Friday, August 15, 2014

Rewind: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

It too me two years to finish Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood... and that's only counting the second time through. I feel sheepish admitting this. I'm an anime fan, and FMA Brotherhood is a highly acclaimed series. Why didn't I watch it earlier? I enjoyed almost every minute of the show, so it's strange that I went months--even years--without clicking on the next episode.

Ed and Al, pre-tragedy (flashback from ep 26). Love the character
development in this show.

For whatever reason, during my first attempt at FMA Brotherhood, I only made it through about thirty episodes. I started it up again in 2012. After twenty-three episodes, I wrote out a few of my reactions in a blog post. The characters in this show are magnificently done, so I dwelled on them in another post after the 28th episode. By the time I reached the 44th episode, the conflict was heating up, character stories were coming to light, and I was pretty excited about all of it.

I didn't get much further than that episode before I stalled the show. I'm not sure why--maybe, as my freshman year of college picked up pace, I was too busy and stressed to watch Brotherhood. That happens, sometimes, when I care too much about an anime's plot and characters. I eventually went to Hulu to watch the next episode... only to find that Funimation had taken most of the episodes down. Last month, almost two years after I last watched Brotherhood, I found it on Netflix. It didn't take long for the show to suck me right back in. And this time, I stuck with it.

There are a lot of dark, serious elements to Brotherhood. There are parallels to the Nazi regime, including genocide. Human experimentation has connections both to the Nazis and to modern ethical questions. And this is only a small fraction of the tough topics Arakawa Hiromu tackled in her manga-turned-anime. But it's not all dark. Somehow, there's just enough comic relief to keep this show from being completely depressing, without undermining the gravity of each situation.

[Big Spoilers next section]

Brotherhood is fascinating in all areas, including the mythology Arakawa develops in the show. God does not exist in this anime (there is a being described as "god," but it is not, by any stretch, like the God I know). Edward Elric is an atheist, and there are atheistic themes throughout. This is especially apparent near the end, after Father absorbs the "Eye of God," becoming, by all appearances, the most powerful being known to man.

Of course, our heroes don't have much respect for anything claiming to be all-powerful. Edward's the type to march up to the deity at the Gate of Truth and demand whatever trade he thinks is fair. Mustang and other characters are similarly bold, due to a combination of ambition, pride, and faith (whether in another god, like the Ishvalians believe in, or in humanity). So they face Father head-on, defeat him, and make a statement about how humans are basically the masters of their fate (with a slight bow to natural law) and can take care of themselves without the intervention of a divine being (in fact, in this show, they're generally better off on their own).

[Spoilers over]

Clearly, secular humanism plays a big role in this anime. The abilities of humans are lifted up, while supernatural or otherworldly beings--such as homunculi, deities, or deity wannabes--are systematically undermined and/or defeated. This is a popular worldview, and if you keep an eye out, you'll recognize its influence, especially in Western media. But it's not just the worldview in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It's one of the reigning themes.

As a Christian, I must recognize when secular humanism is being promoted and reject the fallacies that come with it. There is an all-powerful God, and he is involved in our lives. He is our Creator, and he made the world--and humans in particular--to be in a relationship with him. As such, we are not better off on our own, and we can not completely solve our problems on our own--especially since the biggest problem any person can have is separation from God.

At the same time, there are glimmers of truth in humanism. (In fact, there's a branch known as Christian humanism, but I'm ignoring that term here, since it could confuse the compare/contrast of secular humanism and a Biblical worldview.) Humans are pretty special. Out of all Creation (including angels), we're the only ones created in the likeness of God. He gave us reign over everything else on earth (Genesis 1:26-29, Psalm 8). And if we believe in God, and in his son, Jesus Christ, then we will even be glorified with Christ, as co-heirs with him (Romans 8:14-17). I could spend an entire post on the blessings God gives us. But I won't. And, before I continue, I'd like to emphasize that everything that makes us special is a gift from God, and does not come from some human-generated ability. God is still infinitely greater than us in every way, which is what makes his love for us even more amazing.

Basically, we've been put in an enviable position... which brings me back to Brotherhood.

[Some spoilers through ep 54 ahead]

In episode 54, Ed cuts to the heart of Envy's envy.

Meet Envy, the vain, shapeshifting homunculus. I don't have a screenshot of his preferred form, but, by the end of his battle with Ed, Mustang, and the others in ep 54, he's just a little green monster, both literally and figuratively. Until his defeat, he had power than most humans can only dream of. If he'd left Mustang's friends alone, or at least concealed his part in Hughes's murder and hightailed it out of the country, he could have been immortal. And yet, he's jealous of humans. Why?

In Brotherhood, we see many things humans have that Envy doesn't. Most notably, there's the relationships, which provide not only love, but support and strength. We may be weak at times, but, together, we can pick each other up and succeed (note the humanism in that statement). We have a warmth and a depth, a wellroundedness, and an ability to rule that Envy and the other homunculi don't.

When I saw Envy's envy, I though of Satan, a vain, jealous (now fallen) angel. He tried to set himself up as God, and was then cast out of heaven. We humans are much closer to what he covets that he will ever be, for the reasons I outlined above the screenshot.

... I want to go on, but I'm out of time.


  1. Fullmetal Alchemist is probably my favorite anime, and if it's not then it definitely makes the top 5. I regret that I wasn't blogging when I watched it because it gives you so very much to talk about and I just don't remember enough to take part in that discussion.

    Still! It was interesting to hear your thoughts on the series =)

    1. Thank you! I'd have enjoyed hearing what you thought of it, too--there seem to be an infinite number of places to take any discussion about FMA:B. I can hardly imagine watching it all the way through in my pre-blogging (thus also pre-Twitter) days. There's too much to say about it, so I would have needed some other outlet to process and write about it.

  2. I like how you compared Envy to the devil, how he covets what we actually have. The devil wanted God's throne, and was removed. We have access to God our Father through Christ's death/resurrection, which is the greatest relationship one can have. Thank God for what Christ did and continues to do, He's alive. Too bad they didn't explore that relationship in FMA, I think it would have been relevant to the series...

    1. I often feel sorry for characters who can't have a relationship with God, because the writer didn't include the real God in the anime. There were still some interesting comments in FMAB on the relationship between man and God, sacrifice, and even death and resurrection, but I didn't have time to include them in this post. I feel like I could write a few term papers on this anime. Someday, maybe I'll be able to go back and analyze it more deeply.


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