Compassion for self and compassion for others grow together and are connected; this means that men finding and recuperating the lost parts of themselves will heal everyone. – Nora Samaran
We don’t get to choose the Grand Themes that move us, and for better and (without question) for worse, the dark cycle of pain, abuse and dysfunction and its light counterpart of growth, healing, and transformation is one of mine. Fullmetal Alchemist is a dear favorite of mine for this reason, and particularly one character, the sad, sweet, and immensely strong Alphonse Elric.
Edward Elric is the Fullmetal Alchemist, the youngest certified State Alchemist in history, and the show is his and follows his adventures. Edward is brilliant, heroic, egotistic, idealistic, quick to anger, loyal, and a perfectionist. Alphonse is gentle, cautious, kind, and equally brilliant. I’m sure there are fans out there who watch because they admire Edward, but I believe sincerely, if pigheadedly, that those of us who Really Get The Show may have compassion for Edward, but could only love Alphonse.
For those who haven’t watched the show, here’s a brief set-up: Alphonse and Edward were alchemical prodigies that tried to bring their mother back to life with magic. They failed, and in the process Edward (the elder brother) lost an arm and a leg, and Alphonse lost his body. Alphonse’s soul was bonded to a suit of armor, and now the brothers wander from town to town developing their skill as alchemists in order to bring Alphonse’s body back to him.
There’s meaningful recurring joke in FMA: whenever the Elric brothers come to a new town, everybody assumes that Alphonse is the elder brother, the Fullmetal Alchemist. Edward is very sensitive, and erupts into rage. I find the interaction telling, and tragic, because despite Edward’s offense that his younger brother is perceived as being older than he is, Alphonse has become more mature than he is. Alphonse’s loss is simply greater, and whereas Edward maintains fanatical focus on mastering the arts of human transfiguration, Alphonse maintains an ambivalent attitude towards the idea of getting his body back, and the price for the knowledge to be able to do so.
Alphonse clearly feels the absence of his body. He is uncomfortable being so large. He is uncomfortable being hollow. Whenever his body is violated, even innocently as by a cat, he reacts with panic. And yet the irony of his appearance and of his relationship to the experiment that maimed him is that he has done his healing, and he lives with his armor down. His brother has never been able to forgive himself, and he lives with his armor up, always.
Edward still believes that his mistake was a technical one, that if he had succeeded in bringing their mother back to life, that there would be no tragedy in their life. Alphonse knows differently, and his awareness, which he is never quite able to communicate with his brother, that there are ruptures too large for magic to undo, makes him the moral center of the show, and in the end, the Elric brother worth watching.