Two young boys, Alphonse and Edward Elric find themselves having lost nearly everything in a failed attempt to resurrect their dead mother through a forbidden ritual using the science of alchemy—a forbidden ritual of human transmutation. As a result of their failure, Edward lost a leg and arm while his brother lost his entire body, his soul now anchored to an empty suit of armour. Showing great alchemic talent for their age, they train and study to become State Alchemists in the hopes of gaining access to much-needed knowledge and resources. They work with Winry—a childhood friend and automail mechanic, Colonel Mustang, and many others.
Through their position and with their friends’ help, they hope to discover the secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone, which may be the key to getting their bodies restored. We want to take the time here to discuss some key themes in the anime to help audience members gain a better grasp of the vast world of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
The Science of Alchemy
In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, alchemy is not so much a type of magic as it is an exact science. In simple terms, alchemy is the study and experimentations of matter in all its forms and the transmutation of that matter. Essentially using science to warp and change the essence or very nature of matter into practically anything. This includes turning lead into gold or manipulating a block of stone or a sheet of metal into a weapon.
This being said, with such power at the fingertips of a human being, it can be abused, misused, or disastrous if left unchecked. Perhaps the most important law in alchemy is the law of equivalent exchange. “To obtain something, something of equal value must be given.” This is an absolute law and the law that the Elric brothers broke in their attempt to bring back their mom, for nothing can equal a human soul.
Geopolitics, Ranks, and Conflicts
The Elric brothers live in the country of Amestris. Alphonse accompanies his brother as Edward works as a State Alchemist for the country’s military government under the rule of Führer King Bradley. The government, like any military, is composed of various ranks such as General, Brigadier General, Colonel, Major, Lieutenant, Sergeant, Private, and more. A State Alchemist is viewed as the equivalent of a Major upon successful registration. In order to become a State Alchemist, one needs to pass certification exams. State Alchemists are incredibly gifted alchemists whose roles can involve both important alchemic research for the country as well as weaponizing their respective styles of alchemy to fight enemies.
The world in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is full of conflict and strife, much like our own. One particular conflict which is felt throughout the course of the anime is that between Amestris and its southeastern region of Ishval, which held a lively and distinct culture with its own identity. This changed following the outbreak of the Ishvalan Civil War during which the military government and the Ishvalan people collided causing a massive loss of life and deep hatred on both sides.
Among those who birthed a deep-seated hatred from the conflict is a mysterious Ishvalan man named Scar who, acting as an agent of his deity named Ishval, seeks to murder all state alchemists for their blasphemous use of alchemy, unnaturally changing the order of things to fit their design.
The largest threat through the entire show is that of the homunculi, strange beings formed from alchemy, each carrying various special abilities and named after the seven deadly sins. They work to undermine the Elric brothers and seek to acquire power for a mysterious force that may end up destroying everyone and everything the Elric brothers love.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood takes place in an alternate world around the late 19th to early 20th century with various similarities to our world when it comes to clothing, culture, and systems of government. There are various differences that separate our universe from this one in addition to alchemy, there is also the existence of automail—mechanical prostheses that replace missing limbs like modern-day prosthetics. There is an entire market and culture around automail in the anime. Edward Elric got his name as the Fullmetal Alchemist due to the fact that his right arm and left leg are both automail constructed by his childhood friend Winry.
Thank you for reading our article. We hope this has helped you understand the world of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood a little better. If you have yet to watch the anime, we highly recommend you give it a chance. You can find it wherever anime is streamed. Let us know in the comments if we left out any important details you believe can help those new to the anime.