I have had a productive time in self-isolation! I’ve blasted through several short games, finished editing on several chapters of Energia, and picked up a book I dropped a while ago. But most of my time has been spent rewatching some of my favorite shows for future reviews. Starting with one of my all-time favorite anime: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Basically everything that can be said about this series has already been said. All of the characters, all of the themes, everything has already been picked apart. For good reason! This show is so good that people who haven’t seen it can’t believe the hype (even though they should)! It’s an amazing show that’s been dissected time and time again!
Still, despite its reputation, it isn’t a flawless show. There are criticisms to be made, which I’ll definitely be going into detail on in this Saturday’s review. Today, however, I’m going to address the most common one: the main antagonist. Let’s talk about Father!
Fullmetal Alchemist has some of the most beloved characters in the history of anime. However, Father is not one of them. When people talk about their favorite antagonists, they always mention Scar or the Homonculi. Father is rarely brought up by anyone for any reason beyond criticism. He’s widely seen as boring, his lack of personality serving to reduce any intrigue the character could provide.
That’s certainly a fair piece of criticism. Still, Father works well because of the themes of the story. I could write a whole essay on the subject, but that would take too long. Instead, I’m going to analyze what the series does to flesh out Father’s character. Because believe it or not: Father is a very fleshed-out character!
Or at least, he used to be.
If you’ll recall, Father, AKA Homonculus, is the creator of the seven Homonculi. Each of those seven characters are the physical manifestations of the seven deadly sin, which Father had somehow pulled from himself. As such, the seven characters of Pride, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, and Greed are all extensions of Father.
This is an incredibly smart narrative trick. Because of it, we don’t just get seven fun villains/anti-heroes in Greed’s case. We also get subtle hints into Father’s true character. Into the person he was before he pulled himself apart. You can look at each Homonculus as their own character. But if you look at them as parts of a whole? You can see shades of who Father really is!
When we see Father in the flashbacks of Hohenheim’s youth as Dwarf in the Flask, we get very little to go on. We know that he’s an incredibly intelligent being born from Hohenheim’s blood in an alchemy experiment. He can’t leave his flask without dying, even if he wants to do so more than anything in the world. But most importantly: we know that he’s truly malicious and selfish. He is a character wreathed in mystery, even at the end of the series.
But through his children, we can gain a few answers.
Let’s start with the first Homonculus: Pride. He is a manifestation of Father’s ego. Pride’s true form resembles that of the original Dwarf in the Flask, albeit a bit more powerful and malleable. He looks down on all others, seeing himself as the perfect Homonculus. It’s only when he throws away his pride that he’s defeated, as Kimbley sabotages him at the attempt.
Wrath is an extension of Pride. He looks upon humans with near absolute contempt. He becomes agitated at them for pretty much everything, as we see during Hughes’s funeral when his daughter is crying out for her father. While he does put on a show of respect for those he deems deserving of it, he still looks upon them with hatred. Like they’re flies waiting to be swatted.
Gluttony and Lust are manifestations of Father’s smallest desires. These tell us the least about him as a character, as they’re both very simple characters. What’s interesting is that these two are almost always together. As if they recognize that they are both birds of a feather. Simple human desires that a perfect being has no need for.
Sloth is the main enemy of Father’s grand ambition. Despite his insane power, Sloth sees everything as a pain and a waste of time. He wants nothing more than to do absolutely nothing. As such, he clashes with Father’s desire to become a god. For fear that he’d abandon his incredibly time-consuming, patience-demanding plan, Father had to pull Sloth from himself.
Envy is where we start to see Father’s true weaknesses. Through Pride, we saw that he thinks himself above humans. Through Wrath, we see that he has a deep hatred for them. But through Envy, we see why he hates them so. Because humans have something that he doesn’t. Something that he desperately wants.
Which leads us to my favorite Homonculus: Greed. Greed is interesting because he’s the only sin that Father could never fully get rid of. He acknowledges this several times in the ladder end of the show; so long as Father desires to become a perfect being, he can never fully rid himself of Greed. However, he can remove the most crippling aspect of it. The reason for his envy: his longing to be accepted and loved.
Through all of them, we can see what kind of person Father was. He took pride in his form and looked down on humans. But he was deeply jealous of them; he wanted to be free and to be loved by them. Still, his desire to know all and become perfect took priority to him. He wanted everything.
But in his quest to get it, he ended up losing it all.
Father himself, when we meet him, is not all that interesting. But that doesn’t mean he’s poorly written! Quite the opposite! Through this simple narrative trick of making the other villains extensions of himself, Father becomes one of the most fun characters that I’ve ever picked apart!
And he’s only the first! I have every intention of getting around to the others sooner or later! Ed, Al, Winry, Colonel Mustang, Scar, I could pick apart any one of these guys for hours on end! Fullmetal Alchemist sports some of the best writing in anime and it absolutely shows! I could go on and on about this show forever!
But I’ll save all of that for later. Primarily for this Saturday.