About five years ago, my family and I returned to the city we had moved out of the year before. We were back to visit friends. One friend, with whom we were staying, was particularly good company, and we kept him with us for most of the trip. Somewhere in the week we were there, this friend ended up recruiting me and my sister into reading a manga called Fullmetal Alchemist (or FMA, for short). He spent the entire day telling us “the epic of Hohenheim” and we listened attentively. Then, we parted ways as my family and I returned home–and my sister and I binged on the manga later that week. The story hadn’t been finished yet, and new chapters came out monthly. So then, for the next two years, we checked onemanga.com every month, eagerly awaiting the new chapter. It would then become the topic of conversation amongst us and our friends for the next few days, and sometimes would resort in threats against the author (also called mangaka) for her tendency to leave nasty cliffhangers. (“I swear, I’m going to WALK TO JAPAN and raid Arakawa’s studio.” “You’re going to walk across the Pacific Ocean?” “YES.”)
The manga series had an anime for a while, but the mangaka declared that it ought to take its own path so that it didn’t give away any spoilers, since the manga itself was still being published. Once the series was finished, however, the anime was re-made. Fans of the series, in all their annoying wisdom, “read the book first,” have no idea what’s going on in the original anime past a certain fairly early storyline point. This is why there is a distinction between the FMA anime and FMA: Brotherhood –the latter is the animated version of the manga, whereas the former flat-out changes and adds characters seemingly at random.
This summer, I learned a number of things. One of them is how to cook my own dinner on a shoestring budget. The corollary to that is that I really don’t enjoy cooking and it’s a utilitarian thing–make food, eat food. And when I ate dinner, I watched FMA: Brotherhood to remind myself how much I loved this story. I finished it last night around 2.30am and was reduced to a puddle of strong emotions. Each of these characters incites an emotional reaction for some reason or another, and I often have mixed emotions about them. They’re all very real people to me.
Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse Elric have committed a grave taboo. They are both alchemists (alchemy is like scientific magic, for a short explanation, and can only be manipulated by particular people born with the ability to do so; such manipulation is called transmutation) and talented ones, at that. But when their mother died of an illness, they went on a quest to figure out how to get her back, by committing the ultimate taboo: human transmutation. In the process, Ed lost his left leg and Al lost everything–so Ed sacrificed his right arm to bring Al’s soul back before it was too far gone, and bound it to a suit of armour. Ed was fitted with prosthetic limbs known as automail. The brothers then went on a quest for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, which would–they hoped–enable them to get their real bodies back.
I don’t really want to spoil much more than that for anyone who would like to read or watch it for themselves. I will address some of the reoccurring themes in later posts and put spoiler warnings atop those. This series is literature. No, seriously. I used it in an essay once (but that’s a story for another time). And so–prepare yourself.