By LEAH BURCHFIEL
Fullmetal Alchemist follows the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, in a steampunk/gaslamp world where amputees have fully functional metal limbs and magic is considered a science. Edward is a highly talented alchemist who at fifteen has become the youngest state alchemist, a “dog of the military,” in order that he might find a way to restore his arm and leg and his younger brother’s entire body, which were lost in an alchemical experiment gone wrong. Alphonse is the soul of a thirteen-year-old boy bonded to a suit of armor.
The plot is fairly complex with a boatload of characters, so I won’t bother going into further detail. It was based on a manga, and it actually ran faster than the manga did, so they ended up making another TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, that covers the stuff from the original series faster and elaborates on different plot points that were fleshed out in a later point in the manga. I think it’s a pretty good idea to start with the first series, even if it runs a little slow.
The story gets pretty grim and sometimes outright morbid. After a particular episode watched too late at night, I was freaked out enough that I couldn’t sleep without a light on. But it’s actually very good about balancing out the grim and dark with the funny and the hilariously ridiculous, like Major Armstrong.
Editor’s note: The original video was taken down from YouTube, so we offer this link to an alternate video.
With any hope, we can use Major Armstrong to lure Twihards into watching worthwhile things by using the shirtlessness and sparkling as bait.
What makes this series tougher to follow are the more cartoony elements, such as the ridiculous sparkling. I hope everybody has been indoctrinated enough to start thinking that anime is not cartoons, but in some series, Fullmetal Alchemist being one, they throw in some exaggeratedly simple or ridiculous drawing to make a comic effect.
Observe this clip for further example:
The exaggerated posing in front of colorful backdrops like Colonel Mustang does only shows up every once in a while, but it’s a common trope in the more cartoony animes.
But at the 34-second mark, the most common type of trope shows up. Lieutenant Havoc, the guy in the background with the cigarette, suddenly morphs into having a face made of simple geometric shapes. It’s not always that specific face, but that’s the sort of exaggerated simple drawing they use quite frequently.
Lieutenant Havoc also displays at the same time another trope specific to Japan: the nosebleed. This is a sort of visual euphemism for sexual arousal, like the wolf-whistle or the aaaaoooo-gaah sound is the American audile euphemism for much the same thing.
There are a handful of other commonly used visual cues like the red X/Y or the giant teardrop. The red X or Y (it’s more of an outline of the shape, and it’s only red when it’s being exaggerated), is used to indicate anger or irritation, as if the character’s veins were standing out. For example, the Edward to the left is the subtler version of this, while the Ed below and to the right, next to the cartoon-faced Alphonse (double-click for a closer look), shows the exaggerated, cartoony version.
The giant teardrop is more complicated, and I’m not sure I have all the nuances figured out. Sometimes it’s actually an exaggerated sweat droplet to indicate embarrassment or nervousness, but the other times it means something along the line of a facepalm. Sometimes they’re larger and distinctly blue in color, but the picture of Colonel Mustang below is the only example I could come up with quickly.
There’s no particularly cool music in Fullmetal Alchemist, but I’ve already given you two YouTube clips in this article, so be content.
For my final post, I’m going a little out of my personal preference zone with the zombie-apocalypse flick Highschool of the Dead. Zombies just aren’t my thing, but this series has its merits, and I’m not talking about the boobs.