Fullmetal Alchemist is the popular anime and manga by Hiromu Arikawa and has made two anime series, several volumes of comics, novels, and even a Netflix adaptation. It follows the Elric brothers, who are on a journey to find the fabled philosopher's stone in order to make wrong they accomplished in trying to bring their mother back. Along the way, Edward and Alphonse find some darker things lurking in the government and end up winning the day.
The world of Amestris is rich and filled with lore and history that is unraveled through the series. This includes one of the most powerful abilities in the world: alchemy. Based on the law of equivalent exchange (meaning you give up something to get something of the same worth), characters can use alchemy to complete their missions in a post-civil war era.
I love Fullmetal Alchemist. It has such an engrossing story, absolutely lovable characters and a great world that has really been fleshed out. For all of its flaws, I can't help but go back to it. It's even one of the shows that I prefer the English dubbing to the Japanese because they did such an incredible job at it. But that doesn't automatically give it a free pass when it comes to inconsistencies and questions. Here is your quick spoiler warning for those who (somehow) haven't seen the entirety of the show, read the manga or been on the internet. If you haven't checked it out, by all means, don't miss it!
25 What Do You Eat In Limbo?
During the entirety of the series, Al is trapped in a metal suit of armor. He is unable to eat, sleep, or feel anything. So if Alchemy is reliant on equivalent exchange, where did his body go? Eventually, we learn that it has been chilling at the gate (sort of like limbo) ever since the boys tried to bring their mother back. Next time we see his body, Al has lost an incredible amount of weight and his hair has grown long. But how did he survive without the proper nutrition after all those years?
24 Why Would It Change Back?
In one of the Elric brothers' early adventures, they happen upon a mining town that is under the firm thumb of a greedy army leader, charging them quite high taxes. Ed is able to trick him into selling the deed to the mine by transmuting coal to make it look like gold. This works perfectly. Ed does mention that the coal wouldn't look like gold forever, and would go back to its original form. But if the elements have been rearranged, how did the coal lose its gold shine? Shouldn't that change be quasi-permanent?
23 What's The Most Popular Tech?
Fullmetal Alchemist is supposed to be based in 1900s Europe, which means that they have technology like cars. We see them being used all over, even though trains are the most common way people seem to get around.
Automail is incredibly complex; you'd think they'd have smaller tech available.
What doesn't seem to make any sense though is that they have the technology to make fully functioning body parts (i.e, automail) and yet don't have more widespread technology. We haven't even have automail yet, but we at least have cell phones. Just saying.
22 When Does The Train Leave?
Speaking of odd technology choices, let's focus on the train for a bit. Sure they're efficient for traveling between cities, but you'd think that more people would be wanting a car for their own purposes. The train can be good, but it does seem a little out of place. Storytelling-wise, it works. It gives our heroes a chance to relax and talk. But all things considering, they should be on their way to jet packs, or something. Get on it, alchemists!
21 When Did Ed Join The Military?
I understand that Ed is a prodigy child, and that he understands the rules of alchemy almost a little too well. But the fact that he was not only good enough to become a dog of the military at age 12 is almost a little too much.
Ed became the equivalent of a Major at age 12.
Not only is it crazy he passed the exam, it doesn't make sense that they would allow him to try. After all, he technically should be at school, not searching for a mythical item.
20 Did Pinako Have Legal Rights?
We all know the tragic story of the Elric family. Father out of the picture, ill mother, and two rambunctious little genius boys. When that family fell apart, it's only neighborly of Pinako to take care of them for a while (as well as the Curtis family). But that makes you wonder: does the state even have a place for orphans to go? What would have happened to Ed and Al had Pinako not taken them in? I'm sure they would have escaped and went on their adventure anyway.
19 How Does Geography Have Dramatic Timing?
Hiromu Arikawa should get a lot of props. She did a fantastic job on the world building for the Fullmetal Alchemist universe. It's mostly fleshed out. The 2003 anime never got around to this part of the manga, but there are other countries with alchemy in this world. Somehow, they also knew the best time to show up for the story. Characters like Ling eventually became integral to the plot, but it makes you wonder why we had never heard of the other countries until it became important to the plot.
18 What Are The Odds?
While this world that Hiromu Arikawa has built is expansive and fleshed out, it's not technically all that large. It seems that many of the characters have had some connection down the line with another character. Take, for example, Winry and Scar. Winry's parents were doctors in the recent political tragedy, and Scar was one of their patients. Simple enough, as the Rockbells were happy to help heal people on both sides. But the chances that they meet up again later is pretty slim. It's made larger though by knowing Ed and Al.
17 Is It Magic?
The Homunculus are some of the biggest villains in the story, and they certainly can take a punch. They have all sorts of powers thanks to the philosopher's stones inside them, but some of those powers can take a turn for the odd.
Envy's ability to shapeshift has let her cause trouble for the Elrics.
Take Envy, for example. One power available is that of shapeshifting. Lust uses this ability all throughout the show to take advantage of a lot of situations. You never can tell if he's got you tricked.
16 What's In The Soil?
It's believable to think that Edward as a prodigy alchemist would know the basic components in many common items around him. Dirt, simple metals, and cloth would be things he would see in nearly every part of the world and don't change composition much. But throughout the series, Edward takes great pains to talk about how specific alchemy can be. There are minute details that change from region to region when it comes to soil composition and cloth-making techniques.
15 How Do The Forms Work?
The homunculus are a curious group of characters with some pretty crazy powers being attributed back to the philosopher's stones inside them. As mentioned earlier talking about Envy's abilities to shape shift, the others also have some pretty cool abilities. They change into stronger and stronger forms.
There aren't many definitive rules on the Philosopher's Stone's power.
But that begs the question, were the other forms always built in? What are the guidelines of those forms? Sure, they're powered by the stones, but that doesn't give any grounding to the powers.
14 Why Is Ed The Exception?
We all know that Ed is a prodigy. Especially because he's the protagonist, you know he'll have a leg up over other alchemists. So how exactly is he able to use alchemy without first making a transmutation circle? In the manga and the anime, the gate works in different ways, helping him in his studies. There is a bit of lore that will help talk about this, but it is a bit of a stretch and it would be easier to blame it on Ed's status as the main character.
13 How Did Hughes Become A Major?
In times of war, it's typical to see most of your grunt soldiers end up with fairly high rankings thanks to the way they act in battle. When they're extra good, they get more promotions. This is a great way to explain the rankings of most of our favorite crew. All that is, except one. Major Maes Hughes never fought in the Ishval conflict, so the question is how he managed to get to the rank of Major so quickly. He's not overtly impressive, so maybe they were moved to tears by how he talked about his family?
12 What's The Difference?
When your manga gets adapted into an anime, of course changes are going to be made. We see a LOT of change with the 2003 version of the anime, and only touches in Brotherhood. But one character had a big change, giving fans a lot of confusion: Colonel Mustang.
Roy's change caused a lot of changes to motivation and character arcs.
It's not like he's a brand new character, but subtle changes in actions changes motivation, and that made fans mad. Roy is a fantastic character with so much depth. Why change him to be something he's not?
11 Why Make Lust Distant?
I'm not saying that Lust should have followed suit with all of the other homunculus and portrayed her name in her attitude. I personally thought that how she was written was absolutely brilliant. But it's just a little odd when every other character gets to show off how they live by their name, and she does not. I get censorship, and like I said, I'm glad they toned it down. Maybe it's to show you can want more than just physical contact.
10 Isn't That A Moot Point?
Basically throughout the entirety of Fullmetal, Edward is told by others that using alchemy is not going to bring Al back. Call it irony, but in the end, it's Ed giving up his abilities that brings his brother back into his body.
They told him alchemy wouldn't work. It worked.
In effect, it's like he tells everyone else that he knows better. From a deeper perspective it makes sense, but on the surface layer it feels a bit retcon-y. I wonder if there might have been another way to do it.
9 Why Would Ed Just Give It Up?
One of the coolest characters in the series is Ling, who seeks the philosopher's stone in order to become next in line for the throne. He eventually gains that hope because Ed refuses to use it to save Alphonse. Say what you will about it, but that doesn't really seem to fit into Ed's character. He's the kind of person who likes to finish what he starts. The page here has some really good points as to why this doesn't make sense.
8 Why Didn't Mustang Get His Ending?
One of the things we thought would happen when we first met Roy was that he was eventually going to achieve his dream of becoming the leader (and changing dress code)! We hoped for it because everyone else was going to get a happy ending and he'd be a great leader. When it didn't happen though, we were a little surprised. What happened? It does and doesn't make sense from a storytelling point of view, and it's probably one of the oddities on this list.
7 Why The Hate?
We all have one food in particular we just can't stomach. For me, it's vinegar-based foods. (i.e, condiments, pickles, etc). And that's okay; it's all a part of what makes everyone unique.
Ed's hatred of milk is hilarious but confusing.
But be it played up for comedic effects or as a giant milk commercial, for whatever reason Ed won't drink milk. In one episode he called it a opaque liquid secreted by a cow. Where does this hatred come from? How does Ed get his daily calcium? Perhaps we'll leave it as a joke.
6 What Were They Reading?
In order to teach themselves alchemy, Edward and Alphonse read extensively. They got their hands on anything they could find and learned from it. That included their father's library of books on alchemy. Hoenheim must have had some pretty advanced stuff because not only did it talk about human transmutation, Edward was able to reflexively exchange a part of himself for his brother's soul. You have to wonder why the books would be in a place the boys could find them.
5 Where Does It Come From?
When you're over 4oo years old, chances are you won't be as limber as you used to be. Of course if you are able to magically swap out bodies (like Hoenheim does) then you end up sitting pretty. Alchemy has some elements that seem like magic, but nothing will keep you running that long. So how has he managed to keep looking the way he does. Perhaps he and Ash Ketchum have some skincare secrets that would destroy the industry if shared.
4 Who Designed The Gate?
The gate is an interesting part of the lore of Fullmetal Alchemist, rich with its own symbolism and design. There has been some research into the design on the gate itself (take a look here), but we never get to find out who made it, how alchemists learned about it in the first place, or why it works the way.
The gate has a lot of unrevealed backstory.
It's a really cool bit of intricate attention to detail, even though it brings up more questions than it answers.
3 Who Started Writing In Code?
We learn from the library that alchemists write their secrets in codes. For example, Doctor Marcoh wrote in recipes, Ed and Al wrote travel logs, etc. For those who don't know the alchemist, the codes can be nearly impossible to decode. Why Marcoh would use a cookbook doesn't quite add up though, because with the other examples, it seems to be something the alchemist enjoys. We almost never see Marcoh doing anything with cooking. The best guess would be that he cooks a lot, but I guess his circumstances have changed.
2 Isn't It Convenient?
Sheska is the librarian who helps Ed and Al find Doctor Marcoh's notes. She also happens to have a photographic memory and has read nearly every book in the library. Since it got destroyed, this is incredibly convenient. (Not as much as the next one!) To have found the one person who remembers Doctor Marcoh's notes so accurately is very nearly a miracle in and of itself. Ed and Al were feeling pretty hopeless then, so I guess it's a librarian ex machina.
1 Who's The Main Character?
I know this is supposed to be fantasy, and it's important to keep Ed and Al around until the grand finale. Good thing they're wearing plot armor, or else the series would probably have been remembered as 'the one that got rid of the protagonist' (Which, back in the 90s, hadn't been done as much and would have come as a shock). But the fact that Ed and Al have made it through their training with the Curtis family, a lot of bad guys, and countless adventures with broken automail, you'd think they had a sad ending coming.