Edward Elric has become one of the more popular anime characters in recent years, since his appearance in Fullmetal Alchemist he is considered one of the “gateway” anime characters.
Some have argued that Ed is more of an antihero rather than your traditional, honorable hero. I tend to agree with them because the basic definition of an antihero is a central character in a story who lacks conventional heroic attributes. They basically go against the grain and do things the way they think they should be done. Sometimes this is good, other times it’s not but antiheroes are often a lot more fun to analyze and watch than a traditional, somewhat boring hero.
So what makes Edward Elric so likable and unique? Let us begin!
Let’s start off with this: Ed is not the kind of guy most people will instantly like. He’s immature, stubborn, strong-willed, and often allows his pettiness and vindictive nature to get the best of him. He has a Napoleonic denial of his height and is extremely sensitive about it. He generally acts out of self-interest using any success to stroke his ego and throw it in the face of people, and is an extremely loose cannon. Often he resorts to physical violence rather than a more calmer negotiation to solve his problems, he is also foul-mouthed, disrespectful towards other people’s religious beliefs, impatient, cynical, hostile towards authority figures and doesn’t follow orders to which he doesn’t agree, and he just cannot sit still for very long.
Yeah he’s definitely your basic antihero. So what on earth makes him so…likable despite these tenancies? Well I think I have a hypothesis: Edward is a product of his own personal tragedy and there are much deeper parts to his personality if one were to give him a chance.
In the beginning of the show we are introduced to Ed as I described, but in episode three we are taken back to his childhood and that’s where this character analysis begins.
Ed was, for the most part, a happy child. He was strong-willed, but this was often met with an enduring and patient love from his mother. Ed, who recognized that she was all he had, adored her—worshiped her even. He took his “big brother” position very seriously (still does) because of the importance his mother placed on their relationship. Ed’s mother, Trisha, is portrayed as basically the mom that everyone either has or wants. She is extremely gentle, incredibly sweet, and loved dearly by her family and friends. She was deeply affected by her husband’s departure, but she being a steadfast and strong woman never really let her ache for him show. She often would stare out windows, hoping to see him walking home. Edward and his little brother Alphonse noticed her unhappiness and would always try to cheer her up with their alchemy. Alphonse said that their mother’s happiness was part of the reason that they continued their research in alchemy. They would do anything to make her smile, and forget her sadness. This was somewhat of a paradise for Ed: his mother and brother were his rock, his lifeline, and he would do anything to keep them safe and happy.
Sadly, Edward and Alphonse’s world would be shattered when their succumbed to an illness during an outbreak and fell fatally ill. Edward knew that his mother’s longing for their father was only making her worse, and he thought that if she saw him again, she would have the strength to recover. Initially, Edward was reluctant to attempt to enlist his father’s help, but knew that it would make her smile again and that, along with her getting better, was the end goal. And for the both of them, terrified by her illness, it was all they could hope for. Despite the brother’s attempts to contact everyone who had sent letters to their father, using return addresses on the envelopes, he never came. Whatever little feelings of affection or respect Ed had for his father were now completely gone.
Trisha died shortly after she became ill, Ed and Al were at her side when she passed. Now as someone who has lost a parent, I can’t begin to tell you how much this affects someone. I had the same relationship with my mother that Ed did, she was my anchor and my guide for everything. To have that taken away, for it to suddenly disappear—it was devastating. I felt as if my entire world had crumbled, I had never felt such a deep pain or void in my life. To this day I still cannot watch episode three of this series without crying and feeling the pain that Ed feels.
After her death, Ed is determined to make things right—after all this wasn’t supposed to happen. The grief-stricken brothers performed the most forbidden of all alchemic practices: Human Transmutation. Which is defined in the wiki as such: “Attempts to bring deceased human beings back to life are the most common practices to be called Human Transmutation and play a significant role in the Fullmetal Alchemist series. Using various experimental theories and methods, multiple alchemists in the manga and anime have endeavored to resurrect dead loved ones, but such pursuits are always failures, forbidden by the flow of the universe and alchemy itself.” In return, Ed and Al are given a mutilated mass of organs and body parts somewhat resembling the late Trisha’s corpse before it quickly dies. The failed experiment results in Ed loosing his right arm and left leg, and Al loosing his entire body. It was Ed’s quick thinking that saved Al’s soul: he bound it to a suit of armor.
Edward is someone who has had to suffer greatly at such a young age, he sort of creates this wall so that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He is everything I’ve described but to those he cares about he shows extreme selflessness, unflinching loyalty, and great compassion. He wants to make sure that nobody makes the same mistake that he did, and he sort of hides all of this with a brash and almost unlikable attitude. Despite what he portrays, Edward cannot ignore the true suffering of others and becomes sympathetic upon sensing pain in hearts. His advice to people is often tempered with harsh criticism, but it’s because he genuinely wishes to place them on the path forward. As one who has to struggle with a mangled body, he urges those with healthy bodies to use their strong legs to move forward,(“Walk on, move forward, you’ve got a good strong pair of legs Rose you should get up and use them.”) and as one burdened by the mistakes of his past, he stresses the necessity of people taking responsibility for their own mistakes. He has a strong belief in the concept of Equivalent Exchange, stating that humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. In order to obtain, something of equal value must be lost. The experience that he had to endure strengthened this resolve.
Edward Elric is a complex and admirable character despite his faults. I hope that this has helped you see him in a new light, I know that most people can’t see and relate to him the way I do but he’s definitely an admirable character that I so enjoyed to study.
You can stream episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood on Funimation. As of this entry, it will only be available until March, Funimation is loosing the rights to stream it then. As far as I know, both may still be available on Netflix.