printfogey: Tohru, Kyo and Yuki from Fruits Basket, Yuki and Kyo in animal form (FB Trio)
[personal profile] printfogey



So this scene (with more pages below the cut) from chapter 62 and volume 16 of Fullmetal Alchemist is a pretty intense one that I haven't seen discussed much. (Regrettably, the Brotherhood anime skipped it favouring a cliffhanger approach.) I wish I had the chops to do a thorough analysis re art details and page and panel composition, but instead I'll just add a few general comments focusing on Scar's part. (I think Marcoh's part is interesting as well, but it's relatively straightforward at this point.)



For the readers, this comes after the volume-long flashback to the civil war and genocide of Ishval. This was framed in-story in part as narrated in three different ways - Riza to Ed, Dr Knox to Al (and May), and Marcoh to Scar - though we also got to see plenty of scenes those narrators couldn't have witnessed. Not the least of which was Scar's own narrative, which I think is likely he would have vividly - but chiefly silently - recalled during Marcoh's confession. (Even if we do see Marcoh later on telling May that Scar used to be a monk and therefore knew Ancient Ishvalan, and it's hard to say when else Marcoh would have learned that.)

Scar came across Marcoh's prison cell while escaping from the raid on Father's lair he did with May as they were looking for her pet panda, Xiao Mei. While there, Ed called out to him and told him what he'd learned from Envy about him starting the Ishval civil war, that it was Team Homunculi who was behind the whole thing from the start. Neither Envy nor Father denied that, and Scar, who'd had run-ins with the Homunculi several times before this, attacked Father only to find out his destructive power had no effect on him. He did, however, also observe that while Father could turn off the Elric brothers' alchemy, Father couldn't do that with the power Scar's brother had given him, nor with May's alkahestry.

As he made his get away he was seen musing on this revelation of the true culprits behind the genocide and war, right as he ran into Marcoh by happenstance, who recognised him as the serial killer of State Alchemist from news reports and seized upon him as a way to get out of the horrible situation the Homunculi had put him in, revealing his identity and requesting to be killed. But Scar reacted like this::

Well, Marcoh couldn't tell him all of it, because he didn't know himself. (Although since he'd seemed to have figured out about the national transmutation circle, perhaps he did already suspect the point of the extermination campaign was to "carve out a crest of blood" on the Ishval node of the countrywide array. Nothing about Scar's reactions point to Marcoh having shared such a suspicion, though.) But we can, I think, safely assume that what he did know, he told to Scar. And that was still plenty - including the involvement of the Homunculi. (Lust watching over the creation of the Philosopher's Stone was seen in one panel in the flashback.)

What I want to talk a little about is the sheer amount of rage and fury Scar shows here. For someone as driven by vengeance as he has been, we have rarely, maybe never, seen it so plain and clear on his face to this extent. Nor will we see as much of it later on, except for when he fights Kimblee.

Marcoh's account in itself could be enough to awaken that rage, with the horrifying truth about the creation of the Philosopher's Stone from captive Ishvalans after which the Stone was given to Kimblee who used it to kill thousands more, including Scar's brother.

But I still think there's something more going on than that. As I noted above, I think Scar, while listening to Marcoh's story, has recalled his own experience of the war and the genocide. It's all even more vivid now than it normally is - and I don't think it ever really has stopped being so, for him, in these past five years since - and so the violent emotions of grief and pain and terrible sadness and anger are more immediate to him than usual.

Yet he is nevertheless not the same person he was at the end of the war, or at the start of the manga. He has already started to change as a result from the new experiences he's gone through, triggering memories and gaining new perspectives; or remembering old ones he had forgotten. There was his first confrontation with Winry, the daughter of the Rockbell couple, which gave him a new insight in his own culpability and how his pursuit of vengeance might look to others. He met his mentor and other Ishvalans - he had thought he was the only survivor - and listened to his mentor's words of calm objection to the path Scar has taken, outlining his own philosophy as response. He started to travel with Yoki (out of convenience) and with May Chang (due to happenstance which grew into mutual gratitude and respect); no longer quite the utter loner he used to be. At the same time, he doesn't yet seem to think he can truly take the path his mentor advises him to take, because there is still so much hatred and anger within him.

And recalling his past hasn't only intensified the pain and the rage, but also reminded him of his brother - not just losing his brother, but also what he was like - his research and his beliefs; his views of alchemy and the world. Scar has been reminded of what I think he's known all this time, that his current path of vengeance is not one his brother would have wanted for him, or approved of. Moreover, now that he's starting to get a clearer picture of the enemy, he thinks of his brother's notes which he hid away and then hasn't looked at for (it is implied) several years.

Which is the right way for him to honour his brother's memory: to carry out justice and revenge for his shed blood in taking the life of someone more directly responsible than any of the State Alchemists he's killed until now (but at the same time squander a useful resource) - or to spare that person because, as a skillful and apparently co-operative alchemist, he could prove useful in finding out what his brother's true legacy was (but at the same time forgo, or at least postpone, justice/vengeance)?

In the end, he listens to pragmatism and reason over the demands of justified fury. But it's not at all an easy choice for him to make. Just look at the wordless cry of rage as he throws Marcoh to the ground and punches the wall. He's full of inner pain and torment, and helpless fury.

But even before he makes that choice, I'm speculating that his inner conflict in turn feeds the rage. If he chooses not to kill Marcoh, he must break him out. (Simply leaving him there in his cell, while clearly the best way of making Marcoh suffer, was never an option for Scar. It would be intolerable for him to justify sparing him without also planning to use him - and of course, it would mean the enemy would use him instead.) Moreover, he must make plans to go find his brother's notes, they must be circumspect, he can't just keep treading the way of stalking and killing State Alchemists like he used to. He must change, then. And that's uncertain and painful. For someone like Scar, it can also be seen as letting down the dead.

And so a part of him fights against that option, against changing - and is all the more furious for being conflicted and sensing he'll choose change in the end. As indeed he does.

The moment when he says, in the Viz translation reproduced above, "Don't think I'll let you die so easily!" (in the scanlation I've seen it's "I'm going to make you suffer!"), is also illuminating. I think you can see it as coming from two parts. Normally Scar is not someone who exalts in cruelty; he never seems to take joy in hurting or killing others, he just saw it as the only way left for him to take. This line underlines how unusually furious and hurt he is. But you can also see it as him justifying to himself taking just a bit longer to make up his mind, to not kill Marcoh all in one go. (And then, only seconds later, he drops him and makes the decision not to kill him at all.)

It is a remarkable succession of emotions and of inner conflict that finally turns into resolution on Scar's part, after which he's all swift and matter-of-fact action, coming up with a clever plan on the spot. Great depiction by Hiromu Arakawa of a crucial moment for a truly fascinating character.

(Incidentally and to round this off, when I re-read this sequence I kind of have to wonder what exactly Marcoh thought towards the end there, after agreeing to what Scar asked for but still thinking there was no way for him to leave without dooming his village. "Oh, sure, I guess you'll sneak out of this place, then return to this well-guarded stronghold of an extremely resourceful and powerful enemy just to drop off the notes your brother left you, leave me a few days to look at them, then infiltrate once more so I can give you my view of it all? Makes total sense, btw don't forget to kill me once you're done!")

Date: 2015-02-01 09:07 pm (UTC)
evil_little_dog: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evil_little_dog
That's a very interesting look at Scar and Marcoh throughout this scene.

Date: 2015-02-03 12:35 am (UTC)
hands4healing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hands4healing
There are a lot of scenes that don't seem to have much going on, until you sit and think about them.

Date: 2015-02-01 11:20 pm (UTC)
suzume: This is a parody of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind featuring Sasarai from the Suikoden series (Default)
From: [personal profile] suzume
This was a very interesting read (thanks for linking it on lj)!

Date: 2015-02-04 07:07 am (UTC)
elle_white: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elle_white
That was a very interesting read! I enjoy Brotherhood a great deal, but it doesn't have the depth or detail of the manga. Brotherhood is certainly a good adaptation, but it's not on the same level as the manga, which is a masterpiece imo.

Date: 2015-05-27 05:36 am (UTC)
koraki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] koraki
I read this when you published it a few months ago, but didn't find the time to leave a proper comment until recently. You've got a really fantastic reading of this scene, which is one of the most powerful moments in the manga for me - it IS too bad the majority was cut from Brotherhood - especially as it pertains to Scar's characterization. The way the scene's set up is also a great example of how everything in FMA falls in order so perfectly, from individual character arcs to character relationships to the overarching story.

The emotion here is tangible, and contrasts vividly with the quieter, faaaar more restrained "bookend" scenes in the Ishval arc (Riza and Ed, Knox and Al+Mei+Lan Fan). It's even difficult for me to reread sometimes, which only adds to my appreciation of it.

As you pointed out, I love how intersections with other people's stories/points of view always become particularly strong catalysts for Scar's changes. To some extent that's true of every character in FMA, but it seems especially obvious and pronounced in his case - he's my favorite only second to Riza, though, so I might be coming at this with some amount of bias. :)

I'm also really curious about how much of his own backstory Scar shared at this point, and how that could have gone down, just...dialogue-wise. He's not the most talkative person anyways, and it seems as though this situation would only have exacerbated that, but he obviously said SOMETHING.

And so a part of him fights against that option, against changing - and is all the more furious for being conflicted and sensing he'll choose change in the end. As indeed he does.

Yeeeeessss. Gorgeous way to phrase it. This scene is amazing and your analysis just drives that home.

haha, I like your musings at the end, and there really is a whole other way to come at this scene re:Marcoh's point of view and his own character arc. Their entire relationship is just so fascinating to me, and easily the part of FMA that I've spent the most time crying thinking about over the past months.

Date: 2015-05-29 05:02 am (UTC)
koraki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] koraki
FMA is a really great reread in general, but in addition to that, same as you, certain things tend to especially grow on me and look even more intriguing than they were at first. Arakawa's a master storyteller.

The actual flashback both beginning and ending with Scar is just fantastic. It unequivocally keeps the focus on how he (and by extension the Ishvalan people) were affected by the war/genocide - not that we're meant to think the Amestrian characters weren't, by any means, but the decision to frame the story that way keeps everything in perspective subtly yet effectively.

Hmm...yes, that scenario makes sense. Honestly I'm very interested in the logistics of how the real-world side of what readers were shown in a flashback played out in dialogue/an actual scene and how the different storytellers would phrase everything, how the listeners would react or interject, etc. Not sure why, the idea has just intrigued me for a while.

Even though it looks like he's surrendering his agency to Scar, I think you can also say that he's in fact taking his first two step to reclaiming it here

That's a huge aspect of my fascination with their relationship in a nutshell.

Yes, I agree. The fact that Scar asks isn't something that actually registered strongly with me until I read your meta, but you're right about the importance of that, and the implication. Marcoh's carefully considered response is equally important/momentous, for the reasons you've said. Regaining individual agency is such a huge part of both Scar and Marcoh's character arcs, though that manifests itself in slightly different ways, and their relationship with each other (and how it changes over time) is absolutely crucial to many of the changes they go through as individuals.

Date: 2015-05-31 05:03 am (UTC)
koraki: (Default)
From: [personal profile] koraki
If it weren't such an ambitious project - all that characterization and emotion, wow - and I hadn't been out of the fic-writing game for years, I'd take a stab at writing something about those conversations myself. Someday, maybe. //filing that idea away for now

I know, the characters are all so wonderful! :)

(Ooh, yes, I read and really enjoyed your meta about that a while back, though I didn't have time to comment then. "The Bite of the Ant" has become possibly my favorite individual chapter in FMA, if I had to pick one - it's gorgeous. Definitely going to go back and read your commentary again sometime in the next couple of days! I'll probably just reblog and reply on tumblr, as long as that works for you (I know some people aren't huge fans of using tumblr for discussion, though it's never bothered me).)

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