Fullmetal Alchemist, Vols. 1-3: A Quick Note on Heroism

Cover of the first 3-1 volume of Fullmetal Alchemist, comprising volumes 1, 2, and 3.Title: Fullmetal Alchemist, volumes 1, 2 and 3

Author: Hiromu Arakawa

Publication Date: For this omnibus edition, 2011. These three volumes were originally published in 2002.

LC Call Number:  PN6790.J34H3313

Okay, this is the end (for now!!) of a post on this volume which was so long I ended up breaking it into parts.  For an explanation, please see the first part of this post.   This is just another thought I wanted to throw in, so it’s too short for a real post, but oh, well. Short as it is, it does include some  spoilers!

It’s curious, looking at all my writing about this series, how little attention I’ve given to the relationship between Ed and Al, because it’s really the cornerstone of the story.  In a way, that’s partly because it’s very simple, at least from Ed’s point of view: he needs Al. He is really invested in the idea of protecting Al and has literally paid an arm and a leg to keep him present in the world and sorta-alive (this is not funny, unless it is).  In a way, this is indicative of a larger part of Ed’s character; he has terrible nightmares in which his mother rebukes him for not bringing her back to life, and I’ve already written about his rage over his inability to reverse Tucker’s experiments. But Al is more than that; he is the only real source of emotional stability in Ed’s life.  For instance, it’s Al who stops Ed from beating Tucker to death when he’s pretty much lost control. (Note, also, that Al actually has a little more gravitas in that scene. Ed punches Tucker in the face over and over again while screaming, and Tucker just continues to taunt him; Al tells him to shut up and he does.) And then again, Al is a character who is also important to the reader, although I haven’t written about him much. He’s the voice of reason, the one who can talk to people, the level-headed foil to Ed’s hair-trigger temper.

I’m bringing this up because there is, in Volume 2, a moment about the Ed/Al relationship that I’ve wanted to write about for a while.

Scar catches up with them.  His goal in life is to kill state alchemists, and he’s currently targeting Ed.  Al is not a state alchemist, so Scar isn’t really interested in him. They are cornered in an alley and Scar turns out to be faster than they are. He incapacitates Al and blows up Ed’s mechanical arm.  At this point, Ed makes a deal with him; he will submit to death, if Scar promises not to harm Al.  Scar agrees to this, but Ed is saved by Mustang’s intervention.

This is a fairly classic situation, but what I love about it is how angry it makes Al.  The entire time that Ed is making this deal, Al is yelling at him to run away. After the battle is over, and they are both safe, if somewhat damaged, Al, instead of appreciating Ed’s sacrifice, berates him for not fleeing.  He’s not pacified by Ed’s reminding him that he might have been killed (“I might not have been killed, too!!”), and tells him that if he had thrown away his life, he would never forgive him.  This is a really interesting moment to me, as any moment where you have a character refusing to be reduced to motivation for another character is interesting. In fact, what Al is doing here is calling out Ed’s selfishness. It’s pretty unusual to think of moments like this one as selfish, but considering that he was setting up for Al to watch him be killed… This is actually clearer in the anime, but it’s present here too, as Al reminds Ed, rather forcefully, that death means giving up his chance to accomplish any of his goals.

(This does not of course mean that Ed will not do the same thing again, but I appreciate that Al at least has the chance to make this complaint.)

So although Ed fills the role of someone-to-protect, that isn’t a role that defines his character. (It’s also a role that seems incongruous, considering that he is a hulking suit of armor.) I’d like to think about this further in terms of gender, because I think Al as a male character in this role occupies a different place in the text than one that an analogous female character would occupy (usually occupies), and I suspect that Arakawa is doing something clever here, but that’s more thinking I still need to do.

It is, however, worth noting that Al feels that he is taking care of Ed, not the reverse.  He sighs to Winry that “it’s not easy having such a high-maintenance older brother” (413).  This is undeniable, and we do see Al doing the emotional work over and over again. But, as I say above, Ed needs him.

(and look at that, I wrote three posts here and hardly talked about the Lab 5 plot at all, and never mentioned Sheska, whom I love and kind of am. One day I’ll figure out why I end up writing about the parts that I do…)

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