Portraying a realistic familial relationship in fiction can be a lot more challenging than people think. Especially when it comes to the dynamic between siblings. A lot of stories tend to simplify the relationship, with each interaction between the brothers being simple, one-note interactions. Very rare is it that a story can capture the complexities of a brotherly bond.
Then there are the Elric brothers, Ed and Al.
At first glance, these two seem like total opposites. Ed is hot-blooded, quick to anger and just as quick to violence. Al, on the other hand, is calm and gentle. Al is tall and Ed is short. In another, less well-written story, these two would be at each other’s throats. They’d be enemies, or at least rivals. Their conflict would be dramatic and tragic because they’re brothers.
But Fullmetal Alchemist focuses more on what they have in common over what separates them. Both brothers are highly intelligent masters of alchemy who greatly value life. While Ed is hot-blooded, he knows where to draw the line. While Al may be gentle, he’s far more skilled in a fight than his older brother, to the point that Ed cannot defeat him.
Excluding the hospital scene. Cheating doesn’t count.
It’s both these similarities and these differences that make these characters feel so grounded and realistic. They just as often work together as they come into conflict. But these conflicts are never so severe as to permanently drive them apart. They fight and they bicker plenty, but they always work together when they need to.
That alone would make them some of the most realistic brothers in fiction. But then there’s the actual narrative.
Together, the brothers strike a balance in the plot. Neither one is more important than the other in the narrative. Both of them made the mistake in trying human transmutation, so both of them must share in the journey to correct it. The growth of one perpetuates the growth of the other. Rather than coming into conflict with each other over it, their tragedy brought them even closer together.
Each one’s different strengths help propel the narrative forward. Whether they’re separated from each other or working together, their individual abilities help them figure things out. Ed does so with his high intellect and fighting ability, Al with his gentle nature and social skills. While Ed is trying to fight Envy and escape Gluttoy’s belly, Al befriends the fat homonculus and uses him to find Father.
Ed and Al are the perfect fictional brothers. They love each other, they hate each other, and they work together with perfect harmony. Right down to their core, they are brothers.