Popular shonen series normally go beyond 200+ chapters, introducing new arcs, new characters, and continue on for as long as they can. However, Fullmetal Alchemist is different from your typical shonen series.
Indeed, the manga’s plotline is an epic story with an extensive cast in a full-blown fantasy tale– that manages to tie everything together in just 108 chapters.
The series is a story about two brothers who pay a terrible price for reviving their dead mother– human transmutation. Three years later, the brothers find the Philosopher’s Stone, a magical entity that can restore their bodies back to normal.
The story focuses on the characters’ journey and their personal growth, rather than telling the tale of a random power up that they must hone in order to achieve a certain objective. While it is a plot-oriented story, manga author Hiromu Arakawa sets down a lot of time for her characters to reflect.
Although the manga series and anime are over, there are a lot of things we don’t know much about the manga, or nuance facts that we later learned years after the manga’s publications.
Fans aren’t ready to say goodbye to the series. A live-action movie is underway, and new readers continue to pop up, learning about the series and sharing their love of the manga to their fans.
Here are the 15 Things You Never Knew About Fullmetal Alchemist.
15. Fullmetal Alchemist Was So Popular They Had Two Series
It’s difficult to get an anime adaptation for a manga, much less two completed animated series. It’s extremely rare for a number of reasons; average manga series are given one season, whereas more popular manga like Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto are blessed with over hundred episodes without stopping.
Given that Fullmetal Alchemist has sold millions after 2003’s adaptation, Studio Bones– Square Enix’s personal animation department– did a second adaptation from scratch.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood followed closely to the manga and gained a huge success despite the five-year gap between the two series.
Arakawa spoke about the original Fullmetal Alchemist, recalling the many meetings overseeing production, and insisted that the studio heads should come up with their interpretation of the series because she didn’t want the readers to see the same ending in the manga.
Most of the Japanese VAs in Brotherhood replaced the previous actors except Edward and Alphonse. The English VA’s, on the other hand, reprised their roles with the exception of Alphonse, and Maxey Whitebeard replaced Aaron Dismuke because Dislike was too old to play Al.
14. Ishvalans And Ametris Conflict Is Based On Hokkaido’s Ainu People
Fullmetal Alchemist borrowed European ideas for its settings and world building. The racial tension between the people of Ametris and Ishval, however, is loosely based on the Ainu people and their string of wars with the Wajin (ethnic Japanese).
Their conflict dates back to the 14th Century, where the two nations had a tenuous relationship. The Meiji Restoration forced the Ainus to assimilate and intermarry with the Japanese to “prevent discrimination,” but it was their way of erasing Ainu heritage.
The Ainus were given Japanese names, and had to abandon their language. Arakawa learned that her ancestors displaced these people, but her relatives were also half-Ainu, which added another layer of confusion.
From this, Arakawa was inspired to create Scar and Ishval. Scar, in particular, was a prominent war priest who lost everything– the only thing that keeps him living is his vengeance, as he wants to execute the State Alchemists who exterminated his people.
The irony is that he uses alchemy, a practice considered blasphemy under Ishval’s God. The racial suppression on the Ishvalan are topics that Arakawa bring up in her series, in order to open discussion.
13. Arakawa Actually Bought Military Prop Guns For Drawing References
Since Ametris is based on Germany during WWII, a majority of the firearms and tanks from that era are drawn into the novel.
In fact, to ensure accuracy, Arakawa actually brought prop guns to use for drawing references. Riza Hawkeye used plenty of military issued guns and carried a pair of FN Model 1910s.
Her sniper rifle is a Karabiner 98K, a standard WWII German firearm. Since gun laws are stringent, a Japanese citizen must go through a byzantine set of qualifications for a license, so the prop guns were likely replicas.
In an interview, Romi Park and Kugimiya Rie visited Arakawa’s workplace and took snapshots, which included images of a collection of military guns used as a drawing reference for the series.
12. Arakawa Interviewed WWII Japanese Veterans For The Ishval War Arc
Again, Arakawa’s extensive research isn’t solely based on alchemy, but also comes from real historical and current events. For the Ishval War, Arakawa read plenty of war books, watched documentaries, and interviewed WWII veterans for accuracy.
On the author’s note, she talks about the different soldiers she met. In Fullmetal Alchemist, vol. 15 she talks about one veteran in particular: “One comment that affected me the most came from a former soldier who lowered his gaze to the tabletop and said, ‘I never watch war movies.’”
Thanks to the veterans and their tales, the Ishval conflict is one of the best arcs in the story. The war covers racial tensions and depicts a genocide that damages half of the characters in the story.
It is told from multiple viewpoints from soldiers to civilians– though most never recovered from the atrocities. Since the war is set a few years before the main storyline, many characters are still traumatized, often reflecting on their past mistakes, whereas Ed and Al represent the next generation.
11. Arakawa Always Include An In Memoriam Panel For Her Characters
Plenty of Fullmetal Alchemist characters– both minor and major– are killed off, so in every volume, Arakawa would draw them in the “In Memoriam” box.
This panel is dedicated to the deceased characters who are depicted ascending to heaven. Only one character, who shall not be named, is sent to Hell– for obvious reasons.
Considering the number of deaths, Fullmetal Alchemist treats all of the characters with respect. Even the little animals that Ed and Al hunted in the forest are depicted with angel wings.
If nobody dies, the panel is left blank, though this only happened six times throughout the series. As for the final volume, Arakawa slapped on a sign saying, “Spoiler prevention in effect for the final volume,” which was a tease to force readers to finish the series.
The panel is part of the omake section, where Arakawa often fills plenty of 4koma panels and author talks in small snippets called “Cow Shed Diaries.” (The author draws herself as a bespectacled cow.) The diaries often share reader questions, trivial nuances, and the creative process behind the manga.
10. Law of Equivalent Exchange Is Not Strictly Based On Eastern Or Western Alchemy
Prior to the series, Arakawa researched alchemy after she read about the Philosopher’s Stone and was immediately drawn in.
Intrigued, she looked into the different alchemy books and found that their practices contradicted each other. She found their philosophies more attractive than the practical side of alchemy. Xingese alchemy is based on Alkahest, a hypothetical solvent derived from Paracelsus works.
The concept of Equivalent Exchange was inspired by her parent’s philosophy. Arakawa grew up in the Hokkaido farms where everyone had to work.
“Those who don’t work, don’t get to eat,” she has said. Her family members had to give 110% to ensure a successful harvest, and slackers were not welcomed.
“If you are lazy, you will only suffer hardships at the end. Our ancestors were the pioneers who came over to Hokkaido, their stories were passed down by word, but they lived in perfect accordance with the principle of equivalent trade,” she said.
She took a page from her ancestor’s footnotes, while implementing a more practical angle to make the law into a tangible ideology in fiction. Hence, the universal law of Equivalent Exchange is about exchanging in equal value.
9. The Military Officers Are Named After Military Vehicles
Since the story’s aesthetics are based on the European Industrial Revolution, most of the characters are given Western names and surnames.
In volume 15, Arakawa explained that she keeps a dictionary of European names for her characters. The military personnel’s last names, on the other hand, are from military vehicles.
Colonel Roy Mustang, for example, is named after North America’s P-51 Mustang, a popular fighter bomber used in WWII and in the Korean War.
Grumman’s name is derived from Grumman E-2 Hawkeye carrier, which was part of the Grumman company’s line of planes issued for the US military. Another example is Olivier’s last name, Armstrong, which is from the British Bomber plane Armstrong Whitworth Whitley that was used in WWII.
Non-State Alchemists names are named after historical alchemists. Von Hohenheim, Edward’s father, is named after the real alchemist Paracelsus. (His full name is Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim).
8. Arakawa’s First Name is Hiromi
Although it came as no surprise in the US that Hiromu Arakawa is a female author, most Japanese readers didn’t know that Hiromu is actually a female.
Her real name is Hiromi, and Hiromu is actually the masculine. Arakawa chose a pen name so readers wouldn’t dismiss her work, similar to how J.K. Rowling abbreviated her name for Harry Potter.
It’s uncommon for female manga artists to draw shonen series. While there have been many female manga artists in the industry before Fullmetal, publishers and readers held a stigma that female artists were better at telling dialogue stories instead of plot-driven arcs. Ironically, Fullmetal‘s popularity gained traction because of the plotline.
Now, as one of the most successful mangakas in Japan, Arakawa sees that mangakas of this generation are recognized for their talents more so than the previous generations.
Her series Silver Spoon, a manga about agrarian farming in Japan, sold over 15 million copies; its popularity also helped Hokkaido’s agricultural high school admission rates a lot.
7. Truth Is A Mirrored Version of Whoever Enters The Gate
The Japanese VA’s voiced the entity of the character who enters the realm. Truth– or God– is depicted as a metaphysical entity who punishes anyone who attempts the human transmutation.
Truth is the character’s internal God, a negative of the alchemist. Once a character enters the realm, the entity directs them to The Gate, where God resides.
Those who see the knowledge of God are forced to pay the toll. Ed lost his leg because he entered the gate, as well as his arm in order to retrieve Al’s soul back from the realm.
Truth weighs the character’s hubris and often takes the thing that defined their identity. While the characters perceive its actions antagonistic, Truth follows the natural order, and its judgement is more or less a reflection of the character’s growth.
In the earlier versions, the fans thought Truth was one entity, but when other characters enter the realm, we see that it can morph into the shell of the character.
6. The 4koma Panels Were Included To Balance Out The Sad Scenes In The Manga
The 4koma panels in the manga are one of the many reasons why readers should read the manga series. In every book, Arakawa includse 4 panel comic strips and funny drawings in order to balance out the sad scenes in each volume.
Sometimes, the panels are re-enactments of a particular scene injected with humor. One fan even admitted that the extras were more interesting than the actual plotline, much to Arakawa’s glee with Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 15.
It’s no coincidence that Arakawa is talented in drawing 4koma panels. Before Fullmetal, she worked on doujinshis and comic extras for a horse racing magazine, which would explain the level of slapstick humor in Fullmetal.
As mentioned before, the Cowshed Diaries frequently talk about the creative process, and sometimes Arakawa’s assistants and editors make an appearance in the extras.
5. Mobuo Mobuta Is FMA’s personal Where’s Waldo
Aside from the 4komas and Cowshed Diaries, the series also has a personal Easter egg character named Mobuo Mobuta.
He’s the author’s designated background character, drawn to fill up the extras in the panel. Apparently, Arakawa loved drawing him so much that he appeared a number of times throughout the manga.
Mobuo is a middle-aged man with a thin mustache who dresses in a white suit. He also made several appearances in Brotherhood, which many fans immediately noticed. He doesn’t play a major role in the story, aside from filling the panels, but fans fans often go crazy when they spot him– he’s a new Waldo.
Dedicated fans noticed this character, and thus began the long string of conspiracy theories, with many fans writing essays in forums about the man in the white suit.
4. FMA Heroines Subvert The Female Stereotypes in Shonen
You don’t want to mess with any of the heroines in Fullmetal Alchemist. For Arakawa the inclusion of women in different roles is extremely important. From housewives to military generals, the ladies are all head-strong and awesome.
Olivier Armstrong aims to be the Furher of Amertris, and forces her father to retire. Riza Hawkeye, although a secretary to Roy Mustang, is a professional sharp shooter and is the only person whoh Mustang trusts to shoot him in the back if he ever were to stray away from his path.
Izumi Curtis, Ed and Al’s teacher, is the first known alchemist who attempted human transmutation before the brothers. She can also judo flipped a megaton Briggs bear without breaking a sweat.
Winry Rockbell, Ed’s childhood friend, makes Ed’s automail limbs and owns a shop in Rush Valley. Without Winry’s support, Ed would be completely disabled.
Arakawa made sure that every character had a role, and believed that creating damsels in distress or unoriginal love interests would waste valuable time– unless it was played for laughs.
3. The Dub Actors Created A Fullmetal Fantasy Short
The English V.A.s from Funimation are huge fans of the anime series– so much, that one day they decided to create a fan video. Vic Mignona explained at Kawaii-Kon 2012 that the idea spurred from the question:”what if a grown man can turn into an anime character.”
Vic and the rest of crew spent a weekend shooting Fullmetal Fantasy, a short that featured the dub actors cosplaying their respective characters.
The crew screened the final product exclusively at anime conventions. Word got out and Square Enix eventually asked for a copy because Arakawa wanted to see it.
A few weeks later, the company sent the cast a box of Fullmetal Alchemist merchandise, ranging from an Edward Cuckoo clock to an Alphonse calculator, as well as a signed Edward Elric sketch from Arakawa herself.
2. There is Only One Known Photo of Hiromu Arakawa
Not a lot of readers know what Arakawa looks like; in fact, there is no known official photo of the mangaka.
If readers were to search Hiromu Arakawa on Google, they would find either a cartoonish bespectacled cow or Romi Park posing as Arakawa. (The photo on the right is Romi Park, who represents the mangaka for public events.) Fans also often mistake her for Thermae Romae‘s mangaka, Mari Yamazaki.
The only known public photo of Arakawa is a group photo from the 2004 Shogakukan Award Ceremony, Japan’s prestigious award for manga. To this day, no one knows what she looks like.
Although she’s incognito from the public sphere, she responds to fan mail and sometimes features fans’ questions in the extra panels. We may never know her identity, but her work provides us with a great understanding of who Arakawa is as a person.
1. There will be A Live-action Movie
There is an upcoming live-action adaptation of the manga. The premise is the same as the manga– Ed and Al travel across the country to find the Philosopher’s stone, an immortal elixir that can restore their bodies.
Interestingly enough, before there were even talks about a live-action, Arakawa and her assistant teased their dream cast in Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 15.
They assumed that Al would be CGI. As for Ed, she joked that Neko Hiroshi should play him because his height fits the bill, and Mitsuhiro Oikawa, a singer/actor who’s quite popular in Japan, would be Roy Mustang.
Warners’ version, got one thing right: Al is CGI, but the producers decided to find other actors for the characters. The film all-Japanese cast raised a few eyebrows given the fact tbat the story is set in Europe, but the production team managed to replicate the manga’s aesthetics.
Can you think of any other interesting facts that fans need to know about Fullmetal Alchemist? Let us know in the comments!
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