Morals Before Self: The Resolve and Ambition of the Elric Brothers
Our theme for this month is Resolve. Characters who, when presented with a choice, chose to stick to their resolutions, sometimes even dragging themselves through hell to do so. When I heard this topic, I immediately thought, there’s no better fit for this topic than the powerful resolve of Edward and Alfonse Elric, from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
**WARNING** THIS ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! **WARNING**
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has, for many years, stood very near the top of my list of Anime. The story is incredible, and the telling is beautifully done. FMA is a tale of two brothers. Due to an unfortunate accident while performing alchemy as children – a failed attempt to resurrect their dead mother – Edward lost his right arm and left leg, while Alphonse lost his whole body, his soul bound to a suit of armor by Edward, saving his life.
“It’s all my fault… Al lost his body, and it’s all my fault! He can’t eat anymore, he can’t sleep, he can’t feel cold or warmth… He’s my little brother, and I’m supposed to protect him and I did this… How can he ever forgive me!”
– Edward Elric
Recovering from their mishap, the brothers embark on a journey, Edward becoming a State Alchemist (a position also referred to as a “dog of the military”) to get access to information that might help them recover their old bodies. They get a lead, a special item known as the Philosopher’s Stone, an item that allows one to bypass the normal limits of Alchemy, ignoring the concepts of Equivalent Exchange, essentially creating from nothing. However, such a power, one rivalling that of a god, definitely does not come without a price, and a hefty one at that.
“The Philosopher’s Stone: those who possess it, are no longer bound by the laws of equivalent exchange in alchemy, can gain without sacrifice…create without equal exchange. We searched for it…and we found it.”
– Edward Elric
While information on the stone is hard to come by, the brothers finally manage to get their hands on some notes, detailing the creation process of the stones. however, doing so unveils a dark truth: Philosopher’s Stones are powered by the souls of human beings – essentially, creating a stone means sacrificing the lives of many people.
The conflict created by the truth of the philosopher’s stone is an incredibly beautiful kind of conflict, one that is able to engage the audience and give is insight into the hearts of our characters. Realizing Ed and Al’s pain and determination, learning the truth of the stone they had once dreamed for, gives the narrative an immense amount of flavor and depth.
The Elrics are, by nature, inherently good. They can’t ignore people in trouble, especially not their friends, and hesitate to cause harm to anyone or anything. That being said, they will fight to protect the people they care about, and to uphold their own morals. When presented with the truth behind the Philosopher’s Stone, Ed and Al are distraught, because they know their personal values will prevent them from creating a stone.
“A simple rock, red as blood. Which promised to turn pain into delight. War into victory. And death into life. It was a thinking person’s dream – reason, conquering all. And that was in deference to this, that it was called the Philosopher’s Stone.”
– Alphonse Elric
Later on in the series, Ed and Al manage to get their hands on a philosopher’s stone, and realize that they could use its astonishing power to get their bodies back. However, knowing how the stones are created, they both refused to use them, even knowing that without that power, there may never be a way to return to being normal humans, to regain their own flesh and blood. They took the hard road ahead, without compromising their own morals, something I consider a sign of true bravery.
Those who have seen FMA:Brotherhood through to the end know that the final episodes are an absolute emotional rollercoaster. The main villain, Father, uses an immense transmutation circle to turn the entire population of Amestris, millions of people, into a Philosopher’s stone of incredible power, which he then uses to capture the power of a being he refers to as “God”. While Ed, Al, and the rest of the main cast are able to reverse the circle, returning the souls of the citizens to their bodies, Father retains his immense destructive power.
In the battle that ensues, the allies find themselves throwing everything in their power at the villainous Father, gradually trying to wear down what power he has left to a point where they can defeat him. During the battle, Ed’s automail arm is shattered, and Alphonse’s body is broken to the point where he can no longer move. In a final act of selflessness, Al forcibly removes the bond connecting his soul to the armor, reverting the sacrifice Ed had made long ago – his own right arm for Al’s soul. Through this noble sacrifice, Ed is able to defeat Father, returning him back to the nothingness he was born from.
“I won’t leave you! I’m sick of watching people die! and I can’t just sit back and take it anymore! I won’t let anyone else get killed! Not when I can protect them!”
– Alphonse Elric
After the battle, Ed frantically searches for a way to rescue his brother. His friend Ling offers him a philosopher’s stone to use, but Ed rejects him, saying that Al would be upset if he used that power to bring him back. Van Hohenheim, the boys’ father, offers to let Ed use up the last of his life-force, a Philosopher’s stone that has kept him alive for hundreds of years. As a father who had abandoned his children for so many years, this is his way of trying to make amends, to be a good father. However, Ed refuses.
In the end, Ed sacrifices the thing most important to him – his ability to use Alchemy – to bring Al back, body and soul. The bravery, kindness, and above all, resolve to stick to their morals, even in the face of enormous self-sacrifice, is something that makes Fullmetal Alchemist a truly incredible show to watch.
“Who even needs alchemy? When I’ve got THEM.”
– Edward Elric
I’ve probably seen the show through at least ten times, now, but I always feel very strong emotions whenever I see how hard the Elrics work to achieve their goals, always taking the seemingly harder path in order to stick to their morals. In the end, though, they end up accomplishing their goal, though not in the way either of them had expected. It’s such a beautiful tale that goes far beyond the journey of two brothers. It’s a tale of love and loss, friendship and determination, but above all, it’s a tale of humans, and what we all are capable of, if we decide to try.
“You boys had a long journey together – all the people you helped along the way, all of the hardships, the pain of losing friends you loved; the determination, sweat, and blood….don’t you think that is the price you paid?”
– Van Hohenheim