Alchemy is a type of power originating from the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, and originates from the world of Amestris. Practitioners are referred to as alchemists.
Alchemy is a quasi-scientific art based around the understanding of the physical world as its basic elements. Alchemy can be practiced based on the various classical element systems, but is more commonly practiced based on the periodic table. Using these forms, alchemists are able to manipulate the shape or chemical makeup of objects, changing them into a new object using the same materials.
Alchemy in practice (called transmutation) consists of three processes, performed in sequence:
- Comprehension - the analysis of an object's parts or materials;
- Deconstruction - the breaking down of that object into its parts or materials;
- Reconstruction - the rebuilding of the object's parts of materials into a new form.
(Generally, the practice of all three steps makes up the process of alchemic transmutation; however, technically the second step of deconstruction can also be considered a complete transmutation, since the object has indeed changed forms.)
Performing transmutation requires the presence of a transmutation circle, a physical circle that represents the cycle of energy in the world and provides energy for the transmutation. Transmutation circles are either drawn on the spot, or printed or embedded into objects carried by the alchemist. Runes inside the circle represent the specific features of the intended transmutation, including elements, processes and materials.
A key aspect of alchemy and transmutation is that no amount of material or value is totally vanished or conjured during the process. This is the concept of Equivalent Exchange, which states that in order to gain something, something of equal value must be lost. This is a tenet that underscores the entirety of alchemy - both the act of transmutation and the related studies of the relevance of physical states and processes to the natural world.
Voiding Equivalent Exchange inevitably results in a harmful rebound of alchemical energy which can render the user disabled or diseased; however, there are some who desire to negate the cost entirely. This desire is embodied in the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary concept said to erase the cost required for transmutations, opening the field to endless possibilities. Attempts to copy the Philospher's Stone result in the Crimson Stone, a less powerful but nonetheless potent amplifier for alchemical transmutations. If an amplifier like the Crimson Stone breaks, however, it can well cause a rebound.
Techniques and varietiesEdit
Alchemy can be split mostly into two different categories.
Chemical transmutation based on non-living physical objects is the most common variety of alchemy and the easiest to practice. This form of alchemy has many different associated applications:
- Transforming earth or stone into different shapes.
- Creating complex mechanical objects, either from broken parts or from scratch materials.
- Transforming an element at its atomic components into any other element. Transmuting gold is illegal in Amestris.
- Creating sustained fire. This is Roy Mustang's signature technique and is an obscure field of alchemy.
Biological alchemy, by contrast, is a much more difficult process, because it concerns the delicate balance of living matter. There is a distinct hierarchy of ease of manipulation: it is easiest to manipulate plants, harder to manipulate animals, and hardest to manipulate humans, which is expanded on below.
- The transformation of living grass into bread has been mentioned.
- Chimeras are the fusing of two or more living creatures into a single being. This is most popularly practiced by fusing non-human animals, but can involve humans without a necessarily great cost. Shou Tucker was a State Alchemist who specialized in this field.
- Father Cornello was seen holding a dead bird and using alchemy, amplified by the Crimson Stone, to bring it back to life for a short period of time.
Beyond just transmuting animals, the transmutation of humans is an act that is considered taboo. Beyond even its ban in Amestrian law, it is incredibly difficult to perform without an object such as the Philosopher's Stone, as there is very little way for one to pay the cost for the transmutation without paying with one's own life.
Part of the reason for its difficulty is the presence of the human soul, which is an object that transcends the science upon which alchemy is based. Human souls cannot be constructed by alchemy, as the payment required for a human soul is unfathomable. If alchemy has successfully manipulated a human soul, it has done so only using an existing soul and without harming it.
Upon performing human transmutation, a person will find themselves before the Gate, which contains the full expanse of alchemical knowledge. A great personal or physical cost will be unfailingly paid in order to activate the Gate, and knowledge equal to the payment will be dispensed. Doing this has no effect on the human transmutation, which has already failed.
- Soul-binding is the attaching of an extant human soul onto an object. With a seal using human blood, the iron in the blood attaches to the iron within the object, thus bonding the soul with the blood. Alphonse Elric's current body is a product of such a technique.
- Homunculi are artificial humans created via alchemy, though they are widely thought to be an unfounded myth. It is unknown what makes up the structure of a homunculus. Envy, Lust and Gluttony are homunculi.
- As mentioned above, some chimeras can be constructed using humans. The chimera's soul is implied to be that of the human, as Shou Tucker's transmutation of his daughter, using the Crimson Stone, would ask him to play just like she would as a human.
- Scar uses alchemy to deconstruct living human bodies. The special transmutation array on his arm allows him to do so without paying the regular cost; an attempt to transmute Alexander Karsath's heart directly resulted in Alex paying the cost instead in order to survive.
- Human resurrection is the most common goal of human transmutation. It involves either constructing a body from scratch materials, the use of a deceased human body, or using a living human. The cost for transmuting a single human is greater than a single human life. Human transmutation is rarely if ever is successful. Edward and Alphonse Elric failed to perform human transmutation of their mother and paid a heavy physical toll, which set them on their current path.
The Kingdom of Lebis perfected a technique to create non-living servants by the name of Golems. Though Golems are made of soil, they are imbued with alchemical power that gives them a limited intelligence, and skirt the line between human and chemical transmutation. Golems can be used for both soul-binding and for human resurrection, but both processes will inevitably fail due to the body's crumbling. Both the King of Lebis in ancient times and Jack Crowley in the modern day attempted to use Golems for resurrection purposes.
There are two ways to acquire alchemical prowess:
- The common method is, as with most arts, a combination of study and natural talent. As alchemy requires a full understanding of the natural sciences, a significant amount of research is required in order to practice it. Even with the same level of studies, however, one may not necessarily equate the skills of his partner, as the ability to interpret and employ the knowledge varies from person to person.
- A much more arcane method is to commit human transmutation in any form, and come across the Gate. The Gate holds all alchemical knowledge, so it is possible (though worth a heavy price) to receive knowledge of alchemy from it. Alchemists who have visited the Gate do not require a transmutation circle to activate the power, instead only needing to clap their hands, which creates a circle of pure energy.
The practice of alchemy is known to go back five thousand years to the Grand Arcanum of the Kingdom of Lebis, which employed alchemy to create Golems. The King of Lebis fell to the sin of human transmutation when he attempted to resurrect his dead wife using the Golems.
In Amestris, alchemy is a minority talent, but one that is widely respected. Becoming an alchemist can infer important status upon oneself in smaller communities. The wide number of applications held by alchemy enables one to solve many kinds of problems.
The Amestris State Military, led by Fuhrer King Bradley, offers employ and funding for a large number of alchemists, with the lowest possible rank for an alchemist recruit being that of Major. In contrast to the alchemists, State Alchemists are met with varying levels of respect due to their role as soldiers. State Alchemists can possess great power and are bound to the orders of the military, which means they have the potential to oppress the people.
Edward Elric is a prominent State Alchemist, who does not specialize in any particular field. As a child, he and his brother Alphonse attempted to resurrect their mother through human transmutation, which backfired spectacularly. As a result of this, Alphonse was taken along with Edward's lower leg; in response, Edward paid his arm to retake Alphonse's soul, which took him to the Gate.
The younger Elric brother has much less skill than his sibling, in part due to his lack of Gate-given knowledge. Alphonse's current body, as mentioned above, is a product of soul-binding alchemy - when he and his brother performed human transmutation, Alphonse's entire body was the initial cost. Because of his brother's actions, his soul was attached to a suit of armour which enabled him to remain in the world of the living.
Colonel Roy Mustang is a State Alchemist whose specialist field is Flame Alchemy, an obscure branch of alchemy. Roy has a talent for causing fire-based explosions and incinerating targets. Roy's alchemy is in part enabled by his gloves, which are adorned with transmutation circles required for the practice.
- Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir, 2004