BURNABY, B.C. (CUP) – Suffering is the essence of humour. My laughter requires someone else’s discomfort in some manner. However, suffering is really only funny when it happens to children, and the pleasure is immeasurably amplified when the children seem to bring it on themselves.
Fullmetal Alchemist, the latest North American release from Aniplex, is the story of two young brothers who, despite all warnings, throw caution to the wind; they suffer and hilarity ensues, but so does a little bit of heartbreak.
Ed and Al, referred to by most as the Elric brothers, are budding practitioners of alchemy. The use of this magic is based on equivalent trade: to get something you have to sacrifice something; much like paying for beer at the pub, but more mystical. Venturing into the forbidden realms of alchemy, Ed and Al attempt to resurrect their dead mother, leading to a terrible mishap. The ordeal costs an arm and leg — literally for Ed, and a whole body for Al.
Eventually, both characters are made whole in a sense: Ed has his limbs replaced with robotic prostheses and Al’s soul is duct taped to a suit of armour. A tragic turn of events, but made funny by the fact that it happens to children, whose ineptness at life leads them into all sorts of mayhem and funniness. The rich development of each character depends on their extreme youth. This series is a look at the awkward process of puberty for two people who have lost important parts of their anatomy, and, in some respects, the qualities that made them human.
Transcending these boundaries of mere puny mortals allows Ed and Al to become larger than life. Their greatness is only aided by the James Bond coolness factor added by their ability to conjure up all forms of knick knackery at will. Mostly, these two are childhood superheroes, but are far cooler than Superboy in that they don’t wear tights.
The action in the show itself is also reminiscent of superherodom and the spy genre. It’s a combination of clever one-liners (reminiscent of our favourite Ian Fleming creation) political intrigue and brawls of epic scale between magic users. It’s a hard combination to beat in terms of entertainment. No other animated series has yet come close to this level of action and comedic perfection.
Tragedy, as well, is carried out in an almost Greek fashion. Each horror that unfolds in the plot is the result of someone’s over-ambition or arrogance. Souls driven to madness through their unending desire for more power, lead to some of the greatest atrocities imaginable: a girl and a dog are transmogrified together to form some hideous chimera, the physical manifestation of the seven deadly sins, and horrible death all around the world.
This series is more than just violence and giggles; it’s very nearly an animated Heart of Darkness, just more entertaining and involving a larger number of big flashes of light. Fullmetal Alchemist represents Aniplex’s first real foray into good anime. It is a strong combination of mirth and sorrow, made real by the lives of believable characters. When watching this series I rejoiced in the knowledge that animators and writers got the formula right on this go around, as opposed to pumping out their usual tripe.
Fullmetal Alchemist is available on DVD through Aniplex, and shows weekly on Comedy Central, if you’re lucky enough to have satellite television. It’s worth watching– trust me.