In the impossible to fathom scope of existence, there exists every possibility ever conceived. Within every possibility ever conceived, there lies infinite potential. Within infinite potential, there lies countless paths with which all who exist can progress. Down these countless paths, all will discover something unknown and, in doing so, will push reality one step closer to its end. Maybe. I don’t know, I’m just making stuff up here. But it sure did sound poetic, didn’t it? See, that’s what happens when one person spits rhetoric into the void: nothing. Maybe a few others build upon it, maybe nobody does, but words without meaning are pointless. Conviction is required to build a message and only then will those listening find a foundation to build upon.
This is the kind of stuff that runs through one’s mind as this series reaches its end. Having spiralled further and further beyond the tale of two brothers, the saga of Amestris becomes one of impossible scope and tremendous impact. Luckily, everything is handled in such a way that it is not unbelievable, so we can sit back and enjoy the fact that our villain wishes to literally eat God…then does so. Call me crazy, but that is not where I thought we were going to end up when I first saw Isaac try and freeze a building way back when. Although, it does make you think how different the series would have been if he had succeeded, or if Hughes’ phone call had have gone through. However, neither of those happened and we are instead left with a world that almost crosses the precipice of destruction. Heck, it does cross it, but that stands as a mere method to showcase the unbridled planning of a select few heroes. And the best part of all of this is that it doesn’t feel cheap. Though the villain’s plan is effectively thwarted in the blink of an eye, it is played in such a way that one can only smile. The fact that said villain refuses to give up for a good three episodes after he is defeated definitely aids this; however, after having been through such trying circumstances again and again and again, it’s undeniably refreshing to see evil arrogance crumble to dust. Which is, again, quite literal.
With so many fragments of character all spiralling in the chaos of this series’ many plot thread, it becomes more and more apparent how well constructed it is. Despite obviously centring on the Elric brothers, there are large stretches of time where neither sibling is present. In these moments, their absence allows other characters to progress their own tales and build themselves up as important pieces of the narrative as a whole. This realisation came to me somewhere around the events at Briggs, when thought struck me and I asked: Where the heck is Envy? Remember Envy? He was a crucial character during the raid on the Fifth Laboratory, he was the one who framed Ross, he even pretended to be Father Cornello after Gluttony ate him. Then, he was gone…and everything was fine. As the story continued onward and such a major foe was left behind, there was no moment where I felt anxious to return, no time when I felt slighted by what was unfolding before me. It may not sound like much, but the ability to create multiple instances of compelling narrative is a truly impressive feat. Alphonse was even literally trapped in a dome for several episodes and it felt necessary and important. Also cool…it was really cool.
Another element that aided the weaving of this complex tale is the simple fact that not every character is aware of what’s happening to others. Though Edward and Alphonse make tremendous headway on the secret of the Philospher’s Stone, Mustang is largely unaware of their exploits until informed. Likewise, the Elric brothers remain in the dark regarding Mustang’s plans, discovering their extent only when they cross over with their story. A painful example of this lack of absolute contact comes with the death of Hughes. Not only are Edward, Alphonse and Winry unaware of this tragic event, Mustang’s attempt to cover up his absence with a lie of retirement is immediately shattered by Ross, having had no idea the brothers were lied to. A true mess of good intentions, it is a defining moment that showcases how characters, by and large, are not inherently aware of all we know as an audience. Heck, Edward never finds out that Winry is the reason his arm broke in the Fifth Laboratory and that almost killed him. Now that I think about it, Brosch also remains in the dark until the end of the series, believing his friend was brutally murdered by Mustang all the while…so that has to suck. A tremendous number of people also never find out the truth of the homunculi and believe a simple military coup is the reason for Amestris’ near-destruction. And when a nationwide coup is considered simple…
Another facet of this narrative I would like to call attention to is something which, if handled poorly, can seem cheap and negatively impact the unfolding of events: coincidence. In many stories, characters cross paths and perform actions that have no reason other than to involve others in their tale. Bad guys assault a location that just so happens to hold a protagonist’s friend, heroes just so happen to stumble upon villains in the act of evil, somebody trips over a loose carpet and accidentally crashes into a bookshelf that holds a magic tome with knowledge crucial to the plot at that exact moment; you know, common occurrences. Nothing in this series is an accident. Everybody enters the fray with motivation and purpose, with their every movement intended to help them reach their goal. It gives off the vibe that a far larger plan is in play from the onset of the series…which is true. Nearly everything is planned and the moments that aren’t are absorbed into the plot already in motion. Father didn’t care about the Elric brothers, they just happened to perform human transmutation. Yes, it’s coincidental that they happened to be Hohenheim’s children, but compared to everything else in this series, I’m willing to stomach that. The only other major coincidence I can think of revolves around Scar and Winry’s parents, though the manner in which that is handled makes for a truly powerful moment; thus, I am again willing to accept that sometimes the universe is simply smaller than we believe…and just a little bit of a jerk.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an amazing series. I know I’ve said that before, but it remains an inescapable fact of our universe. It is a harsh, painful tale that manages to present all the humour and heart you could desire. Lessons are learned, characters evolve and everything is handled with the realism of humanity. Not all heroes are good, not all monsters are bad and there exists no simple answer for life’s most complex questions. Even history itself is not an absolute truth, with both sides twisting it for their benefit, shaping the opinion of the world in the process. Despite what alchemy may claim, the human experience is not one of equivalent exchange. Some take more than they give and a select few do the opposite. Still, it is from this imbalance that progress is born. If everybody gave ten and asked for ten in return, existence would stagnate and nothing new would be born. And that, my friends, is a lesson that only took the near-destruction of the world to learn…let’s not cut it so close next time, okay?