Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episodes 15-17 – “The Mortis Arc” – Dark Destiny and Philosophy of the Force

FatherMemoryWipesAnakin-GOM

     “The Mortis Arc” is an arc that has a lot of great character development and some interesting exploration of philosophy and the force, but also has some cons to in that the Family functions as archetypes and not actual characters. For this reason I wish it had truly been all in the heads of our characters and not an actual plain of existence as it made things to great when it was powerful just when it was personal without all the “Chosen One” bs that pervaded the Prequels.

     “Overlords” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Christian Taylor, “Altar of Mortis” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Christian Taylor and “Ghosts of Mortis” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Christian Taylor.

    The story involves Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka being sent to explore an ancient Jedi Distress call that pulls them into Mortis where the Father and his Daughter (Incarnation of the Lightside of the Force) and Son (Incarnation of the Darkside of the Force) do battle as he strives to keep them in balance. We learn he brought them there so that Anakin could take his place as he can control both, fulfilling his role as the Chosen One. Things go wrong though after the Son kills the Daughter and it is up to our heroes to stop him before he destroys the Universe.

The Pros: Mortis – Mortis is a really cool world. There is destruction and creation in flux as the Father keeps the balance between the two. It has reminds me a lot of some of the Ancient Sith Worlds and Dothomir as we see that the three beings cannot be defined as Jedi and Sith, for all of them are beyond that in different ways. That was a cool idea, that should have been explored more.

Qui-Gon Jin – Qui-Gon’s ghost makes an appearance and counsels both Obi-Wan and Anakin! Sadly since he can’t see the future he doesn’t know what the Chosen One prophecy means and the destruction that Anakin will wrought, only the Father knows and it dies with him. This makes Qui-Gon’s appearance sad, even though his moments with Obi-Wan especially are touching. Liam Neeson came back to play this role too!

Ahsoka – Ahsoka gets infected by the son and we see what Darkside Ahsoka would be like. Her pride and anger are great and she is a good fighter. One she is healed by  the Daughter’s sacrifice it is her thinking that stops a turned Anakin and the Son from getting off the planet and we also learn she is a tech. as she was the one fixing their ship. Her fears come from her future self who warn her to leave Anakin so she won’t fall. Her future self is right too as Anakin will become greater than Dooku in the Dark Side when he becomes Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan experiences echoes of things to come as he tries to have them leave the planet no matter what as the longer they stay the more they risk the Universe with the Son’s escape. He isn’t wrong either as Anakin going to face the son alone leads to his turn as he sees the future and is willing to risk everything so he doesn’t become Darth Vader, even the Universe. It shows Anakin’s naivety and how his ends justify the means  and attachment will lead to his downfall.

Anakin Skywalker – In this we see how Anakin’s guilt and fear drive him to do horrendous acts. From slaughtering the Sand People and to what he will do later as in his vision he sees the slaughter of the younglings and the strangling of Padme and loss of Obi-Wan. It is this that leads him to work with the Son as he will go to any means, even becoming the Dark Side now to prevent that future. It is that drives Anakin at his core and where Darth Vader’s need for control comes from as he has lost so much already.

The Philosophy of the Force – The Force is about balance, the Son and Daughter need each other and the Son mourns the Daughter’s murder by his hands. It takes the Father doing away with it all together for the world to end and for the Force Gods to finally die out. The Dark Side and Light Side need one another just as all people need passion and calm, anger and kindness…all are a part of the whole.

The Cons: The Limitations of Archetypes – It didn’t feel like the Father, Son and Daughter had personalities beyond what they represented. This was the hardest part of the story for me as they were meant to be a new species but that is mostly unknown, they function more as a plot device for Anakin’s reveal of his power and destiny which for meant this could have worked as a force vision or our heroes trapped in their heads as them facing their fears was the best part.

Dark Side Like a Virus – The Son infects Ahsoka by biting her, this simplified the Dark Side a lot and made me wonder why he just didn’t bite Obi-Wan and Anakin and take over from there. It cheapened choice by having Ahsoka have her choice to go dark taken away from her. She was the Padme stand-in for Episode III and it sucked as she is just as possible at going Dark as Anakin.

   I really enjoyed this arc, even with all it’s limitations. It gives us a chance to understand the Force better than we ever have before and to get the motivations and fears of Ahsoka, Anakin and Obi-Wan who are some of the best characters in this series. This is reason enough to watch the arc in the entirety and even though the Beings of Mortis don’t work as well, what they do and what it reveals about our heroes is reason enough to see it.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Persepolis (2007): A Masterpiece on Revolution, Family and Identity

Persepolis Poster

“Persepolis” is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. It captures Marjane Satrapi’s experiences of the Revolution in Iran and growing up abroad so powerfully while at the same time remaining a powerful story. The film is not as good as the graphic novel, which might have been due to time constraints, but it does captures the essence and the major arcs really well, as well as the important characters who were a part of Marjane’s life. Suffice to say, I really liked this film and will explain in more detail further down. The film itself is a French-Iranian animated film that takes inspiration and story from the Graphic Novel of the same name.

“Persepolis” was directed by Marjane Satrapi who also co-wrote the screenplay and of course the original novel. The other director was Vincent Parannaud who also co-wrote the screenplay. The producers were Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antione Robert and Kathleen Kennedy.

The story begins with an older Marjane waiting at the airport and remembering her childhood in Iran.  From here we have a flashback and see young Marjane’s childhood as the Revolution is occurring in Iran to overthrow the Shah. From here the story unfolds as her family is filled with hope and promise that soon turns to fear when the religious take over and begin instituting harsh laws. The story follows the rebellious Marjane and her story in Iran and her reasons for leaving and later returning. r

The Pros: The Premise – Marjane’s story is fascinating at it covers a country in transition (Iran during the Shah and after under the Ayatollah) and it’s from the perspective of a little girl all the way to adulthood. From this we get the experience of a new view of the west from her time in Austria and also of Iran after she returns as an adult. There is so much here that is amazing, just like the graphic novel and most of it exists in the premise, her story and autobiography.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is minimalist and is all the stronger for it as emotions are conveyed in perfect timing as the music matches up with the animation. Olivier Bernet is fantastic!

The Animation – The animation is all hand drawn and is some of the best animation I have ever seen. It looks like the graphic novel while still holding a unique style all it’s own. Even if the story wasn’t as great as it is, I would recommend this movie for the soundtrack and art alone.  Je Suis Bein Content, Pumpkin 3D and what they created in Perseprod Studio, who was behind the animation.

Revolution – We see prisoners freed at the fall of the Shah and the hope for a new tomorrow, and also the rise of the Ayatollah and how the revolution is lost in how a new oppressive regime arises. It’s powerfully executed through Marjane and her family’s eyes.

The Iran-Iraq War – We see the cost of war in this as Marjane returns to her old home and sees a hand of a person crushed beneath and building, the building her parents could have been in. The human cost is a constant reminder in this, from a childhood friend who lost the use of his arm and leg, to the fear of trying to change the current regime because the country is tired of war and fighting. War breaks people and nations. We also see the corruption of the Western nations who funded both sides in the conflict.

The Characters – Most of the named characters, especially Marjane’s family members have fascinating back-stories and characterizations. I’ll get into the reasons why next.

God – The best minor character who isn’t a family member is God who is portrayed as a great bearded man who talks to Marjane as Marjane is his prophet. He is a very Deistic God as he points out that the sufferings that were caused were humanity and not him. In that way he is there to comfort but never to do anything, beyond sending Marjane back from depression to face the world.

Uncle Anouche – Uncle Anouche is the communist who was arrested by the Shah when he tried to return to see his family again after hiding in the Soviet Union. He was in prison and tortured for 9 years and after being freed connects with Marjane and gives her hope of the world that could be. He’s the idealist which makes the rise of the Ayatollah and loss of an actual Republic all the sadder as he tries to justify it as “The common folk need religion, they’ll come around, this regime won’t be corrupt.” Only to find himself executed later. He represents the loss of freedom best as he was the one who was always struggling for it. Iggy Pop played him in the English version of the film and did a good job in the role. In the story he is the reminder of the work still to be done and the willingness to stand up to tyranny for liberty and freedom, which Marjane does on a few occasions.

Father – Sean Penn voices the Father, who at the core is the man also hoping for a brighter future, but also aware of the past and how his ancestor was executed for being a rival to the Shah before the British put the Shah in power. The Father is aware of both his own nation’s corruption and how the west has been a part of it…whether providing weapons to Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War or hoisting up the Shah. It is thanks to him that Marjane has skepticism in Europe, which is healthy. One of the themes is to always doubt and question.

Mother – Mother is voiced by Catherine Deneuve and is the voice of practicality. For her there isn’t’ time to resist oppression. The most a person can do is put their head down and get out if they can and have a chance to live elsewhere. She doesn’t like the status quo but feels powerless to stop it as she has lost family to both the Shah and the Ayatollah. This keeps her with so much sadness and why at the end she asks Marjane to leave Iran and never return until they are free. Her story is one of tragedy that she never truly gets to be with her daughter for any extended period of time, thanks to the oppression that she experiences.

Grandmother – Grandmother is one of the best characters in the film. She’s been divorced and remarried and expresses her perspective no matter who it may turn others off. She calls out Marjane for throwing a stranger under the bus so the police wouldn’t do anything to her, she reminds Marjane to stay true to herself and to live with integrity and she supports Marjane’s childhood dream of being a Prophet of God. She is one of the most revolutionary characters because she lost her husband to the Shah and about as far from Fundamentalist Muslim as you can get. She drinks, she has fun and she speaks truth to power. I completely get why Marjane idealizes her and I think she is a character worthy of that. The film ends with her death, again showing the tragedy and how oppression kept her from her hero and that in Grandmother’s lifetime she was never able to live in a free country. Gena Rowlands is fantastic!

Marjane – This is Marjane’s story and it is powerful as it explores all of her struggles. From her experiencing the Iran-Iraq War and the fall of the Shah, to the rise of the Ayatollah’s fundamentalist religious regime and all the religious laws that were brought about to her experience in Europe where she lost her homes because of how she resisted and because of how lost she was in trying to find her identity as an Iranian and also as someone who had spent so much time growing up outside of Iran without her parents. “Persepolis” is her answer to that and in it we see first hand her finding and accepting all the different parts of her identity and in turn becoming whole even after losing her home (Iran), family and husband in a divorce. She is able to accept herself and grow and the film shows this beautifully. Chiara Mastroianni does a wonderful job as grown up Marjane while Amethyste Frezignac does a great job as her childhood self.

The Messages – The Messages are powerful in this film, just like the Graphic novel, with the strongest being “Be true to yourself.” There are also the themes of “Remember where you came from,” and that oppression everywhere is unjust.

Marjane leaves Iran again because Iran is not free and her parents are still trapped there at the end, but want her to go after everyone she has lost to the oppressive regime. This sadness is a call for reform…the ending has a broken people waiting for change who are tired of the fighting after the Iran-Iraq war and all the political dissidents the Ayatollah’s Regime has killed. No excuses are made for tyranny ever…whether it’s the Shah or the Ayatollah, the forms of oppression as witnessed through Marjane’s eyes are obvious and stark. Another theme is to always doubt and questions which Uncle Anouche died doing until the end.

This ties into the theme of resistance which we see Marjane do on multiple occasions…from the Hijab being a double standard since guys can where whatever they want, to the nuns who got on her case for eating alone or her European classmates gossiping about her behind her back and her calling them out. Resistance is a huge theme of this film.

Okay: The Punks – They are all nihilists and we don’t get to know them like we do in the graphic novel. One of them was also from the Middle East and she never made an appearance leaving only the Western Punks who just hang around and are there to show that apathy is pointless since that is all they are.

The Boyfriends and Husband – The boyfriends and husbands don’t really get explored. They are moments pretty much but we mostly see her reaction to things not working, we don’t get to know them as characters like in the novel.

The Cons: Things Left Out and New Additions – Biggest issue was how some character stories were left out and some reactions to breakups went on a little long.

The animation style is beautiful and dreamlike and the soundtrack contributes to that. I completely get why it was nominated for an Academy Award. This is a film that is timeless and shows such a rich perspective on identity, integrity, justice, war, oppression and family. All these are a part of Marjane and her experiences and she tells her story so beautifully here, even if it isn’t done as well as the Graphic Novel, which you should read by the way. Also, see this film too. Chances are you will learn so much watching this and experience a beautiful story with some of the best music and animation in any film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. Not perfect but a favorite by far.