The Big Picture

  • Fullmetal Alchemist‘s completed manga saga makes it a perfect candidate for a live-action adaptation, unlike ongoing series like One Piece.
  • The Westernized setting and characters of Fullmetal Alchemist would make it easier for Hollywood to adapt compared to other anime/manga properties.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist explores universally relevant themes, such as imperialism and the dangers of military-controlled power, while also focusing on the powerful bond between the Elric brothers.

The new adaptation of the iconic anime and manga series One Piece has been a breakout success for Netflix. The show was incredibly well received by critics and audiences alike, and it’s already been picked up for a second season. The overwhelming success of One Piece has erased much of the negativity surrounding Netflix’s previous Hollywood live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop, which was canceled weeks after its debut on the streamer.

Now, putting aside that Matt and Ross Duffer (aka The Duffer Brothers) of Stranger Things fame are developing a new live-action adaptation of Death Note for Netflix, it’s time to explore another popular anime and manga property that Netflix should take a closer look at for a new American live-action adaptation: Fullmetal Alchemist. First debuting as a manga series in 2001 created by Hiromu Arakawa, it’s the perfect IP to receive the American live-action television series treatment on a major platform. Since Netflix has already become home to so many live-action adaptations of video games and anime/manga-based IP, we’re going to make the case for why Fullmetal Alchemist should be the next series to receive the One Piece-style treatment.

Edward in Fullmetal Alchemist looking annoyed
Image via Studio Bones

The most significant reason that makes Fullmetal Alchemist a no-brainer to adapt is that creator Hiromu Arakawa has already completed her manga saga. Looking more closely at popular Japanese manga series that have gained strong footholds overseas in the U.S. and abroad, there can be some obstacles when approaching such material. While the Netflix adaptation of Eiichiro Oda‘s One Piece is undoubtedly a success, the manga storyline isn’t finished yet. It’s still ongoing and likely to continue for years to come. That could become a problem in the future for Netflix’s One Piece, even though there is copious material to adapt. However, at the end of the day, the creators behind the Netflix adaptation are still writing the series from an incomplete storyline. Look no further than Game of Thrones for how that caused problems in the long term. Granted, the Game of Thrones television series did become an award-winning global phenomenon; that said, the quality of the series arguably dropped significantly in the later seasons when series creators and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss no longer had any book material from original author George R. R. Martin to adapt, as Martin still has not finished writing his dark fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, in its original literary format.

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The benefit of Fullmetal Alchemist for a hypothetical adaptation is that Arakawa’s full storyline and vision are complete. Her work with Fullmetal Alchemist has been fully realized with the manga series, and it’s a single epic saga with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Any potential live-action adaptation could be created with her work as a guiding force, so if any television creators were intent on creating a faithful adaptation of her manga storyline, it would not be an issue about scrambling to create a new ending. Depending on how long it goes, it’s bound to become an issue for One Piece sooner or later. Ironically, the story diverging from the original source material is something that the initial anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist had to deal with during its run since Arakawa was still in the midst of creating the serialized manga series. Thankfully, due to the show and manga’s popularity, a second series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, was produced later as a more faithful adaptation of Arakawa’s work.

Edward slouched and looking over at Alphonse in annoyance while they walk in the street in Fullmetal Alchemist
Image via Studio Bones

Fullmetal Alchemist highly lends itself to a Western-region adaptation due to the setting, concept, premise, and characters of Arakawa’s narrative. The manga series is a fantasy storyline primarily set in the fictional nation of Amestris. The settings and characters of Fullmetal Alchemist are already highly Westernized. Whenever Hollywood creatives have attempted to adapt anime or manga adaptations in the past, they’ve often struggled to Westernize or adapt storylines that are usually set in Japan or are culturally specific to Japan. Case in point, the live-action feature film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which was a massive failure.

The country of Amestris is heavily inspired by Germany and other parts of Europe. There would be no issue attempting to Westernize characters or settings because Arakawa already set up the source material in this fashion. The first anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist pushes this idea further when Edward is transported to the “real world” and lands in an air raid in London during the Great War. Furthermore, to add to the diversity and inclusion of the cast, characters from other nations have major roles throughout the storyline, such as Ling Yao from the nation of Xing, a far Eastern nation in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist that’s similar to China. The nation of Ishval is the world’s equivalent of the Middle East and is home to the character Scar, who becomes one of the story’s most important characters and antiheroes. Despite the Westernized setting and characters, Fullmetal Alchemist still has the potential for a widely diverse cast of characters.

The world of Fullmetal Alchemist is one where alchemy became the predominant science — but despite the fantasy elements and setting, the series is skillfully fleshed out and grounded. There is a specific set of rules that the alchemy in the series has to follow, so it’s more than just a fanciful form of magic. This is the result of Arakawa’s fantastic world-building, along with the way she depicts the main characters and supporting cast, which pushed the anime adaptation into becoming a global phenomenon and a gateway anime series for many fans. The world of Fullmetal Alchemist always feels palpable, especially since it so closely resembles early 20th-century Europe. The recreation of Amestris would be key to developing a live-action series adaptation.

Edward Elric fighting a group of Mannequin Soldiers in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Arakawa’s manga series and its anime adaptations became so beloved and popular not only because of the iconic Elric brothers (Edward and Alphonse), but due to the universally relevant themes and ideas. Fullmetal Alchemist uses its setting of Amestris to explore ideas of imperialism and colonialism. The nation of Amestris is a military-controlled state, ruled by Führer King Bradley. It’s later revealed that King Bradley is a villainous homunculus who acts in service of the chief villain: Father, aka The Dwarf in the Flask.

Arakawa uses her fantasy setting and characters to explore ideas of 19th and early 20th-century European colonialism and its effects on both the colonized nations and the soldiers who participate. In the series, Edward Elric works to become a state alchemist to use the military’s vast resources to find a cure for his and his brother’s ailment. However, while becoming a state alchemist gives Edward and Alphonse access to the Amestrian government’s incredible resources and network, it also means the brothers are subject to the nation’s whims. They are essentially “dogs of the military,” as nicknamed in the show. Scar is a refugee and survivor of the Ishvalan Civil War that was waged by Amestris, causing him to seek revenge against all State Alchemists. While Scar’s methods may not be justified, his anger over the atrocities committed upon his people and country are sympathetic and an important subplot throughout the series. Ultimately, FMA excellently portrays the danger of a military-controlled power, and it’s no coincidence that King Bradley’s official title in the story is “Führer.”

Throughout the series, while Arakawa does flesh out minor and supporting characters, she never loses sight of the importance of the relationship of the main heroes, Edward and his younger brother Alphonse, who are on a journey to restore their bodies after breaking a sacred alchemical law of human transmutation. They go through many trials and tribulations to save and protect one another. Ultimately, Fullmetal Alchemist is a story about a precious brotherly bond, and how it can overcome great adversity. The relationship of the Elric brothers from Fullmetal Alchemist, with its many facets and emotions, made a huge impact on fans across the globe. Shows based on the brotherly bond and brothers sharing adventures have worked before. Look no further than the hit long-running television series Supernatural.

Interestingly, Square Enix has already produced a live-action adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist as a trilogy of Japan-based movies, which are streaming now on Netflix. While there isn’t any talk of an American adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist in the works, with the success of One Piece, and an adaptation of Death Note on the horizon, it should only be a matter of time until major streamers or studios take a closer look at Hiromu Arakawa’s seminal gateway series.

For fans who are interested and would like to learn more about Fullmetal Alchemist, Arakawa’s original manga series is still available in print and to read digitally on Amazon’s comiXology. The second anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is currently streaming subbed and dubbed on Crunchyroll and Hulu.

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