Still, my temptation to rewatch was too strong to ignore (incited by this excellent article about it posted recently on ANN), and I eventually caved in. I’m thankful that I did, and I’m even more thankful that the series was just as good, if not even better than I remembered.
The most fascinating thing upon rewatch was examining my opinions and reactions (as I could remember them) as a 16 year old versus now, as a 26 year old.
Some of it remained unchanged. The emotional punches still hit hard. The music was still beautifully arranged. The large cast still boasted a wealth of remarkably well-rounded, interesting characters. Scar is still my favorite character.
Really, if anything’s changed, it’s that I found much, much more to appreciate about the show.
I mentioned Scar was my favorite character, and rewatching the series reignited my love of the character and it’s surreal to see it’s just as passionate as it was when I first watched it. As a teen, he was my favorite character because I found his arc to be the most compelling, and the emotional depth of his character grabbed me like nothing else; that remains true today. Increased exposure to real life-events, history, and sociology, however, gave me more to love that I wouldn’t have picked up on at 16. I love that he’s introduced as a threatening antagonist that needs to be taken down, only for the story to increasingly unravel how sympathetic his position is and how sound his motivations are. His brother and his people were taken away from him by the military so, logically, it’s best to wipe out the people responsible for it before they can cause another genocide. And the best part is the story goes to show he’s right, in his saving the people of Lior by wiping out a portion of the military before they can commit more murders and crimes against the people. I love that it’s not exactly said that it’s “right,” but the brothers seem to recognize what he’s done, why he’s done it, and they end up re-evaluating their view of the military as a result.
I loved seeing his backstory, how he used to be a timid young man and became a hardened, shellshocked survivor. I love the lengths the story goes to show what a deeply affected, vulnerable man he is, as well as a compassionate, driven one in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. I love that he understands what killing Edward would mean to Alphonse, but still intends on carrying it out. I love that his methods aren’t perfect, and even include some exploitation in order to reach his goal, but they aren’t necessarily portrayed as being “above” or “below” the methods that the heroes of the show use. I love that his final acts are acts of love--evacuating the people of Lior, protecting Lust from being shot, saving Alphonse’s life, lamenting over the fact that he never got to tell his brother he loved him. Episode 42 somehow broke my heart more than it ever did when I watched it as a teen, even despite Scar being my favorite character, to the point I actually had to put off rewatching FMA because I was hurting so much. I’m not sure why it didn’t do that to me as a teen; maybe the weight of understanding his position and all that he’d done didn’t come crashing on to me until now.
What surprised me most upon my rewatch was my newfound appreciation for Alphonse. I always loved him, but it was a pretty surface-level “Aww, he’s such a good kid” kind of love. I never realized just how many layers made up his character. He’s remarkably perceptive and wise, understanding Rose’s “irrational” psychology and sympathizing with Scar’s reasons for killing state alchemists in a way his brother can’t. His compassion is so deep-seated it can manifest itself as both a strength and a weakness--his compassion is what turned Scar from an enemy into an odd ally to them, but his compassion is also what prevented Martel from killing Kimblee and allowing him to go on a killing spree. I’ve seen that this and his prolonged existential angst can cause many to be annoyed by him, but it just makes me adore him more.
And good god, he can be shockingly brutal. When he tells Edward that if he were to be killed he’d probably follow in Scar’s foodsteps and start killing the people responsible, he means it. He’s not only the more combat-adept of the two brothers, but he’s also the most brutal. When he learns Wrath has his brother’s stolen limbs, he completely snaps and vows to rip Wrath’s limbs off of him, and almost does. He immediately risks his life in performing human transmutation to save his brother. His brother’s life being threatened seems to be the key to bringing out his violent side--which makes his friendship with Scar even more fascinating.
I absolutely love Scar and Alphonse’s relationship; it’s only a fraction of the entire series, and yet it’s one of the most brilliant additions to this adaptation. It brings a new depth to both characters--Scar is the first person in Alphonse’s life who’s a clear threat to his brother that Alphonse doesn’t try to fight back, but instead, sees himself in him. Alphonse, conversely, is the first person in Scar’s post-Ishbal genocide life who treats him as a person and not a threat. It brings tremendous change in both of them--affirming Alphonse’s humanity and strengthening his ability to emphasize with others, as well as affirming Scar’s own ability for compassion and helping others that he further exercises in helping the surviving Ishbalan citizens and the people of Lior. They’re fantastic parallels of each other, allowing the audience to get two different perspectives and even offering up the answer to “What if Al/Scar did/didn’t have their brother?” I could go on, but I suppose further discussion of the Scar-Al friendship/connection will have to be a post of its own.
What also surprised me was how just how smart the show could get. When the brothers save Lior, there’s still the question of how the city will go on now that its leader has been dethroned, and Edward’s “stand and walk” words of wisdom only hold so much power before the place collapses and the brothers have to face the consequences of what they brought about. When Edward expresses doubt over Ishbalans having used alchemy, he’s confronted with his own ignorance (”You don’t believe the Ishbalans, having no industrialized society and living in the middle of the desert, could posses such a knowledge as alchemy, is that what you think?”). In fact, Edward is confronted with his ignorance numerous times--and given his arrogant, often condescending interactions towards others in the beginning series, this is a refreshing and splendid development.
There’s a lot of other things I love about the series. I love that Winry is conflicted by finding out that the person who killed her parents wasn’t a bad person, but ultimately doesn’t forgive him either. I love the amount of things it leaves for you to have to think about and figure out for yourself. I love its blunt, yet hopeful outlook on humanity. I love the intimate, familial sense it conveys--between the Elrics and the Rockbells, between the Tuckers, between the Hughes family, between the Ishbalans, between Roy and his men, between Izumi, her husband, and the neighbors of her hometown, between the homunculi. I love that the final villain is, fittingly, a nihilist detached from her own man-made family.
It was good to revisit this series.