One thing that really got my attention in FMA: BRO is the graphic and unflinching depiction of death in warfare. It reminded me of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Berserk, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes (among others) in a good way. Shows like Sengoku Basara, Gundam 00 and Macross Frontier while having a LOT more destructive potential, does not depict, or is not able to depict warfare so grimly.
Berserk aside, I think all the shows I mentioned have broad fan bases which include female viewers. Also, FMA: BRO is shonen so younger viewers are accounted for. When I was a kid, I already preferred shows that didn’t condescend to me. When people get shot, I’d rather see the poor folk get riddled with holes than the absurdity that was G. I. Joe which had massive combined arms engagements with a net casualty rate of zero.
I’ve only seen 31 episodes of FMA: BRO as of this writing, so let’s be careful with the spoilers in the discussion. In return, I will not mention any spoilers at all here. My concern in this post is how the depiction of warfare reflects some world-building considerations I find interesting.
The combat in this show is mostly close-quarters. After all it’s the most visually captivating kind – it is rather remarkable how the Macross franchise has successfully provided superb combat scenes without resorting to close quarters grappling. Legend of the Galactic Heroes had the conceit that armored infantry swinging battle axes can easily overrun a rifle formation. The Gundam franchise is in love with swordsmanship in space (to pro-wrestling in space in the case of Mobile Suit Z Gundam and reportedly Mobile Suit Gundam SeeD). Close quarters combat allows for martial arts which is almost always fun to watch – and guarantees that the combatants are within shouting distance at each other.
This proximity is perfect for portraying debates, character motivations in direct conflict, and emotions expressed dramatically through attacks. It’s partly because of this, that I think we don’t see the following in FMA: BRO:
- Prevalence of machine guns (full automatic gun fire)
- Armored Cavalry (e.g. tanks… though I saw a tank in the third OP)
- Infantry Formations
The combat in this show are examples of one vs. one, small groups vs. one, one vs. small group, and one vs. many. Very seldom, if at all do we see a many vs. many engagement. So while the aesthetic of the Amestris army is very much WWI to WW2 Europe, the combat is pretty much pre-Sengoku era Japanese (I declare my opponent among the many opponents and duel with him).
I never get a good feel of the size of the armies, they don’t seem to be any more than a few hundred soldiers per army. This is funny in that the conflict with the Ishbal supposedly spread out in a full civil war, but there were no army vs. army engagements depicted or accounted for. Everything shown is mostly urban skirmishes, or urban massacres – but even so it’s just either a small squad gunning down small groups (of noncombatants), or state alchemists using “area effect” powers to small groups (of noncombatants).
It was an extermination indeed, as narrated, BUT the show skipped the depiction of the war itself that led to that extermination. Here are some questions I don’t have an answer for:
- Why aren’t there any horses?
- Why don’t I see many soldiers? Where is the army? (when there are supposedly armies)
- Why do cars exist but not guns mounted on cars? (again, I saw a tank in the third OP)
- How is it a civil war when I don’t get to see armies in pitched battle?
Nitpicking? Maybe. But I think it’s worth asking these questions and discussing this about Fullmetal Alchemist precisely because I think it is a great show. I’m having a blast, and worth all the mental and emotional effort I can spend related to this hobby.