Monday, May 28, 2018
To Be King (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Ok... I've wanted to write a full-blown analysis post about some aspect of this EXTREMELY theme driven show, but I haven't been brave enough! For one reason, I am super late to the fandom. FMAB started back in 2009, so it is by no means a new series. It is also an extremely well loved and respected anime (as it deserves to be). Add that to the fact that it is over sixty episodes worth of material to analyze, and I honestly worry that my current analysis of the characters will not be a good representation of the show! So... if you love this story and I misrepresent it, please forgive me and don't roast me too badly.
SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW
I want to explore the mentalities of the three men in FMAB who are either actively seeking political power, or who have already obtained it. I want to explore how Roy Mustang, Ling Yao, and King Bradley view what it means to be a ruler. What does it me to be king?
I will start with the only one of these characters who has actually been placed at the top of a nation. King Bradley has had his whole life orchestrated for him. He had very little choice in anything. In truth, he is little more than a figurehead, following the commands of his master who hides in the shadows. He himself is a pawn, and he has resigned himself to this fate. The being who controls him is harsh and unforgiving, a monster who is perfectly willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for his own selfish goals. This mentality has clearly rubbed off on Bradley. Even though he seems to deeply care for his wife, she is left to die when the master plan that Bradley has been helping to orchestrate finally succeeds, and we never seem him show a shred of remorse. Bradley sees every one under him as an expendable tool. They are not valueless; they are useful. In his view, feeling for his subordinates is foolish, and he expresses this very plainly when he first battles greed. This cool, calculating, utilitarian view does make him very effective as a one-man army, and he does a good job at hiding it under a kind small and a warm chuckle in front of his watching public. He is the dictator of a military state. The people under him are expendable, but he is careful not to let them see his beliefs. He is a man behind a mask, and it has left him hollow and angry. He is most at peace when he has nothing to lose, no identity, only the rage of battle flowing through his veins.
In total contrast, we have the prince of Xing, Ling Yao. This 15-year-old is dead set on impressing his father, the emperor of Xing, by gaining the secret to eternal life. If he can gain this, he may ascend to the throne, and he plans to protect his clan when he becomes the ruler of this mighty nation. He leaves on his epic quest with two retainers, Lan Fan and her grandfather Fu. He is very close to these two ninjas, and he clearly harbors reciprocal feelings of affection for Lan Fan. Ling views the role of a ruler to be that a protector. He asks the critical question: What is a ruler without his people. Even though his retainers are charged to throw their lives on the line for him, he constantly insists that he will not lose a single one of them. I can think of at least twice in the series that Ling chooses to try and save his comrades even though doing so could cost him everything (once when he is carrying a critically wounded ally while being chased down by his foes, and once when he tries to sacrifice the philosophers stone inside of him to save a dying Fu). He is trying to rule to save his people, and he is ambitious and driven enough to carry the burden of protecting all of them on his shoulders. He is passionate and emotional, and at times it makes him take a path that many would consider too risky or too greedy. He is almost the polar opposite of King Bradley, and they openly butt heads both literally and figuratively over their worldviews. He is also similar to Roy, but I believe Roy holds one notable difference. Whatever the case may be, Ling is clearly one of the most driven and ambitious characters in the story, and it leads him to do both great and terrifying things for the sake of his people.
Then we have Roy Mustang. He's maybe my favorite character in the show. Roy is a State Alchemist who is a colonel in the military. He was drawn into a vicious and unjust war with the people of Ishaval, and he and many of his friends carry a heavy burden of guilt from what they did during those dark times. Roy is much like Ling... except he is not so quick to completely sacrifice himself. He is much more calculating. I am not saying he wouldn't take a bullet for his men, but he would most likely have a clever plan in order to avoid it. Roy does see the role of a leader to be a protector, but he wishes to install a geometric version of this protection. He wishes to protect the people directly under him, his five or six subordinates and friends. In doing this, he wishes to inspire them to protect the people under them. Eventually, his actions could lead to a huge group of people looking out for one another, selflessly standing together as a strong monolith. This means if Roy was the very top man of the nation, he could potentially be a leader who was able to protect everyone through this structure. Roy, much like Ling, is incredibly ambitious. His views are considered naive, and his ambition makes many of the older members of the military uncomfortable and makes the younger members untrusting. He has a knack for stirring up trouble, and he openly seeks credit and promotion. On the surface, it makes Roy look like a power hungry and arrogant man, but under that is a heartfelt desire to make the world better. Another thing to note is, even though he fully intends to rule the country, he knows better than to trust himself with ultimate power. He tells his best friend and first lieutenant to watch his back: meaning she is to both protect him from those who would do him harm and to shoot him in the back if he steps away from his ideals. It is a real sign of wisdom and humility on Roy's part. He knows better than to trust himself to climb to power without being tempted to give in to the darker passions and desires that it can lead to. So, while Roy and Ling both fully intend to protect the people they are over, Roy intends to do it through organization and inspiration. Ling intends to accomplish this through sheer willpower and drive. I think it shows a real difference in both their personalities and their ages. Ling Yao is young, passionate, and brave. Roy is over twice his age, hardened, tactical, and driven. They both share common goals, common worldviews, and they both despise how King Bradley treats his subjects.
So, that is my take on the three would be rulers of FMAB. I really like the complexity of all three of them, and I hope I did it at least some justice while discussing it here!
Posted by Toothless the Nightfury