Reclaiming Ishbal: Opposing European Dominance in Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist

  • Abstract:

    This talk explores Europe’s portrayal as a violent, militaristic, colonizing force from the perspective of a Japanese manga. Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010) is set in Amestris, a fictional country where alchemy has become one of the most advanced sciences. Throughout the series, Arakawa establishes an analogy between Amestris and an early twentieth-century European country by portraying street signs and official documents in English, using German, Dutch or English names for main characters, and drawing similarities between the militaristic regime of Fuhrer President King Bradley and Nazi Germany. The latter example is complicated with the introduction of the Ishbal Civil War between the westernized Amestrian Army and the religious people of Ishbal. By exploring the Amestris-Ishbal relationship as part of an East-West dichotomy, this talk exposes the text’s challenge to European Orientalist portrayals of the East. In doing so, I trace the development of “Scar”—an Ishbalan refugee who survives the war and goes out on a journey of vengeance against the Amestrian Army. Scar functions as a threat to Amestrian—or European—political control due to his autonomous and active portrayal, which undermines Orientalist depictions of the East as uniform and primitive. This phenomenon, I argue, reclaims an authentic Ishbalan identity that is not filtered through a European Orientalist perspective. Finally, by looking at Scar’s decision towards the end of the series to cooperate with the Amestrian Army’s new leadership, I explore Scar’s deconstruction of his complex Amestrian-Ishbalan identity.