Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Even When Our Eyes Are Closed...

...there's a whole world out there that lives outside us and our dreams." -Edward Elric

I have so many fucking feelings about Fullmetal Alchemist. Not the manga, not the "proper" adaptation Brotherhood of the manga, but the anime. I think it's really well written.

The story is about two boys who grow up learning alchemy, the art of their long departed father (as in he literally left, I think on a military assignment). Alchemy is this universe's alternative of chemistry, or physics. It's a science. You learn relationships and equations, you get out what you put in. When the boys' mother dies, the boys try to commit the ultimate taboo by trying to bring her back. But they didn't put in enough for the concept of equivalent exchange to work. In the attempt, the older brother Edward lost his leg, and his younger brother Alphonse lost his entire body, and their mother was not revived, but rather some poor misshapen undead creature was created in her place. In order to save his younger brother, Edward bonded Alphonse's soul to a suit of armour, giving up his right arm in order to do so.

From that point onward we follow the boys in their quest to get their bodies back (which they think can be accomplished with the use of the legenary philosopher's stone), and how they join the military as State Alchemists and uncover a winding series of secrets.

The overarching themes of the show are equivalent exchange. Do you really get out what you put in? It is the belief held very closely by the protagonists initially, and the longer the show goes on, the more it is put into question. The show doesn't really decide for you what you're supposed to believe. It's up to you to decide if all the characters are given what they put into life, or if it's all been a lie.

There is also a character named Roy Mustang. When you're first introduced to him, you think he is an intolerable asswhole who is only working for the state for his own personal gain and prestige. As the show goes on you learn he fought in the last war (an infamously brutal war that led to the current militaristic regime), and suffered so much guilt that he tried to kill himself multiple times. Eventually he decides to pay penance by rising in the ranks and becoming the head of state himself so he can abolish military rule and reform the country. For whatever reason, Mustang was a character that always hit home.

And the person below Mustang, supporting him and helping him rise up, was Mayes Hughes. Mayes is introduced as a goofball and lunatic (and not an alchemist), and so you as the viewer sort of dismiss him. Eventually you learn that he's very shrewd, self assured, content, everything that Mustang couldn't be. So he works below Mustang, pulling whatever strings he can to get Mustang to the top. He serves s a father figure to the boys, as well as his own daughter. He is murdered halfway through the series. Mayes death is really poignant. His funeral serves as a catalyst for the show and a wake up call for a lot of the characters, and sets more plots into motion. The show goes on, but every so often someone will stop to think of him and then you cry.

One of the antagonists is called Lust (she is the result of a failed attempt to bring another human back to life). She suffers from flashbacks to the life of the woman she was supposed to be, and is easily the most sympathetic of the antagonists. As the narrative goes on, you learn that she does indeed feel, despite her cold exterior. Her arch words were, "Where did I come from? Where will I go when I die?" and when she does finally die (something that was almost impossible for her to do because she doesn't have a soul), she says that all she had been looking for all along was the freedom to find out. That single line always stayed with me for some reason, and when I feel stuck it's the first thing I think of.

The show also has an overarching theme of pursuing knowledge. How much is too much? Should you strive to know everything that there is? Will you regret it? Are you, as a human, meant to know? Will you like what you find once you finally get there? And one of opening your eyes to the world, instead of single mindedly pursuing your own ends. That part ties in with the idea of sacrifice, and giving something up to gain something of equal value. If you don't give to the world what do you expect in return?

The show is just really fucking good and I watched over the winter break of eleventh and it meant so much to me. I was afraid it might lose its meaning now that I've changed as a person (kind of like Perks did. I still think it's the perfect movie but it doesn't have the same impact because so many of those problems aren't killing me anymore). But I've been watching it sporadically for the last few weeks and it remains as powerful as it was the first time and the more I watch it the more new connections I find and it's really exciting and quite nice to have something so familiar, even though it's a show, to fall back on when everything else is so alien.
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