Oh, wow, it has a been a while since I posted the first part in my FMA comparison series. That’s kind of sad. I do hope that you will manage to forgive me, for a couple reasons.
One of these is the subject matter, see that last word in the title? It’s a name, Nina, and if you don’t know who that is, then if you continue to read this you will soon find out.
The other reason is that I think I’ve finally found my footing in regards to the direction I’ll be taking when covering material. I’ve decided to more or less follow the Manga’s events in order and branch out from there. I will make a few exceptions in order to cover material in the series 2003.
So, finally, after many, many rewrites, here is part two of my FMA comparison/analyses. In this installment I’ll be covering the first chapter and the beginning of the 2nd chapter in volume 2 of the manga, episode four of Brotherhood and episodes 6 and 7 of 2003.
The story of Nina, for me, is one of the hardest parts of FMA to look at and it deeply scarred me. More then anything else in the franchises entirety and that’s saying something. I find myself reminded of her constantly. I am currently reading a book entitled the Alchemists Daughter, which is about a group woman who were all experimented on alchemically by their fathers. It’s a great story so far, but it has made writing this and reading that story at the same time a whole lot harder.
The layout of the story in the manga and in brotherhood is almost completely identical. Ed and Al are returning from Lior, having lost their first great lead on the philosopher’s stone and because of this they are considering looking at bioalchemy as a possible means of getting their bodies back. Colonel Mustang suggests that the boys study the work of Shou Tucker, a state Alchemist who received his certification two years prior when he created a talking Chimera. Upon arriving they explain their circumstances to Tucker who allows to them to have access to his library. Here they learn that Tucker has a four year old daughter named Nina and a dog called Alexander who Ed and Al take the time to play with for a bit.
Things are not going very well in the Tucker household. We are told that Tucker’s wife left him shortly before he became a State Alchemist. We also learn that Tucker is under a great deal of stress, because his assessment is coming up and if he doesn’t do anything noteworthy for it, he will loose his status and as Ed and Al learn he will do anything to keep it. Shou Tucker does the unthinkable and transmutes Nina and Alexander into a talking Chimera, the same thing he did to his wife two years prior.
In both the Manga and in 2003 this story serves as a huge turning point. For the manga it’s a narrative tone and directional change and for 2003 it is used to spur character development. Both make the story incredibly important and noteworthy within this early point in the narrative. Its not here just for the shock factor, which is important because the manga never really revisits this event.
In the Manga, it is the most shocking thing that we have seen up to now. Before this point Fullmetal Alchemist seemed like a typical shonen adventure story and wish fulfillment saga. The shift in tone that occures at the end of chapter five is incredibly dramatic and very hard to swallow, because it come as such a surprise. Even for me, when I knew exactly what was coming, because I’d watched this story play out a good five times before ever touching the manga. It’s an amazing way for the author to inform us that no one is safe, no matter how important or innocent they may be, they can die. The author has shown us what she is willing to do for the sake of the story.
In 2003 we have already seen the traumatic events of when Ed and Al transmuted their mother. We understand what Ed means whenever he says that he has seen hell and we understand that this story has the potential to be very sinister. While the story does show us what the creator is willing to do, there isn’t a huge dramatic shift in tone. Instead the story serves to be a turning point for Ed. Despite having seen ‘hell’, Ed is still very much innocent. In this version he’s a 12 year old boy who I’m sure, before now couldn’t comprehend that a father could possibly harm his child in such a way, especially considering in this version he just witnessed the birth of Hughes daughter. Ed has lost a huge part of his innocence because of these events and the really sad part is that this is only going to continue happening to Ed as the series goes on. Of course, Al has to deal with this too, but the series really doesn’t focus on how he feels here.
In Brotherhood, the story holds neither of these distinctions. The audience has seen various shocking events and Ed and Al are both older. While it is still very hard for Ed and Al to deal with Nina’s death (me too, it was hard for me too), any narrative point to the story is lost here, because of how brotherhood chose to rearrange events. Also, since Ed and Al are both older and have already seen a lot of other horrible things that can be done with alchemy it can be seen that the events don’t quite effect them in the same way. That being said, learning that the brothers can’t come out the victors in every circumstances is still prevalent both here and in the manga.
Another variance in these versions and is how strong the relationship is between the boys and Nina. In 2003 we see the strongest bond between the children, and I say children here because I believe it is the smaller age gap that helps them form a stronger bond. Ed and Al play with Nina in 2003 simply because they want to. While it might be a bit of a stretch, it isn’t hard to imagine an 11 and 12 year playing with a 4 year old in comparison to imagining a 14 and 15 year old doing the same.
In both Brotherhood and the Manga the boys only play with Nina and Alexander because they feel sorry for her or to appease her when she’s bothering them. The one thing that Brotherhood has above the manga here is that it makes a direct comparison between the boys father and Nina’s and how they have both been ignored/abandoned, which in turn leads to the thought that all three are motherless as well. This not only makes Ed and Al sympathize with Nina directly, but when comparing the father’s we see clearly that while Ed and Al’s dad abandoned them he never harmed them physically, which would make Tucker’s actions harder for the boys to swallow. I theorized a lot from a two second flash back.
Beyond these differences Brotherhood and the Manga are both neigh identical when one continues a comparison. The variance in the 2003 version, however, is staggering.
In 2003 the story of Nina is comprised of two entire episodes, though one of those is focused heavily upon the alchemist exam, which I will cover in more detail later. These two episodes are one reason why the bond between the boys and Nina is so strong, beyond just the change in age difference.
Because of the change in age difference and the fact that the boys are studying for the Alchemist exam, their reason for studying in the Tucker household is very different. In 2003 they are studying for the exam, but in both Brotherhood and in the Manga they are simply gathering any research that could help them regain their bodies back. In those versions of the story they tell Shou Tucker about the failed human transmutation because of its direct relationship to their research, whereas in the 2003 version Tucker discovers this for himself. How he does so leads into the next part I want to talk about and to my favorite moment in the entirety of the Manga so far.
Ed’s Emotional Vulnerability
In all three versions at this point in the story Ed has a moment of extreme emotional vulnerability. The manga version is my absolute favorite and It occurs after Nina’s transformation. Ed wakes from a dream about his mother where she accuses him of not being able to bring her back. Ed awakes in a cold sweat and in the next instant grabs the flesh of his leg that is attached to his automail and simply says that ‘it hurts.’ It such a quick and simple moment, but the mix of emotional and physical pain is beautifully sad and I love it.
In brotherhood Ed has a similar dream, but Nina is in it too. Once Ed awakes however, the focus is no longer on him. Instead the focus is on Al and how Al can simply watch. Al cannot sleep and no longer dreams and thus does not understand, nor can help with what his brother is going through. I do like the change in focus here, especially since the emotional focus has been on Ed throughout this entire thing and here we are reminded why. Al cannot cry, he cannot dream and his way of showing emotion is only shown in his body movements and his voice. Showing Al watching his brother here highlights this.
In 2003 the moment of vulnerability is not brought on by a nightmare. Instead it is brought on by a wakeful moment of PTSD. Here there is a serial killer on the loose and he is butchering women. While Ed is with other members of the military he encounters the scene of the latest murder and catches a glimpse of the murdered woman, this reminds him of the corpse left after the failed transmutation, which causes him to faint. It is after this incident that Tucker puts the dots together and surmises the origin of Ed and Al’s physical states. So, while we don’t get the quiet emotional moment of vulnerability after Nina’s transformation, we do still get one.
The Hughes Family Contrast
Ok, before we get down to the nitty gritty part there is one more thing I want to talk about, which I feel would be best covered here, and that’s the birth of Hughes’ daughter Elicia. In episode six of 2003 Hughes shows up at the Tucker residence and reveals that he knows its Ed’s birthday. Ed is turning 13 and Hughes is inviting the three children to his house for a birthday celebration. Unfortunately, Hughes wife Gracia goes into labor, causing a bit of a panic. I really like this addition to the story in 2003. It helps serve as a contrast to the Tucker family and it also cements the bond between the Elric Brothers and the Hughes family. In Brotherhood and the manga there is a similar event later in the series which helps the Brothers to understand that life is the one thing alchemy can’t create and that ordinary people can. In 2003 that event is removed and so I’m glad they at least placed a similar event here. I want to remind everyone that in the Manga we haven’t even met Hughes yet and that we have only seen him briefly in Brotherhood, so I greatly appreciate any inclusion of him in this series.
Now we are approaching the dreaded moment where we learn that Nina and Alexander have been transformed into a chimera. In 2003 Ed is beginning to put a few pieces of this mysteriously sinister puzzle together on his own, which is nice to see, since Tucker has already surmised the Elric’s secret. What they don’t change is the fact that Tucker is willing to show them his monstrous creation. He feels no shame in what he’s done here and though he would prefer that Ed didn’t put together two and two, he doesn’t seem to be particularly worried. He thinks that Ed and Al are like him, that they did human transmutation to test the limits of Alchemy.
The final difference in this scene is how Ed reacts when he first sees the talking Chimera that Tucker has created. In 2003 Ed is very quiet and he looks pained as if he’s already made up his mind and figured out that this must be Nina and Alexander. In Brotherhood and the Manga, Ed is amazed by the talking Chimera, almost joyful when he first sees what it can do and it isn’t until the Chimera calls him Brother Ed, that he realizes that its Nina.
Both versions are equally horrifying, but I feel like 2003 does a little too much foreshadowing, even though it is cool to see Ed figure it all out. Another thing that 2003 has done that I’m going to criticize it for is that we’ve already seen a talking Chimera in the 2nd episode. A creation of Father Cornello’s that he, I am assuming, created out of parrots or another talking bird. Its only a small thing, since by episode seven I’m sure most people are too caught up in everything to remember this and Ed and Al actually haven’t encountered it yet since that takes place in the future.
In regards to Tuckers actions, I have to wonder why he would be forced to use his daughter. It is learned later in the series that human and Chimera creations have been around for some time before Tucker created one using his wife. Upon this first Chimera’s death wouldn’t the military have dissected it and realized what Tucker had done? Wouldn’t they have given him resources in order to continue with this work in the laboratories that were more advanced in that work? I feel like its odd that they didn’t, especially in 2003 where they are really pushing him to work harder and especially considering what happens with the Tucker’s later in the series, but I’ll talk about that later when it becomes relevant again.
I feel numb.
Next time I am planning on talking about scar and how his introduction fits into the story. There may be one or two things pertaining to Tucker that I may still address and we’ll also continue to address how Nina’s death affected the Elric Brothers. After that, I’ll probably end up addressing some of the 2003 episodes that aren’t a part of the Manga or Brotherhood. From here on out I think I’m going to refer to those two as Mangahood, when I put them together. I heard someone else use this term for a similar purpose and it seems like it will work rather well.
I’m coming to the conclusion that this series is going to take me much longer then a year to write. There are an awful lot of things that I want to address as I move forward and it’s certainly going to take me a while to write them all down. At least I’m having fun, sort of.
Thank you for reading!
Until next time!