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Truth Keeping the Natural Order in a Scientific World

Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who committed the ultimate sin an alchemist can commit: attempting to resurrect the dead in a technique known as human transmutaion. According to the writer and artist of Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy is “the reconstruction of matter in new forms based on the knowledge of natural laws” (Arakawa, vol. 2, 75). Essentially, this means that with alchemy, one can take what is in front of them and create something new out of it made of the same matter. The law of Equivalent Exchange in alchemy states that, in order to create, something of equal value must be lost. In their failed attempt to bring back their mother, Edward lost his left leg and Alphonse lost his whole body. Edward then lost his right arm in bringing back his younger brother's soul and bonding it to a suit of armor. Now they search for a way to restore their bodies using a tool that supposedly bypasses the law of Equivalent Exchange: the mythical Philosopher's Stone. The only question is this: if Equivalent Exchange is such a defining factor of alchemy, where did the brothers’ bodies go?

Truth's Self-Introduction

When the Elric brothers lost their bodies, they came across a being known as Truth. Truth is where the other half of their exchange takes place, as evident when Truth is shown donning Edward’s arm and his leg. Before doing so, however, he showed them what lies beyond the Gate of Truth, a name for what leads to God's domain. This essentially gave the brothers as much knowledge of the world, the universe, and alchemy as the toll they paid amounted to, with Edward's toll being his left leg and Alphonse's toll being his entire body.

Edward Sees the Truth
Alphonse Sees the Truth

The message I hope to get across with this presentation is that Truth is merely doing its job, which is to keep the natural order in a world where science is rapidly advancing. I plan on doing this by presenting scenes in which Truth is featured and, when finished, analyzing them. I also plan on presenting the story of Fullmetal Alchemist as a cautionary tale for humanity, warning us of our own hubris.

Edward's Toll

The first time Truth is shown, it is cheerfully introducing itself to Edward. This is soon seen not as a friendly attitude, but a snide one. Truth proceeds to open Edward’s Gate of Truth, in which he is shown as much of God's domain as his toll allowed him to see. Truth then takes Edward's toll, reminding him of the law of Equivalent Exchange. Their first encounter soon ends after this payment. The next time Truth appears as his white, otherworldly form, it questions Edward's intentions for coming back to the Gate of Truth. That is all we see of this form until another alchemist, Roy Mustang, is forced to attempt human transmutation by the two of the antagonists of the series, the Homunculi.

Edward Returns to the Gate

As mentioned earlier, the alchemist Roy Mustang is forced to attempt human transmutation by two of the Homunculi. The Homunculi are, in a nutshell, artificial humans and human transmutation "success stories" created by the main antagonist: a being they address as Father. What is important to note in the scene is that Mustang’s version of Truth looks different from Edward's. This is because, as the Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki states, Truth "serves as one's own conscience" ("The Truth"). Since Edward was a young boy when he reached his Gate of Truth, his Truth took the form of a young boy. Perhaps it hasn’t changed since then because he, himself, hasn’t grown. Since Mustang is a grown man as he reaches his Gate, his Truth is a grown man. To go even further with this idea, mangaka Hiromu Arakawa once said in an interview that "the Truth was somewhat a 'hollow' version of oneself (as a sort of 'internal God', or conscience), a sort of 'negative' of that alchemist, which completed itself with the tolls taken by the alchemist upon seeing the Truth" ("The Truth").

Mustang's Truth
Read from right to left.

4:05 - 5:05

Now I want to get into the irony of Truth's punishments. The leader and creator of the Homunculi, Father, has the following to say on the matter when referring to all of those who have seen Truth:

Father's View of Truth
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

As Father says, Truth gives fitting punishments to those who attempt to play God. It is not as if this is wrong of it to do in the first place, however. It is much like the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. The Encyclopedia Britannica article for the story says, "According to Genesis, the Babylonians wanted to make a name for themselves by building a mighty city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” God disrupted the work by so confusing the language of the workers that they could no longer understand one another. The city was never completed, and the people were dispersed over the face of the earth" (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The primary purpose of the story is to tell the readers where the different languages of the world came from and the secondary is to warn us of our hubris. In it, the human beings of the world, specifically the Babylonians, had to work together in order to achieve their goal: God’s domain. However, God changed everyone's language so that they could not understand each other, thus bringing their project to a permanent halt. This irony is just like what is seen in Fullmetal Alchemist. The Babylonians needed to understand one another in order to reach heaven. Teamwork was absolutely imperative. Edward needed his brother in order to have a complete family with his mother. Mustang needed his sight in order to lead his country correctly.

Izumi Explains Truth

These situations are all so alike. It is no coincidence that at the very beginning of the manga, Edward mentions the similar story of Icarus and his wings made of wax. The brothers’ teacher, who also attempted human transmutation (she is the woman that Father mentioned in his statement about Truth), has an important quote about Truth as well, as seen above.

Edward recalls Icarus.

Izumi’s quote about Truth matters because that is how God is perceived by many. It is a common saying that He “works in mysterious ways” and always has a reason for what He does. For many in Fullmetal Alchemist, it is to put trespassers into God’s domain in their place. For Edward and Alphones Elric, however, it was to help them grow. At the very end of the manga, when the last battle has been won, Edward has to retrieve Alphonse’s body and soul back from Truth, since the younger warrior sacrificed the latter during the battle. He decides to sacrifice his ability to perform alchemy altogether. This is the exchange he has with Truth over his decision.

Read from right to left.

The most important part about this scene is Truth’s smile. When contrasted with the wide and snide grin it usually brandishes, the kindness of a true God, a true Father, is seen. Edward has learned so much on his journey to get back the bodies of both himself and his brother. Truth recognizes that and admires it. What furthers this point is what Truth says to Father as it confronts him:

“You thought you could make God’s powers your own? Don’t make me laugh. You think stealing something powerful makes you great? You’re nothing but a cunning thief. You should have stayed satisfied inside the flask where you belong. All you’ve ever done I use the strength of others to grab at godhood. You haven’t grown at all.” (Arakawa vol. 27, 105)

Benjamin Chandler, in his article “Alchemic Heroes”, writes about the Japanese trope of the “wandering redemption seeker”. He says:

Such wandering warriors inevitably stumble across helpless innocents along their travels and take time out of their quest for redemption to stop and help those less fortunate. The true heart of their redemption lies in these small acts, though often the hero does not realize this, instead focusing on some ultimate, often unattainable goal, never realizing they are constantly moving towards redemption in everything they do. (Chandler, 175-176)

Father learned absolutely nothing throughout his incredibly lengthy existence of over three hundred years. Edward learned more than what Truth would call an “ordinary human” could hope to in less than five. That is what that smile means. It is not snide. It is not smug. It is the smile of a being who knows that its work here is done.

Hiromu Arakawa’s masterpiece Fullmetal Alchemist teaches many lessons. The most important being the last of the lines in the manga’s main storyline: “A lesson without pain is meaningless because gaining anything worthwhile requires sacrifice. But if you can overcome that pain and achieve your goal, you can achieve a fullmetal heart, and that’s irreplaceable” (Arakawa vol. 27, 190-191). At the end of an incredibly perilous and breathtaking journey, these final words state that the most important law of alchemy, that of Equivalent Exchange, is actually the most important law of life itself.

Works Cited

Arakawa, Hiromu. Fullmetal Alchemist. 27 vols. New York: Yen Press, 2014.

“Truth.” Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki, Wikia, 29 Nov. 2014, vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/fma/images/e/e8/Truth.png/revision/latest?cb=20141129164933.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Tower of Babel.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 29 Nov. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Tower-of-Babel.

Bruegel the Elder, Pieter. “The Tower of Babel.” Encyclopædia Brittanica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., cdn.britannica.com/668x448/60/6160-004-24AC81CF.jpg.

Chandler, Benjamin. “Alchemic Heroes.” Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder, Open Court, 2010, pp. 171–180.

“Homunculus.” Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki, Wikia, fma.wikia.com/wiki/Homunculus.

“The Gate.” Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki, Wikia, fma.wikia.com/wiki/The_Gate.

“The Truth.” Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki, Wikia, fma.wikia.com/wiki/Truth.

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