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Series That Were Almost Good (But Decided to Suck) – Part One

September 21, 2010

Plenty of series make decisions that you don’t dig, but in the end you can shrug them off. Most series do this and we still like or love those series.

Then there’s the series that you like for the most part, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with it that keeps you from enjoying it in the end. Maybe there’s some plot element that gripes you to no end. Maybe the “message” that the anime’s trying to get across rubs you the wrong way. Maybe it’s a character that pisses you off and makes you wish you existed in said anime so you could murder him and his entire family.

Some series suck despite the fact that they don’t suck. Let’s start with a series that almost everyone else seems to love (And isn’t Bakemonogatari, despite the picture used above.).

Fullmetal Alchemist

FMA commits two cardinal sins. I could forgive one and move on, but I’m including it here to further my damnation of the series.

1) The humor. It sucks.

I’m all for anticlimactic shit, pulling the rug out from under situations, and otherwise undermining people’s best laid plans. I love the anticlimactic humor of Occult Academy and stuff like that. But FMA’s humor downright ruins what it intends to be tense, dark, serious moments. It isn’t like Academy, where said moments were never meant to be serious from the get-go. FMA wants you to be fully involved in the dangers Ed and Al deal with, but half the time something happens that’s supposed to be life-threatening or whatever someone makes with a short joke or a “you’re too young to be an alchemist” joke or something that breaks the tension. The problem is that they revert right back to the seriousness as if said joke never happened. This isn’t a way to lighten the mood or defuse a situation or anything like that. It just comes off like the writer has a lousy sense of comedic timing. But that’s the forgivable thing about FMA. If that was the only thing that griped me about the series I wouldn’t think much of it. It wouldn’t be a personal favorite, but it’d be decent.

2) I loathe the way alchemy is portrayed in FMA the way I loathe the way vampires are portrayed in the Twilight series.

Twilight takes what is an inherently sexual, bestial, primordial creature and turns it into a metaphor for right-wing abstinence propaganda. It isn’t a reimaging of the vampire the way Anne Rice reimaged the concept back in the 70s and 80s, this is a fundamental disconnect from the very nature of the vampire.

FMA does the very same thing with alchemy. Loosely speaking, alchemy is just as much about spiritual transmutation as it is about transmuting matter into other matter. The alchemy of the real world turned into a metaphysical ideal that was all about transcending the mortal world and turning man into something new and superior.

Ed and Al achieve this. Especially Al, since he gains an immortal, metallic body. Al is the personification of everything that historical alchemy wanted to achieve, yet FMA portrays this achievement as something bad. Yeah, the means by which they achieved their forms was pretty seedy, but why would you borrow a concept, turn it into a shounen fighting/power system, and then go out of your way to say “nope, the ideals of alchemy are bad” like it’s some sort of “say no to drugs” campaign. The entire series is spent trying to “cure” Ed and Al of the fact that they’ve achieved what others couldn’t. I get that what happened to them is bad in the context of the series, but why use alchemy to tell this story? It’s akin to having an anime where everyone has Super Buddhist Powers, the main character achieves a state of enlightened satori, but said character then says “fuck this enlightenment shit, I wanna go fuck some girls and become impure again.” Except nowhere near as cool as I just put it. I’d actually like that anime.

I’m sure I’m the only person who feels that way, and I’m cool with that.

That said, I like a good chunk of FMA. There’s some good action scenes. The homunculi are pretty awesome. Hughes was a pretty snazzy character as well, and his death was one of the few from any anime that had any sort of emotional impact on me outside of me laughing in delight. But the above two issues are far too fundamental and engrained into the series for me to enjoy it as a whole.

Yep. Fullmetal Alchemist sucks.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. gwern permalink
    September 21, 2010 7:41 PM

    Well. This is an obvious troll post, right from the first irrelevant picture. But I’ll bite.

    FMA’s alchemy has nothing to do with your mythologized Jung-filtered image of Western alchemy. So there’s no need for the FMA philosopher’s stone to be anything like any of the alchemists’ philosopher stones. FMA and its movie announce their guiding principle (equivalent exchange), and like Death Note follow it to a logical conclusion – I particularly liked the movie’s ultimate explanation of alchemy, which I thought made much more sense vis-a-vis equivalent exchange than did the manga’s system.

    It’d be like going to Crime and Punishment and complaining that it starts off with Raskolnikov as an awesome ubermensch but then pussifies him into some sort of lame Christian.

    • Landon permalink*
      September 21, 2010 8:11 PM

      I’m very aware that it has nothing to do with, and I’m cool with people buying into the series’ take on the concept. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m merely pointing out that I find its divergence something that keeps me from enjoying the series. Simple as that. Figured I’d, like, articulate my feelings on the series since I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not fond of the series.

      It’s the same reason why Trigun and Ruroni Kenshin rub me the wrong way. You give someone cool stuff, like the ability to be a badass gunman, and then the series tries to make that seem like a bad thing. It comes off like needless moralizing when all I want is people doing cool alchemy stuff and shooting people. Don’t tell me that all that alchemy stuff is bad and don’t tell me that shooting people is bad. CONFORM TO MY IDEOLOGY, ANIME!

      And I’d probably feel the same way about Crime and Punishment. That sounds exactly like how I’d react.

      But yeah, troll post? If this is a troll post, EVERYTHING I write is a troll post since half the shit I say seems to be contrary to popular opinion.

      Maybe I am a troll and never knew it.

      And the first pic is relevant, at least in my mind, since I’ve blogged about how Bakemonogatari came close to being awesome then did everything in its power to turn me off. Probably could have linked to that post, but I never remember to link to the shit that I reference in my posts.

      • gwern permalink
        September 22, 2010 7:07 AM

        > You give someone cool stuff, like the ability to be a badass gunman, and then the series tries to make that seem like a bad thing. It comes off like needless moralizing when all I want is people doing cool alchemy stuff and shooting people. Don’t tell me that all that alchemy stuff is bad and don’t tell me that shooting people is bad. CONFORM TO MY IDEOLOGY, ANIME!

        Well, at least you’re able to diagnose your problems. Most people wouldn’t even get that far.

        I think we’re done here.

  2. September 21, 2010 7:57 PM

    But what’s the point of the Bakemonogatari picture?

    • Landon permalink*
      September 21, 2010 8:12 PM

      *points up to the answer*

  3. karry permalink
    September 21, 2010 8:31 PM

    “The problem is that they revert right back to the seriousness as if said joke never happened.”

    Works for me. Maybe i wasnt actually LAUGHING, but i did appreciate the jokes, and the timing was quite right.

  4. September 22, 2010 2:59 AM

    Yeah this is something that’s bugged me for a long time. Not the FMA alchemy thing. I thought that was done pretty well. What bugs me is your need for something to conform to your set of beliefs what should happen in such situations. If it does, then it’s a good anime. If it doesn’t, then it frustrates you. You seem to be fully aware that this is happening and are totally cool with it, but it does mean you give negative reviews to anime that are doing something right, like FMA, and giving positive reviews to anime that aren’t that good at all, like Book of Bantorra.

    • September 24, 2010 1:02 AM

      Yeeeah… so no.

      I’m indifferent to FMA. Read the manga before the anime came out. Liked it too. The equivalent exchange thing isn’t always well executed from a logical standpoint, but I’m fine with it from a dramatic storytelling standpoint.

      I gotta draw the line with Book of Bantorra though. That is indeed, a really good series. So much so that I can’t defend it, because it has (almost) nothing that needs to be defended. The only things it needs defense against is that the first 3 episodes might seem disparate, since it isn’t all tied together and wrapped up until the 4th. And the animation in the pilot could have been integrated way better. But these are superficial stuff. The series itself is rock solid good. Maybe it ain’t everyone’s taste, but it’s definitely very good.

      An analogy to close this off. Think of a fine wine. One that’s wonderfully brewed and aged to perfection. An ambrosia that would bring the gods to their knees. However, I don’t drink wine and find all wine to be pretty yucky, but I can accept that it’s great wine. Same with Bantorra, one might not like it all that much, one might even hate it for whatever reason or lack thereof, but it’s still a great series.

  5. Landon permalink*
    September 22, 2010 9:11 AM

    Yep, you nailed it Scamp. Some people base their biases on genre or character types. My biases tend to be more “idea” based.

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