Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved anime series to ever exist. This famous show teaches many important morals, from the classic “life isn’t fair,” to the more modern “every side is the ‘good side’ in their own story.” However, there are also several subversive lessons that are never made obvious to the viewer. One of these subtle messages, “women do not equal weakness,” is what will be focused on in this article. This message is a powerful one that has been trying to gain support worldwide for well over a century, and even though men and women are (almost) equal in a large part of the world, there are still many ways in which men have the upper hand. This is largely due to cultural and social constructions of a woman’s “place” within a society versus a man’s. Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in a fictional reality, but nonetheless, Arakawa Hiromu has created a world in which women can be leaders in the military, run their own businesses, and even be powerful alchemists without anyone batting an eye. Of course, not everything’s equal, even in Arakawa’s world, but there are plenty of strong females to provide an example of what we should be moving towards. This article contains spoilers for both the Brotherhood and Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) shows.
One of the most present female characters in the series is Winry Rockbell. As the childhood friend of both Elric brothers, as well as Edward’s automail mechanic, Winry is an essential part of the story. She plays several key roles beyond fixing Ed up when he gets in a fight, such as helping the serial killer Scar realize that he is on the wrong path and providing emotional support for the Elric brothers when things get hard. Winry’s strength is shown in many different ways. First is in her abilities as an automail mechanic and surgeon. She is the sole engineer of Edward’s arm and leg, creating them from scratch at the age of 11. The second is her resilience after the deaths of her parents in the Ishvalan War of Extermination. Despite the sudden deaths of her parents, Winry holds her head high and looks on the bright side. Next is Winry’s independence. She often travels alone to see the Elrics and at one point settles down on her own in Rush Valley to apprentice under a master automail mechanic. After that is her determination to help Scar, despite the fact that he killed her parents. She treats his injuries and helps him escape, saying that she doesn’t forgive him for the murder of her parents, but that she can’t let him suffer. The final thing is Winry’s bravery when she is brought to Fort Briggs as an unwitting hostage against the Elric brothers. She isn’t aware of it initially, but after the Elric brothers tell her the truth, she helps them by lying to Kimblee in order to accompany the group to Baschool and pretending to be captured by Scar so that a portion of their allies could escape. Winry is often thought of as just the mechanic who appears whenever Ed breaks his automail, but without her determination and faith in humanity, the Elric brothers might never have succeeded on the Promised Day.
Also from Resembool is Edward and Alphonse’s mother, Trisha Elric. Trisha has little screen time as she is deceased before the beginning of the show, but she has a huge influence on the Elric brothers, especially Edward, throughout the course of the show. While she was alive, Trisha was a wonderfully supportive mother. She encouraged her sons in their pursuit of alchemy and encouraged her husband to be the hands-on father he wanted to be. Her strength shows when Hohenheim announces that he has to leave without giving a reason. She is clearly surprised but quickly accepts it. She allows her husband to leave for an indefinite amount of time and continues with raising their sons by herself. She remains strong for her sons the rest of her life, even when she becomes gravely ill. She hides her illness from her sons for as long as possible so that they might continue to live normal, happy lives. Until the very end, she didn’t give up on her family, always ready with a smile for Ed and Al and full of faith in her husband.
Another character that plays a significant role is Riza Hawkeye. Hawkeye’s strength is much more apparent than many of the other characters’, as she’s lived a rather tragic life. Throughout the show, we learn that she has a bit of a strained relationship with her father through the fact that he tattooed the final array of his research onto her back when she was a teenager. After the war, she asks Mustang to burn it off her back, freeing her from the burden of her father’s research. Another example of her strength is her time during the war. She joined as a sniper of her own accord and chose to live with the blood on her hands and move forward afterward rather than giving up and quitting. She tells Edward, “Ordinary soldiers could fire rounds indiscriminately and hope to hit something. But for snipers, it was different. When we pull the trigger, someone is sure to die.” Throughout the course of the show, the audience comes to realize how much Hawkeye and Mustang depend on and draw their strength from each other. The one time Riza loses control of herself is when she believes that Roy has been killed by Lust, and even then, she goes out with a bang, so to speak. She fires every single bullet she has into Lust in retaliation before finally giving up. As soon as she knows Mustang is alive, she gets back up again. Another show of Hawkeye’s strength comes when she is reassigned to be the personal assistant of Fuhrer Bradley, making her a hostage against Mustang. It is somewhat apparent to the viewer that she is terrified of her new position, especially knowing as much as she does about the Fuhrer and the homunculi, but she puts on her poker face and does what both Bradley and Mustang ask of her. Finally, Riza is strong even against Roy, despite him being her reason for living. She often stands up to him, refusing to follow his orders, especially when they involve leaving him behind. When she follows him into the tunnels beneath Central, she remains guarded, even against Envy, who appears to be Roy Mustang. She tricks him into admitting that he is actually Envy, and proceeds to attack. Whether on her own or in a team, Riza Hawkeye is a force to be reckoned with. She is one of the most prominent female leads and can hold her own in both a fight and in life.
Olivier Mira Armstrong
Another prominent female lead, Olivier Mira Armstrong is a general in the Amestrian military, commanding the Briggs Fortress on the northern border between Amestris and Drachma. She is known for saying, “At Briggs, only the strongest survive.” Every soldier serving under her is extremely loyal to her to the point that they would betray the government of Amestris if it meant remaining true. She seems to have made her strength a large part of her personality, perhaps because she has been made to prove it time and time again. There is one moment in the series when she shows the viewers that equality has not truly been achieved in Amestris: when she tricks General Raven into revealing the Fuhrer’s plans by playing the “vulnerable female” card. She pitches her voice softer and tells him how most women her age are expected to have settled down by then and had a family. She fools him into believing that she would be receptive to his cause, before revealing that she was lying and killing him. However, she is not only the stereotypical “female boss” character; there is a true compassionate side to her as well. When she sends some men into the tunnel Sloth digs to investigate, she tells them that she won’t let them back up after 10 o’clock, but then gives the timekeeper a broken watch that will never reach ten. Olivier Armstrong is a forceful person, but there is more to her than just that.
A character with a different sort of strength is Gracia Hughes. She is very similar to Trisha, which is one of the reasons the Elrics grow attached to her so quickly, and many of her scenes involve her acting maternally towards either Edward, Alphonse, Winry, or her daughter, Elicia. She actually doesn’t have much of a personality beyond “perfect mother” and “supportive wife” until her husband dies and her strength of character is revealed. She is definitely grieving for her husband, but at the same time, she is resolute in her decision to move on and not to live in the past. She realizes that dwelling on the “what-ifs” helps no one, especially not her young daughter, so she puts that behind her and goes on with her life.
Maria Ross is another soldier of the Amestrian military. She has as much strength as any other soldier, but one unique to Ross is her adaptability. This is most apparent in the scene where Mustang forces her to fake her death in order to escape incarceration for the murder of Maes Hughes (which she did not commit). At first, she is very overwhelmed from escaping prison, running from the police, then being spared by Roy Mustang, when she was certain he was going to kill her. After she climbs into the hole behind the dumpster, she is finally informed of the colonel’s plan. There, she has one dramatic moment where she laments her situation before she steels herself and tells Havoc she’s ready to leave. Maria’s strengths may not be so clearly stated as some of the other characters’, but she is no weakling.
Our next woman isn’t in the military, but she has quite a few connections. Madame Christmas runs a bar that may or may not also be a brothel. She and the girls working for her are Mustang’s main informants, getting information from loose-lipped military men that visit their establishment. Their strengths lay in deception and the sly collection of secrets. Without the Madame and her girls, Roy would never have been able to uncover as much about the Fuhrer as he did, nor would he have been able to keep up his debaucherous cover as well.
The final female character we will mention in depth is one of the strongest, yet also one of the most problematic. Lust is the only homunculus who identifies as female out of all seven, which enforces the idea that lust is a feeling only females are susceptible to. Her personality and physical appearance both serve to make her the embodiment of the “female player”. She uses her looks and sensuality to get what she wants, without caring about the people she’s messing with. She is also somewhat of an authority within the homunculi, as both Gluttony and Envy follow her orders. However, there isn’t much more to her personality besides that. Her character falls a bit flat, which might be explained by the fact that she is supposed to embody only one of the seven deadly sins if it weren’t for the fact that many of the other “sins” have much more dynamic personalities than she does. Her only defining characteristics seem to be her desirability and disdain for humans.
This is not the only problematic representation of females within the Brotherhood series. May Chang is shown to be a bit easily enamored, like the stereotypical teenage girl. She first has an infatuation with Edward Elric, despite not knowing what he looked like or anything about him. When she finds out what he is really like, she quickly throws away her ideals of him and moves on to his brother Alphonse, who is much more like what she’d envisioned Edward to be. While this is humorous and adds a bit of levity to the serious situations they find themselves in, it serves to encourage both young girls to be like that, as well as young boys to expect that behavior of girls. This type of behavior is also somewhat present in Winry Rockbell. In addition to being Edward’s childhood friend, she is also his love interest. There are several moments throughout the show where she says stereotypical “teenage girl” things, the most notable being, “Have his shoulders always been so broad?” as Ed walks away from her.
Despite including some representations of female stereotypes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has brought one of the most important messages of the 21st century to lives all over the world. Women are not weak for being female, nor are they unfeminine for being strong. A strong woman can still have compassion and traditionally feminine qualities without giving up her power. Brotherhood shows people, rather than telling them, that women can be equal without the world turning on its head. Through the fight against the homunculi, it shows us that women are just as human as men are.
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