Fullmetal Alchemist: “An Alchemist’s Anguish” and Human Rights
“Alchemy should be used for the people.”
When it comes to science fiction as a genre, we can’t ignore the influence of Japanese animation and writing. We’ve seen different popular pieces like Ghost in the Shell or Cowboy Bebop that take place in a science fiction world. Another example is the 64 episodes anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga. It aired from 2009 to 2010 under BONES Animation Studio, Square Enix, and Aniplex production. The story focuses on two brothers that practice the science of alchemy under the law of equivalence exchange: “something cannot be created from nothing, and so to obtain something, something else of equal value must be lost.” The Law of Conservation and the Law of Providence compose the law of equivalence exchange. These laws stipulate that an object, if broken, will “be reduced to components whose sum is equal in mass” and that an object “can only be transmuted into objects of similar composition,” respectively (Beckford). Nonetheless, the anime discuss some topics like genocide, systematic oppression, abuse of power, war, ethics, and revenge. I wanted to direct the conversation to Episode 4: “An Alchemist’s Anguish.” In this chapter, the main characters face the “Sewing-Life Alchemist,” “who obtained his credentials by creating a chimera which could understand human speech.” They expected to find information on how to recover their bodies but discovered the secret behind the speaking chimeras: the transmutation of humans.
By using the creation of a child-dog chimera, Fullmetal Alchemist makes us question the fine line between scientific innovation and ethics. This chimera is not a post-human entity, as we’ve previously discussed in class, but beings robbed of their freedom and identity. In this chapter, the creator uses science fiction to problematize scientific development and what scientists or humans are willing to do in order to evolve. Then, the questions that we should ask ourselves are: What separates science fiction and scientific development? Are human rights what prevents humanity from scientifically evolving? The easier response is that science fiction helps us visualize the potential effect of our decisions on animals, people, or a community. In this case, Fullmetal Alchemist presents a critique of scientific development in the sense that it forces us to question if we are ready to abandon human rights and morals to evolve. The episode shows us that, based on the law of equivalence exchange, there’s a huge price to pay for knowledge. For the main characters, life has no exchange, and they believe there’s nothing more valuable than a life. But, the anime shows us that one life is interchangeable with another if you don’t care about either of them.
In regards to rights, there are different regulations for scientific development in animals, depending on the country. I want to focus on human rights, recognizing the problem of not addressing animal experimentation more deeply. As of today, 193 countries are part of the United Nations. The total of countries is 195, without including some territories that are battling for independence and auto-determination. In 1945, The United Nations was established as an entity, the same year World War II ended. I mentioned this for a couple of reasons. The first one is that in World War II, Japan was allied with Germany and Italy by The Tripartite Pact (1940). As a result of this involvement and other attacks, Japan was bombarded by two nuclear bombs. In Fullmetal Alchemist, it is impossible not to notice the parallels between the fictional world and Germany before and during World War II [We can also say this about other imperialist countries]. The second reason is that the first human right established on the Universal Declarations of Rights is: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” These rights include freedom, life, security, being able to recognize yourself as a person, not being enslaved, among others.
When we face “The Alchemist Anguish,” we think about the human’s right to life and dignity. Why? Because human beings know what happens when these rights are not respected. The United Nations established this in 1945 as a consequence of World War II. However, the killings, genocides, and attempts against human freedom have continued for centuries. The realness of watching something fictional that may happen scares us. That fear makes us realize that there’s truth in these words of the Sewing-Life Alchemist: “Mankind’s progress has been the result of countless human experiments, right? […] The opportunity was in front of us and we took it, we had to even though we knew it was against the rules.” As long as there’s a possibility to make a scientific development, someone will take the chance, even if it is against human rights, even if it means sacrificing someone’s life. Where is the line between science fiction and scientific development? The line is human rights and the desire to not repeat these previous atrocities. At the end of the chapter, a man murdered the chimera because it’s impossible to separate the child from the dog. The child and the dog died as a consequence of scientific knowledge.
“An Alchemist’s Anguish”, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, season 1, episode 4, ANIPLEX, 26 April 2009, Netflix, www.netflix.com/watch/70175904.
Beckford, Brandon. “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Law of Equivalent Exchange, Explained”, CBR, 23 Jul. 2020, www.cbr.com/fullmetal-alchemist-the-law-of-equivalent-exchange-explained/.
“Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, IMDB, www.imdb.com/title/tt1355642/?ref_=tt_ov_inf. Accessed March 26, 2021.
“History of the United Nations”, United Nations, www.un.org/en/about-us/history-of-the-un. Accessed March 26, 2021.
“The Tripartite Pact is signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan”, History,
www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-tripartite-pact-is-signed-by-germany-italy-and-japan. Accessed March 26, 2021.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, United Nations, www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights. Accessed March 26, 2021.
[…] FMAB also leans into the more nihilistic elements of Cyberpunk, through the infamous Shou Tucker and his daughter Nina. To keep his alchemist’s licence, Tucker turns his daughter (and their family dog) into a chimera – Edward Elric, whose motto is “Alchemy, be thou for the people” believes that there is nothing worth a human life. The series however shows that ‘one life is interchangeable with another if you don’t care about either of them.‘ […]