Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

The Main Theme of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is an anime renowned for its epistemology, unique world, and fantastic animation. In addition to featuring intriguing characters and insightful themes that leave a significant impact, the story revolves around two brothers striving to reclaim what they have lost. Despite being a seemingly straightforward narrative, Hiromu Arakawa skillfully weaves her interpretation of postmodernism in contrast to modernism, prisoners of war, and politics into the storyline. She adeptly conveys various themes throughout her work, including nihilism and existence, with each breath of the story brimming with meaning. The show serves as an ode to humanity, capturing its essence in numerous ways, making the message all the more potent.

The narrative follows two young alchemists, Edward and Alphonse Elric. After their mother’s death, they attempted to bring her back to life through the forbidden technique of human transmutation. The price they paid was steep: Edward lost his legs, and Alphonse lost his physical body. Fortunately, Edward managed a soul exchange, placing Alphonse’s soul into a suit of armor at great personal cost. The story then traces the Elric brothers’ journey to obtain the philosopher’s stone, pushing the boundaries of alchemy to restore Alphonse’s body. Throughout the series, various themes emerge, including the concept of alchemy, the philosopher’s stone, and the creation of homunculi, enriching the narrative with depth and complexity.

The Epistemic Theories

First, the central theme of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood revolves around the study of knowledge and epistemological theories. In philosophy, epistemological theories attempt to analyze truth in an epistemic sense, focusing on concepts like belief, perspective, justification, and verification. These epistemic theories can be classified into verification and pragmatic theory.

Verification theory deals with propositions and the process of verifying their truth. It suggests that a proposition is only considered valid if it can be verified as true from a specific perspective. Each epistemic truth concept may find an advocate who supports a combination of these theories.

The series explores two main concepts: truth and value. Truth, represented by the law of equivalent exchange, holds significant importance in the storyline. It opposes the epistemic theory as it is seen as a game of zeros. The homunculi, in contrast, represent a pragmatic view, while Alphonse embodies the verificationist perspective.

In order to meet Truth, a portal of frontal epistemology is required. Eventually, Edward exchanges the portal with his brother, implying that there is no alternative way to reach the truth. This highlights the deep exploration of epistemological concepts in the series.

The Law of Equivalent Exchange

For Edward, his focus lies more on the dilemma of human emotions rather than epistemology when contemplating how truth and alchemy work. The homunculus, on the other hand, is preoccupied with oppositional numbers, and the philosopher’s stone becomes a fundamental rule in the law of equivalent exchange.

When Edward discovers that human lives are used as the material for creating the philosopher’s stone, he realizes that this goes against the norms of science. However, he reflects on how economics also operates on a similar principle of exchanging resources, such as energy and age for money, with humans as the core resource in economic and business transactions. This is exemplified by Shou Tucker, the alchemist who created a talking chimera by combining his daughter and dogs through transmutation.

Truth, in the series, assumes the role of a real being and symbolizes God and the knowledge of the world. A crucial question arises during Edward’s meeting with Truth: If humans seek to acquire knowledge and actual truth, how should they wield this knowledge? The show strongly criticizes blind faith when faced with the appearance of God, encouraging a philosophical perspective to question its place.

Furthermore, the series presents a rival to the epistemic approach in the form of scientific criticism, thus deepening its exploration of truth values and philosophical themes.

The Moral Relativism

Moral relativism asserts that people disagree based on their interpretations of what morality entails. It is a disagreement stemming from moral meta-ethics, where no objective right or wrong judgment is expressed. Normatively, it suggests that individuals should tolerate the behavior of others, especially in cases where there is significant disagreement regarding the morality of certain actions.

Richard Rorty supports moral relativism, suggesting that the reasons for choosing between philosophical opinions are less algorithmic and more subjective. According to this perspective, every conceptual idea is as valid as any other, contrasting with moral idealism directly. The distinction between idealist and relativist viewpoints often becomes unclear within the framework of idealism, as many concepts remain vague.

Throughout various fields, including science and religion, moral relativism has attracted attention. In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, moral relativism triggers an exploration of background conflict, exemplified by the Ishvalan War, which is caused by cultural and religious differences between Ishvalans and Amestrians.

The Ishvalan War

It all comes to a head when an Amestrian soldier shoots an Ishvalan child. The State Alchemists were brought in, effectively killing many Ishvalans after seven years of the Ishvalan War. The theme is very familiar in real life, and the issue of morality in the show always arises when dealing with war, psychology, and its impact. The Ishvalan War is a war of extinction where the use of alchemists’ power wiped out the entire population. Taking references from Nazism, Fuhrer Bradley was the one who first came up with the idea for the mainstream state-sponsored alchemists. Bradley called the war an attempt to create human weapons. With enough explicit references to WWII Europe, it was one of the first wars where audiences saw science and its full destructive power. However, the relationship is not too far away. The idea that science can advance society while destroying its children is, it seems, a simple example of the view that science is good and that religion is bad. If an individual follows science blindly, then science itself becomes a religion. An individual must balance all aspects of life not to be too overwhelmed by religious knowledge or knowledge, so as not to lose morality and humanism.

Shou Tucker

Alchemists are scientists, and they do not believe in a creator and God. They obey the physical laws that govern the world and pursue the truth. In essence, science is good, and religion is bad. However, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood turned this concept around in its epistemology. Throughout the rest of the story, the audience sees the horrors of following science blindly. When the Elric brothers go to see a state alchemist famous for creating a “talking chimera” named Shou Tucker, they hope that the scientist can give them some possible insight into how to reconnect Alphonse’s soul with his body. Tucker struggles to recreate his previous success. If he does not achieve another successful experiment, he might be removed from his state alchemist position.

When the Elric brothers show up to see Tucker the next day, the little girl and the dog are not there to greet them with a smile. Hearing Tucker’s shout of joy, the Elric brothers and the audience are presented with the most heart-wrenching scene in anime history. Treated to an image of a combination of a domestic dog and Nina, the Elric brothers are disgusted by what they have seen. Tucker grabs them and hysterically declares that they, too, have chosen the path of the alchemist themselves.

The Dualism of Mind-body

René Descartes embarks on a quest in his Meditations on First Philosophy, where he calls all previous beliefs into doubt. To ascertain what he can truly believe, he discovers that he can doubt whether he has a body, but he cannot doubt whether he has thoughts. This leads him to his first insight: the mind and the body are distinct entities. According to Descartes, the mind is a “thinking thing” and an immaterial substance, while the body is a material entity that governs bodily functions. The fundamental difference between the mind and the body, as he sees it, is that the mind thinks and lacks extension, while the body is extended and does not think.

Descartes envisions that God creates the mind and the body as two separate substances in his Cartesian dualism. However, Cartesian dualism’s explanation of causal interaction, particularly through the pineal gland, is unsatisfactory, as it requires direct intervention from God for any interaction between the mind and the body to occur. The proper state of mind and body becomes an opportunity for such intervention, rather than a natural cause. Many philosophers have criticized this aspect of Descartes’ philosophy, arguing that all causation should be considered natural, except when it comes to interactions between the mind and the body.

The Emphasizes of Dualism

Descartes developed the idea of a mind-body distinction to further prove the possibility of an immortal soul. The epistemology of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood emphasizes and highlights the theme of mind-body. Alphonse lives in his armor because his thoughts are implanted there. His armor becomes an extension of his mind, and he is forced to grapple with his humanity as people often avoid him due to his appearance. Nonetheless, he insists that he is still human, possessing a soul and experiencing human emotions.

The theme of humanity is prevalent throughout the story, with Alphonse and the chimera serving as just two examples. The homunculi raise significant questions about the nature of humanity. If the audience solely focuses on physical appearance, then all homunculi can be considered human due to their physical form. However, Greed stands out in his realism, showing emotions, humanism, and a mind-body connection that is quite profound. In contrast to other homunculi who are single-minded and merely masquerade as humans, Greed displays genuine emotions despite lacking the ability to feel.

The Law of Personhood

Personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law, defined as the status of being a person. It is closely related to the concepts of law, equality, and freedom, as only individuals or legal entities have the right to protection and responsibility. The topic of personhood is a constant subject of international debate, as it is critically questioned in discussions about the abolition of human and non-human slavery.

In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the potential epistemology of an individual’s personality qualifies them as a person. Sloth and Gluttony are depicted as being too shallow to fully consider their existence as homunculi. Envy, Pride, and Lust play largely one-dimensional roles as well. However, Wrath and Greed are slightly easier to serve as examples of personhood. Wrath was raised from childhood to compete for the throne of Amestris, becoming a skilled warrior trained in combat and other skills befitting a competent head of state. He possesses a purpose, a sense of rivalry, and an understanding of how to inflict harm. As Fuhrer, he also had a family, including a human wife and child.

Wrath and Greed

The latter is none other than Pride, the homunculus, despite Wrath stating that he is willing to choose his wife to be his partner. Even if the audience refuses to believe him, they are still led to believe that he knows how to fake humanity. Wrath has even the most troublesome self-awareness and mental formation. His inability to empathize limits his genuine emotions, but they are still present. Similarly, Wrath’s consciousness arises from his interactions with Father, humans, and the world. It is no different from the way the average human consciousness understands spiritualism.

On the other hand, there is Greed, who goes beyond such qualifications. Greed abandons Father and the other homunculi, turning away from their creation plans and desiring the power necessary to satisfy his ego and bring the world under his control. His greed extends to others, and he finds himself unable to remain subservient to both humans and the homunculi, similar to human nature in general.

The Non-spiritual God

In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, alchemy has a significant connection to spiritual and religious epistemology. Truth plays the role of God, serving as the mediator between Edward and the concept of equivalent exchange in alchemy. This idea suggests that alchemists must ask for Truth’s permission, akin to asking God’s favor, to successfully perform alchemy. Truth closely monitors every alchemy experiment, swiftly summoning and punishing any alchemist who violates a taboo.

For instance, when Edward and Alphonse attempted to bring their mother back to life, Truth took their legs as the toll. Similarly, when Izumi tried to resurrect her son, Truth took her internal organs. Father, driven by the desire for God’s power, was sent to hell, punished for his audacity to seek more power.

In essence, Truth punishes those who defy the natural order, teaching them a valuable lesson. Ironically, for Father, who arrogantly sought to play God, this led to a heavy price. When Edward and Father meet to discuss Truth, Edward offers to sacrifice his ability to perform alchemy in exchange for getting Alphonse back.


Truth questions Edward’s belief in alchemy without a portal. Despite Edward’s awareness of this possibility, he acknowledges how alchemy led him astray and considers it to be nothing more than arrogance. He realizes that he was just an ordinary human who couldn’t save a little girl with alchemy alone. Edward doesn’t view alchemy as a means to become more than human, which surprises Truth. Edward’s humility and understanding of his place in the world impress Truth.

As a reward for Edward’s humility, Truth allows him to return to Alphonse’s physical body, freeing him from the constraints of alchemy and restoring him to an ordinary human being. In the meeting between Edward and Truth, it becomes evident that alchemy was a test from Truth’s perspective. The goal was to determine if humanity could recognize that alchemy was not a miraculous power but rather a tool, a means, and an opportunity for self-awareness. It highlights the place of both alchemists and humans in the mortal yet simple order of nature.

Between One and All

Demeaning philosophy emphasizes that human beings are neither higher, middle, nor lower in the grand scheme of the universe, despite their interconnectedness with everything. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood beautifully portrays such a perspective. Arakawa elevates humanity through various elements in her masterpiece. Ultimately, there is no clear boundary between philosophy and other disciplines, including science. Philosophy possesses the unique ability to encompass and explore seemingly nonsensical concepts without dismissing them with harsh skepticism. Looking back, writing this essay required a significant amount of time. Despite its shortcomings, the writer could have further elaborated on many points. However, for various reasons, there is a limit to how much more can be added, to be honest.


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