The Poetic Deaths of the Homunculi in FMA: Brotherhood

Two words: poetic death.

In the whole of storytelling, there are very few things that are truly more satisfying than seeing a villain get their just deserts in a truly poetic manner. Of course, the most common idea is simply for their own actions to come back and bite them, their own power rebounding, their own decisions sealing their doom. It’s tried and true, and enjoyable, but, still, not that unexpected.

Poetry, you see, is renowned for the formulas it follows, the patterns and rhythms and rhymes… and yet, while such might be easily repeated, it is the more subtle forms of poetry which linger and haunt us. It’s not easy at all to create such beauty in the written word, and most of those who try just spew mindless dribble and doggerel. But those who succeed create true works of art with nothing more than their words! And the best art in any medium is that which entertains and enlightens both in the moment and for years to come.

Yes, I love those moments where, yeeeeears after last consuming a work of art, such as a quality story, one suddenly has those moments of realization: “NO! WAY!”

I recently had such a moment, when I contemplated the ways in which the humonculi of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood each meet their doom.

For a quick review:

The Ouroboros means wholeness or infinity, as Father was trying to achieve. It’s also a snake eating itself, it’s own power being it’s undoing. Coincidence?

The seven humonculi correspond, and are named after, the seven deadly sins of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They were created by their father, apparently the first humonculus, who was a being summoned from some extra-dimensional plane of existence. This creature manipulated the rulers of an ancient kingdom so that it could harvest the souls of everyone within it, breaking free of its constraints and gaining great power. It wanted more, so it moved on to the next place where the necessary conditions could be met, and spawned the seven homunculi both to act as its servants and to somehow set itself apart from humans by expelling their sinful urges from itself. Over the centuries, they cause a great deal of suffering and countless innocent deaths.

Their deaths were long overdue, but I suddenly realized just how poetic most – possible all – of their deaths truly are, given which sins they represent and how they do so. It took me by surprise, because, one, two, or even three examples of poetic death, out of seven or eight, would be pretty well done, but all of them? Color me impressed! I am awestruck to think this was done so artistically, so skillfully, and right in front of my nose without my ever realizing it until now!

Obviously, significant spoilers follow, so: Spoiler Alert!

Going more or less in order of their fatalities (though I do not have a photographic memory, so, forgive me if I get the order slightly off), the poetic deaths of the homunculi are as follows:

Lust Burns

This one probably requires the least amount of explanation. The embodiment of physical desire, Lust is a sexy woman who uses her charms to get close to her victims, and then she shreds them to pieces. But she meets her match (pun not intended, but accepted anyway) in the form of a most popular gentleman, the Flame Alchemist, Roy Mustang. He is able to withstand her blows and gets up again. When burning her once or twice fails, he doubles down in determination and ignites an unending, raging inferno around her, testing just how resilient she really is, bringing her to her knees, and reducing her to ashes.

The parallels between physical lust and fire has been expounded on throughout our history, so no need to belabor that point. Interesting detail, though, how she is burnt to death specifically by a man. I guess not all men are subject to lust after all.

On which note, it is interesting that Lust is burned as she stands between Roy, whom she has injured, and Riza Hawkeye, whom she just tormented with Roy’s supposed death. All the fans ship those two, and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that ship. Coincidence, then, that Lust burns to nothing after hurting these two?

Gluttony is Eaten

From start to finish, Gluttony is all about eating. He is relentless, apparently to the point that his innards actually open up to become an all-consuming monster, with naught but an endless void within his belly. How many people did he scarf down his obscene gullet? But then the black jaws of death closed on him instead.

Gluttony and Pride were both being beaten by the combined efforts of Edward Elric, two chimera warriors, two warriors from Xing, and another homunculus, Greed. Against all of these, they were well on their way to losing and being annihilated. But Pride suddenly had an idea, and acted on it. To survive, he needed to restore himself, and the handiest way to do that was to take Gluttony’s Philosopher Stone into himself. Pride found this thought… appetizing! And so he surrounded Gluttony with tendrils of shadows, and struck with a massive jaw, literally biting him in half, before the smaller shadows plundered the body like a flock of vultures stripping flesh from the dead.

And thus endeth Gluttony, devoured. Not simply killed, or absorbed, or anything else. He is specifically eaten.

Envy Self-Destructs

Envy is a tricky little bugger to nail down. It takes many forms, as does the homonculus who represents it. It can seem like a great monster, a massive green creature of overwhelming size and suffering, but really it’s just this insignificant worm that latches on to people and excuses their viciousness in their own minds. Envy is the one homonculus who gets taken down repeatedly, in several ways, but it’s not until it is truly understood, that its cruel spite and terrible view of all humans and human nature are nothing more than a manifestation of its own jealousy, that its will is finally broken. Finally laid bare and broken, perfectly powerless, Envy pulls out its own Philosopher’s Stone and crushes it, committing suicide.

Envy existed by looking down on others. When it was reduced to being honestly pitied, it just couldn’t take it. There was nothing left for the green-eyed monster to consume but itself, as it always does.

Sloth…

Hands down, the one that gave me the hardest time defining their death as poetic! There’s a bit of reaching involved in this one, so I’m not sure if this was the exception, or if it’s the most subtle poetry in this entire list.

Sloth, of course, is synonymous with “lazy” and “indolent.” And the first time we see Sloth, he is taking a nap and having to be told to get back to work. He finishes the job, and then he proves that he isn’t just the biggest, he’s also the fastest homunculus. Which is a scary-effective combination, when this hulking wall of muscle can instantaneously become a living battering ram. It took an overwhelming amount of force to bring that creature down, a literal army with allied alchemists, before the final few blows matched power for power. I always get a kick out of how this huge, mighty creature got tossed around like a rag doll in its final moments.

Which, the poetry of Sloth’s death can be considered in two way. Firstly, those who do nothing until they feel like it, just because they’re lazy, tend to get tossed around by the events which surround them, and they are completely helpless. It seemed a little off-kilter for a poetic death, though, but the second way reaches deeper into the original meaning of “sloth,” and why it’s such a sin. See, the old word that got translated as “sloth” has more to it than mere laziness. Sloth, in that sense, is a withholding of one’s talents, skills, abilities, and effort, depriving the world, the work of God, and oneself of all the worthy contributions one might make, and, if there is one thing which is manifestly true, righting everything wrong with this world will take everyone’s help, everyone’s effort and skills, together.

And how is Sloth killed? By the efforts of many people, especially soldiers who are sworn to serve, working together, each and every one doing everything they can and refusing to back down for any reason.

Hmmm… makes one think a bit, doesn’t it?

Wrath Ends in Violence

If there is one depiction of the sins which I don’t entirely agree with, it’s Wrath. Mind you, there is a good deal of validity to his portrayal. As Fuhrer King Bradley, he’s lost an eye and gained the Ultimate Eye – an eye for an eye – and he has no flashy super powers, no blinding speed, writhing shadows, shape-shifting, or anything else. He has only the eye he lost and gained, and his brutal, precise skill with his blades. It’s pure and primal. He is always on the verge of spilling blood, even when it’s merely because a young girl who just lost her father is crying. And in the clinch moment, when his life is on the line, he opines how everything else doesn’t matter, just the instinct to survive, and to kill. Small wonder his life ends in violence.

What I dislike about Wrath’s depiction is… wrath is anger over a perceived wrong which has been done. Anger is sorrow, and sorrow is rooted in love. But King Bradley has no love, no sorrow, and no anger, really. The wrongs done to him were done by the ones he serves, not by the people he hurts.

Interesting, though, that Wrath’s final enemy is Scar, a man who this homunculus, and his master, did much to wrong. They slaughtered his people in a war that claimed his brother. He arose after nearly dying and took vengeance on the nearest culprit, as he saw it, which, tragically were a pair of innocent doctors who had just saved his life. Scar was very much a vessel of wrath himself, destroying many, and even targeting those who had nothing to do with the wrongs done to him. That is until he suddenly realized what he had become, and he chose to change his ways.

It was very poetic that Scar, who had been so wrathful, faced Wrath himself in the final battle. He faced one who was directly part of the wrongs done to his people, and he faced his own demons. He even, it could be argued, did so with the blessing of his god, a being that Wrath denies, but whose hand may just have provided that “coincidence” which tipped the scales finally in Scar’s favor.

It is also poetic that another came to face Wrath, keen on taking vengeance for a slaughtered father. But alas, her wrath was left unfulfilled, as wrath often leaves us, stripping us bare of anything but our primal instincts, our rage, and leaving us with nothing to show for it.

So there is a great deal of poetry surrounding Wrath’s death, not least the fact that he is killed as simply as he kills, with blood and violence. That is all that Wrath gets you.

Pride is Humbled

Pride talks big, and seems to be everywhere there is light enough to cast a shadow. He thinks nothing of others, and nothing of using them however he likes. Thus, he devours his own allies without a second thought. When all is said and done, though, it’s just a lot of posturing and shadow play looming larger than this petulant child really is.

The poetry of Pride’s end, however, lies in how he technically isn’t killed. He is merely… reduced. His callous betrayals come back to hinder him at the exact moment he means to abandon his so-called superiority in order to preserve his own life. This opens him up to an unusual assault by Edward Elric, wherein he is stripped of all his power, stripped of his abilities, stripped of the howling souls held captive within his form, stripped of his stature, stripped of everything. The mighty Pride is brought low, lower than any other creature, left as the single most dependent of all forms of life: a tiny, tiny baby.

There is nothing more humbling than to be stripped of all that one has.

Greed is Stolen

Greed takes. And takes and takes and takes. Greed intends to own everything, even the whole of the world. Greed intends to take everything of worth and keep it, enjoying it for himself. Greed is practically unassailable, and ruthless, and savage. This leaves Greed as something a bit predictable, and sometimes even reliable, but not really trustworthy with such unbridled ambition.

Greed is the first humonculus to fall, defeated by Father’s henchmen, his body destroyed, his essence taken back into Father himself. But he is brought back within the body of Yao Ling, and he is the last humunculus standing besides Father. When Father is losing, on the brink of defeat, he tries to do with Greed as Pride did with Gluttony, to absorb the souls within his creation and regain his strength. Greed was given to Ling, and taken from Ling. In their last moment together, he tricked Ling, to protect him and deliver one final blow to Father. That last caused Father to expel him again, fatally this time. And yet he dies finally, in some way, fulfilled.

I suppose that makes this poetic in at least two ways: 1) Greed, who takes, is taken away, and 2) Greed, for once, does something selfless, something he cannot possibly benefit from.

Finally, Father

…do I need to go into how appropriate it is for the Father of the Homunculi to be destroyed by the people he tried to devour? For the slave he used and empowered to be the one to undo work that took him centuries to accomplish? For the last survivor of his creations to betray him, and weaken him? For the final blow to be delivered by the son of the slave he used? For him to finally run out of power and be dragged back through the Gate of Truth, into the darkness from whence he came? For his parasitic ways to be his own undoing?

Eight deaths out of eight, all with poetry in them. Some obvious, some subtle, some direct, some indirect… but eight poetic deaths out of eight. And probably more besides! I mean, all those corrupt military officers, undone by the very works they engaged in? The one who talked about foundations, and who was tossed into one? Even Ed and Al’s father, who spent so much time wanting to die and finally wanted to live when he was finally dying! There’s a lot that can be unpacked in this series! Just saying! 🙂

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