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.

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.

“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!

Character Analysis: Qrow Branwen, RWBY

I like the idea of doing a character analysis on here every now and then.  In a way, it makes me work a little harder at studying story crafting while I’m enjoying shows and books I like.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last month since the finale mulling over volume 4 of RWBY.  It’s a web anime series produced by RoosterTeeth and you can catch Volumes 1 – 4 for free on both their website and YouTube.  If you haven’t seen it, please do – it’s fantastic, but be warned there will be spoilers in this post.

RWBY takes place in the world of Remnant where a society with modern technology coexists with typical fantasy tropes, like big bad monsters (grimm) in the wilds that threaten to destroy humanity without the protection of cities guarded by hunters and huntresses.  There are four universities that specialize in training these individuals which is where we first meet our main characters: Ruby, Blake, Yang, and Weiss.  Each is associated with a color: red, black, yellow, and white respectively.

A note on the color schematics, I think it is fascinating that color is so integral to the characters and their names.  The idea in the story is that during the great war art was disregarded, so a tradition of naming children in a way associated with colors was an homage to art.  Also, many of the characters are nods to real life legends and fairy tales such as : Joan of Arc, The Wizard of Oz, Thor, Odin, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, among others.

The first two volumes can be a bit rough to watch as the episodes were short and the animation was not yet polished, but the story is good.  There is a significant turn in volume 3 as the animation gets better and the story really starts to deepen.

Now, I love the characters but I didn’t have a true favorite until recently.

  • Ruby is great, she’s got a big heart and dreams to be a huntress.  But she’s still so inexperienced and naive.
  • Blake is angsty.  A little over the top for me.  Though I do like her.
  • Jaune is well, Jaune.  Sorry, you’re going to have to watch the show to see what I mean.
  • I was not initially interested in the Ren and Nora story, but I can safely say after Volume 4 I definitely appreciate the characters a lot more.  This is true of most of the cast in general.
  • I get why Weiss is the way she is, but she is so.  Snobby? Uptight? Annoying? Ridiculous?  I’m sure I’m being too hard on her, especially since I like her character more in Volumes 3 and 4, but pretty rich girls for me are very hard to relate to.

Qrow on the other hand intrigues me a lot.  He is only referenced in Volumes 1-2 and immediately the viewer gets the impression he’s an important character.  This is especially true when a short message from him is seen at the end of Volume 1.

The viewer does not actually meet Qrow until Volume 3 when we see him in a bar, right before he picks a fight with Weiss’ sister, Winter.

He’s introduced in a bar.  Glynda later states he’s always drunk, though that’s debatable.  He’s extremely coherent in the majority of scenes he’s in, the only one he’s swaying in is his introduction.  So, I’m not entirely sure how useful this is as a plot device except for comedic relief when necessary.

In the world of RWBY there are unique weapons everywhere and Qrow’s is no exception (really, the only exception in this world to unique weapons is android James Ironwood who favors hand to hand combat and a pistol).  Qrow is a sword-scythe-gun user.  It’s a huge sword that transforms to a scythe that is also a gun.

Regarding his personality, he’s on the blunt and gruff side.  He trained his niece Ruby and was around to keep an eye on both her and her half sister Yang.  He’s very much like a second father to Ruby.

In terms of his other relationships, he’s in Ozpin’s inner circle and seems to know a good deal more about the bad guys than he’s revealing.  Being Raven’s twin brother, he also knows where to find Yang’s mother (who had previously abandoned her husband and daughter).

In volume 3 we see him as Ozpin’s loyal agent and one of his best fighters.  In volume 4, we get to see him as far more vulnerable with a broader range of reactions.  The turning point for me was when he rushed in to Ruby’s aid in team RNJR’s fight with Tyrian, one of Salem’s minions.  The way he flew in (it’s heavily implied, if not outright confirmed he can shapeshift into a crow) and ran to her aid, blocking Tyrian’s stinger and giving Ruby a self confident smug grin.

That was a fantastic piece of characterization, in some ways, the fight with Tyrian summed up the character of Qrow beautifully:confidant, vulnerable, loyal, family oriented, and a skilled fighter.  Ultimately he got hit with Tyrian’s poison and slipped in and out of consciousness for the rest of the volume (leaving the fans with bated breath each week until the finale).  But we did get some interesting tidbits of potential backstory from what one could assume were his hallucinations.

To date, I think he is by far the most complex of the characters represented.  Don’t get me wrong, the main characters are all great if a bit angsty –  but they’re allowed to be, they’re still teenagers.  Qrow on the other hand is old enough to have experienced a great deal.

I suspect he doesn’t drink just because he likes to. I think it’s deeper and that there’s a pain there we haven’t seen yet.

So, here’s my own personal takeaway: Qrow is a representative of the complex characters I love to write.  Those who are driven by many and sometimes competing motivations.  He’s a reminder that I need to craft a believable and thorough backstory for each of my own characters.

I’m looking forward to seeing where RoosterTeeth goes with his story and can’t wait for volume 5.