"But nothing’s ever perfect, haven’t you realized that yet? Earth turns on a tilted axis, just doing the best it can." - Van Hohenheim.
If you're one of those people who think cartoons are just for kids and that anyone over age twelve who watches anime is a complete loser, then you need to take a look at Fullmetal Alchemist. Released as a serialized manga from 2001-2010, the series sold 67 million volumes worldwide, making it one of the best selling manga series of all time. It was so successful, in fact, it inspired two anime series, two animated films, several light novels, video games, card games, action figures, and other merchandise, which is all right on par with any major property ever developed by Disney, DC, or Dreamworks.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu tells the story of two brothers (Edward and Alphonse Elric) who try to use alchemy to revive their deceased mother, and of course, it all goes wrong (costing Ed his arm and leg and resulting in Al's soul being bound to a metal suit of armor). They embark on a search for the Philosopher's Stone in an attempt to restore their bodies.
Despite its liberal use of humor, this story deals with heavy themes and sometimes delves into the truly horrifying ("Ed....waaard..."). Yet it's one of the most engrossing, action, and emotion-packed stories you'll ever experience. But even if you're familiar with the tale, I bet there are still a few facts you don't yet know. Warning: Spoilers ahead!
25 Twice As Nice
Often when a manga series reaches a certain level of popularity, interest will arise in an anime adaptation. Although bad anime adaptations do occur (Tokyo Ghoul, what happened?), overall it's a good thing. An anime series expands the story's audience by reaching people who wouldn't normally read manga.
Problems arise, however, in the pace of production. Anime typically come out faster than manga, so unless the manga series is already complete, the anime will usually overtake its source material. When this happened with Fullmetal Alchemist, creator Arakawa Hiromu actually gave her blessing to the anime team to create their own ending which would differ from the manga. Another anime was later adapted to be true to the manga. So in the end, there are two FMA adaptations: 2003's Fullmetal Alchemist (where the anime forged ahead) and 2009's FMA: Brotherhood (which is truer to the manga).
One of the running jokes in Fullmetal Alchemist is that Edward hates milk. In one episode, he says that drinking milk is "like drinking vomit." This is too bad for Ed, because he's constantly getting wounded and has to be put back together again by Winry Rockbell (his childhood friend who also happens to be a talented mechanic). She wants him to drink lots of milk for the nutrients it provides. Arguments ensue.
Why does Ed hate milk so much? Rumors abound. Some say it's because Al once made him drink spoiled milk that they found in the basement of their house. Others say it's because he once went on an outing with his father (when he was too young to remember) and was attacked by a cow. Others say it's just something funny Arakawa felt like including. Whatever the truth may be, I feel you, Ed. I hate milk, too.
23 Realism, Part 1
Even though Fullmetal Alchemist is an animated story that takes place in an alternate reality, Arakawa took great pains to make sure the details in her work were as accurate as possible. For example, Riza Hawkeye (officer in the Amestrian State Military and sharpshooter bodyguard to Colonel Roy Mustang) doesn't use just any gun. Her sniper rifle is a Karabiner 98K; she also carries two FN Model 1910s. In addition to studying guns in books, Arakawa also used prop guns as drawing models (in Japan, real guns are heavily regulated).
She didn't stop there, however. Arakawa also did extensive research on various wars and even interviewed WWII veterans to help with the accuracy of the post-war world of her story. She once wrote, “One comment that affected me the most came from a former soldier who lowered his gaze to the tabletop and said, ‘I never watch war movies.’”
22 Alchemy Is Real
Since the characters in Fullmetal Alchemist can accomplish pretty much anything with alchemy (including creating human/animal chimeras and stealing human souls), the practice of alchemy sounds like it belongs more readily in the dreamy realms of magic than the scientific world of cold hard facts. So it might surprise you to learn that alchemy is real. Not real in the sense that it's been proven to work, but that it's a real pursuit to which people throughout history have dedicated themselves.
Alchemy seeks to purify, mature, and perfect certain objects, such as the oft-discussed quests to turn lead into gold or to achieve immortality (as a perfection of the human soul). The art even has its proponents in the modern day, who use it in the contexts of medicine and psychology.
21 Principle Of Equivalent Exchange
"Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange." The principle of Equivalent Exchange is a reoccurring theme in Fullmetal Alchemist. It shows up right at the beginning of the story (after the brothers' disastrous attempt to resurrect their mother) and is so present throughout the series that it may as well be its own character.
When Arakawa researched alchemy for her series, she found that everything basically contradicted everything else. Instead, she took inspiration from a simpler place: her childhood on a farm. Her family owned a dairy and potato farm, and she and her sisters were expected to do chores. The farm rules were simple: if you don't work, you don't eat. The law of Equivalent Exchange comes from the idea of trading work for food.
20 German Inspiration
Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in an alternate history in the fictional country of Amestris. In this world, alchemists can enlist in the military to receive the automatic rank of Major; these are known as State Alchemists. Amestris is a unitary state under the rule of a parliamentary republic, and the population both fears and resents the government, including its alchemists.
Arakawa took inspiration from the European Industrial Revolution
To create the world of FMA, Arakawa took inspiration from the European Industrial Revolution, specifically the militarization of Germany around WWII. Not only are many of the characters given German names, but the Armestris Head of State is even called the Führer (in fact, in one scene you can even see Germany's own infamous WWII era Führer in the background).
19 Shorty Pants
Despite being the older of the two Elric brothers, Edward is super short. And it's not just an optical illusion created by standing next to Alphonse's towering suit of armor. At the beginning of the manga, Ed is only 141 cm (which equals about 4'8"). It's a fact that keeps him on the defensive almost permanently, especially when meeting new people (who tend to mistake Al for the famous Fullmetal Alchemist).
Why is Ed so short? Is it simple genetics? Is Winry right that he doesn't drink enough milk? Perhaps, but there might be a deeper reason. The manga reveals that Ed and Al's minds are linked via the Gate of Truth, where Al's body is. This could be interpreted to mean that Ed's energy is being used to help keep Al bonded to his armor, leaving less of it for his own physical growth.
18 Growth Spurt
Even though Edward's short stature is used as a running joke throughout the series, during the nine year run of the manga, a gradual change happened. Very slowly, so slowly that you didn't even really notice, Ed got taller. And suddenly it hit you: he's not shorter than Winry anymore. In fact, he's a bit taller than her, which would put him at least at 5'5". He's still not lanky by any means, but that little bit of extra stature means everything to Ed.
He wasn't good enough to earn her love
Part of the reason he always hated being called short was that it implied he wasn't good enough: not a good enough alchemist and not a good enough big brother. But when it came to Winry, the feeling was even stronger; he hated feeling that he wasn't good enough to earn her love.
Fullmetal Alchemist is full of strange symbols, such as the transmutation circles, but they have real meaning behind them. The tree depicted on Edward's Gate of Truth (each person has their own Gate of Truth) is called the Sephirothic Tree of Life, wherein the circles represent different truths being shown to humanity. The Tree is upside down, representing the different ways truth can be perceived (and misused).
One reoccurring symbol in the series is the logo of the State Alchemists: a white lion on a green background. But this is no random design either. In real life alchemy, the image of a green lion eating the sun is a common symbol of the purifying process, similar to how plants consume the rays of the sun to grow.
16 Happy Birthday
People love any excuse to celebrate, or else how do you explain holidays like National Carrot Cake Day (Feb. 3rd) or National Rice Pudding Day (Aug. 9th)? So if you belong to a fandom, I suppose it's not unusual to want to celebrate the birthdays of your favorite characters. Fullmetal Alchemist fans have a bit of a problem, however. Edward was born in 1899, which makes him 15 or 16 years old at the beginning of the series and around 18 by the time it ends. But as for his actual birthday, it seems Arakawa never assigned him one. Fans appear to have settled on either October 11th or Feb 3rd based on clues from the series. In the anime, it's snowing on his 12th birthday, but it's warm and sunny on his 15th birthday. Guess we'll just have two parties!
15 Forced To Be A Lefty
When Alphonse disappears during the brothers' ill-fated attempt to bring back their mother via human transmutation, Edward writes a blood seal on the inside of a suit of armor with his right hand, showing that he's right-handed. But moments later, he pays for the return of Al's soul with that same right arm, and so afterward, he is forced to learn to write left-handed. True, he does get Automail replacements for his missing arm and leg, and while those are incredibly useful for many things, an Automail hand is not good at fine detail work, like writing. In a way, it's just another reason why Ed stands out from the crowd. Only about 12% of the people in the world are left-handed.
14 Realism, Part 2
In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Ishval Civil War is a recent scar on the history of the country of Amestris. Despite clashing over cultural and religious differences, the people of Ishval lived in relative peace with Amestris. That is, until an Ishvalan child was accidentally shot by an Amestrian soldier. The result was first riots, then all out war, with Amestris ultimately being the victor. The Ishvalans were scattered across the country as refugees.
The Japanese government took over Ainu land
Arakawa took inspiration for this storyline from the real-life conflict between the Ainu (an indigenous people of Japan) and the Wajin (the mainlander Japanese). In 1899, the Japanese government took over Ainu land and distributed it to the Wajin in an effort to force the Ainu to assimilate into mainstream Japanese culture. The act was in effect until 1997, and it wasn't until 2008 that the Ainu were officially recognized as an ethnic minority.
13 4Koma Funnies
As I've already mentioned, the themes in Fullmetal Alchemist are serious stuff. These are not fun topics. So Arakawa made a conscious decision to include humor wherever she could, not only in the story but also by including 4koma (short four-panel comic strips) in each manga volume. In a way, this demonstrates the law of Equivalent Exchange at work even in the manga: Equivalent Exchange is about balance, and Arakawa wanted to balance light and dark, funny and serious, in her work.
One of Arakawa's first jobs as a mangaka was drawing 4komas, so it's natural she'd include them in her series (plus, it's a pretty common thing to do in manga). Too bad there's not that buffer in the anime, however, because after some episodes it's genuinely jarring to go from tragedy straight to a cheerful end credit song.
12 The Cross Of Flamel
The symbol on Edward's cloak and Alphonse's armor (also the one Ed uses to make Al's blood seal) is one that's probably most associated with Fullmetal Alchemist, but it actually has real-life origins. The symbol is called the Cross of Flamel, and it depicts a snake wrapped around a cross.
This symbol appeared throughout the texts of Nicholas Flamel (a 14th-century French scribe who acquired a reputation as an alchemist after his passing (you probably recognize his name from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). It also appears on the side of his tombstone, which he designed himself. The symbol is one of "fixing the volatile." In other words, a curative. It's derived from a Bible verse ("Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live").
11 Where's Mobuo Mobuta?
If you're anything like me, you dedicated at least part of your childhood to pouring over Where's Waldo books, not just to search out the title character with his iconic red-and-white striped shirt, but also to hunt through the rest of the crowd for funny scenes (remember when Where's Waldo was banned for hiding a bare lady sunbather in one books?).
Arakawa hid Mobuo Mobuta in many of the manga's panels
Drawing a manga is an enormous amount of work, and so mangaka usually employ staffs of artists to help them. Typically the head mangaka will draw the principle characters and leave settings and background characters for the staff. In Fullmetal Alchemist, however, there's one background character who became famous in his own right. Arakawa hid Mobuo Mobuta in many of the manga's panels, creating her very own Where's Waldo character.
10 Live Action Adaptation
It's always kind of up in the air whether or not making a live-action adaptation of an animated property is a good idea. Although the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films are enormous money-making machines, there are even more that are utter failures (last year alone gave us the dismal film adaptations of Death Note and Ghost in the Shell).
The live-action adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist was announced in spring of 2016 and slated for a summer 2017 release. The film's schedule has since been pushed back, but we did finally get a trailer late last year (you can view it here). Boy band Hey!Say!JUMP member Ryosuke Yamada stars as Edward Elric, while actor and model Dean Fujioka will play Roy Mustang.
9 What's In A Name
In unitary states (like Amestris), the country is governed by a supreme central government (some real-life examples of unitary states are China, Japan, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom). In Amestris' version of a unitary state, however, the military is everything, and so in keeping with that theme, Arakawa named many of her characters after military vehicles of the World War eras. For just a few examples, the Führer of Amestris, King Bradley, is named for the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (an American tank), Colonel Roy Mustang is named for the North American P-51 Mustang (considered the best of American fighter aircraft in WWII), and Major Alex Louis Armstrong is named for either the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley (a British bomber from WWI) or the Armstrong Gun (a type of American cannon).
8 To End A Homunculus
Traditionally a homunculus is a tiny human created via alchemic means. Homunculi feature as the primary antagonists in Fullmetal Alchemist, but instead of being tiny, they are full-sized artificial humans that possess super abilities, such as extreme strength, speed, and the ability to shape-shift. They also do not age. In the 2003 series, homunculi are created from a failed attempt at human transmutation. In FMA: Brotherhood, they are created by embedding a Philosopher's Stone into a human body. Either way, they are extremely hard to eliminate. The only perish when their Philosopher's Stone is depleted.
They are extremely hard to eliminate
Only three people in the history of FMA have ever single-handedly ended a homunculus: Scar, Mustang, and Edward. You'll have to read the manga or watch the anime to see how it went down, but suffice to say, it's a big deal.
7 Daddy Issues
Van Hohenheim is the estranged father of the Elric brothers. He left when they were young and did not return for ten years. Eventually, we learn that Van Hohenheim is actually a 451-year-old alchemist who is basically a living Philosopher's Stone. It was his blood that was used to create Father, who then used pieces of his own Stone to create the other homunculi (which means that Edward and Alphonse are actually siblings to the homunculi!).
Van Hohenheim is based on Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, a real-life Swiss physician, alchemist, and astrologer, of the German Renaissance (more commonly called Paracelsus). Known as the "father of toxicology," Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. It's also thought he invented laudanum.
6 Show Your Colors
In Fullmetal Alchemist, the character design for Edward consists of his gold hair and eyes (which signify that he is a descendant of Xerxes, a now extinct civilization), red coat, black shirt and pants, and white gloves. It's said that he wears black to hide the grease stains from his Automail, but then why wear white gloves? It turns out the real reason for his character's color scheme once again points to real life alchemy.
Gold, red, black, and white, are the colors associated with the four phases of transmutation in the creation of a Philosopher's Stone. During the process, gold is purified with fire (red), which leaves ashes (black). These ashes are mixed in a flask with other substances, causing a flash of many brilliant colors that eventually subsides to white.
5 By Any Other Name
The two primary types of manga are Shōujo, which are relationship-focused stories aimed at girls up to age 18, and Shōnen, which are sports or action-focused stories aimed at boys up to age 18 (there are other categories if you want to get technical, but they are mainly categorized by sultry content or other adult themes). It's very common for women to work as mangaka, but they almost exclusively do so on Shōujo manga; it's practically unheard of for a woman to do a Shōnen manga, and Fullmetal Alchemist falls into that category.
Her real name is Hiromi
It may surprise you to learn that Arakawa Hiromu is a pen name. Her real name is Hiromi. Hiromu is the male form of Hiromi, and Arakawa did this to prevent people from dismissing her story simply because it was written by a woman.
4 Subverting Stereotypes
In early Shōnen manga, there were no female characters (except in the background as mothers and sisters). In the 1980s, women gradually got included into the stories but were relegated to the role of the cute chic. Things have gotten better since then, and now many modern Shōnen manga feature strong female characters.
Given the fact that Arakawa already subverted the norm by creating a Shōnen manga, it makes sense that the female characters in Fullmetal Alchemist don't follow female stereotypes either. Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong is called the Ice Queen for her cold demeanor and harsh treatment of others. Winry is a tough, genius Automail mechanic. Riza Hawkeye, instead of being protected by a man, serves as the bodyguard for one. And Izumi Curtis is a master of both alchemy and martial arts. If you're in the market for a new role model, I have a few suggestions.
3 Who Is Hiromu Arakawa?
Unlike comics artists in the Western world (save for probably Stan Lee), in Japan, mangaka (the Japanese name for a manga artist) have the potential to become rock stars. You're probably most likely to recognize Hayao Miyazaki for his Studio Ghibli films, but just for starters, there's also Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragon Ball), Tite Kubo (creator of Bleach), and Masashi Kishimoto (creator of Naruto).
Park is often mistaken for Arakawa
But what if you don't want the crowds of adoring fans following you around wherever you go? What if you just want to create manga? Arakawa Hiromu likely falls into this category because few people actually know what she looks like. There are almost no photos of her in existence, and they're all very low quality. She usually portrays herself as a bespeckled cartoon cow; in public appearances, she is typically represented by Park Romi (pictured here), and Park is often mistaken for Arakawa.
2 Say What?
If you watched either Fullmetal Alchemist or FMA: Brotherhood in the original Japanese (most likely with subtitles unless you're bilingual), you might have recognized the voice of Edward Elric. Ed is voiced in both series by Park Romi (yes, the same Park Romi who represents Arakawa in public appearances), an extremely successful Korean-Japanese voice actress and singer.
She does voice work in several Japanese dubs of American properties
According to Behind The Voice Actors, she has 241 roles to her credit, including not just Ganta from Deadman Wonderland and Captain Hitsugaya from Bleach (both pictured here), but also Hange Zoe from Attack on Titan, Temari from Naruto, and Forrest from Pokemon. Additionally, she does voice work in several Japanese dubs of American properties, such as Finn the Human in Adventure Time and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.
1 Together As One
For the English dub of Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse is voiced by Aaron Dismuke (who also has credits in My Hero Academia, Assassination Classroom, and Fairy Tail, among many others), but in the English dub of FMA: Brotherhood, he's voiced by Maxey Whitehead (also a veteran with tons of credits, including Soul Eater and One Piece). However, like Edward, Al had the same voice actor for both series in the original Japanese.
Her credits are full of huge titles
Rie Kugimiya is a famous Japanese voice actress and singer who has been working in film and anime since 1992. Her credits are full of huge titles. These include both of Ichigo's younger sisters in Bleach, Kagura in Gintama, and Happy in Fairy Tail. Interestingly, both Kugimiya and Whitehead voiced Jūzō Suzuya in Japanese and English, respectively, in Tokyo Ghoul.