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branchandroot: Ed looking hopeful (Ed hopeful)

So it looks as though free, official streams is the up and coming anime distribution mode.

Not only do we have the experiment at Crunchyroll.net, the new Fullmetal Alchemist series is being streamed, subbed, a bit less than a week after each episode airs, at Funimation.com. Having watched it, I think it may be worth waiting a few days for. The quality of translation is actually higher than the fansubs that came out more quickly. (And thank goodness the commercial concerns have finally figured out that sub fans tend to prefer minimal ‘cultural translation’.)

Presumably this is supposed to pay for itself via advertising, kind of like network television, and also provide a market draw for the permanent media (download and dvd) sales. I hope it works out, because this seems to me to be a very positive direction for anime distribution to take. Certainly the approach of licensing for permanent media distributed months or years after the series airs and is fansubbed has signally, and predictably, failed. A prompt, high quality, free release in a medium not easily recordable, certainly not at anything approaching original quality, followed by reasonably prompt sale of individual episodes alongside dvd collections has certainly worked for domestic television shows. I see no reason it shouldn’t work as well for anime.

For those who want to watch these versions, bookmark the show page.

branchandroot: veiled lady on green (Ryokufuu)

*contemplative* I am unsure quite what I think.

The visual style is very similar but more… flexible? It definitely partakes more of the manga Arakawa-version superdeformed style, which I’m not really partial to. I’ll have to see if the animated style really takes with me or not. The detail of the motion is definitely a plus, though.

I can get used to Miki doing Musting. He and Ohkawa both have that flex to their voicing of Mustang, so there’s a reasonable continuity. The one major difference touches on the one thing I’m very unsure of, though.

The characters aren’t as sharp. At least in this pilot episode, neither Ed nor Roy have the edge that the first series provided. A big part of that is the script; there’s just more slapstick going on. And I loved that edge, it was probably the thing that topped the list of “why I totally love this show”.

So, while I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see the manga storyline animated (supposing that is the goal), I don’t know if I will be as wildly in love with this second series as I was the first. I will hope otherwise, but we shall just have to see.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)


The symbolic connection for all the theorizing that comes next is the eye. The eye on the Gate is definitely the Eye of Providence, glory and all, but the way it's drawn also harks to one of the ways of drawing the ten sephirot, as concentric circles rather than a vertical tree1.

So, let's suppose that the Gate is basically Keter: the changeover point between the knowable and the unknowable, and the mingling point of the two from human perspective2. Thus, what Ed and Izumi see, in the Gate, is the sum of the knowable. Izumi seems to also perceive the existence of something further, albeit without being able to know it. Ed really doesn't yet, which is not at all surprising. Despite his brilliance, he has very little life experience when he encounters the Gate and is extremely focused on the practical.

Let us further say that the theory of human souls' unity with the divine is in operation in this 'verse. This would explain the way souls pass through the Gate and yet do not stay there and cannot possibly be called back in the same form. The Gate creatures could then be explicable as the remnants of will (seishin), the free will whose existence preconditions the potential for evil as well as good. Keter encompasses those, as it encompasses all aspects of the knowable, but they are not signal expressions of Keter. Rather they are leftovers, as it were.

Given the encompassing nature of Keter, it makes a certain amount of sense that the Gate is concerned (to anthropomorphize) with balance and that it could move, or allow to move, life/energy (inochi) in order to keep the Tree, which presumably encompasses all universes, balanced. And, in the more liberal and optimistic branches of theology, it also makes sense that it would indeed be "in every heart".

We could hypothesize that the Gate opens, in cases of human transmutation, purely to show the path to the soul, which is what the alchemist is seeking, and that the creatures are simply opportunists who take anything they find, upon opening, that is not sufficiently guarded.

Kind of like malicious, mystical kender.

This is, needless to say, completely apart from any theory involving the FMA mangaverse, which clearly has a very different concept of the Gate and its denizens being developed.

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Footnotes





1. For a short, accessible discussion of both these models and the sephirot in general, see this page at Learnkabbalah.com.

The fact that there are multiple concentric circles within the Eye on the Gate (possibly as many as ten, though the image from the Stigma magazine spread, the only image I've seen with enough resolution to count, shows nine) lends some weight to the notion that, from the start, Arakawa deliberately draws a parallel between the Gate and access to or witnessing of divinity, which the anime carried on in its own variation.



2. Keter is a much-debated concept. A few sources that may give you a start on it are at Judaism 101, Kabbala Online, and a cautious exploration of Wikipedia articles.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
This is where I play around with the symbolism used in the show that seems to have derived from historical alchemy. Before diving into this, it may be useful to browse through an alchemical text to demonstrate just how fluid all the images and citations and discussions in here are. I recommend Salmon's commentary on the Emerald Tablet, which is one of the clearer texts I've found that covers a lot of ground. Dense, but clear. Relatively speaking. It will introduce a lot of the basic concepts.


Specific Symbols


Let's start with the particular symbols used most: the crucified serpent and the ouroboros.

Crucified Serpent


Any fast google will tell you that the serpent cross means "fixing the volatile", but that doesn't really tell you what it means so let's unpack it a little. First, volatile in general means "changeable". In specifically alchemical terms it often refers to mercury, which is certainly one of the most changeable elements alchemists worked with. Thus, in laboratory terms, "fixing the volatile" can mean rendering mercury by heat or other reaction to separate it into a stable form, or applying mercury as a solvent to a mineral. In more broadly alchemical symbolic terms, it means a lot more.

Several of the substances produced by mercury reactions are red. The color red usually stands for the active principle, in alchemy. This may, from one direction or another, help explain why Mercury, in code terms, often stands for Spirit. Spirit, active, animal, mercury and red are all symbolically associated alchemical terms.

Some mercuric substances, such as calomel (mercury chloride), have also been used medicinally. Notably, mercury was also one of the treatments for syphilis, which, if it was used in antiquity, may help explain its significance in alchemy as a purifying agent. Efficacy against such a feared disease would certainly make the reputation of any substance.

We find another connection to healing in the derivation of the symbol itself, which appears to come from one of the biblical tales of Moses, in which he nails a bronze serpent to a cross and displays it to relieve sufferers of snakebite and/or plague depending on your version.

So "fixing the volatile" generally means stabilizing the active principle, something which can separate harmful and beneficial elements from each other or even transform the harmful (pure active, too active) into the beneficial (balanced active).

The symbol that Izumi, Ed and Al wear, however, is not the crucified serpent alone. It is the crucified serpent winged and crowned. As we can see in many manuscripts, wings are used to mark progress or advancement of an alchemical solution toward perfection. Crowns mark the final stage of a spirit or solution: perfection, completion, ascension.

If we interpret snake = Mercury = spirit, which is a common symbol chain, then the symbol can suggest that the final "rendering" of the spirit, by death or enlightenment, will produce the pure, perfected, incorruptible spirit that, in alchemical terms, tends to go along with an incorruptible body. In this reading, the symbol indicates immortality, the standard promise of the philosopher's stone.

One somewhat less classic way to read the whole symbol is as a statement that when the volatile is fixed into a stable, presumably healing, form, that is perfection. That to reach a stage that is beneficial is either a) as close to perfection as we can come or b) the only perfection we truly need to seek. My own feeling is that this would be Izumi's interpretation. Certainly the fact that she wears this symbol on her body, which we have no indication Dante does, suggests that it means something significant to her. Another possibility, of course, is that it is a reminder to herself of own hubris in attempting human transmutation. It seems likely, after all, she knew that symbol was associated with that transmutation in some way.

Ouroboros


The ouroboros is usually a snake or dragon biting its tail, though the continual circle can be formed by other animals, such as two birds. In any event, it is a consistent symbol of an endless cycle, though the nature of that cycle is a subject of constant debate.1 Once again, though, the version we see in FMA is altered. This time, the dragon is winged and encloses the Seal of Solomon. This variation is not unique, similar concepts can also be found in the emblems of Theosophy and its offshoots such as Martinism.2 It does, however, indicate a different interpretation than the standard ouroboros would.

Mclean mentions that the dragon in general is a very double edged symbol, representing the first alchemical stage (black, decomposed) when unwinged and the last stage "the spiritualising of the earthly substance" when winged. Thus, there is a double impact to the Homunculi's ouroboros: a winged dragon biting it's tail could indicate a sustainable perfected reaction, yet it invites contemplation of the unwinged dragon--and the Homunculi are most certainly an expression of decomposition and of the cycle of rebirth that an unwinged snake biting its tail would normally refer to.

If you look through the image archives, at The Alchemy Website, you will find the Seal of Solomon pretty frequently. The two triangles that make it up will be different colors, if the image is colored, often blue and red or black and white. This is, as we will see in the Colors section later, a common way of noting opposing forces such as water and fire, or masculinity and femininity. Thus the Seal, which may show the triangles interlaced, indicates the balance or combination of opposing elements, up to and including the Above and Below. In that last variation, the symbol necessarily indicates the balanced unity of all that is, which can be taken as an aspect of perfection.

The Seal reinforces the notion of the winged ouroboros as an expression of the final stage, of perfection. The symbol as a whole suggests eternal perfection.

Thus, I would not say that the Sins' symbol and Izumi's symbol are opposites, as I have seen suggested. They can be read as expressions of exactly the same thing: perfection in balance, in unity, in healing. The Seal and ouroboros, in particular, connect directly to Izumi's philosophy of "All is One, One is All", and the incorruptible spirit and body implied by the crucified serpent are certainly what Dante is pursuing. They can also, of course, be read as different inflections of the same concept, with the crucified serpent showing permanence in stillness, at the apex if you will, while the ouroboros shows permanence in motion, the cycle that is centered.

On yet another level, and taking into account the characters involved, Izumi, Ed and Al can be seen as nailing down the runaway, destructive cycle that the Sins embody and act out. The appearance of the crucified serpent in the array Dante used to contain and bind the Homunculi certainly suggest this.

On a somewhat disturbing level, the positioning of these symbols can also be read as an indication that the Homunculi are a perfected state, marked with the perfection-in-motion while they are active and bound by the perfection-fixed. This reading suggests that the presence of a soul creates imperfection, and that it is out of this imperfection that alchemy is possible.

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Colors


All symbols in alchemy are very fluid, and all of them have multiple meanings, few moreso than colors. One thing we can say, however, based on a study of colored alchemical images, is that blue and red are often used as opposites.

The most common blue, in the show, is military uniforms, and since Ed's trademark is his red coat, and I can't help wondering if that was entirely on purpose.

More interesting still, the illustrations seem to use blue and white as interchangeable. Humberg mentions that white is associated with the feminine and red with the masculine (or passive and active). On the other hand, "the crow's beak blue as lead" rather indicates blue is a variety of black, the crow being symbolic of Blackening or the first stage of transmutation. We could, in good alchemical tradition, combine both interpretations and thereby take the blue of the military uniforms as feminine/passive in the sense of being bound to carry out another's will, and also black in the sense of destroyed/destructive and taking the nature of death.

If the uniforms were a deliberate, symbolic choice, it adds a layer to the fact that Mustang and Hawkeye are in civilian clothes when they go to destroy Bradley. They have cast off passivity in both practical and esoteric symbol sets.

The color combination of black-white-red is also employed in Ed's clothes. Those are, in fact, the only colors he wears, and the balance of them seems significant. Black, the color of destruction, and red, the color of perfection, are both strongly represented. White, on the other hand, the representative of recombination, of harmony, is only barely present. The ensemble suits Ed's tendency to extremes, and also suggests that he may be missing a step to actually get where he wants to go.

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Tidbits of Interest


Just some other things that caught my attention.

Stages


Humberg gives the three stages of alchemy as destroyed, recombined, perfected. This seems to be fairly standard.

No one in FMA uses those stages, though. The stages Armstrong quotes to Scar are understand, destroy, recombine, which seems to leave out the stage of perfection altogether. If perfection is synonymous with the Stone, and the Stone, in the FMA-verse, is simply a shortcut, a condensation of lives that the alchemist may draw on to circumvent having to pay with his/her own, then this may be understandable.

Izumi, on the other hand, uses accept, understand, create (ep 27). Izumi's version offers a hint that the ability to create is the distinguishing factor of human life/existence, particularly in light of how her philosophy seems to derive from her experience of having and losing a child. It is by her that we are reminded that the Elrics watched Elysia being born, and she seems to feel this is significant to their development.

This also suggests why Izumi refers to the total perception of space/time/matter/energy within the Gate as "a conjuror's trick": because to use that perception to alter what the world is, alchemically, is to deny the first step of her alchemy, acceptance. Ed it not wrong, really, when he says it's the Truth; but it's an instrumental truth, a mechanical truth. Truth, and total perception, are not wisdom. Izumi seeks wisdom: action and instrumentality of will that are in accord with the shape of what she has perceived, not seeking to alter that shape overall.

Texts


The text on the paper Roy hands Ed at the end of episode Eight, after the whole "name of Full Metal Alchemist" sentence, is taken from the end of Ripley's Recapitulation of the Twelve Gates, as egregiously allegorical an alchemical text as you're likely to find. It's a fun read, really.

Little Observations


Both Izumi and Scar's older brother pay for their attempts at resurrection with the body parts most proximal to the one being called back: Izumi's uterus and nearby organs, Scar's brother's genitals.

The image on the Gate, an eye surrounded by a glory, is the Eye of Providence. Often used to indicate the beneficial oversight of God, it is also associated with the circled dot, which is sometimes a symbol of gold and sometimes a symbol for the sephirot Keter. More on this in the Gate page.

The parts of humans identified by FMA, especially in the context of alchemy, are inochi (life), tamashii (soul), seishin (will or mind or spirit) and nikutai (body). The part that allows alchemy to be done, the part the Sins are missing, according to Lust, is tamashii. The energy source of alchemy, as identified by Hohenheim, is inochi.

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Footnotes




1. For an example of just how many ways the concept of ouroboros can be taken and applied, see this conversation thread on levity.com.



2. For the reference on Martinism, look a bit over halfway down this thread. You may find it easiest to run a Find on "seal of solomon"; the second instance is the one you want.

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Sources


My best source for things alchemical is The Alchemy Website. This site offers primary sources in abundance, both text and pictures, and their archives contain a great deal of useful conversation between modern, practicing alchemists. The site is not very systematically arranged, quite in the alchemical tradition, but it is searchable.

If primary sources are too time-consuming for you, the Alchemy Dictionary can usually give you a decent thumbnail sketch. Keep in mind, however, that these entries are necessarily abbreviated and, by that token, not entirely accurate.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)


FMA names come from all over. Some have to do with alchemy. Many are standard given or surnames from European countries. Many of the officer's names in FMA are drawn from WWII people and hardware. As mentioned on the Historical Parallels page, this increases the identification between Bradley's regime and the Nazi's, despite a timeframe that, were the parallels more direct, would make Bradley the equivalent of Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor.

Before we go on, a word about the official transliterations. I always approach official Roman-alphabet spellings with some wariness, as they are often rather peculiar to the eye of a native English speaker. In general there are two reasons for this: either the author knows what s/he is doing, and has chosen to deform the spelling in an effort to mark the people or the whole world involved as not-this-one, or else the author/producer/promoter/translator, not being a native English speaker, or, even better, being an English speaker with no understanding of how English words sound when rendered into Japanese, quite simply got it wrong.

I am unsure which reason obtains in the case of FMA. It is possible that Fuery gained an extra "e" to skew it, so that it would not quite be the name of an aircraft from our history. But if that was the case, it is very strange that this was not done for any of the other aircraft-derived-names. It is possible that Hawkeye's given name is spelled with an R and a z in order to make it strange. On the other hand, the pronunciation indicated by the katakana (ree-za) is a rather bizarre hybrid, which could argue for simple lack of awareness of the vagaries of English on the part of the originator. After all, if the "z" is hard, then the vowel before it should be long, rhyming with eye. If the vowel is pronounced "ee", then the aspirant that follows it should be soft, giving us sa rather than za.

All of this brings me down a little on the side of "mistake". Certainly this is the kind of arcana that no non-native speaker could be expected to know or even find easily by research. Thus, rather than use the official spellings that make nonsense English (or French or Spanish or German or whatever), I work with the viable names that the transliterations come closest to.

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Cities and Towns


Riesenburg. This is my personal supposition for what that rather mangled transliteration is supposed to be. "Riesen" is German for "giants" or "colossi", which most certainly describes Hohenheim, his sons, and, for that matter, Pinako.

Aquroya. Aqua Regis (royal liquid) is an alchemical term for nitric and hydrochloric acids. Gold is considered the royal metal, in alchemy. Those acids able to dissolve it get to be royal, too. "Roy" and "regis" both stem from the Latin "rex", for king.

Zenotime. This one is a mineral.

Ishvar. Interestingly enough, Ishvar/Ishvara is a Hindu word. It refers to the concept of a Supreme Being, a god in the monotheistic sense. As such it is a very appropriate name for a cultural/ethnic group of monotheists in the middle of polytheistic Amestris at large.

Lior. I suspect that this one may be taken from a Hebrew name (which I cannot find an attested meaning for). Given that Scar tells us the citizens of Lior are, ethnically, close to the Ishvarites, and the Ishvarites function as a Jewish population in this timeframe, this seems like a reasonable supposition.

  • Leto. In our own history, Leto is a Greek deity, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, sun and moon respectively. Taking her name for Lior's sun god is not a large jump.



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Elrics and Family


Hohenheim. As mentioned above, this was the name of an historical alchemist, known as Paracelsus.

Trisha. A common diminutive of "Patricia". The totally unattested derivation usually given for that name on name-meaning sites is from "patrician": of the Imperial Roman aristocratic class.

Edward. Common English name. Incidentally, quite a popular name in several royal dynasties.

Alphonse. This, on the other hand, is a French name. Its Spanish form is, again, not an uncommon name among kings of Portugal and Spain.

I am vastly entertained that all three of the above names appear to have some connection to nobility.

Winry. Possibly what happens to an attempted transliteration of "Winnie". This is variously given as a diminutive of Winifred, a somewhat old-fashioned girl's name in Britain, or a feminine form of "Edwin". The latter possibility does entertain me, for its similarity to Ed's name. Mikkeneko has suggested that Winry is, itself, an old diminutive for Winifred, though, which gives the former an edge.

Pinako. I'm reasonably sure that her name was not derived from the Kapampangan word "to rob". It is a part of a German word: pinakothek. This derives from the Greek "pinacotheca", for "picture repository" and appears in the name of art museums. Pinakos itself originally refers to engravings, though the meaning has expanded over time.1 The association with art is certainly appropriate to her approach to automail creation, and her standing in that profession, if this is the source.

Seig. Most likely a short form of Seigfried, one of the few inarguably German names in here.

Izumi. This is one of the few names that appears to actually be Japanese, for all it's given in katakana. The most common spelling means "spring" or "fountain". As she is a source of nurture and growth for the boys, this is quite appropriate.

Moreover, like the army insignia, it adds an extra spin to the mix of nationalities and cultures we see in Amestris. Amestris is not merely alter-Germany. Culturally, and even geographically, the world we are shown in FMA draws from other sources, beyond even Europe. The Japanese insignia, the desert that appears around Lior and Ishvar, the subject position of the Ishvarites as Jews while the visuals of character design and architecture suggest an Arabic desert culture and their name gestures toward India, the vast variation in name sources among both people and places--all of these things indicate that Amestris is an amalgam, a reflection of a whole world rather than a single nation.

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Military


If anything more were required to show that Arakawa wished to play with time, culture and causality, this set of names would do it. Many of these are taken from WWII planes, machines which do not seem to exist in the FMA world, and a war which has not apparently taken place. At least, not precisely.

To begin with, I must thank the anonymous commenter, back in January of 04, when I first started poking at this stuff, who pointed out the WWII aircraft connection to me and set me looking for more.

Daisoutou King Bradley . "Soutou" is a word for "president" or "ruling general". "Dai", of course, is an intensifier. The translation "Fuehrer" is both a very good parallel and also a direct pointer toward the Third Reich-related themes of this story. In fact, I suspect that "Daisoutou" was chosen in the first place as the best possible translation for "Fuehrer", rather than the other way around.

King as a given name is a nice repetition of the "ruler" theme, and also connects Bradley and Roy, as noted below.

In keeping with the hardware theme, there is a Bradley fighting vehicle, but it came along after WWII and was itself named after Omar N. Bradley, the only American, five-star general to survive through WWII. I suspect the general himself is the source of the character's name. Moreover, the opinions of Omar on George Patton sound remarkably like a jaundiced description of Roy Mustang:
As a soldier, a professional officer, Patton was the most fiercely ambitious man and the strangest duck I have ever known. He appeared to be motivated by some deep, inexplicable martial spirit. He devoured military history and poetry and imagined – in the spirit of reincarnation – that he had fought with Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Caesar, [sic] Napoleon. He dressed as though he had just stepped out of a custom military tailor shop and had his own private bootblack. He was unmercifully hard on his men, demanding the utmost in military efficiency and bearing. Most of them respected but despised him. Although he could be the epitome of grace and charm at social or official functions, he was at the same time the most earthily profane man I ever knew. I sometimes wondered if this macho profanity was unconscious overcompensation for his most serious personal flaw: a voice that was almost comically squeaky and high-pitched, altogether lacking in command authority. Like Douglas MacArthur, Patton was a born publicity hound, a glory seeker.”

“A General’s Life,” by General Omar N. Bradley, page 98. (qtd)

Not that Patton seems to have had an iota of the empathy (albeit a bit twisted) that Roy shows. I think the parallel, if it is intended, focuses more on how Bradley regarded Patton than on Roy = Patton.

Roy Mustang. The Mustang was an American fighter/pursuit craft. As mentioned above, "Roy" is a anglicization of the french "roi", one of the latinate variations of "king". This matches nicely with his ambition.

Maas Hughes. The last name seems most likely to be based on Howard Hughes, the maker of the HK-1, a flying boat incidentally nicknamed the "Spruce Goose". (Thanks to BlueDelerium for this citation.) His first name is likely a Dutch shortening of Thomas. Why that should be rendered in Engrish as Maes, I have no idea. The people who transliterated these names from kana seem to have a thing for adding extraneous "e"s.

Gracia. Grace is certainly something Hughes' wife needs.

Elysia. The variations in pronunciation and spelling are wide enough that it could also be Elicia or Alicia. Elysia, however, derives from a Greek word for paradise, which seems to match nicely with her mother, so I favor it.

Lisa Hawkeye. The Hawkeye was an American recon plane. All the possible variations for her given name are short forms of the English name Elizabeth. I adopt Lisa, out of the various possibilities, because it is the viable name closest in pronunciation to the katakana, preserving the long "e" sound at the beginning while softening the aspirant in the second syllable as per English linguistic practice.2

Black Hayate. This was a Japanese fighter.

Jean Havoc. The Havoc was a bomber, which goes nicely with the character's taste for heavy firepower. Jean is a French man's name.

Breda. The Breda was an Italian fighter.

Kain Fury. The Fury was a British fighter. Kain is one of the variations of a biblically based name (brother of Abel). I do not credit the alternate derivation that suggests he was to be named Huey. That notion hinges on the supposition that, there being no character for "hu", "fu" was used in his name instead. In fact, the katakana for his name start with "fyu", which is a non-standard character while there is a standard character for "hyu".

Farman. The Farman was a French bomber.

Alex Louis Armstrong. The Armstrong was a British heavy bomber. (Thanks to Luxetumbra for this citation.) Alex Louis is a Continental sort of name, and the fact that he uses the whole thing seems to me a bit of a parody of the kind of gentry who have, historically, supplied sons for the officer corp.

Hakuro. This is another name that may actually be Japanese. With a short terminal vowel, it is a word for "morning dew". With a long terminal vowel, for "white wax". I can find no weaponry connection so far. It's possible this is a somewhat backhanded reference to his status as an HQ staffer rather than a field officer.

Basque Grand. Given his attitudes, and in light of the "d" official spelling insists is in his name, I'm tempted to suggest that he was named after the Grand Slam bomb, which was an aircraft weapon. The "d" in his name, however, is consistently unpronounced, giving the name as a whole a French flavor, the Basque being a distinct ethnic group located between Spain and France and partaking somewhat of both cultures. At least it makes some contribution to the national variety of names.

Maria Ross. One possible connection, here, is to the Canadian produced Ross rifle, but those were most heavily in use during WWI.

Denny Bloch. Bloch was an French aircraft maker that numbered their models. If I'm not mistaken, the terminal "ch" is soft, thus the pronunciation "Blosh".

Sciezka. This being an actual word, Polish for path or road, this is the spelling I go with. The meaning suits her position as tracker-through-the-paper, too.

Kimberly. One possible WWII connection here is to the Kimberly-Clark corporation, which produced anti-aircraft guns. Given Kimberly's antagonistic position in relation to most of the aircraft-named characters, this seems fitting.

Juliet Douglas. Douglas was an American aircraft manufacturer. In fact, they made the Havoc.

Frank Archer. The Archer was a British anti-tank vehicle. Its main gun bears a strong resemblance to the one that replaces Frank Archer's arm.

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Villains


Dante. The most likely source for her name would seem to be the poet Dante Alighieri, who wrote The Divine Comedy. These three epic poems feature the poet's travels, tourist-like, through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. I suspect that Dante herself would feel she has traveled through hell, exists in purgatory and is trying to reach paradise.

Homunculi: Seven Deadly Sins. In alchemical terms, a homunculus is an artificial man, a golem. One of Paracelsus' great accomplishments was supposed to have been the creation of one. Dante names the ones she nurtures and controls after the cardinal sins of Christianity: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. These were a popular artistic conceit during certain periods, and Dante the poet made extensive use of them in the second part of The Divine Comedy, which increases the likelihood that the FMA Dante was named after the poet.

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Footnotes




1. Many thanks to my Llama for looking pinakothek up for me. Primary source was the Oxford English Dictionary.



2. In the manga, the East City General who plays chess with Mustang is named Grumman, after a major US aircraft manufacturer. The second volume of the Perfect Guide indicates that he is Hawkeye's grandfather. This would be nicely symmetrical, since the Grumman corporation made the Hawkeye model. There is, however, no indication that either of these things hold true in the anime.

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Sources


A major source, in my searches on WWII aircraft, was Flightline.

Dictionaries: The online Polish <-> English dictionary I used. Note that in order to search for Polish terms, you will need to be able to input them with proper diacriticals. My favorite German <-> English dictionary. My favorite Japanese <-> English dictionary.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)


The Fullmetal Alchemist anime universe places our own history and that of the FMA world on either side of the Gate that, Hohenheim tells us, exists in every human heart and spirit. Our history has produced mechanical science as its primary tool for technological advancement; the FMA history produced alchemy to the same ends. A great many things within the story follow this pattern--parallel but different.

Let us start with religion. In episodes Forty-four and Forty-five, Dante tells us that Christianity is a dead religion, yet she is personally familiar with it and even names the Homunculi after the Seven Deadly Sins. Since she also tells us she is about four hundred years old, this gives us a timeframe for the religion's death. She cites the Plague and witch hunts during her early life, which suggests that major events from our history occurred in hers as well, supposing that FMA history and our history are running at the same rate of time.1 Within that timeframe the most likely point at which Christianity might have failed is the early 1500s--the Reformation. In our history, this time resulted in an explosion of Christian sects as the outliers of the Catholic church speciated into the myriad Protestant sects. The subsequent loss of the Church as a monolithic centralizing force resulted in the serious decline of the religio-political entity known as the Holy Roman Empire.

During and after the Reformation the Empire's constituent countries and kingdoms broke down into fairly constant war for a good two and a half centuries. Tiny kingdoms formed and reformed, allied and broke apart, and were traded about like poker chips in the game of diplomacy. If this also occurred in the FMA history, possibly exacerbated by the absolute failure of Christianity as opposed to sectarian strife, it could have been what shaped Dante's modus operandi. Despair and death, her favored motivation and means for creating the Philosopher's Stone, would certainly have been in plentiful supply during this period.

Amestris at the time of the anime, however, is enjoying the fruits of what appears to be a period of prosperity and, until recently, peace. This could fit well with the supposition that Amestris is equivalent to Germany, culturally and geographically. The Holy Roman Empire is known to German history as the First Reich, or First Empire. The Second Reich, a time of economic and cultural productivity, covers the period between 1871 and 1918 (WWI). Chronologically, this places the government that Bradley rides down in flames as the Second Reich; the general prosperity of Amestris suggests the same thing. The undesirability, from Dante's point of view, of such peace could explain why she went to the trouble of producing Bradley, a Homunculus that ages, to take over the country and provoke more wars. The transfer of power from executive to parliament, shown at the end of the anime, also parallels the forced resignation of the German Emperor at the end of WWI in favor of a parliamentary republican government.

This, however, is where things start to get a good deal more complicated, because the same could also be said of the Third Reich, also known as the Nazis, which held sway between 1933 and 1945.2 The aggressiveness of Amestris toward its own people, as well as its national neighbors, is somewhat more typical of the Third Reich than the Second. Dante's manipulation of the government from behind the scenes, by and for arcane ends, strongly echoes the occult mythos surrounding the Nazi government. It is clear that the anime writers are aware of this mythos and wish to draw upon it, as they introduce Hohenheim's involvement with the Thule Society once he enters our history.3 The Ishvarites, and the manner in which Amestris deals with them, also echoes, though it does not exactly mirror, the Jewish population of Germany during the Third Reich.

To expand on that particular point, the Ishvarite faith is not a direct parallel to Judaism, but some similarities do stand out. The most obvious is that they are monotheists within a generally polytheistic nation (ep 15). While the prevalence of Judaism's offshoots, Christianity and Islam, make it difficult to recall, these days, monotheism is one of that faith's original distinguishing traits.4 An argument can also be made for certain attitudinal similarities. The stoicism with which the Ishvarites bear up under persecution has also, at times, been characteristic of mainstream Judaism (eg Amos 3:2). The idea that the Great Art emerged from Ishvarite faith and philosophy to evolve into modern alchemy, as mentioned in episode Thirty-six, parallels the frequent reference to Judaic esoteric philosophy in our historical alchemical practice.5 The anime writers' use of an historically loaded image--undesirables being transported to designated camps by train--suggests that they drew these parallels deliberately.

Thus, it may be most accurate to regard Amestris as an alloy of the Second and Third Reichs. The historical imperatives that produced a military dictatorship, somewhat paralleling the Third, within the time period of the Second, are different from those of our history. The transfer of power to parliamentary government is not, in Amestris, associated with loss of a war, nor is it accompanied by the viciously punitive treaty terms leveled against Germany after WWI. This may mean that Amestris' new government will have a better chance for lasting stability than the Weimar Republic did. Certainly the FMA universe is not headed toward the Great Depression, at least not because of a widespread shift from wartime back to peacetime economy in the midst of massively short resources of everything. On the other hand, Amestris does have a large supply of soldiers who may be disgruntled by the reduction in military privilege and, perhaps, size, and a body of powerful Alchemists who may or may not now find themselves unemployed. It is possible these groups could produce the same kind of widespread unemployment and dissatisfaction that so helped the National Socialist Party in its bid for power.

Which is to say, while there are considerable parallel pieces between FMA history and ours, the pieces are not arranged in the same shape.

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Footnotes


1. I am tempted to think that our history and the FMA history started to diverge precisely from the point at which Hohenheim succeeded in producing the Philosopher's Stone, but there is no canonical reason to think so aside from how prettily balanced the idea is.

2. It is also worth noting, here, that the insignia of the Amestris army, and the ranks they go with, are identical to those of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, save that the colors are blue and gold rather than red and gold. This, again, indicates the later regime in an earlier timeframe. Beyond even that, though, it indicates that Amestris is more than a mix of Germanies. It is a mix of whole separate nations and cultures. More on this in the Names page.

3. The extent to which Nazi leaders may or may not have been involved in or believers in various forms of esoteric mysticism is a favorite topic for speculation, especially among the successors of the Spiritualist movement of the nineteenth century. Little solid evidence one way or another exists. The mythos of Nazi occultism is rich and ever-growing, however, and the anime writers clearly wished to invoke it by mentioning Haushofer. See Sources for more details.

4. At first glance it seems highly ironic that a monotheistic people should worship a deity called Ishvara, that being a Hindu word for the/a supreme being. The choice of that name is peculiarly appropriate, though. Mainstream Hindu theology, while it contains an infinitely divisible number of deities, understands all of those deities as aspects of, in the end, a single godhood. Similarly, though from the opposite direction, many branches of post-Roman-Empire Judaic theology hold that there is only one god, but understand the gods of other faiths as alternate interpretations (or misinterpretations) of that single godhood. As an additional bonus, Ishvara is a name most often associated with Shiva, the destructive aspect of the Trimurti. This connects nicely with Scar's focus on the destructive stage of the alchemical process.

5. The primary source of this tradition appears to be Nicholas Flamel, who purported to have found a book of alchemical information he calls the book of Abraham the Jew. Or, at least, someone writing with the name of Flamel purported to have found such a book, and to have interpreted sufficient of it to create the philosopher's stone. For a view of how tangled the dating and attribution of the texts involved is, see this thread.

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Some Sources


Germany: a good quick reference is Wikipedia.

Hindu theology: for a very brief overview, see Encyclopedia Mythica.

Judaism: Wiki is, again, the easiest fairly reliable reference.

Alchemy: Levity.com is a good source for many things, uses of esoterica included.

Nazi Occultism: a pleasantly skeptical and delightfully snarky site is The Nazis and The Occult. After reading this, you may check out sumeria.net or crystalinks.com for a more credulous view and a good idea of what mythos the anime writers are drawing on.
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)


Welcome to my pages on Fullmetal Alchemist.

These pages are based on and refer to only the anime version.

It was the anime that caught and held my attention; the manga has a nice enough (and significantly different) plot, but it leaves me rather cold. Some of the theories and conclusions discussed here may well also apply to the manga, but I have not drawn on any of the manga source material to make them.

Historical Parallels is actually an essay that I wrote two years or so ago, upon finally finishing up watching the series. A slightly different version of it was linked at Scimitar Smile. It deals with the historical sources Arakawa may have drawn on to create Amestris, particularly the history of Germany.

Names is a list of as many place and person names in FMA as appear to have verifiable sources in alchemy or religion or WWII, or, for that matter, anything else that looked interesting.

Alchemy and Symbols looks at the symbols and themes that appear to have been drawn from historical alchemy, and what they may mean.

The Gate is a bit of hypothesizing about what the Gate may be, based on what we see in the anime. This deliberately leaves out of account all the indications that have developed in the manga, which I consider a completely different universe, given the way the entire second half of the anime was written.


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A note on sources


In many cases, when only basic information was needed for a citation, I have directed readers to Wikipedia. I have tried to select only articles that provided proper citations for what they say, but my readers should please remember that Wikipedia is not rigorously peer-reviewed, and that anyone can write or edit articles in it. The scholarship of Wikipedia is, in general, as reliable as any to be found on the web at large--but that is, in many ways, damning with faint praise. If you are curious about any of the history or philosophy mentioned in these pages, I strongly recommend a visit to your nearest university library and a chat with a reference librarian, who can help you find more rigorously researched and reviewed sources.


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Links


For fandom activity, I recommend starting with fm_alchemist and working your way out from there.

One of the older, and more selective, fic archives is Scimitar Smile.

I actively dis-recommend the Wikipedia entries for anything character related; they're full of unwarranted assumptions, sloppy analysis and careless mixing of continua. If you want an episode guide, however, it's a good place to look.

For reasonably accurate basic information, try the Anime Indepth FMA site. For a longer-standing collection of info, try Fullmetal-alchemist.com. Both sites are cognizant of the distinction between anime and manga and are reasonably careful about having sources for their information.

For production details, like who wrote the script and who the seiyuu were, check Anime-Source.

Finally fma

Dec. 9th, 2004 01:46 pm
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
So I was, at last, in a mood, yesterday, to watch the second half of FMA.

*pleased*

Maybe it was just that I didn't have to wait a week for whatever resolution the next ep would deliver, maybe it was that I was primed for a few of the twists, but the second half seemed far less rip-out-your-heart-and-stomp-it-to-bits than the first half. Almost as if the progression went "let's mash everyone down as far as they can go, until they finally break and start to make a come-back".

And now I have a Lust/Greed smutbunny nibbling my toes. *rumples hair* I'd have to tweak cannon to make room for it, if I do write it. But that line of Lust's about his death really did it for me. And I like Greed--he has style.

I liked the end. Though, it's a good thing I was primed for that, otherwise I'd have been howling at the plot-end that begs another season. Philosophically, though, everything got tied up pretty well. Conservation of energy was answered; the complexity of an ambiguous world was answered; everyone who really needed to die died, though often in a way that made me jump up and down going "they died, yes!--in a way that makes things worse, crap!"; the reason for the Homunculi being named for the seven deadly sins in a world apparently devoid of Christianity was answered. I'm taken with the idea that the moment of division between this world and that was Hohenheim's success in producing that first Stone.

The significant moments were wonderful. One that struck me was Roy, going over the wall of Bradley's mansion, standing in a screen that's half light and half shadow and turning into the shadow; it was such a perfect moment of metaphor for the alteration of his goals and means. The fact that Dante was (apparently) consumed by Gluttony was delightful; the shape of her own sin, indeed.

The bit at the very end with Haushofer and Thule made me a) cringe in fervent hope this would not turn into another Weiss Kreuz, and b) desire strongly to pound Hohenheim over the head with a large hammer. I can understand that he wants to find a way back to his own world, as he implies when he mentions looking for a path also, but for pity's sake! He either really is utterly amoral or else a complete and total chump. Or, distant third, really thinks he can use Thule et al and then destroy them before he goes, thus avoiding leaving a whole society full of Dantes in his wake. I think that's a subset of Chumpdom. It did make me wonder, though, how distinct a connection may be drawn between what Dante and the Homunculi did (starting wars to provoke the creation of the Stone, and provide the deaths neccessary) and what the occult mythos surrounding the Nazis suggests was the 'real' reason behind the death camps (providing deaths for various occult ends). If Hohenheim accepts that as his way home, well, we have the moral dilemma and conflict of the movie/next season all laid out.

Wonder if Ed will be involved in inventing the bomb. Just to round things out.

I am also taken with the question of what Roy will do now. Because I expect Ed hit the nail on the head when he said Roy could never advance further in the military after killing the CIC, even if unprovably. So will he go into civilian alchemy? Or will his convictions still drive him to try to curtail the bad orders? in which case I would expect him to enter politics. *pokes at ideas*
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
So, a post Trudy made got me thinking once again about one of the things that squicks (or possibly kinks) people about Roy/Ed: the age difference and Ed's youth.

So, in present-story-time Ed is 15 and Roy is 29.

And?

Most fiction deals with either Everyman characters or extraordinary characters. In the case of FMA, and these two in particular, they are definitely extraordinary. In those circumstances, I'd say it's more enlightening to look at the personalities than immediately hyperventilate over the numbers. Anything else is too reminiscent of the height rule. The mindset that assigns dominance based purely on inches strikes me as pretty much the same one that assigns naivete/stupidity/perversion based purely on years.

So let's start with Ed. Is he innocent and/or naive? On most topics, I'd venture a resounding NO, not by the time he's 15. However, based on his reaction to Psiren, the only time we've seen him dealing with sexuality of any kind so far, his flusterment does seem to indicate that he's not cynical, jaded, or knowing on that topic. So in a sexual situation we might expect 15 year old Ed to lose some of his typical combination of fire and sang froid, and become more hesitant. Possibly even freaked out, depending on the circumstances.

Does this set him up as some kind of innocent victim of sexual predation? I really kind of doubt it. For one thing, if he didn't have some reason to a) notice and b) accept an advance I'm not sure it would even get past his focus to register at all. (You have to admit, Psiren had all the subtlty of a sledgehammer.) Roy gets past his focus, all right, but Ed's awareness of him is very adversarial--which gets us to the other thing. Ed is more than capable of taking care of himself. You notice he gets over his flusterment with Psiren and carries through his chosen response without getting sidetracked again.

On to Roy. This is actually the part I consider most problematic--what reason Roy would have to be sexually attracted to a 15 year old that he's known since the kid was 12. Of course, Ed's pure jaw-dropping gorgeousness is a darn good place to start, but would that overcome Roy's presumed awareness that Ed is rather emotionally innocent about romance and sexuality? I don't think so; I don't think Roy is the kind to take advantage of Ed's inexperience (which a manipulator like him probably could), and I certainly don't think Roy would endanger their working relationship by making a serious pass unless he had some solid indication that Ed would welcome it and be able to keep working with Roy effectively. He's generally too practical.

That is why I tend to write Ed older in my Roy/Ed fics.

Is this how I feel about real life liasons with this kind of age gap? Why yes, in fact, it is. It depends on the personalities. Most teenagers do not, fortunately for them, have the life-experience that would catch them up to someone twice their age. That is what makes most cases of sexual relationships with those age figures fine examples of predation.

I would point out that in most cases, it's up to the partner with greater experience to realize that fact.

I mean, when I was 19 and had an unspeakable crush on a really cool professor (almost exactly twice my age at the time), I would have been perfectly happy to go to bed with him given the slightest opportunity. He was the one who had to be responsible and restrained and think about whether it would be a good idea to sleep with a student who was a) still pretty damn innocent and b) rather messed up into the bargain. Thank goodness he did, too, because it would have been a bad idea.

Hmmm. I hadn't thought about it before, but it's quite possible that part of my liking for Roy stems from his similarity to that professor. *collapses laughing* What a thought!

Eh, while we're on the subject, this is similar to why I'm happy to write present-time Roy/Hughes, provided Gracia knows about it. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary I like to think Gracia has enough faith in Hughes' obvious deep and abiding love for her to not worry about him occasionally sleeping with his best friend, that Hughes loves his wife far too much for her to be anything but first in his heart, and that Roy would be fine with all this.

Hey, I said I like to pick the non-depressing options to write about.

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