HomeArticlesThe Philosophy of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Wisecrack Edition
The Philosophy of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – Wisecrack Edition
September 6, 2019
What’s up, everybody. Jared again Today we’re talking about anime’s most powerful pipsqueak Sorry about that, Edward. Now, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” has all the trappings of an instant classic High concept science fiction….. Check! Awesome fight scenes.. Definitely! Strong philosophical core? Well, that’s why we’re here! Throughout Edward and Alphonse’s journey to restore their bodies, the two are confronted with various discourses on the efficacy and application of science or in their case “Alchemy”. Sure it’s through alchemy that they hope to recover their bodies But they also see it used for some pretty awful things So what is “Brotherhood” saying about Science and the way it’s applied to this world? And how does faith fit into this discussion? Well, let’s find out. Welcome to this Wisecrack edition on the philosophy of “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”. And of course! Spoilers Ahead! But first a quick primer “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is set in Amestris. A country reminiscent of pre-World War 2 Europe whose defining feature is the success of Alchemy or the manipulation and altering of matter using natural energy Alchemy is essentially treated as a science one that combines chemistry and biology with its own unique laws and principles Alchemy’s most important law “The Law of Equivalent Exchange” Or you know the law that means if you get the right materials and draw a circle You can do this! The show establishes a push and pull dynamic between science and Faith almost immediately. In Episode 3 , Ed and Al travel to the desert town of Liore to investigate Father Cornello, a holy figure who has gained control of the people by awe-ing them with Miracles and Indoctrinating them in the faith of Leto-ism The second they arrive though, the brothers make their views abundantly clear to the faithful. And their skepticism toward the divine is justified And it turns out Cornello’s miracles are just cleverly veiled applications of Alchemy that he uses to attract followers willing to die for him. Ed in Al expose Cornello is a fraud and liberate the people of Liore from his ideological tyranny. So, Science Rules Faith drools! Right? Well, not so fast! In the following episode the brothers are sent to study under the Sewing-Life Alchemist, Shou Tucker. Tucker was the first alchemist to
successfully create a talking chimera and tries to repeat his success in order to retain his state alchemists certification The Elrics’ fascination quickly turns to horror and in one of the biggest gut punches in anime history We see THIS! Yeah, that’s right! Tucker actually used his family dog and his own daughter as components to create his chimera But far from feeling remorse, Tucker claims he was only doing what science demands In the face of such an artocity science no longer seemed so innocent does it? so where does this conflict between science and Faith lead us? Tucker, the amoral alchemist in search of scientific knowledge at any cost largely sets the tone for the rest of the show. Over at 64 episodes, “Brotherhood” Forces us to question the value of single-mindedly clinging to science and the consequences of reducing all knowledge to scientific terms A mode of thought loosely known in the real world as Now, I know what you’re thinking. Jared, doubting science is what people in a cult do But just humoring. When Philosophers critique scientism they’re not saying that science is a lie. What they’re criticizing is how we put Scientific knowledge above all other knowledge And how we try to reduce other forms of knowledge into it. According to Philosopher Paul Feyerabend, science is just one of many competing explanatory frameworks one which is neither as rational nor consistent as it pretends to be. Feyerabend’s favorite example is Copernicus, whose heliocentric model of the Universe was actually rejected by scientists of his day. To them, Aristotle’s idea of celestial spheres offered a fuller explanation of why the planets moved in the sky? While Copernicus’s model could correctly calculate the movement of the planets, it couldn’t explain why they moved as they did until Newton’s theory on Gravity was published over a century later. Science in this case wasn’t interested in the truth so much as self-preservation Like any ideology, Feyerabend worries at an unquestioning acceptance of it like with Liore and Leto-ism can lead to some potentially disastrous results In his book against method in science in a free society, Feyerabend asks, And monsters are exactly what science creates in the world of “Brotherhood” such as man-made Chimeras that are referred to as ungodly experiments This impersonal, dehumanizing aspect of alchemy is enshrined in “The Law of Equivalent Exchange” Which inherently reduces objects animals and even people to their physical components The Elric Brothers’ entire Journey starts because the two believe they can bring their mother back to life by simply transmuting the basic ingredients of a human being This dehumanizing nature is furthered by one of Alchemy’s most sought-after creations “The Philosopher’s Stone” When Ed and Al decode Doctor Marcoh’s notes They realize the key ingredient to the stone… is human life!!! The stone is the ultimate product of alchemy allowing its users to ignore the law of equivalent exchange But even though the stone can restore Ed and Al’s bodies, the two are reluctant if not just plain unwilling to use the stone. in contrast, the “Homonculi”, Artificial humans powered by Philosopher Stones regurgitate scientis’s big philosophy. Reducing the souls trapped within the stones to mere alchemic principles While Ed and Al both use the power of the stones on one occasion each, they do so while respecting the autonomy of those souls. This distinguishes the brothers as moral according to Philosopher For Kant, people are never meant to be used or reduced to calculations, but rather are always a goal in themselves But Ed and Al’s problem with alchemy is larger than its impersonal nature But also its subservience to the military. Alchemy is so under the control of the Amestrian government that there are actually three state appointed tenets of Alchemy. The first of which, Is LITERALLY obey the military In fact, State Alchemists are generally referred to as dogs of the military and even as human weapons! In his book “Science Wars”, sociologist Stanley Aronowitz argues that scientists often view themselves as Yet scientists funding must come from SOMEWHERE and often it’s from corporations or the state. As such scientists don’t really own their discoveries and have little say about their application. Throughout the anime, Ed constantly clashes with this militarization of science by the state and his own complicity with it as Alex Armstrong succinctly puts it… We even see this military influence to store the basic principles of science. When Ed and Al reminisce about being trained on a desert island as children, they come to the epiphany that Alchemy is all about understanding the natural flow of energy both deconstructing AND reconstructing it But this principle is later twisted in the mouths of the military. In justifying destroying the whole country and slaughtering its population, one general even goes so far and to rephrase it as “Alchemic Rebirth” As tools of the government, Alchemists have become the very instruments of the series’ chief antagonist “Father” who controls the Amestrian state. Father desires nothing more than to assume the mantle of God. A goal which he’s used Alchemy, countless military Conflicts and MILLIONS of innocent lives to prepare for. In fact Amestris’ most brutal and heartless war, “The Ishbalan War of Exterminaton was fought just to further Father’s plan. And it’s this war were the state alchemists made their largest military impact What’s shocking about Ishbal isn’t just the devastating force that Alchemy wrecked on it But the scientific language used to explain it. Even the good guys here can’t help but couch what’s essentially GENOCIDE in these sterile scientific terms In fact, this sanitizing nature of scientific language is what escalated the Ishbalan war war to new heights As Führer King Bradley told the high priest of Ishbala when he offered himself up in exchange for a ceasefire, “The Law of Equivalent Exchange” won’t allow it Hell, the fuhrer even considers his wife to be nothing more than an expendable pawn for his greater scheme. Now, if the title of “Führer” is raising eyebrows among you, there’s a good reason for that. the country Amestris is reminiscent of pre-World War 2 Germany. A militant nation expanding beyond its borders and a blond-haired blue-eyed army, whose uniforms look a lot like that of the SS. Even the “Might is Right” motivation behind Nazi Germany, bubbles to the surface in Amestris. As General Raven invokes Social Darwinism to justify mass extermination. And if that’s not enough to convince you then you only have to compare Amestris’ human experiment to that of Auschwitz’ lead doctor, Dr. Josef Mengele Whether it’s raising babies in underground laboratories, stitching together people and animals or ripping souls from bodies It’s hard to say that Amestris lacks the same want and cruelty and morbid scientific curiosity that defined Mengele’s operations Mengele established a kindergarten at Auschwitz for his younger experiment Allegedly stitching two gypsy girls together. And if he could have Gotten his hands on a literal soul, he probably would have mutilated it Oh, yeah Did we mention that Feyerabend actually fought as a Lieutenant in World War 2? Even earning an iron cross in the process? Witnessing firsthand the Scientific arguments made by a dictatorship for war and genocide, it’s no surprise that Feyeraben would one day propose a separation between science and state with ultimate power resting in Democracy In his lecture, he argued, So it’s safe to say that “Fullmetal Alchemist” presents a cautionary tale about the blind adherence to science But what does it say about Faith? Well throughout its 64 episode run, Faith is often portrayed as another explanatory model Another source of truth and power. In fact for a show populated almost entirely by scientists, the characters make a number of appeals to Faith. In the episode “The Miracle of Rush Valley” (Episode 11) Ed an Al witness the delivery of a baby become awestruck and point out the limitations of Alchemy Dr.. Marcoh the alchemist largely responsible for the creation of the Philosopher’s stone during the Ishbal Civil war calls it fate that he met the Ishbalan, Scar, before the two set out together to challenge the government. Similarly Knox ,who worked as a doctor during the war and was subsequently estranged from his family invokes God when they returned to him. Even Bradley, a homunculus, wonders if his own death at the hand of Scar was providence. Bradley who mercilessly killed the Ishbalan people during the war was told that God would strike him down one day And it was the sun looking like a crescent moon which together symbolized God in alchemy that blinded him and allowed scar to strike the finishing blow So is that the thematic takeaway of the show? Science is bad Faith is good. So keep on praying? Well, not quite See the problem with scientism Isn’t that science is bad and that non science is good. Feyarabend isn’t giving the middle finger to vaccines and posting about chemtrails on Twitter. Nope, instead his main contention is that, What Feyarabend opposes is any unreflective veneration of any ideology. Because it inhibits free thought As it turns out, the blind following of science as the arbiter of truth, is just as harmful as the blind following of Faith as the arbiter of truth. Whether its Father Cornello or the “Homonculi” using the Leto-ists is to incite violence against their enemies, or scar using his God, “Ishvala” to justify his vengeance against the alchemists Faith alone can be every bit just as scary as science Characters grow in “Brotherhood” when they realized the limitations of adhering to any one ideology Edward and Alphonse for example begin to question the foundations of Western Alchemy which Supposedly takes its energy from the tectonic movements of the Earth’s Mantle when Father manages to cancel it out It’s their quest for an explanation that leads them to science’s eastern equivalent, Alkahestry, which uses life energy from the planet It’s ultimately bridging the gap between these two ideologies that allows our heroes to eventually triumph The two different scientists come together to make a reverse transmutation circle that saves the lives of all Amestris Perhaps no character embodies its development more than Scar. A survivor of the is fallen war of extinction Scar targets State Alchemists out of revenge. To him not only are alchemists weapons but they transgress against God who alone possesses the right to create But as Scar learns more about Amestris, he realizes how wrong he was to seek vengeance Scar who once cloaked his actions in the words of God, finally understands that no ideology can justify murder Scar even breaks from the strict laws that govern his fate. Making use of the very alchemy that his God abhors in order to save the country he once hated Scar’s transformation stands in stark contrast to the show’s main antagonist “Father” who clings to his single-Minded belief in science Father becomes obsessed with the power of alchemy and takes this obsession to the logical extreme viewing mankind is little more than materials for him to use in becoming God Blinded by scientism, Father can’t understand the value of human emotions and discards them in his attempt to become perfect he literally rips the seven deadly sins from himself Lust Greed Sloth Gluttony Envy Wrath and Pride who in turn become the other “Homunculi” Ultimately, it’s this conviction in the absolute supremacy of science and the ability to achieve perfection through it that undoes “Father” the souls trapped in the Philosopher’s stone which he dismissed as mere energy, begin to assert their will and repel against him Father’s conception of a soul as a mere ingredient fails to account for the autonomy of these individuals After an epic punch to the gut, Father is finally killed and dragged back into the void from whence he came where he meets the real God a being called “Truth”. Still desperately clinging to scientism Father demands to know what he did wrong But unlike Scar and others, Father refused to recognize any kind of human wisdom beyond alchemy. All of this goes to show what makes Ed and Al particularly special throughout the series They’re humble rejection of a single ideology. From the show’s outset, the two grapple with what alchemy is and what it means to be a State Alchemist. It’s this questioning that makes the brothers seen both naive and likable At the brothers core is a strong desire to discover their own truth When psychopath extraordinaire “Solf J. Kimblee” has Alphonse cornered he wonders why our hero doesn’t just take the Philosopher’s stone and get his body back Sure the country would face certain destruction from “Father” But that’s just equivalent exchange in action In order to get their bodies back. They have to give up the world’s safety But Al rejects that alchemic worldview reaffirming their desire to find their OWN truth It’s this search for possibilities that distinguishes the brothers and allows Ed to make his final transmutation After Al sacrifices himself in order to give Ed his arm back Ed follows his brother into the portal to bring him back. When asked by the truth what price he’ll pay, Ed smiles and offers his ability to perform alchemy and recognizes the arrogance in thinking that alchemy could explain everything let alone solve all his problems. Unlike father who couldn’t accept his place in the universe and equated Alchemy with power Ed knows the truth, With their bodies back in the day saved, what’s left for our heroes to do? in typical Elric fashion, it’s to keep searching for truth and new methods to discover it as Alphonse puts it they want to give back to the people who helped them all along their journey But it’s not a simple give and take not a cold formula like the “Law of Equivalent Exchange” To that end, Al is travelling east and Ed, west In hopes of gathering all knowledge to make this principle a reality Of course old habits tend to die hard and when Ed finally confesses his feelings to Winry. it comes out like this Of course, maybe Ed didn’t need to go so far from home to realize that science alone can’t explain everything We waited 64 episodes for that moment, and it was damn worth it So what do you think Wisecrack? Will pure devotion to science lead us on a dark path? Do we need to inject a little, I don’t know, maybe philosophy into how we look at the world?