FATHER – The Foil of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood’s Father
is an interesting antagonist. On one hand, there are several things about
him that don’t really allow me personally to connect with him much as a villain. He has presence and stature due to some impressive
audiovisual directing, but his personality throughout most of the story is quite bland
and one-note and once the initial shock of him looking exactly like Hohenheim wears off,
he doesn’t really distinguish himself among anime villains in terms of characterization. He breaks out of his shell once in a while
but he is stoic, serious and generically reserved, and not all that entertaining to watch. His motivations themselves are a double edged
sword, however, because while they are in line with his bland characterization in not
being very unique or interesting, they lend themselves extremely well to the story in
terms of theming. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, a story primarily
focused on human connection, love, the intricacies of the human condition and overcoming our
debilitating weaknesses to strive for more, finds itself with a big bad villain with the
grandest of inferiority complexes, a dwarf in a flask who just wants to prove himself
to be the best, to become God itself and swallow the world whole to prove himself the ultimate
being. I will obviously elaborate, but even just
saying this, it is clear that Father is antithetical to the majority of the messages that are communicated
in the story through many of the character arcs. So while I don’t find him to be particularly
enthralling as a villain and while he would probably never make his way into my list of
favourite anime antagonists, perspective is important and I cannot deny
that thematically and mechanically, Father is a great plot device and on paper, a terrific
foil. By purging himself of the Seven Deadly Sins,
he not only created seven beings with unfair limitations placed upon them that made it
difficult for them to live a truly fulfilling life, but he lost his way of genuinely becoming
a being as powerful as he wanted to become. Because one of the primary things that this
story communicates is that we gain stature and conviction not through the absence of
sin and weakness, but through overcoming it. Father took the easy way out and became brittle
as a result, thereby proving this narrative philosophy through contrast. Not only this, but it gives an in-universe,
logical explanation to explain his characterization. Father is withdrawn and serious because he
is almost literally a blank slate. His objective flaws and weaknesses stripped
away from him, he is a stony, mostly impassive person driven by ego. And instead of seeing the type of person he
is through his actions and behaviours, we can surmise the essence of Father through
the arcs of the aspects of himself that he stripped away – his Homunculi. The flashbacks and surface level personality
of Father shows an individual who is exceedingly selfish and power-hungry, but the nuances
fill in the gaps when you look at his children. Through Gluttony we see an insatiable desire
to consume all – though that much was pretty apparent already. Through Sloth we see an important laziness,
exaggerating the amount of ironic energy Father spent in taking the easy way out to find value
in life. Lust shows his postured insecurity through
her sadistic joy in showing her superiority over humans. Wrath’s simultaneous hatred and respect
of humanity, his intertwining desire to partake in their sentiment and his feelings of repulsion
show that Father is drawn the human nature – an idea that is emphasized through Envy,
whose clear inferiority complex took root as a result of their jealousy of humans. Pride harboured a grudging respect for the
love and connections that the humans shared, and Greed was only greedy in order to fill
the hole in his soul that could only be repaired with friendship. It all paints a cohesive, lonely picture of
someone who longs to be human, but covers it up due to a fear of being hurt. Their flaws are his flaws, their yearning
is his yearning. It’s a very interesting way to characterize
Father, and it is pretty subtle in presentation. Father convinced himself that he didn’t
need anything except power to be whole, but failed to see, or was scared to see, the possibility
of any other value in life. So as the cast’s growing maturity and togetherness
gathers force as the story progresses, Father experiences the opposite in terms of psyche. A gradual decline, an unwinding. It is not incorrect to say that Father’s
arc is very immature, petty and small time, with motivations both narrow-minded and radically
selfish. He was running on egotistic fumes, so it’s
no surprise that by the end he completely loses it, with no goal in mind except self-preservation
for reasons he is not even sure of. Despite the huge scale, Father’s story is
not epic or abstract or complex – it is essentially one gigantic temper tantrum, and it works
extremely well. He may not be that interesting to watch for
some, but he proves to be a pathetic, lonely figure at the end. His problem was taking shortcuts through life,
wanting to bypass his humanity and dismissing the importance of human connection, and he
ended up something of a pitiful disgrace. He represented everything that the protagonistic
cast opposed, being their diametric opposite in terms of motivations, mentality, psychology,
philosophy and values. And due to his spectacular loss, his ideals
proved themselves to be wholly unsavoury and incorrect – it is ironic that the man who
nearly destroyed the whole world was the one who thought the smallest, ending up being
both a lamentation of those who live without love, and a structurally pristine way to drive
home the main points of the story. He wanted too much – not in the sense that
the improbably is unachievable in this story, but that it is unachievable if you go about
it the wrong way and ignore the fundamentals of life. Like a dog chasing cars, he knew what he wanted
but likely had no idea why he wanted it – but possessed of an idea, he lost all essence
of humanity and failed to realize that fulfillment is only achievable with the parts that he
casted away. Father is more of a backboard to accentuate
the themes than a strong personality or a genuinely impressive figure, and Arakawa knew
what she was doing when crafting him. Some, myself included, may feel like this
does not make him incapable of being improved upon. He is not a great character in a vacuum and
as I mentioned, there are a good few drawbacks to writing this sort of personality. But characters are not to be judged in a vacuum,
and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is undoubtedly benefitted by the presence of the Dwarf in
the Flask. What is humanity, and by extension, life itself
– without it’s flaws? Bland, boring, unfulfilling, flat. Kind of the way people sometimes feel about
Father as a villain. Many thanks for watching.


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