there’s no denying that characters like riza and lan fan have some awesome, badass moments. what’s incredibly frustrating is that these moments tend to only occur when the narrative stakes are very low, and when they aren’t, these women – however strong they are otherwise – are forced into the victim role, helpless and having to be saved by their respective male companions. riza and lan fan each tend to affect the plot in significant ways by being brutalized and victimized rather than being independent, clever, or otherwise “awesome” or “badass,” and this is why i’m not the only one to suggest that their strength feels falsified. (see zudilio’s amazing post here for more info, because it’s a similar topic and it’s just an amazing post. 10/10.)
lan fan, for instance. her first appearance tries to establish her as a formidable fighter, able to go toe-to-toe with ed despite no alchemical ability and holding her own pretty well until he exploits her achilles’ heel: her defensiveness of ling. however, her next big scene subverts this image of lan fan the skilled fighter in a brutal fashion – she doesn’t get in a single hit versus wrath before he badly wounds her, leaving her to be carried around by ling (who, despite having just as much inexperience fighting homunculi and not being a trained guard, is able to fight wrath and gluttony together with the injured lan fan over his shoulder) until she severs her own arm so that ling can escape.
lan fan’s horrific maiming is what motivates ling to accept greed’s philosopher’s stone, stating that she lost the arm to get him this far and that he couldn’t face her if he refused. to be clear: this horrible injury is how lan fan advances the plot, by being is the catalyst for the birth of the second greed, which pushes the plot forward, not the fighting skills the fandom wants her to be known for.
riza gets it even worse in that her victimization advances the plot several times, not just once. first, her backstory, which involves her being tattooed without her consent so that roy can learn flame alchemy from her father. then, she’s made a hostage to keep roy in line, forcing roy to decide if he wants to continue fighting from the inside or go full-on rebel. and, of course, who could forget how her throat is cut in an attempt by the gold-toothed doctor to motivate roy to open the gate and become the fifth sacrifice?
riza’s and lan fan’s feats of badassery feel lackluster in comparison, because those moments, however awesome, don’t impact the plot to the same degree – they’re superfluous, icing on the cake. you could easily exclude them and have a largely unchanged story, while their victimization, on the other hand, is necessary to move the story along. essentially, these women are only strong when it doesn’t matter; when the narrative stakes are high, they’re forced into positions of emotional or physical vulnerability, and men swoop in to save the day. (think roy bursting in to kill lust while riza’s sobbing and thinking he’s dead, or, again, ling fighting off two homunculi with lan fan over his shoulder despite having no reason to possess those kinds of fighting skills – i mean, he’s supposed to be this pampered prince, how is he a better fighter than his bodyguard lan fan?)
when their strength impacts the plot so little – just like winry’s automail career that supposedly keeps her from being a wife-in-waiting, which, narratively, she is – it ends up feeling so forced, you might even call it fake.
to be clear, this isn’t me hating on the characters themselves. i absolutely adore lan fan with all my heart, and i like riza and winry enough. my affection for these characters is what drives me to complain and rant about how the narrative treats them with such injustice. i love them enough to say emphatically that they deserve better.