Take an age-old mythical science, supply it with an infinite quest for personal redemption, and the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist is your product conjured out of nothing. Except ‘out of nothing’ doesn’t really apply to the series, because ‘equivalent trade’ (think karma) is a fundamental principle of their world of alchemy.”To gain something, you must present something of equal value.”
Staged in a world resembling early 20th century, alchemy is very much an important science as physics and chemistry are in our world. Edward and Alphonse Elric are brothers on a sacred mission after committing alchemy’s cardinal sin of human transmutation. To achieve their goal, Edward becomes a State Alchemist for the military and is thus pulled right out into the adult world, with all its complexities and absurdities.
While the 51-episode series never strays too far from the two lead characters, dozens of characters are introduced along the way, none of them by chance and all of them connected to a well-woven and though-out plot. Some of these are mainstay supporting characters who make regular appearances, such as their childhood friend Winry, military Colonel Roy Mustang, the enigmatic Scar, and the deadly Homunculus.
All these characters are puppets in a plot that runs parallel to the brothers’ quest. Without revealing too much, characters that seem worlds apart are somehow connected, and each has their own dirty laundry that will surely be put out to dry. Fringe characters who have a one-off appearance do indeed make returns and even carry pivotal roles as the series accelerates toward its conclusion. In the last 10 episodes, don’t expect to be able to even go for a restroom break. It’s that gripping.
On at least two occasions, Fullmetal Alchemist has even caught me gaping at the plot twists. As a writer of fiction and a gleeful reader of such plot intricacies, there are not many other works that have mastered the art of brilliant deception. The only other series that comes to mind is the American TV series Lost, and even that was a tame lion on occasion. Still, both these series’ are similar in their winning formula. Both involve a touch of fantasy, a web of connected characters, and most importantly, the pulling of heartstrings. Fullmetal Alchemist challenges the stereotypical notions of desperation versus immorality and idealism versus reality, ultimately forcing you to make a subconscious decision for your own ethical reference.
In terms of genres, there’s action, mystery, comedy and adult wisdom in this wildly-praised series, but look away if you’re looking for love and some romantic tears. That said, Fullmetal Alchemist is a series for all ages and genders. Unlike alchemy in this world, the philsophical questions posed in the series are timeless. And despite claiming five months ago that Darker Than Black was a heck of a series, there isn’t a hint of conflict in my heart and mind that Fullmetal is better. There may yet be a better series out there, but it’d take quite a bit to topple something this magical.