The Philosophy of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has all the makings of an absolute classic in the sci-fi anime genre. There are monsters, magic, and a corrupt government primed to overthrow, but what happens when we take a look deeper into what the show itself was trying to convey? Brotherhood follows the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who try to bring their mother back to life using an alchemic technique called “human transmutation”. This technique uses a type of scientific law-based magic that uses the “law of equivalent exchange” in order to create a human through the components that make one up. Edward states, “…you cannot gain anything without sacrificing something else in return..”. Things like carbon and nitrogen are put in the middle of a transmutation circle and the boys attempt transmutation. It goes horribly wrong, Edawrd loses his arm and leg while Alphonse almost loses his life, but his soul is saved and placed in a suit of armour by his brother. The boys embark on a tireless journey to find a way to get Alphonse’s body back.

Okay, now that you’re all caught up, we can dive into the philosophy that gives the main protagonists trouble throughout the show. The most obvious of the philosophical questions is that of science versus religion. Although we established alchemy as “magic” earlier, it is more of a science. Edward, the youngest state-sponsored alchemist in history, even calls alchemists scientists in the first couple episodes of the show. In the episode titled “City of Heresy”, the boys travel to a town called Leor, a place where we are faced with a strong criticism of religion itself.

Fuhrer Bradley

The city seems to be run by a man named Father Cornello, who has convinced the people of the town to follow him blindly. Cornello was performing “miracles” for the people that led them to praise him as a god, but when the Elric brothers show up they know what he’s doing is just alchemy. Both Edward and Alphonse are able to expose Cornello in front of all of the people in the town while he explains how he performs the aforementioned miracles. So, we are presented with the alchemists’ view on religion and god, “Alchemists are scientists, you see. We don’t believe in creator, and God, and such. We observe the physical laws that govern this world, and pursue the truth.” Now you probably think you know where this show is headed, right, science good religion bad. But then you’d be horribly wrong. Throughout the rest of the show we are presented with the horrors of following science blindly as well. In the episode titled “An Alchemists Distress” the boys go to meet a state alchemist

Alphonse and Edward Elric

that is famous for creating a talking chimera. A chimera is a sort of human-like animal created through the means of alchemy. Their hope is that the scientist could give them some possible insight on how to reconnect Alphonse’s soul with his body. We then learn that the man’s name is Shou Tucker, and that he is struggling to recreate the success in his earlier experiments so if he does not create another successful experiment he might be stripped of his state-alchemist position. We also meet Tucker’s adorable little daughter, Nina, as well as the household dog who accompanies her everywhere she goes. When the Elric boys show up to Tuckers the next day, though, the little girl is not there to greet them with a smile as she had done previously. We then hear Tuckers shouts of glee, and we are presented with possibly the most gut-wrenching piece of television ever. We are presented with an image of a combination between their household dog and Nina (who is in obvious suffering), thus ending Nina’s human life. The boys are disgusted by what they have seen and Tucker grabs them, hysterically stating that they too have chosen this path when becoming an alchemist. This, his morality, is the cost for furthering science and the human race. One more example of this struggle of the morality of science is the idea of state-sponsored alchemists in general. They were first created by Fuhrer Bradley (Fuhrer, you see the connection here?) during one of the bloodiest wars in the history of their country. It was called the War of Ishvalan extinction, a war that saw a whole population wiped out using primarily the power of alchemists themselves. They even refer to themselves as “human weapons”. Also, the setting of this story is quite obviously World War 2 era Europe. This was one of the first wars in which we saw science and its full destructive power, so this connection is not far fetched. The idea that science can further our society while also destroying our children, seems to contrast the earlier idea that science is good and religion is bad.

It becomes obvious, once you take a deep dive into one of the greatest shows of all time, what it is trying to teach you. If one were to follow science blindly, then science itself becomes a religion. One must be able to balance all aspects of their lives as to not become so engulfed by either science or religion that they lose their morality.