Learning in Fullmetal Alchemist

Happy New Year! Now that the holidays are out of the way, I guess I have to go back to doing productive stuff. Kinda.

I recently rewatched the first three episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 version), which I’d watched as a teenager. This time, it struck me how often they used the word “science”, which didn’t stand out to me before. Nowadays, when I hear the word “science” in TV shows or read it in books, I usually cringe a little inwardly, because it clearly means something different to them than it does to me. But here, it didn’t actually bother me.

Anyway, on to my main point. Seeing this again and hearing them talk about science really made me pay attention to how the boys learned their alchemist skills (which is treated kind of like science magic in this series). And it was really awesome that they started learning it from a young age from books. There was this scene where their mother led them into their dad’s (an alchemist himself) old library, and they ran at the books like they were going to a playground.

First, they began as self-taught, which I have a bit of a soft spot for. I kind of love it when people are shown to be able to pick up the basics by working it out themselves, so long as it’s still realistic. Some people do that. But when they needed to learn to do something serious, they had to get a teacher to actually train them. Yes, they still accomplish too much at a ridiculously young age, but this is shonen anime. What do you expect?

Now that we’ve established that I love the way learning is portrayed in this series, let’s talk about the series itself. This is one of my favorite anime. It’s dark, but it can still be funny. It transitions between the darker and lighter moments seamlessly, too. The very first scene of hte series is very gruesome and tragic, but three minutes later, the next scene is very light and comedic. And it works pretty well that way.

One of the things I love about this show is that, when it comes to a branching point, it always makes the choices that are more difficult for the characters. It starts out relatively light (relatively, given how serious the main quest is). The main characters have already made some serious mistakes and are trying to fix them. They’re still kids, though, and the series acknowledges that by eventually showing them how their mentalities are still a bit childish. They have to learn that the world is more complicated than they think it is, and that takes some progressively more complicated situations to get across to them.

This series gets progressively darker as the characters are put in more difficult situations, but it’s always beautifully done. The characterizations themselves are complex, and the characters have layers to them. Some of them are looking for redemption, some of them are looking for a way to fix their mistakes, some of them are looking for a way to go on. Even the villains have great characterization here. They’ve each got their own reasons for why their goals are so desperately important to them.

In short, wonderful series, one of the best I’ve seen. Great take on learning, science fantasy, and life in general.

The series is available from Funimation on YouTube. Here’s the first episode:


This entry was posted in Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Learning in Fullmetal Alchemist

  1. wildbow says:

    I liked the first half of the series. Oddly enough, I liked it -less- after they got onto the main plot.

    When I think of the things I liked about the first half, I think of another show. Kino’s Travels. Also known as Kino’s Journey: the beautiful world or Kino no tabi. It’s more anthropological or philosophical than anything, but it feels like a smart anime.

    The premise is that Kino is traveling across various countries, each with its unique customs and people. It’s tranquil, with the main character accompanied only by a talking motorcycle. I recommend watching at least through the second episode (the first sets the tone for the series, but the second gives you a sense of what the show has to offer).

    • Marie Erving says:

      Kino’s Journey is actually another of my favorite shows. I’ve never thought of it as similar to Fullmetal Alchemist, though. They have really different tones, with Kino’s Journey being more parable-like and Fullmetal being more…I don’t know, down to earth, maybe?

      • wildbow says:

        Well, Fullmetal Alchemist is a shounen show. It’s better done than some, but it’s still in that general mold.

        But I suppose when I think about the parts of FMA that I liked, I think of the dog chimera, and it’s very much the same sort of issue/exploration of decisions/idea/cultural movement that seems to drive some Kino storylines.

      • Marie Erving says:

        Hm, that’s interesting. I never made the connection, though I did see FMA way earlier than I ever saw Kino’s Journey. To me, the things Kino saw always had an extra layer of separation to them. That’s how it was supposed to be and it worked great, but because we were seeing it from an outsider’s perspective, it always felt a little bit more like a metaphor.

        If we’re talking about Nina as the dog chimera, I always remember it as deeply personal. We’re seeing it through Ed, for whom this is very much a personal thing. For me, it always boiled down to that moment Ed realized that it was Nina in there. The issues beyond that don’t tend to stick with me as much, for some reason. But I guess there is some similarity in terms of how people (in this case, Nina’s father) are driven too far. Or maybe drive themselves too far.

      • wildbow says:

        Sound interpretation. I won’t disagree.

        Kino’s Travels and FMA are on your favorites list; are there any others? Feel free to answer with just ‘yes’ if you’re saving them for future blog posts, haha.

      • Marie Erving says:

        I don’t have any problem naming them, even if I do write about them later. Some of my favorites are Haibane Renmei, Code Geass, Fate/Zero, Angel Beats, Baccano, and Durarara.

Comments are closed.