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Roy's Defeat, Carries some series/movie spoilers!
post May 18 2008, 06:43 AM
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"Revenge, the most worthless cause!" -King Arthur, Camelot
"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

In the final episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, Flame Alchemist Roy Mustang destroyed Fuhrer King Bradley, the Homunculus Pride, in a pillar of fire. For viewers it is a triumphant moment in the series; the good leader taking down the evil leader. However, when one removes the thrilling epic facade, the scene takes on darker overtones. In a different perspective, Mustang's victory is his defeat. As an Alchemist, a man, and a friend, this act was his greatest failure.
The basis of this essay comes from the movie Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa. Its portrayal of Roy Mustang is of a depressed shell of man, haunted by his actions of the past and unable to conjure his flame alchemy. He attributes this inhibition to remembering "the innocent people who died because of my mistakes." It's a shocking scene, very contradictory to the happy ending in Episode 51 Laws and Promises, where he seems content with Riza Hawkeye by his side. It has been very controversial. Viewers have complained this portrayal as being out-of-character. What happened to that happy ending with Riza? What happened to his plan to become Fuhrer? 'This characterization is writer's fiat nonsense!' so says the fans (Royai or not). This viewer, however, saw this depiction without the expectations and disappointment. 'Emo Roy' doesn't hurt the continuity. The series gives hints and evidence that shows a natural progression to this movie characterization. This all stems from the assassination in Episode 51.
Now, this essay does not wish to damper the benefits and advantages of Pride's destruction. It is Mankind's victory over the Homunculi. More important than Alphonse Elric's sacrifice, Mustang sent a mortal blow to Dante and her Alchemy-formed creations by severing their control of Amestris. This essay also means to point out that Roy's action was a necessary move. Unfortunately, it was also a necessary evil. Just because Roy had to kill Bradley doesn't render this action (or more precisely, the motive behind it) as anything but wrong. It was a complex situation, both inevitable and inexcusable. The Flame Alchemist had set himself on a path that could not be shirked nor whose consequences could be escaped.

What to know of Roy? He is a State Alchemist able to control fire. He is also a soldier completely faithful to his country and its military. Unfortunately, this obedience in the Ishbal war wrecked his soul, as he suffered over killing not only the enemy, but whoever the military considered enemies, like the Rockbell couple. His experiences set him to rise in the ranks, hopefully to the Fuhrership, a status where he won't have to follow stupid orders ever again. Thus he would redeem the army, the country, and himself. In his ambition, he persuaded Edward Elric to become State Alchemist. Throughout, he hid his cunning and skill under a façade of flirting womanizer or obedient military dog. Even the murder of his best friend Maes Hughes had done little to keep Roy from his goal. In Episode 44 Hohenheim of Light, when the Brothers Elric discover Maes Hughes' death, they blame Mustang for not doing anything about it. Granny Rockbell tells the boys that Mustang did the right thing. Winry, Schiezska, and eventually Alphonse come to respect the Flame Alchemist:

Schiezska: "I was wrong about him all that time. I thought the Colonel didn't care about Hughes at all, that he was out for himself. But what...what if he.... "
Winry: "He's determined to become a great man because he promised Hughes he would."
Alphonse: "So he forces himself to search for the right path. Not to be taken in by thoughts of revenge. He's an adult to look up to."

But as we later see, Roy disappoints them all by taking the wrong path. Why?
The seed of this change was planted in Episode 44. Edward and Alphonse informed Roy that Fuhrer King Bradley is a Homunculus. The information was staggering for the Lieutenant Colonel. His faith in the military was shattered. As a soldier he felt betrayed; the Ishbal War that scarred him became a pointless conflict committed solely to create Philosopher stones for whatever purpose the Homunculus had in mind.
Things could not go on like nothing happened. Roy knew that the country Drachma was on the eve of invasion, its people another sacrfiice for the Philosopher Stone. His plan to rise in rank had also disintegrated. He could no longer take the slow process of promotion while these wars continued. Acting cool to Maes Hughes' death was one thing; acting cool knowing more innocent lives will be lost is quite another. Besides, it was now obvious to Roy that he could never achieve the top promotion no matter how good he behaved. Bradley (and Dante) would never allow any successor, especially a human with plans quite independent from the Homunculi. In fact, Bradley clearly showed his refusal. Suspecting Roy's knowledge, he promoted the Alchemist to General and sent him to Drachma. Once away from Central, Envy was ordered to discreetly kill him and his colleagues (this scheme deviates from the manga version of Bradley, who needed Roy alive for the master plan). Of course, this plan was ruined by two factors: Roy staying in Central by switching places with a seemingly injured Jean Havoc, and Envy's decision to return to Central for personal reasons.
But even if Bradley was ignorant of his officer's knowledge, Roy's path for assassination was set. No doubt it was a shocking decision. Not only was he rebelling against the government and military he swore to serve. He was also turning against his own ideals. But emotion clearly governed his choice. Even if his life wasn't endangered, Roy definitely wanted Bradley dead. And as much as he liked to think otherwise, his prime motive had nothing to do with saving the world. In Episode 48 Goodbye, Roy tells Edward his plan to stop Bradley:

Edward: "You realize there'll be no justification in the eyes of the public if you go against the Fuhrer. Even if you pull this off, you'll never be allowed to succeed him, with your reputation. The masses won't hear of it."
Roy: "That may be, but even so, I can't let him get away with what he's done."
Ed: "So you're doing all this to avenge Hughes?"
Roy: "You got it. He must've known what was going on in the military, and that's why he was killed."
Ed: "And for that you're willing to throw everything you've worked for your entire career."
Roy: "Without a second thought."

Now, the Japanese translation to that last line is something like "It's not like I want to." This revelation shows how much Roy is troubled about his desicion. Nevertheless, emotion rules here. Roy wants revenge! He holds Bradley responsible for the death of his best friend Maes Hughes. It is true that Envy killed Hughes, and Roy is probably aware of this (in that he knows a shape-shifter did it). However, he puts the blame squarely on Bradley, perhaps on the (rightful) belief that he ordered the death. He and Hughes served their Fuhrer with loyalty and protection, but Bradley never showed any desire to return the favor. He had betrayed his rank. If left alone, no punishment existed. As the powerful head of the nation, Bradley could never be brought to justice. Nor could he let Envy be convicted either. The Homunculi would get away with Hughes' death as they got away with every other murder they committed. Roy felt differently. Hughes was his best friend, his most trusted and loyal aide. Despite his fortitude, Roy was clearly hurt by his friend's death.
Roy has a lot to be sorry for in this loss. He believed Maes Hughes didn't have to die. Suspecting the inevitable, he went to Central to avert the murder but arrived too late. Roy probably rued his failure with thoughts of 'If only I got there in time...' But his discovery of Bradley's true nature made things worse. Maes served Roy to help him become the Fuhrer. He stayed close to the higher-ups in the government, using whatever information he gained to help Roy. However, the two didn't know the 'higher ups' were Homunculi. Thus a death that came from nowhere was revealed to be inevitable from day one. By accepting Hughes' help, Roy had unwittingly written his best friend's death warrant. Sure, Hughes was determined to help Roy even if refused. But knowledge and emotions are never good allies in mourning. Roy could repeat the point of Hughes' stubborn loyalty a thousand times and still end up with 'I sent Hughes to his death.' Thus, the movie line, "I see the innocent people who died because of my mistakes." bears this guilt. Roy had to atone for putting his best friend into this spider's web.
But couldn't there be another way to atone, like exposing Bradley's complicity? These methods are possible for a cool, stable person, but Roy's present state was anything but. After Hughes' death, he had kept himself in a tight rein. The release of such anguish would have left him unable to function. He would not be able to follow his dream, which will render Hughes' death in vain. So he hid the pain to the point that he appeared cool (and heartless, to the eyes of Schiezska). But we know the attempt wasn't entirely successful. His tears at Hughes' funeral are evidence of this. Suppressing that much emotion cannot be healthy; release would be like igniting a gunpowder keg. So, once he learned of Bradley's duplicity, Roy's fortitude received a direct hit. The grief was flowing out, building into an insane rage on the ones responsible. And since he never met any of the other Homunculi, Bradley was the only visible target. It was suddenly impossible to tolerate the man any longer. Roy couldn't help looking at the Fuhrer with disgust. Underneath that smiling and flattering official was a monster that felt pretty smug that he had gotten away with everything. Roy couldn't prove Bradley's wrongdoings and he was too emotionally impatient to do such a thing (plus, there was the urgency of the Drachma campaign). Roy had tasted enough military crap for the last eight years. The Fuhrer's complicity in Hughes' murder was the last straw. Bradley must die, now or never!

And so Mustang killed Bradley. And it all went wrong for him. First off, there was no fulfilling satisfaction. Revenge never is. The series especially presses that point in the character of Scar, a man trapped and forever haunted in his mission of revenge against Alchemists and the military. If Scar's vengeful actions haunted him, then can't the same thing be said for Roy? Why should he be left off the hook?
Vengeance sparks consequences, and it was especially true in this series. If Roy planned to become a great man, then killing Bradley wrecked that dream. It cost him his chance to become Fuhrer. There is the loss of public support. Both Edward and Bradley told Roy that his rebellion cost him his stainless reputation. However, there is more to this than a popularity contest (Come to think of it, can Roy actually be convicted? There is no trace of Bradley's body. Except for Madame Bradley- assuming she survived- and Riza, there aren't any surviving witnesses who were told of Roy's plot. And the strongest evidence of murder is Selim's corpse, with Bradley's fingerprints all over the neck). More than losing the people's faith, Roy lost faith in himself. Did he have the right to become Fuhrer after what he did? A great man doesn't believe in vengeance or kill people for his own personal agenda (no matter how much it benefits others). A man capable of such things certainly can't rule a country wisely. He also betrayed Hughes' memory. Whatever meaning Roy desired from this killing, he saw nothing from Bradley's pyre. It didn't bring Hughes back. More importantly, it went against everything Hughes wished for him. Roy must have realized this assassination was the final insult to his friend. He failed Hughes in life, and now he failed him in death. "I see the people who died by my mistakes."
His Alchemy was also dealt a harsh immoral blow. How? Looking back at his history, one finds a clue in Roy's murder of the Rockbells. He doesn't burn them. He just shoots them. Why couldn't he just incinerate Winry's parents like any other enemy of war? Perhaps it went against his noble aspirations with his Alchemy. Roy had wanted to use his power to help people. Ishbal put his ideals to the test. He probably rationalized this destruction by categorizing the Ishbalans as enemies in a war. As a soldier, he had to kill them. He thought he could maintain his Alchemy's purity this way. When it came to killing the Rockbells, however, Roy must have been against the whole thing, clearly seeing this act as wrong. If he had to do the job, better he used a gun instead of his precious Alchemy.
One see no such restraint in the assassination. Roy used his Alchemy for the sake of hatred, for murder. Must have been a sobering revelation to the man. In what way had he fulfilled his aspirations of this power given to him? He killed Ishbalans with his Alchemy in a war with no justification. His Alchemy couldn't save his best friend. Conclusion: his Alchemy was no good. Better to never use it again.
Then we come to the sad casualty of the assassination: Selim. The boy was killed by his adopted father. Roy had planned to keep Bradley's family (and Riza) away from the battle. But he had no idea about the...Archinator blocking the family's escape route. Worse, he underestimated Salem's devotion to his father, not expecting him to come anywhere near the scene of battle. It's obvious Roy blamed himself for the boy's death, another burden to his conscience. Especially cruel was that Selim's intervention saved his life, delaying Pride's slow kill and granting him the skull that neutralized the Homunculus' regenerative abilities. Yet another life sacrificed for the good of Roy Mustang! He must be thinking himself as some sort of death magnet. Hughes and Selim died because of him. Edward has vanished, maybe dead. Stay away, Riza! "I see the innocent people who died because of my mistakes."
Finally, there was the aftermath. Roy's rage had been fulfilled. Injured, he had very little to do. The reason for anger gone, all he had left was sorrow. Time to finally mourn his best friend. Experiencing that loss, anguish, guilt, and distress would leave poor Roy an emotional wreck for days, maybe weeks.
Remember Winry, Al, and Schiezska's admiration? Well, Roy sure threw that image out the window! Edward Elric scoffs at this model of a man who refuses to avenge his friend. Ironically, he decides to fight the Homunculi for reasons besides vengeance. He did a better job at it than the elder.
So what about the series' final episode? We see Roy spending time with Riza, making metaphors of her beauty. Does this contradict everything I've said? No. For one thing, we don't know how close this scene is set to Bradley's assassination. According to Schieskza's letter, we are supposed to believe this scene occurs about the same time we're re-introduced to human Alphonse. A lot had to have happened between the assassination and this scene. There was the public reaction to Bradley's death, Roy surviving his injuries, the ceasefire and pardoning of the rebels, Al's return to Resembol with Wrath and Rose, Wrath's automail surgery and departure, Schieskza's return to Central, and her recieving a letter from Alphonse. The period had to have been near a month.
With that in mind, there are many perspectives to what the Royai scene is really portraying. For the pessimistic, Roy is just hiding his pain and saying all that stuff to make Riza feel better about not protecting him from Archinator. (For the real pessimistic, maybe the drugs are making Roy hallucinate, and that he thinks he's seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar). For the optimistic, Roy is trying to put the past behind him. He's mourned enough. Time to get on with his life and enjoy it with Riza! That can happen. Unfortunately, other characters in anime/manga have tried it, with sad results...

Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances): Arima reaches a point of happiness with Yukino. But memories of his childhood resurface and drag him into a period of angst, culminating to the point of madness (he stabs his hand!) before Yukino drags him back to the light.
The manga version of Neon Genesis Evangelion: After a lousy childhood, Kaji finds happiness with Misato. But the memories of his fatal betrayal of his brother and friends resurface, forcing him to wreck the relationship on the belief that he has no right to be happy after what he did.

Roy has even bigger problems than these examples. At first happy and enjoying some time with Riza, Roy probably suffered a relapse. He finds the past too hard to forgive and forget. The harsh memories drive him into the depressed man we see in the movie. Sorry Royai fans, but people do relapse. It happens. Thus, Roy's situation at the movie is inevitable. He has a lot of issues to sort out before he can enjoy a happy ending.

Could Roy have avoided vengeance? Difficult to say, and probably impossible. It appears he was the only one capable of stopping Bradley. Who else at that time had the power to do so? Alphonse was a prisoner. Edward had to deal with Dante and Envy. Izumi was in poor fighting shape. Armstrong had to be with Roy's men to inspire morale (and muscle). All the other State Alchemists were loyal to Bradley. It was Roy's responsibility.
What about postponing the confrontation, at least until a better alternative was found to beat Bradley? That could make things worse. True, an inaction by Roy could not change the Brothers Elric's battle with Dante. Edward would have still stolen a car and got to the underground city. The events regarding Dante, Gluttony, Wrath, and the Brothers Elric (all three) would have been the same (likewise Edward's adventures in the real world). However, Bradley would still be alive. As leader of the nation, Bradley was more necessary for maintaining the Homunculus' control than Dante was. Even without the lady Alchemist, the Fuhrer could still make Alchemists create more Homunculus or Philosopher stones from Drachma. Worse, the Fuhrer would order the annhilation of Roy's besieged circle, and maybe search and kill the human Alphonse! Time was definitely not on Roy's side. Even if vengeance ruled his actions, he had to stop Bradley that night.
Thus it was a tragedy that was inevitable. Fate chose a vengeful man to sacrifice his idealism, his friend's honor, and a child's life to save the day for everyone else but himself.
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