Gender Equality in FMA: Civilian Women

Last week I took a look at the military women in Fullmetal Alchemist, focusing on just how well Hiromu Arawaka represents female characters. Of course, there are also incredibly influential woman outside of the military of the series. So let’s take a look at the rest of our leading ladies:

Izumi Curtis

Izumi is as talented as any of the state alchemists in the show but is incredibly anti-state. Instead of following a career in alchemy, she is incredibly proud of her position as a housewife.

Shortly after Ed and Als mother died, Izumi took the boys in and taught them the basics of alchemy and fighting. She also inadvertently acts as a surrogate mother for the boys, which is particularly poignant when you find out that she lost her own child and (like the Elrics) attempted human transmutation in order to bring him back. Izumi is the key motherly figure in the boy’s life and also initially acts as a mother to the homunculi Wrath in the 2003 anime. Her devotion to Wrath (who came from her own son) is best demonstrated in the scene where she single-handedly takes on the military in order to save him.

Interestingly, Izumi has one of the few romantic relationships in the series and despite her often cold and angry temperament its one of the sweetest relationships imaginable. Izumi and Sig care very deeply for each other and were both devastated when they lost their child. Sig also shows a great deal of concern over Izumi as she lost some of her innards during her attempt at human transmutation, and as a result is constantly coughing up blood.

Izumi is the perfect depiction of a woman being both tough and caring. She knows exactly when she pushes too far and when the people need affection and when they need discipline, which makes her the ideal mother figure.

Winry Rockbell

Winry is the main woman in the Elric boys’ life and even marries Edward at the end of the series.
Similar to Roy and Riza, Winrys romantic feelings towards Ed aren’t apparent until the very end of the series, which is pretty rare in most series. Winrys main role is as Ed’s automail mechanic and she is shown to be incredibly talented and pretty progressive in her field. Winry is incredibly enthusiastic about engineering and is even referred to by Ed as an “automail otaku”. Interestingly, Winry manages to retain her femininity and doesn’t fall into the typical tom-boy stereotype. She also has a range of surgical knowledge gleaned from her families’ textbooks, and manages to deliver a baby.

Interestingly, despite her role as the main female, Winry is very rarely cast as the damsel in distress. In Brotherhood, Winry is used by Kimberly as a pawn to control the Elric brothers but she soon finds out and manages to use her position to her advantage. The most striking instance of Winry being a damsel in distress is when she is kidnapped by Barry the Chopper. However, during this time Edward is also captured and Ed is in fact presented as being the most vulnerable and is the most traumatised by the events.

Despite not having a particularly active role in the course of the series, Winry is still an incredibly talented mechanic who is integral to the boy’s travels and is a pretty good depiction of woman who can be both feminine and groundbreaking in fields such as engineering.

Dr. Pinako Rockbell

Pinako is Winry’s grandmother and raised Winry when her parents died and also cared for the Elric brothers when their mother died. Unlike most doting grandmother characters, Pinako is both a surgeon (which surprises a lot of people, but it is implicitly stated that Winry comes from a long line of doctors. Plus she would need the medical knowledge in order to do auto mail surgery) and an engineer, working as a self-employed automail mechanic despite her old age. It’s pretty clear to see where Winry got her talent from.


Pinako doesn’t factor in greatly in the story line, but she does provide a great mother-figure for the protagonists. After their mothers’ death, Ed and Al are shown going to Pinako’s home every night for meals. And despite the fact that they burn down their own house, the boys still consider Risembool their home thanks to Pinakos efforts to make the boys comfortable in her own home.

Chris Mustang (aka Madame Christmas)

I really wish that Madame Christmas got more screen time and development in the series. At first, it seems like Roy visiting her bar is just further proof of his debauchery. But towards the conclusion, we discover that she is Roys paternal aunt and adoptive mother and that all of the women under her care act as informants to Roy and that Madame Christmas is a skilled informant, which was one hell of a plot twist that defied all expectations of her character.

Paninya

Fullmetal Alchemist is pretty much the best TV show around for representation (which is pretty rare for anime since most are based solely in japan) and Paninya is probably the best example of this, being a disabled woman of colour.

Paninya was involved in a train crash as a child, where she lost both her parents, both of her legs, and in the first anime, one of her arms. She was homeless until Dominic (an automail engineer) took her in and gave her automail limbs. Like Edward, Paninya is a great example of disabled people thriving. She may not set the best example of a petty thief, but you can’t deny that she’s awesome at it. She even bests Edwards in their initial confrontation (only to be caught by Winry later in the fight). Paninya does eventually reform her ways after Winry explains that stealing isn’t the best way to repay Dominic for all of his help.

May Chang

May is a Xingese princess and instead of the typical trope of the princess doing nothing and waiting to be saved, May is on a mission to save her clan despite her young age. May is presented as being a sweet little girl, who is one of the few characters who has romantic aspirations (first Edward and then Alphonse).

Despite this characterisation, she is also incredibly intelligent. Similar to the Elrics, May is a prodigy and is exceptional at alkahestry (the Xingese version of alchemy) and is also incredibly skilled in martial arts. She is often depicted as besting the Elric brothers either in fighting capability and intelligence which given her age is incredible.

Lan Fan

Lan Fan is the personal bodyguard to Prince Ling Yao. Similar to Riza Hawkweye, Lan Fan is fiercely loyal to her boss and (also similar to Riza) this relationship is never played up as a romance as it would be in most other series.

When Lan Fan is first introduced, her gender isn’t shown and most people assumed that she was male due to her profession. During a fight with Edward, her mask is destroyed and Ed is so shocked by the fact that he is fighting a women that Lan Fan managed to get the upper hand.


Lan Fan is an incredible fighter, however she was wounded in a fight with Wrath and the injuries left her arm immobilised. Realising that she and the prince are trapped after she attempts to run away, Lan Fan mimics a trick that Edward used when they first fought by cutting off her now useless arm and using it as a decoy.

Her dedication both to her prince and her clan is incredible and Lan Fan is certainly one of the more underrated characters in the series.

Martel

Now that I think about it, I probably could have included Marta in my list of military women as that was a part of her background. Marta fought in the Ishvalan war and was subsequently imprisoned in laboratory five where she was turned into a chimera after her body was combined with that of a snakes.

After an escape from the laboratory, Marta became a henchman of the rouge homunculus Greed. I do really feel for all of Greeds henchmen as they were unjustly imprisoned and experimented on and then were subsequently killed by the military and homunculi. Martas death was particularly traumatising purely for the way that it affected Alphonse. Marta discovers that the Fuhrer is actually a homunculus and slips into Als armour while she tells him the new information. Whilst she tells Al, the Furher approaches them and stabs her through the armour. Which leaved Alphonse with a corpse inside his body and he is later shown still covered in blood.

Marta is a particularly tragic character who retains the courage to fight against others and this is stressed in the 2003 anime in which she fights Bradley as she blames him for the death of her friends. Despite her initial representation as being a part of a criminal gang, Marta is a particularly admirable character.

Rose Thomas

I’m never quite sure how I feel about Rose. I particularly hate the whitewashing that happened in the Brotherhood series (which I talked about in this post) but as far as I’m aware Hiromu Arakawa had no part in that (although there are some reports that this was done in order to make the character look more like how she had been drawn in the manga).

I do like that different types of religion are depicted in the series. Edward is a devout atheist and pretty verbal about it when the topic comes up. Rose was very involved in her faith until she found out that the priest was a sham. I’m not fond of the 2003 depiction as this takes the religious depictions a bit too far as after the revolution, Rose becomes the “holy mother”. It is revealed that during the rebellion, she was captured and raped by a solider. Due to the trauma of the event, Rose became a mute. She was later kidnapped by Dante who planned on stealing her body to use as her own. Thankfully Rose wasn’t portrayed as a victim the entire time, however it isn’t until she sees Edward again that she can suddenly talk and she confessed that she’s always been in love with him.

All in all, I like Roses character in the manga and in Brotherhood, but I think that the 2003 version took too many liberties with the story line where she was represented as a constant victim who could only be saved by the appearance of the male protagonists, which is highly uncharacteristic for Hiromu Arakawas work. I much prefer the original version where Rose embodies the spirit of people who repair and rebuild after a disaster which is depicted in her involvement in the rebuilding of Reole (aka Lior) after the revolution.


That’s all for today’s post. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t included the female villains (Lust and the 2003 Sloth). This was mainly because I don’t really think they’re designed to represent women as they are a different species who are supposed to lack humanity. But if people are disappointed that I’ve left them out, I’d be more than happy to do a review of the homunculi. Just let me know.

Thanks for reading. Remember to leave a comment telling me what you think.

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11 thoughts on “Gender Equality in FMA: Civilian Women

  1. justanotheranimefan

    Great post!
    I really prefer Rose from the manga/Brotherhood, because she does exactly what Ed tells her to do- gets back up onto her feet and helps rebuild her life (and her country). I thought her 2003 character was really weak, stopped thinking for herself, and just became a tool for the writers to get to where they wanted to go.
    As for the white-washing, if you look at her originally in the manga (this is where she first appears) she is clearly white, as is the people of Liore. They didn’t ‘whitewash’ Brotherhood, the creators of 2003 simply darkened the skin of the people (probably to make them more similar to the Ishvalans, which is weird because although the lands are both in the East area, Liore is north-east, Ishval is south-east, just out to the side from Resembool).

    (This is the first time I’ve used html text in a comment, I hope it works)

    Reply
    1. kellisina Post author

      Yeah, I wasn’t sure which way around it happened. It did make sense for the townspeople to be darker given that they live in a desert, but I suppose it makes sense for them to go back to the mangas depiction for Brotherhood. It is a shame that they had less people of color in the source material, but I suppose it balances out with the xingese characters 🙂

      Reply
      1. kellisina Post author

        I do love the diversity in women. Like if you look at the recent Disney heroines they all seem to have the same face. But none of the women in FMA seem to look alike which is much more realistic :’)

      2. kellisina Post author

        I can’t wait until we get Big Hero 6 in the UK (i’m still upset that we don’t get it till next month). And I’m really looking forward to Moana, it looks pretty promising 😀

      3. kellisina Post author

        I takes forever for anything American to come over here :c
        I’m hoping its like Lilo and Sitch where they represent the culture really accurately. Fingers crossed !

  2. Lazarinth

    The mangaka’s real name is Hiromi’s Arakawa and is a woman. She used Hiromu as her male pen name because, as you’d imagine, it’s hard to sell shonen created by a woman.

    Reply

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