Displaying my knack for being painfully behind the times, I started watching Fullmetal Alchemist about a year ago. I was immediately enthralled. I’m a sucker for a good story and an even better sucker for awesome characters. In fact, when it comes to characters and story, FMA exceeds just about every standard. It is a spectacular TV show, a good movie, and a wonderful series of graphic novels. If you wanted to try, it’d be a great novel, mini-series, micro-series, film trilogy, comic strip, radio show, live-action show, or anything else. “Fullmetal Alchemist” would succeed in any forum, because it is a spectacular story. And if you’ve got that, you have everything else in the bag.
The show follows the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric. They live, not in this world, but a close parallel called Amestris, where science has diverged from ours–though far more sophisticated in its way, the science of alchemy has superseded all our sciences in importance. It’s easy to see why: if you understand the composition of matter, alchemy can produce anything out of anything–as long as you abide by the law of equivalent exchange: to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
The one exception to this rule is life.
But when their mother dies, the distraught brothers ignore this rule and do everything they can to bring her back, with disastrous consequences. The resurrected monster is nothing like their mother; Alphonse loses his human body; and Edward is literally ripped apart, left with an arm and a leg.
Torn by guilt over his brother’s condition, Edward sets off–with his brother, in a strong but inhuman form–to correct the travesty he has committed. He is determined to bring his brother’s body back, but the only way to possibly do that is to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone–the only object on earth that can surpass and ignore the law of equivalent exchange.
In order to obtain the Stone, however, the Elric brothers have one option: they must become State Alchemists, working for the military, doing everything they are bid, whether war or destruction or murder, as the military is the only organization with information on the Stone. It’s equivalent exchange all over again.
Their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone run a close parallel with Edward’s career as a State alchemist, with hilarious, uplifting, awe-inspiring, and often tragic consequences.
In the second season, the consequences grow more dire, the storylines deeper, more emotional, more moving, and more tragic. Pursued by evil, inhuman creatures known as the Homunculi who are also after the Stone, Edward ends up separated from Alphonse, and the two brothers embark on individual, parallel courses in order to do what they must, courses that could end the life of one or both before their goal is reached–or before they ever see each other again.
“Fullmetal Alchemist” has a brilliant story populated with brilliant characters. Both the plot and the people are among the best I have ever encountered in a fictional work of any kind. I’m not even an anime fan; I stumbled on this because I thought the story sounded cool. It’s beyond cool; I don’t often use this word, but I will repeat: it is brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough. It contains a powerful story, thought-provoking,artfully-rendered themes, amazing storylines, and the richest characters I have ever encountered in film or television. Character depth actually rivals many good novels.
If you have a soft spot for brilliance (and don’t we all?) “Fullmetal Alchemist” is a must.