Individual Project: Mythologies in Anime – Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師) has animated twice in 2003 and 2009. Though both of them adapted from the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa (荒川弘) in 2001, yet the 2009 version is much directly following the original events of the manga. In this circumstance, the following study would be only focus on the 2009 anime version as the analysis.

The story happen in time after the European Industrial Revolution, about 2 young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are alchemist and searching for the philosopher’s stone to fix the mistake that they have made when they were kids. They paid for what they have done, a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy, they lost their body part, they believe in the power of philosopher’s stone, they could restore their bodies back.

Background

The setting of Fullmetal Alchemist is in the period of Prussia, it shows that the author, Hiromu Arakawa, yearn for the days when Japan was in the Meiji Restoration. That is the time of Japan was changing from sinology, as known as kangaku (漢学), to early westernization. The Japanese societies was adopting western culture and reformed in areas like economics, militaries, politics, clothing, language, religion, and philosophy etc. According to Fukuzawa Yukichi, he believed that was the civilization from the feudal society pattern, not only on the physically and materially changes, but under the education system, the value also was getting tend to modernize.

Back in those days, Japan paid highly attention on science development as the societies’ basis, like physic, chemistry, mathematic and so forth. One might wonder why the author would choose to use something seemingly unscientific to portray the modernization of Japan. In fact, modern science, especially chemistry and medicine, is highly influenced by alchemy and some might even argue that alchemy constitutes the basis of science.49e5cb301910c In Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy and science are interrelated, alchemy is the ancient metaphysical science of manipulate and alter matter by using natural energy. The “transmutation" (錬成) process in steps by comprehension, deconstruction and reconstruction, in order to transmute properly needs full understanding of chemistry and ancient alchemical theory. For those individuals who have the unusual intelligence and aptitude to study and practice alchemy are known as “Alchemists". Since alchemy is a science and so to certain laws and limitations, which under the concept of Equivalent Exchange, ‘alchemy is science not omnipotent, cannot create something from nothing’, from the opening of episode 2 to 8 in 2009 version of Fullmetal Alchemist.

Based on this golden rule, Hiromu Arakawa implants his interpretation of bible into the world of Fullmetal Alchemist step by step. In the story, transmute human is forbidden, one of the reason is because alchemy cannot be create a soul from nothing. Another reason is because of the bible, according to Genesis, after Adam and Eve tasted the fruit, they have realized the sexually differences between them, “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain", this shows the creation of life is a ability and knowledge between a man and woman sexual relationship. Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 4.29.37 AM.pngTherefore, in the episode 11, when Edward witnesses the newborn baby, ‘This is a birth of new life. Alchemists for centuries, but still not able to that, a person’s creating another person‘, he said to Winry. Furthermore, based on the same idea that shows transmute human from dead back to life is forbidden, besides quote from the bible, ‘And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ (Genesis, 2:7), so it seems when life comes to an end, human return to the ground where we belong.

Characters – Homunculus

Apart from the “life and dead" concept from Genesis, not to mention the villains, Homunculus, who named and psyched after the seven deadly sins (Pride, Greed, Wrath, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony and Envy).

Homunculus, meaning ‘little man’ in Latin. It first appears in alchemical writings associate to Paracelsus, Swiss German philosopher. During the renaissance, the idea of creating little humanoid creature has already appeared. In use of science, which in the anime is referring to alchemy, to create a human by human. According to Campbell, an undated Arabic work called the Book of the Cow, the materials required for creation of 14bf9659dbfc171ac368933ef0f2d95bhomunculus include animal blood, to be fed with blood of its decapitated mother so that it can become fully-formed (Campbell, 2010).

In the story, the very first homunculus, Father, was made by Edward’s father, Van Hohenheim, he was ordered to help the king to find a way to be immortal, and use his blood to fed it. It wanted to give thanks to Hohenheim for giving him life, so that it taught him alchemy in return. One day, it helps Hohenheim to finish his task, to transmute the philosopher’s stone, to let the king to become immortal. Yet, it transform the power of philosopher’s stone and transmute it into its and Hohenheim’s bodies, so that both of them can have immortality and it can have a human form from him outlook. Time flies, the homunculus removed his 7 emotions and transmuted 7 more homunculus, which are the seven deadly sins. As early mentioned, human to create another human use be a man and woman job, create homunculus have no doubt is up against the natural rule and god’s will, therefore in this anime Hiromu Arakawa brings an argument, because of the power of creation so is that mean it is okay to sacrifice the other’s life for “science"?

Moreover, in the view of Hiromu Arakawa, he believes science is the way that human try to understand of god, as the story mention, alchemy is the way to understand the “truth", people want to fully understand it, as the perfectly existence and become god. Yet the existence of human is limited, which refer to the seven deadly sins, so he believes people cannot be replace of god, that is the rule.

Symbolism

Not to mention the symbols in the anime as the key message of the world in Fullmetal Alchemist. ce3714f40f44fcaeb05396cf29ed5c2eFirst of all, the Gate of Truth. The tree pattern on the door, in fact that is the Sephirothic Tree, as known as ‘Kabbalah’ or ‘Tree of Life’, the tree that first described in Gensis 2:9, as being planted with the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the Garden of Eden. Kabbalah is the ancient wisdom in Judaism that reveals how the universe and life work. The tree formed by 10 septhiroth and 22 paths, is a set of esoteric teaching aim to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal, and mysterious infinity and the mortal and finite universe (God’s creation).

Another iconic symbol in Fullmetal Alchemist, is the one that a snake on the cross. To be exactly the refer to the name of Crucified Serpent, Untitled-1or the Flamel. This was one of the central images features in the alchemical manuscript in 14 century, by Nicholas Flamel, the one who developed a reputation as an alchemist have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and achieved immortality. Original one was simply a snake that crucified on the cross, moralistic as the crucifixion of Jesus. As stated in Bible, “A curse on everyone who is put to death by hanging on a tree", snake is cursed by god, and Jesus die on the cross to replace us for the curse. In the alchemy theories, snake is representing the imperfection state of the material. Similarly as Jesus resurrect after his crucifixion, the raw material before the transmutation from imperfect to a perfection, it needs a process of corrupting.

 

References:

Arakawa, H. (Author) & Irie, Y. (Director). (2009). Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師 FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST) [Anime Television Series]. Japan, MBS: Mainichi Broadcasting System.

Campbell, M. B. (2010). Artificial Men: Alchemy, Transubstantiation, and the Homunculus. Republics of Letters. Retrieved from: http://arcade.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/article_pdfs/roflv01i02_02campbell_comp3_083010_JM_0.pdf

Fukazawa, Y. (1875). An Outline of a Theory of Civilization (文明論之概略). Japan: (n.p.).

Hayes, C. (2012). Introduction to the Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press.

The Kabbalah Centre. (2016). What is Kabbalah?. Kabbalah Centre International. Retrieved from: https://www.kabbalah.com/what-kabbalah

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