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05 June 2005 @ 01:22 pm
fullmetal addiction  
Fullmetal Alchemist is the new crack now that the regular television season is over. The first episode I caught was the Psiren one, which was an enjoyable Lupin tribute but nothing to hook me irretreviably. But Tivo was really, really insistent that I wanted to watch it. The second episode it served up was The Ishbal Massacre, and that got FMA season pass'd, and it only got worse from there. It reminds me a little of Miyazaki, in the design of the culture and cities -- the early twentieth century European look of the houses, the trains, the round faced shopkeepers and gentle rurality. A little of Revolutionary Girl Utena in the elaborate mystical/scientific themes, the sense that the creator has worked out a vast symbolic system of which you only see parts. A little of Rurouni Kenshin in the warm humanity of the characters, and in the sense of sin; like Kenshin many of the main characters have done things both grand and terrible in their pasts, and the only way you can tell the good from the evil is in how they respond to their sins, whether to attempt to redeem them or to plot new and larger ones. But it's distinctly and uniquely itself.

It's also brutal at times; marith, who is eight episodes in, said "it's like someone sent the kids from Sailor Moon to Vietnam". But it doesn't *feel* brutal, which is the odd thing. It's not like they pull punches -- the opening scene of the whole series makes it clear that neither innocence nor good intentions is protection or excuse in this universe -- but it's not what comes to mind when I think of the series. I think it's the likeability of the characters, and the fact the anime is so humanistic, not nihilistic. Terrible things have happened, but despair is not the answer.

It'll throw comedic stories at you, or light-hearted adventure, but every time it circles back to the worst incidents and razors up another, darker layer. Back to the failed resurrection of their mother, to show a little more. Back to Ishbal, to reveal deeper horrors. Back to Lior, for horrors in the current time. And I don't think it's done, either; it has, at episode 25, the feeling of a show that is just about to stomp on the accelerator. "You know this world, you like these people, don't you? Well, hang on for the ride."

Character thoughts:

Ed Elric: Ed's nicely layered. On the surface he's often the most comedic of the characters, regularly going into a SD rage when anyone refers to his height; then there's the aspect where he's the angsty sinner; and then there's the not vocalized but implied Really Scary aspect. The boy who, bleeding to death from a severed leg, traumatized by watching his brother be shredded and his mother restored as a twisted inhuman *thing*, improvised a soul binding with the materials within arm's reach: the armor behind him, his own blood, and well, his arm. At freakin' 11 years old. And then, even more destroyed as he was, thought to kill the mother-thing they had summoned so that Al wouldn't have to. Focus, thy name is Edward Elric. And the anime's been great about showing where the implicit scariness could turn explicit: the way when Gran tells him about Marcoh and the stone, where despite the suffering he's just heard about, Ed's eyes light up at the prospect of obtaining it. How easily the murderous homunculi inveigle him into attempting to refine the Philosopher's stone, even though he's standing in the death house where hundreds of lives have been sacrificed to provide the material. So far Al or his own conscience have pulled him back from that brink, but there's no promise that will always happen.

Al Elric: Al's the character that really breaks my heart. When Tucker accuses Ed of being just like him, my first response was that was nonsense; Ed did what he did to Al out of desperate love. Then I thought about it, and that's true... but there's something in what Tucker says, too. Because the hubris that refused to let Al go, also condemned him. Al *is* suffering. In different ways to Nina, but even apart from the explicit conversation Ed and Al have about Al's lack of sensation, there's a remarkable number of scenes where, even as other things are going on, you notice that Al is sitting quietly with food he can't eat or drink he can't taste in front of him. And in the latter episodes of the first season, we find out even Al's memories of being human are beginning to fade. He doesn't have the despair and urge for self destruction of the soul-armor that Ed meets at Lab 5, but I think that's only because he still has faith that his brother will fix what is wrong.

I've finally successfully downloaded the rest of the episodes; there's no way I can stay unspoilered until November, dammit, so I'd rather see the subs now.
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Titaniasummer_queen on June 5th, 2005 04:44 pm (UTC)
Hughes and Scar are by far my favourite characters (but then, I'm biased, I decided to break down and watch the show last year *because* of Scar's seiyuu. Hughes for being so brilliantly over the top yet with depths to plumb and Scar for being such a straightforward enigma, if you will. So much mystery, yet his approach is direct and simple.

Of the boys, Ed has my utter devotion. He's forced himself to bear the lion's share of his and Al's mutual guilt, and it weighs heavy.

I avoided FMA for quite some time, because it was so hyped by friends watching the subs. When I finally cracked, and watched 26 episodes in 4 days, I was hooked. I'm eagerly looking forward to the novels, which will be released by Viz starting this fall, to hopefully get some of the background detail that had to be jettisoned in the translation from novel to manga to anime.
Lauratavella on June 5th, 2005 08:25 pm (UTC)
I saw the episodes in an odd order -- started halfway through the AS season, watched to 26, then watched the beginning episodes. So

(spoilers for 25)

I had mostly seen Hughes' goofy side. Which made 25 feel even more doomed, because there didn't seem anyway he wasn't dead from the start. And then I circled back to the train-hostage episode in the beginning and realized that he was a kickass fighter too, and the degree to which the goofiness was put on as a tactical maneuver, so he'd be underestimated. It'll be interesting watching that episode again now.

I think part of Ed's guilt complex, apart from 'I'm the older brother' and the fact he was the more aggressive of the two in planning, is the fact that Al was punished for their sin much more brutally than he was. So he keeps punishing himself to make up for it.
Titaniasummer_queen on June 5th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC)
Hughes was the only reason I had any empathy for Roy at all until somewhere late in the episode count. In my mind, if Hughes felt Roy worth supporting to the extent he did, Roy *had* to be worthwhile. Roy himself didn't convince of that until a confrontation with Ed and Al somewhere around episode 48 or so.
Sea Gypsyfrankenboob on June 5th, 2005 08:00 pm (UTC)
We've got the soundtrack if you'd like Drew to burn you a copy.
Lauratavella on June 5th, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
Ooh, yes, please! Have you guys seen the whole thing, or just the ones Adult Swim has aired?
Kashoka on June 5th, 2005 11:58 pm (UTC)
Like you said, what's so wonderful about the anime is how understated it is, how everything is kind of sketched in. The series never comes out and says it, or has a storyline about these things, but one of the saddest things about Al is that Mustang or Hawkeye or Rose never knew him before the human transmutation accident; all they know him as is this huge, hulking, menacing set of armor. It must suck for Al to be so threatening when he's really the gentlest of all the characters.

And yeah, Ed's pretty amazing. He's kind of your typical shounen hero - the one whose amazing penis skills never cease to be commented on - but again, there's a lot beneath the surface of what's actually said. There's so much history that led him to where he is now, his feelings for his family, his mother, his working so hard to restore his brother. It's sweet that such a powerful and focused character's motivations come from love for his family. There's still a lot of that little boy who needed his mother in Ed.
Lauratavella on June 6th, 2005 02:29 am (UTC)
It must suck for Al to be so threatening when he's really the gentlest of all the characters.

I think one reason he was so fond of Nina was that she was never disturbed by his nature, and only regarded him as the more entertaining for being so big. But it's the deprivation and the erosion of humanity that just rips my heart again and again when I watch Al. There was a fanfic (it's going to be embarassing if this was one of yours -- I was stupid and didn't save it and now I can't find it) where Al's gone to see some new kittens and Ed thinks about all the things Al can't experience about kittens. Their softness, their warmth, the prick of their tiny claws, their milky smell. And wonders to what extent he feels anything about cats, or if he just remembers that he used to like them and is reconstructing that liking out of 'the fading store of a 10 year old's physical memories'.

It's sweet that such a powerful and focused character's motivations come from love for his family.

Oh, yeah. I love how even though there are potential or implied romantic partners for Ed in the anime, the true romance is between the brothers, and I don't mean in an elricesty way (though you can certainly take it that way.) Al is clearly the most important person in Ed's life, the one towards which all his goals are ultimately focused. More important than his job, his alchemy, his life.