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Aesop / Fullmetal Alchemist

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  • There are numerous scenes in the anime where characters pause mid-battle or delay combat in order to stand around preaching their own philosophies at each other — notably Ed and his pro-science stance. And, somehow, not only does it work, but the story would fail without it. The manga does this with more subtlety, but the tone and stories of the two are quite different. It helps that the morality is not especially anvilicious, as the characters struggle to figure out what morality is right at all.
  • There are three major themes in the manga: tolerancenote , the Cycle of Revengenote , and the fact that the military is for the protection of the peoplenote . The basic aesop is "Genocide is bad". All the more powerful because much of the traumatic scenes are based on testimony from Japanese veterans and the persecuted Ainu.
    • In addition, the military and the government exist to serve the people, not itself, and if your superiors betray that, you must protect the people from them rather than blindly obeying. Olivia and Mustang hammer that point in very clearly.
  • Also, ordinary people are capable of doing horrible things in the right circumstances, but can also redeem themselves and make up for their mistakes.
  • And "redemption is not death": you can always do the right thing, no matter what wrongs you've committed in the past. Scar lives through the series, even though any other series would have killed off a death seeking serial killer out for revenge. Hohenheim's offer to sacrifice his life for Al is turned down, and he gets to die a (more or less) natural death. Mustang both wants to change the country and wants to be tried for war crimes.
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  • Another big anvil was the lesson that Scar and Winry learned, and that's the difference between enduring evil deeds and forgiving evil deeds.
  • "Keep moving forward".
  • A subtle but powerful one: Ed talks about how easy it is to create a human body, saying you could buy the chemicals necessary "with a child's pocket money" (which he knows from experience). However, attempting to recreate a human through this method always fails. On the other hand, souls are unable to be recreated through any means (hence why trying to recreate humans fails) and is considered the true mark of humanity. Al is no less a person than Ed for being a soul bound to a suit of armor and questioning this gets Winry legitimately mad at Al.
  • Lust's speech about Cycle of Revenge would be Anvilicious in most works, but that fact she's a villain makes it work because their plan is contingent on hatred and shows how easy it is for malevolent people to take advantage of others using their own hatred.
    Lust: "Bloodshed gives way to more bloodshed. Hatred breeds more hatred. Until all of the violence soaks into the land, carving rivers of blood. And no matter how many times it happens, they never learn. Humans are made up of violent, miserable fools."
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  • Another one: You should never blindly obey your superiors and try to do the right thing. Greed pulled a Heel–Face Turn and died as one of the heroes due to following his own instincts. Mustang disobeys his higher-ups and saves the nation by disobeying them. The chimera soldiers betray their genocidal superiors and help the heroes stop the conspiracy. Wrath blindly followed Father, enabled some of Father's worst atrocities and was complicit in a scheme that would have ended in his beloved wife's death, and dies a villain. If the state alchemists did the right thing and disobeyed their orders beforehand, they could have saved many lives in Ishbal as well as Amestris's major wars, and wouldn't have a survivor attempting revenge on all of them.
  • Lack of parental figures is also addressed here. Had Hohenheim tried to explain to his kids why he was leaving them (in order to stop Father), he wouldn't have been hated by his kids. It is partially a reason why Ed was so reckless in the initial episodes.
  • Sacrificing your talent and powers to protect your loved ones is not always a bad thing. Hadn't Al intervened during Ed and Father's duel, Ed could never have defeated Father. Also, Ed realizing his true strength is his friends and allies, not his alchemy, helps him save his brother, taking Brought Down to Normal in stride.
  • The first anime, meanwhile, delivers a brutal deconstruction to the Equivalent Exchange trope - namely, the effort or amount put in to something does not always yield an equal output (there's a reason the trope Hard Work Hardly Works exists). In the words of the Big Bad Dante:
    Dante: (to Ed) "Consider the state alchemy exam that you passed with flying colors. How many others took the test that day? Spent months, years preparing, some working much harder than you. Yet you were the only one who passed. Where was their reward? Is it their fault they lacked your natural talent?"