old mustang

Happy belated (is it belated already where you live??) birthday, @the-flame-and-hawks-eye!!

…wait, we don’t even know each other, you say? Haha, oh boy, now it gets embarrassing. So basically I saw all the amazing birthday wishes yesterday on your blog (mostly because of @mellorad‘s great art which was posted at 4am my time yesterday and I didn’t want to sleep) and I liked some because they were so nice and YOU SAW, and YOU FOLLOWED MY PERSONAL BLOG. And I felt so BAD for not also wishing you happy birthday, even though we haven’t really talked ever. So here you go, have this tiny royai doodle (because I heard you liked angst, otherwise this might be a rather unfitting birthday drawing oh god I am sorry) and all the best for your next year!!!! 

These are just some 8am Monday morning rambling thoughts, but I think I’ve hit on an explanation for something that’s bugged me for years.

My only major complaint about the Brotherhood adaption of the FMA manga has always been the unusual gutting and cutting of Riza’s recount of Ishval. It’s stripped bare. For perspective, the retelling spans the entirety of volume 15 of the manga. Most manga volumes after Ling’s introduction are given about 2.5-3 episodes for adaption. The recount of Ishval was given 1 episode–episode 30.

And they did some clever shuffling to at least make this slightly more reasonable. Roy’s declaration to Maes that he intends to overthrow Bradley and fix Amestris is given as the cold open to episode 10, even though this is part of volume 15. Scar’s backstory was presented in episode 22. Riza burying the nameless Ishvalan child and then asking Roy to burn off her back is in episode 54. All of these were relocated in the telling, but not cut.

Yet that doesn’t explain the sheer volume of stuff that DID get cut. Or changed even. Episode 30 seems to be missing the aspect of humanness that comes across in volume 15. It’s almost 2-dimensional since it seems to cut most things that display an element of human fallibility and moral ambiguity. It’s like “Yes the Amestrians are Evil except not our Heroes they are Different”. I always chalked that up to an unfortunate consequence of the cutting choices.

I finally realized though–I think that’s the intent.

I think Brotherhood modifies the story to make the named, known characters less morally implacable for their actions. All the cuts seem to get rid of the morally-gray–or even downright evil–things that Mustang, Hawkeye, Armstrong, and Hughes do, and amp up the evil in the actions of the unnamed Amestrian soldiers

Here’s a list of things cut or modified in episode 30:

  • In the manga, Roy and Riza reunite when Riza snipes and kills an Ishvalan man about to stab Roy. The man was hiding in the Amestrians’ base camp, jumped Roy after he’d removed his gloves to wash his hands, and right before the man sinks his blade into Roy’s neck, Riza shoots him through the head. In the anime, she just walks up to Roy and Maes, having killed no one on screen.
  • In the manga, Roy burns to death the last Ishvalan survivor–an old injured man gently petting his dog. Roy asks if the man has any last words, and the old man calmly curses Mustang right before he’s incinerated. 
  • In the manga, Armstrong attempts to let two Ishvalan women escape by busting a hole in the wall he’d transmuted to trap them in. Kimbley steps in and annihilates them. He then goes to offer Armstrong a hand up, and (as a friendly favor) promises not to let the higher-ups know what Armstrong did, lest he get court martialed. 
  • In the manga, we see dead Ishvalans left on the ground. Mustang and Hughes walk by bodies as they talk. Ishvalans with speaking roles are murdered. Faces can be put to people who were killed by Armstrong, Mustang, and Hawkeye.
  • In the manga, a captain in charge of Hughes’ squad is ordering unnecessarily risky missions in a thinly-veiled attempt to earn some recognition from the higher-up. Bass Grahn takes issue with this, and murders the captain. Hughes and some men are present to witness this. They calmly remark how unfortunate it is that a “stray bullet” from the other side has killed the captain.
  • The Amestrians’ celebration at the end of the war is cut. Some of Mustang’s men flag him down for a drink with him to thank him for protecting them. Mustang is disgusted with himself for the recognition. considering that indiscriminately killing people is what earned him it. (In fact, when Bradley spies Mustang in the crowd and realizes Mustang is vying for his spot, he remarks something along the lines of “There’s one man not enjoying the drunken celebration.”)
  • And, as far as things included in the anime but not the manga, Scar’s anime flashback to the war involves Amestrian soldiers gleefully, maliciously, happily killing Ishvalans. The soldiers all look identical. They don’t blink. And they march in perfect unison. This does make sense since it’s from Scar’s perspective. It very well could have looked that way to him. But that’s the ONLY perspective we’re given on the general Amestrian soldier–as if they’re all one generic, depthless, monster faction. 

On the whole, the cut pieces paint a far more brutal picture

When Riza talks to Ed about Mustang’s plan to bring the Amestrian genociders to justice (himself and Riza included) it makes a lot more sense to the reader. Because we saw Roy and Hughes step over rotting bodies, and saw Riza snipe the gore and brains clear from a man’s head, and saw Mustang incinerate a harmless dog, and his injured, elderly owner. There is no dancing around what these people have done.

Yet in the anime, all these cuts modify the perspective we’re given. We don’t see Riza shoot and kill anyone (at least, not up close, not with a face). We don’t see Mustang incinerate the dog and the injured old man who gently cursed him to hell. We don’t see the people Armstrong attempted to aid getting wiped out. We don’t see Hughes’ quiet complicity with mutiny. Nor his stoic disaffection when the Ishvalan high priest’s offer is shot down by Bradley. We don’t get Mustang’s named subordinate soldiers who thank him for protecting them in war so they can go home to their families. 

We lose the truly awful things our known characters were a part of. And we lose the humanity expressed by the background soldiers working beneath Mustang and the others. 

What we get instead is divide. We know Mustang and Hawkeye killed people in Ishval, but they refuse to show us. We just see them acting remorseful, or planning self-immolating ways to fix everything wrong with Amestris. Opposite them, we get Generic Amestrian Soldier™ who gleefully commits genocide and has one, singular character design, when in the manga several of these people are named and are presented as honest, kind people. 

The whole thing, to me, comes across as censorship. Like it’s maybe an attempt to separate Mustang, Hawkeye, Armstrong, and Hughes from their awful deeds. To make them more likable, to destroy the moral ambiguity that is otherwise clear in the manga. It makes them safer to present as good guys. And instead lumps the evil on this flanderized, straw-man Amestrian soldier.

For whatever political or cultural reasons, I think the anime studio was afraid of implicating Mustang and the others for their involvement in the Ishvalan genocide.