|“||Alchemy, It is the scientific technique of understanding the structure of matter, decomposing it, and then reconstructing it. If performed skillfully, it is even possible to create gold out of lead. However, as it is a science, there are some natural principles in place. Only one thing can be created from something else of a certain mass. This is the Principle of Equivalent Exchange.||”|
— Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Intro
Alchemy (錬金術 Renkinjutsu) is, as it is understood in the Fullmetal Alchemist series, the ancient metaphysical science/mystical art of manipulating and altering matter by using natural energy. This act is known as "Transmutation" (錬成 Rensei) and its sequence is usually described as:
- Comprehension - Understanding the inherent structure and properties of the atomic or molecular makeup of a particular material to be transmuted, including the flow and balance of potential and kinetic energy within.
- Deconstruction - Using energy to break down the physical structure of the identified material into a more malleable state so as to be easily reshaped into a new form.
- Reconstruction - Continuing the flow of energy so as to reform the material into a new shape.
The proper application of this craft requires not only a full understanding of chemistry and ancient alchemical theory, but also a sort of natural talent towards recognizing and manipulating the physical objects with energy, which require uncommon levels of intelligence and aptitude. Those remarkable individuals capable of studying and practicing alchemy are known as "Alchemists".
There are many paths by which alchemists can transmute the various substances of the world, with some alchemists being said to transmute by way of the Four Classical Elements (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air) and some by way of the Three Essential Principles (salt, sulfur, and mercury), but the basic tenet at the very foundation of all alchemy is that of Equivalent Exchange.
- This article is about the law in alchemy. For the DVD volume, see Volume 3: Equivalent Exchange.
- The mystical practice of alchemy to create objects out of raw matter or turn one object into another is widely believed to be capable of anything - indeed alchemy is often viewed as magical or miraculous by those unfamiliar with the craft - but it is a science and as such is subject to certain laws and limitations, all of which fall under the concept of Equivalent Exchange (等価交換 Tōka Kōkan): "In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed."
In standard practice, Equivalent Exchange is separated into two parts:
- The Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that energy and matter can neither be created from nothing nor destroyed to the point of elemental nonexistence. In other words, to create an object with the mass of one kilogram, at least one kilogram of material is necessary; destroying an object with the mass of one kilogram would reduce it to a set of parts, the sum of which would have the mass of one kilogram.
- The Law of Natural Providence, which states that an object or material made of a particular substance or element can only be transmuted into another object with the same basic makeup and properties of that initial material. In other words, an object or material made mostly of water can only be transmuted into another object with the attributes of water.
Since the alchemical forces being manipulated are not human in origin, but of the world as a whole, the consequences for attempting to bypass the Law of Equivalent Exchange in transmutation are not merely failure and cessation. When too much is attempted out of too little, what occurs is called a Rebound, in which the alchemical forces that are thrown out of balance on either side of the equation fluctuate wildly of their own accord in order to stabilize themselves - taking or giving more than was intended in often unpredictable and catastrophic ways such as accidental mutation, serious injury, or death.
Though no machine or equipment is needed to produce the energy necessary for transmutation, merely understanding the sequence of transmutation and the limitations of Equivalent Exchange is not enough.
In order to begin an alchemical transmutation, a symbol called a Transmutation Circle (錬成陣, Renseijin) is necessary. A Transmutation Circle can either be drawn on the spot when a transmutation is necessary (in chalk, pencil, ink, paint, thread, blood or even traced in dirt) or permanently etched or inscribed beforehand, but without it, transmutation is generally impossible. All Transmutation Circles are made up of two parts:
The circle itself is a conduit which focuses and dictates the flow of power, tapping into the energies that already exist within the earth and matter. It represents the cyclical flow of the world's energies and phenomena and turns that power to manipulable ends.
Inside the circle are specific alchemical runes. These runes vary widely based on ancient alchemical studies, texts, and experimentation, but correspond to a different form of energy, allowing the energy that is focused within the circle to be released in the way most conducive to the alchemist's desired effect. In basic alchemy, these runes will often take the form of triangles (which, when positioned differently, can represent the elements of either water, earth, fire or air), but will often be composed of varying polygons built from different triangles. For example, the hexagram is a commonly used base rune in Transmutation Circles because it creates eight multi-directional triangles when inscribed and can, therefore, represent all four classical elements at once. Other, more esoteric runes (including astrological symbols, symbolic images and varying lines of text) are prevalent and represent a multitude of other, specific functions for the alchemical energy that is released.
A Transmutation Array is similar to a transmutation circle in that it is used to circulate the energy used in a transmutation. However, unlike a transmutation circle, the runes are not confined to the circumference of the circle and may use the circle only as a small aspect of their function. In some instances, a transmutation array may not even be a circle at all, using different concepts to bring about the circulation or release of the energies involved. Transmutation arrays are often found as full body tattoos on alchemists due to the shape of the human body. It is also possible that the non-cyclical nature of transmutation arrays amplifies the 'destruction' stage of alchemy, as they are seen on places such as Scar's right arm and the Grand Arcanum. It is shown in the 2009 anime that reconstruction is also augmented by transmutation arrays as shown with both Scar and his brother's other arms.
Over the nearly 400-year history of alchemy in Amestris, great strides in alchemical research have been made by mixing these runes together to augment their power, converge their results and create entirely new pathways of utilization.
- This section is about the act of human transmutation. For the Fullmetal Alchemist episode, see Episode 46: "Human Transmutation" (2003 series).
Unfortunately, these experiments have given birth to a dark and sinister side of alchemy. Whether out of despair, malice or inquisitive hubris, several alchemists have been known to attempt the application of transmutation to the human body and/or soul, in essence, playing God with human lives. But, just as the Law of Equivalent Exchange applies to the transmutation of non-living matter, devastating rebounds can occur in Human Transmutation because human lives and souls are priceless according to the flow of the world.
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 the manga, it is determined that resurrection through Human Transmutation is impossible because a soul that has left the mortal coil has passed on into the afterlife and can never be called back by human means. The attempt will cause a rebound due to both the inherent lack of any particular substance able to match a human soul in value and the fact that the initiated transmutation is reaching for an unattainable goal. Of the known attempted Human Transmutations, the rebound has been the "taking" of parts of the initiator's body out of the living world and into the void of the flow (in the case of the Elric brothers' attempted transmutation of their mother, Edward's left leg and Alphonse's entire body were taken and in the case of Izumi Curtis' attempt to revive her dead child, several of her internal organs were taken). It should be noted that the size of the body parts taken are generally equal to the size of the human being transmuted, in accordance with the law of Equivalent Exchange.
In addition, for having trespassed in God's domain with Human Transmutation, the initiating alchemists are essentially called into The Gate of Truth to face God itself. Being pulled through the gate grants alchemists great alchemical and universal knowledge - in exchange for paying a physical toll which usually takes the shape of the body parts "taken" by the rebound - and the ability to perform transmutations without a circle.
In the 2003 anime, the results of Human Transmutation are different. The anime declares that it is possible to bring dead humans back into the living world, but upon being revived, they generally become inhuman Homunculi with the physical appearance and memories of the humans they used to be. Using the Philosopher's Stone or a human life as the material to recall the soul, it is possible to bring back a human as a complete human. Al also implies that it may be possible to complete a preexisting homunculus. If this is done, which is theoretically could be with a Philosopher's stone, (allowing one to survive, creating a homunculus and to attach a soul to it) it is unknown if the now complete homunculus will be a full human thus able to perform alchemy, age, and die easily, or not.
The next most referred-to form of Human Transmutation is the concept of an alchemically created artificial human, called a "Homunculus". Though largely considered impossible due to the fact that all recorded and reported attempts to make one have been failures, this act is one of those specifically noted in the Amestrian nationwide prohibition of Human Transmutation.
Human Soul Binding
Another terrible form of Human Transmutation is the manipulation of human souls. Though appearing on no official records, there have been experiments with Human Transmutation involving the extraction of souls from their matter bodies and the alchemical binding of said souls to inanimate objects usually by way of a rune drawn in blood on the object itself. Though not all the specifics of soul binding have been made clear, it has been explained that the iron in the blood bonds alchemically with the iron in the object (as most instances of soul binding has used metal armor as a vessel) and the blood itself remains bound to the soul of the person from which it was taken. The Blood Runes themselves differ based on the theories and style of whatever alchemist performed the binding, but the three different Blood Runes that have been revealed depict a spark or flame (presumably signifying a soul) hemmed in by other symbols in a blood-drawn Transmutation Circle that suggests a soul trapped within a container. In essence, these souls exist in the mortal plane without their bodies, are able to manipulate the objects to which they are bound and communicate verbally with beings around them but, of course, there are caveats.
Despite the fact that these souls cannot feel pain or die by conventional means, since the "bodies" they now inhabit are not mortal, the act of binding two such different things together is only temporary, as the soul and vessel will eventually reject each other and separate.
Though the manipulated soul is independent of its original matter body, the issues regarding the storage of knowledge and memory suggest that, for a soul binding to remain intact, the original matter body must remain alive somewhere. This creates another issue, as the soul and its original body will be inexorably drawn to one another. This fact is only stated in the manga and the 2009 series; the 2003 series makes no mention of the body still needing to be alive for the binding to succeed.
The Amestrian government has experimented with soul manipulation and binding under the command of Father, but the case of Alphonse Elric's soul binding is remarkably unique as the only known instance of a particular human soul being purposely called back to the mortal plane from the Gate of Truth. Edward Elric, for performing this brand of Human Transmutation, let his right arm be taken as the toll and drew a rune using his own blood. It has been posited that this was only possible because the two brothers had been pulled into the Gate together and may have had their souls crossed in the process. Additionally, the body of the soul-binding victim Barry the Chopper was infused with the soul of a lab animal and remains as the only known instance of a soul being bound to a living vessel. It is also unknown whether the act of transmuting the souls of Barry the Chopper and the Slicer Brothers resulted in a rebound or appearance of the Gate of Truth.
In the movie Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa, based solely on 2003 anime canon, Alphonse Elric is capable of transferring a small portion of his soul into multiple suits of armor simultaneously while still maintaining his original body and consciousness. The explanation is that throughout his life, his soul was bound to differing objects - from his human body to the armor to the Philosopher's Stone to his human body once more - that it has been rendered unstable and can be manipulated more easily than other souls. Though when one of the suits with a portion of his soul is sent through the gate, his entire consciousness is temporally transferred to that suit of armor, and that suit of armor apparently had a blood rune.
Chimeric Alchemy is a branch of bio-alchemy that seeks to alchemically "marry" two dissimilar life forms into a new creature, but even though this science skirts the line of playing God, the prohibition of Human Transmutation forbids alchemists from incorporating human beings into the practice of chimera production. However, there are alchemists who flout this decree and step across the threshold into monstrous experimentation. Shou Tucker, the Sewing-Life Alchemist, was the first recorded alchemist to successfully create a Human Chimera, passing his crime off as a full-animal chimera capable of human speech until his second attempt was exposed to the military, but (as with Soul Binding) the Amestrian government has also been experimenting with this, having created several human-animal hybrids of increasing versatility.
The origin of the power that drives alchemy varies between the anime and manga and, indeed, depending on who explains it within the series.
In the manga, alchemy is said to have been taught to Amestrians over 350 years prior to the start of the series by a mysterious man known as The Philosopher from the East and is explained to harness the diastrophic energy that is released from the movement and collision of tectonic plates deep within the Earth's crust to power transmutation. As practitioners of Alkahestry understand alchemy differently, they are able to sense that the source of Amestrian alchemy's power is not diastrophic energy, but more akin to the movement of many, many human beings, suggesting that the origins of alchemy may, in fact, be rather sinister. It is revealed late in the series that, while the earthen energy source does exist, alchemy in Amestris is actually powered by Philosopher's Stone energy, being fed through a nationwide network of underground tubes from Father's body into the earth between the surface and the crust to act as a barrier between Amestrian alchemists and the true energy. Additionally, the ancient nation of Xerxes appears to have had an advanced understanding of alchemy that mirrors, but may be different from, the contemporary Amestrian understanding.
In the 2003 anime, though it is never outright explained from where the energy in transmutation comes, alchemists who attempt to create objects outside their range of skill are left exhausted, suggesting that at least some of the energy comes directly from their bodies. At the end of the anime series, it is explained that the energy powering transmutation is actually the energy of departed human souls passing through The Gate to the alchemical world from our world, negating the concept of Equivalent Exchange altogether.
- In the anime, when alchemy is performed, the energy released (in the form of electric discharge) is of varying colors.
- Blue - Normal transmutations tend to generate a light blue, almost white, light. It is the most common, versatile color produced.
- Red - Transmutations performed using the Philosopher's Stone or Red Stones (which are unique to the 2003 anime continuity) generate bright red energy discharges. This includes the light generated when the Homunculi's bodies regenerate, as well as when Envy shapeshifts. Also, Scar's "arm of destruction" produces a red discharge in the 2003 anime.
- Green - In the 2003 anime continuity, the Tringham brothers create a green light when they use their specialized plant alchemy. In the same anime, the alchemist Lujon unleashes green energy when trying to cure fossilitis victims unaided (without the stone). In The Sacred Star of Milos, Ashleigh Crichton and Julia Crichton use green-colored alchemy.
- Pink - In Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa, the alchemic electrical discharge Dietlinde Eckhart produces with her unique brand of alchemy takes on both light- and dark-pink hues. At the beginning of the same movie, Huskisson seems to briefly produce a pink-colored light when attempting a Human Transmutation. In the 2003 anime, the alchemist Majhal uses pinkish-hued alchemic light as well.
- Purple - In The Sacred Star of Milos, Atlas' lightning alchemy is purple-colored. In episode 2 of the 2003 anime, Father Cornello seems to generate purple-colored discharge when using the power of his fake Philosopher's Stone.
- Dark Purple - Unaided human transmutations (those performed without the Stone) create a deep, blackish-purple light, some of it—if not all of it—emanating from the Gate, itself.
- Yellow - A yellow light is made when Major Armstrong uses his "artistic alchemy which has been passed down in the Armstrong family for generations". This could be the result of it being earth-based transmutation or simply a unique trait of his specialized alchemy. in the 2003 Anime, the alchemist Lyra generates yellow light whenever she uses alchemy.
- Orange - Mustang's fire attacks generate orange light that zig-zags through the air toward his target.
- White - In the 2003 anime continuity, the electrical energy produced by Solf J. Kimblee's explosion alchemy is a pure white color. In the 2003 anime, some of the Homunculi's bodies rarely produce white discharge when regenerating (such as when Greed's head regenerates), and Envy's body creates white light when transforming.
- Unlike most transmutation circles, the array on Mustang's gloves only glows when drawn in blood. This odd trait can be observed in both anime series.
- The word "alchemy" is derived from the Medieval Latin word alchimia, which is in turn derived from the Arabic word al-kimia (الكيمياء); Islamic alchemy formed the basis for Medieval alchemy, in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. In turn, the Arabic word al-kimia has roots in the ancient Egyptian word kēme (black earth), the root word of Egypt's native name, Kemet, in the ancient Egyptian language.
- The text of the human transmutation circle in the first episode of the 2003 anime is taken from Ripley's Recapitulation of the Twelve Gates, an alchemy text published in 1591:
- Pale and black with false citrine, imperfect white and red,
- The Peacock's feathers in gay colours, the rainbow which shall go over,
- The spotted panther, the lion green, the Crows bill blue as lead.
- These shall appear before you perfect white, and many more others.
- And after the perfect white, grey, false citrine also,
- And after these, there shall appear the red body invariable,
- Then you have a medicine of the third order of his own kind multipliable.