goes, I guess I've gotten about halfway through season three (of four, according to TV.com). But I think I've mentioned, at least in passing, pretty much every character I feel it's important to mention (except maybe Lt. Col. Frank Archer, who's definitely a bad guy, and General Hakuro, who's perhaps a bit greyer, moralistically, but also not that important). I hope I'm not forgetting anyone.... Anyway, beyond this point... there's really not much I can say that wouldn't spoil a lot of secrets or important plot developments. I've already left out plenty of important stuff, and... I guess now I'm done. Aside from plot and such, I just want to say that it's a very cool, interesting, moving, and action-packed series, with really great opening and closing themes. Well now, the only other thing I can say is that there's a movie The Conqueror of Shamballa, which I'll be sure to write about after I've seen it. Oh, and there's a second anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which is not a sequel but a retelling of the story, which stays closer to the manga than this series did.