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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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Week 8 – Dig A Little Deeper

Every piece of work representing the author himself, at the mean time each of them may representing their country as well. Just like the previous blog mentioned, Manga Isn’t Just A Story, from 5 different angle to content analyze manga, action (or poses), dialog, story background, character and the world view. And yet to make a detailed comparison take times to take note and compare, therefore instead of manga, anime could be another option, since anime mostly based on one manga, though the scene might be deleted or the storyline might be rearranged, still the plot and the story setting could be remaining the original one. bd0013e60ee35aa3cab5f36b282f3fd2

Simply analyze another animated fantasy manga, which is similar as the last case, Fullmetal Alchemist. The name is Black Bulter (黒執事), is a story that happen in Victorian-era London. It’s about a young boy, Ciel Phantomhive, who lost everything and become an orphan in a night, he sold his soul to the demon, Sebastian, and in return the demon help him exact revenge. The demon incarnates as his butler, take care of his daily living. In the help of Sebastian, Ciel returns to the Phantomhice household. And as the Queen’s guard dog and standing at the top of the British underworld, Ciel solves the crimes plaguing London while waiting for the day of revenge.

People who watched this piece, mostly think of the forbidden romance between Ciel and Sebastian, though in the story there is never exactly mentioned this relationship, but only describe them very close. Anyhow this is not the only feature of the manga. In fact, the character setting of demon, grim reaper and angel, all of these are well related to the perspective of religion. Even for the name, “Sebastian", is named after a French inquisitor, Sebastien Michaelis, who lived during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. This inquisitor, was involved in a case of demonic possession back in 1960.1408518594-2573643157_m

In this world of existed Angels and Demons, the author brings up quite a lot of good of thought question about being good or bad, right or wrong, justice or crime etc black and white question. Sebastian is a demon, he eats soul for living, he

Week 5 – Manga Isn’t Just A Story

For those people like me who deeply in love with manga, by only to read the book can no longer fulfil our needs and desires. We want more than stories, we start to ask questions. Why the excitement always happen to the teenager not the adult of the family? Why there are always repeating some similar scenes in different mangas, like running or chasing after something. Why the main character somehow for most of the settings, he or she is gifted, something special inside of him or her. Every single detail meant something, has its meaning to be there, is a clue to leading us to the world of the author’s mind.

To answer those questions that we had in mind, to decode the message that author hidden in the book, we try to find the way to get to know Japan first. Begin with the language, etiquette even their history etc., people are willing to learn, to study, to understand their culture. Than we can find our way to understand the message, the perspective, the world behind the manga. Like I said each manga present the world of the author, and with all the worlds of them could present the context of japan.

And so I believe, to study the semiotics of manga, it would be an interesting way to decode my lifetime passion. First of all sort the manga following their genre, like action, adventure, fantasy etc. After that, analyze and compare the similarities and differences between each category base of the action (or poses), dialog, story background, character and the world view.fullmetal-alchemist

For example, make one of the famous manga Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師) as the first case study. For the record, all of my readings list of manga would be in chinese version, which published in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Since these are well translated in my mother language, so that I can well understand the content and meaning of the book.

Back to the case, Fullmetal Alchemist was published in 2001 by Hiromu Arakawa (荒川弘). This is an adventure and science fantasy manga. 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.

In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist, which is during the time in 16 century,  natural philosophy is highly connect to everything. The author created a world that alchemy is one of the most practiced sciences, and keep repeating the idea about Law of Equivalent Exchange again and again.628c31f01be86ba652edf0cbd9f73c9c Yet when it comes to life, alchemy has its limitation. Alchemist is not allowed to transmute humans and gold. The most obvious rule from the very first beginning of the story, which is the reason that Elric Brother would ever lost their body parts.

One of the most interesting code in this manga, you may find of the relation with the bible. When it comes to the characters, author made a  well design on the background setting. He made and named the villains, homunculus, according to the seven deadly sins (Pride, Greed, Wrath, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony and Envy). At the end of the story, mentioned different way that each of they die because of their nature personality.

Speaking of which, Homunculus, is not initially made up from nothing. In fact, during the renaissance, has already got the idea of creating little humanoid creature. The name of homunculus first appears in alchemical writings associate to Paracelsus, Swiss German philosopher.

Simple analyze of the story plot, just like I have mentioned on the above, further step would be dig deeper and compare to more same genre manga.

Week 4 – Still Comics

As we know, the comic world is not  as same as the olden days. From the printed to digital manga, numbers of translated copies around the world, manga is not just an entertainment use, but also is one of the Japanese culture greatest creation. Follow my previous writing, Comic Addicted, which mentions Hong Kong manga lovers’ reading habit, this blog post gives further discussion about the changes between the past and the present.

Quick question, does anyone ever count the number of pages in printed manga?img_8618 Before I answer that, we have to understand there is 2 types of digital manga, first one is the original, usually is in larger size of the colourful pictures (the size mainly want to fit the size of the mobile device screen), most of them are meant to create for those young writers (mangaka), who in the beginner level would like to share their own work. Since as the very beginning of any career, it is not easy to find a publisher to represent the name of your work, specially in the kingdom of comic, no doubt there would be tons of competitors. In this circumstances, these kind of platform become the new trend of comics, no matter is the writer or the reader, both of them changed the way that the editing or reading habit.

img_8620Another one is scanner, this is very common for years. Basically the purpose of these kind of webpage or apps, are only meant to upload the printed comic pages as the back up online, usually remain the same as the printed copies of course, black and white colour, same picture ratio size as the typesetting of the page, which is definitely illegal. But somehow those developers in china can always find the way to escape the net, so that reader can read those well translated copies online and free in charge.

Now, back to the number of page question. The answer is tb17ioqpxxxxxclxpxxxxxxxxxx_2-item_picdepends on which kind of manga. For those printed copy with only one whole series of story, publish as the writer’s name, that what we called, tankōbonindividual volumes of a single manga. Normally including 5-6 chapters which is continue the storyline, around 150-200 pages, yearly publish. shsa_jp01wj2015031d01_57_coverUnlike the monthly or weekly manga magazine consistently including more than 10 chapters, such of them around 20- 25 pages or more, which are irrelevant stories may consider as different columns since the writers are different person as well.

Why this is related to the digital comics you may ask, well since the benefit of the digital copies are user friendly that reader can not only free to read the manga, and also reduce the time of waiting, this is also the secret of the speed. For most of the scanners are only scan the weekly updates from those manga magazine, so that they can catch up the new trend.

Week2 – Comic Addicted

Autoethnography, a way to systematically research, describe, and analyze personal experience in cultural context (Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011). When it comes to me, I meant to observe those manga (Japanese comic) lover just like me, about their habit on reading comic or watching animation.img_8058

For people who live anywhere but Japan like me, to make sure that we can watch the latest manga or anime, what we do is make a good use of internet. Like the girl who is wearing red sweater and she is using the online platform, Youtube, to watch the animations. Though the screen shows the Chinese subtitle which I believe it makes easy to understand the story, the language of the animation is in original Japanese.

img_1812On the other hand, this girl in denim jacket, instead of reading the paperback comics, this girl chose to use her smartphone to read the comics on screen. Simply scroll up and down with her thumb. Most of the people who might prefer to read on screen, like her, would tend to download an app on their electronic devices, to simply the process from waiting for monthly or up to yearly printed copies, and the fee of the comic book itself since majorly those apps are free in charge.

Yet in the days of digital, comic lover not only keep up with time, they also enjoy the way that they used to hold the actual printed comic on their img_2580hand, slip the black and white pages. These photos beltways taken at Sino Center which is located at Mongkok. This shopping center is well-known for selling variety of manga, Japanese magazines, toys, and other goods. In the picture, this man aged around 30 with casual wear and the orange backpack, picked up a comic magazine called ‘Wild 7’ at a store selling mostly monthly Japaneses magazine, posters and figures.

img_0303Comic Store in Hong Kong, most of them have changed the selling method. To compare 5 years before, usually the comic store would be combine 2 mainly purpose, to sell and to rent. However, nowadays for most of them are only for selling comics, this might related to the ideas that to avoid readers or customers to read the book content without paying for it. So the comics basically are well packed in the plastic bag. img_2181As the same time, since people cannot be reading the comics without the package, which means they only can judge the book from its cover and back description, so that the salesmen would put on those point-of-presence (POP) on the top of the book as the selling point instead of verbally selling.

Week1 – Something About Me

Well well well, truth to be told.

The name is Fiona, a girl who obsessed with Japan, that kind of girl you may call me as OTAKU, people who enjoy to stay at home and read comics.

From the creations to the deep down culture values, everything is so fascinating. Though I’m not simply believe what I saw, I would much prefer to explore on my own. Just saying that the best way to understand, is to be a part of it.

This is why I would proudly to say I AM TRAVELER. Causes I’m not only use the internet to reach the outside world of mine, but willing to go somewhere, meet someone, try something. There’s a saying I always keep in mind, ‘Life is too short to waste’, get out the comfort zone and try to fail as many as possible, so that one day we can find the answer that we always wanted.
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