Observations on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

If you have spent any amount of time on this blog you’ll pick up on the fact I’m a geek and I won’t deny it.

I grew up watching imported anime on Saturday mornings, playing video games, reading fantasy novels, and getting into intense discussions concerning all these with my friends.  But, for a while I was not able to watch anime, either due to general busyness or lack of access.

Finally, in the last two years, I have been able to watch these shows again and I have been loving it (sometimes a little too much).  And while it is an indulgence, I have used this interest to better my own stories. I use my observations of the animes to hone in on my own characters and worldbuilding.  It is a practice that allows me to enjoy entertainment while also utilizing it.

Why Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood?

This leads me to Full Metal Alchemist.  Earlier, I discussed Qrow from RWBY on this blog, and well, the RWBY community constantly brings up Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) references in video comments because his voice actor plays Ed in FMA.  So after about a year of hearing how great it was by people with similar tastes, I finally decided to check it out.

The only version I was able to find was FMA: Brotherhood, and while I was hesitant at first because I knew it wasn’t the original anime, after some research I discovered that it is closer to the story of the manga and jumped right into watching it.

I am currently in the middle of the series (so no spoilers in the comments please) and here are the five reasons I am loving it and three things I wish were better.  I’m going to keep this somewhat vague as I hate to give away too many spoilers.

The Pros:

  1. I’m emotionally invested – Ed is actually a decent example of a teenager who is brilliant, but is also not as smart as he thinks he is.  He and his brother Al are desperately trying to get their bodies back after a failed attempt to resurrect their mother.  This is already a great set up to a story, with a main character driven by pain and a mission of redemption, but the best part is he’s not the only one.  As the series progresses we get a glimpse of the psyche behind Colonel Mustang and his assistant Hawkeye.
  2. Insurmountable odds – Our main characters are up against seemingly all powerful enemies, but even in the face of this there are glimpses of hope.
  3. Nuanced baddies – Well, not all of them (see below).  But there is at least one a couple baddies who seem to have more motivations than their face value.
  4. Setting – So far there aren’t as many plot holes or super powered heroes as I’ve seen in other anime like Kirito‘s character in SAO (though I am disappointed in a few times where it seems the main characters too easily get out of a tight situation).  I consider this a positive.  There are also several countries and cultures at play that serve to spice up the main story.
  5. Complexity – A few episodes in, it became clear the story would revolve around not just the Elrich brothers but also the rest of the cast.  I love this sort of story telling where we get a glimpse at the larger chess game being played out instead of a focus on just a couple of characters.

The Cons

  1. Winry – I’m annoyed Winry has not played a larger role in the story, though I’m holding out hope that her part will expand in the last half of the story.  She has grit but also a soft side, and I’m very interested to see what she would do if she gets caught in a real fight.
  2. Pacing – There are a few sections of info dumping through flashbacks (most of what was revealed I had already pieced together from the storytelling in the present).    There are also several slow sections, which are good for character building, but not the part of the story I’m interested in at that moment.
  3. The bad guys – There’s a few characters I’m so ready to be done watching: Envy, Gluttony, and Lust this one goes out to you three.  They’re more or less the most two dimensional of all the major players: evil for evil’s sake.
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Crumbs

I was thinking the other day how story ideas come to me.  I’m sure it’s not unique, but it can be frustrating.

Most of my ideas come to me in pieces: an observation here, a dream there, something someone said a long time ago, a smell that takes me back to another time and place.  All of these I spin and weave together in my mind until something new comes along and it becomes more cohesive. The sort of idea I can spin a story around.

In some ways, it’s like a chef or a baker deducing what went into a finished piece from some small morsel of a bite.

But it’s also why I’m taking so long on my projects, I specialize in fantasy and at times it can be hard to construct a world by collecting crumbs and pieces from the corners of my thoughts.

And yet, the experimentation can be deliriously fun as well.

So here is where I’m currently at:

I’ve decided to completely rewrite my Renegade novella, it has enough story to become a full novel.

I’m working on planning a third major project.  It’s going to be a modern fantasy/urban fantasy with elements from the legends surrounding King Arthur.

Last of the Summer Series: Brandon Sanderson BYU Writing Class

Children are back in school, pumpkin spice lattes are making a reappearance, and I’m getting back to a more normalized schedule.  Fall is here and I have one last link to share as a part of the summer series of YouTube videos (and podcasts) I have found helpful for writing.

I was able to spend a lot of time this summer listening to writing podcasts and an assortment of audio books at work, all of which I believe have helped to strengthen my craft.  I’ve also developed a taste for Yoga and I’m hoping the introduction of a new discipline will also aid in getting back into the regularity of a writing routine (though bribing myself with pumpkin spice lattes are also likely to help).

That said, here’s the video of the week.  Brandon Sanderson, in addition to hosting “Writing Excuses”, also teaches a creative writing class over at BYU wherein the assignment of the semester is to create a novella.  I believe one of the stipulations of him teaching the class is that his lectures must be allowed to be available online.

What that means for the rest of us is a free workshop on writing fiction with one of the great high fantasy authors of our time.

“What Writers Should Learn From The Lord of the Rings” by Just Write

I ran across this video recently and thought the separation of a plot climax and story climax was intriguing. I had not honestly thought of it as two separate entities, especially in regard to Lord of the Rings.

I’ll be honest, I disagree with a few of the points that were made, but it may be because I’m thinking about the book more than the movie (the movie version of “The Return of the King” is this video’s focus).

Worth a watch.

This will be the penultimate summer post. Starting in September I will be going back to a more normal schedule. (Yes, it’s because I’m a writer that I get to use fancy words like penultimate, when “next-to-last” would do.)

“Why Do So Many People Love SAO – The Art of Mass Appeal” by Mother’s Basement

For those of you who missed my first summer series post, the idea is that with how crazy my summers are I will be posting helpful Youtube videos for the creative process.  This helps me keep up with the blog while diverting the majority of my attention to my current projects.

While I was looking through anime related videos, I came across this feature on Sword Art Online.  I have a soft spot for SAO myself since it got me back into anime last year.  I loved the first half of season one and all the emotions it carried with it.  I came to deeply care about the characters and whether or not they’d survive.

That being said, I hated the second part of season one for reasons this video addresses.  I do think the second season was far stronger, and while I didn’t connect with it as much as I had those initial episodes there was still some powerful storytelling going on.

What I like about this video, is that it does examine why Sword Art Online is loved by so many people. The practical reasons he lists for SAO’s success are points I can use as tools to examine aspects of my own work.

That being said, enjoy!

The Author Stories Podcast by Hank Garner

I ran across this podcast earlier this year and it has been formative in a few ways for me.

The first, and perhaps most importantly, it has been helping me realize that this writing thing is truly a good fit for me. It’s fascinating listening to the responses to his opening question regarding each author’s earliest memories of wanting to be a writer (or storyteller). In the responses to this question, I have found many similar themes to my own life.

The authors often discuss aspects of how they write. Each tidbit discussed I keep in mind for my own writing and marketing.

Lastly, the podcast is extremely affirming. I am a writer. The ominous “Have you sold anything yet?” is a cloud that does not and should not reside over my writing.

“Matt Mercer on Villains and What We Learn from Them”

Dungeons and Dragons is one more item on the list of geekery I know about but have not participated in myself.  That said, I know several storytellers who play and it seems to enhance their story crafting abilities.

I ran across this video, and while it may not be an author, I believe Matt Mercer brings up some valid points for creating villains in novels in addition to the intent of game play.