Otaku USA Magazine
Fullmetal Alchemist Makes Art Work Together in Amazing Ways

Fullmetal Alchemist has a surprising cross-section of art styles that makes it special to this day

Hiromu Arakawa’s fantasy/action series Fullmetal Alchemist turned 20 this week, in the midst of lots of exciting announcements. Two decades later, we’re still loving it as much as when it aired. There are lots of reasons it’s stayed on our minds over the years, but in particular is the unexpected cross-section of art styles.

From gorgeous to gory to goofy, Arakawa’s series created an artist intersection that worked way better than it should have.


Artistic Backgrounds

Hiromu Arakawa's backgrounds

Before Fullmetal Alchemist was even a thing, Hiromu Arakawa took art lessons once a month at her family’s farm. That, plus her time drawing doujinshi with friends, launched her into the artistic career she has now. Plus, it’s made her backgrounds highly recognizable.

Arakawa’s scenery has the feel of a classical painting. Anime adaptations of her work lean into that and heighten the effect. So it really does look like Edward and Alphonse are walking through pastoral artwork.


Eldritch Horror

Dwarf in the Bottle

If there’s one thing Fullmetal Alchemist has in spades, it’s terrifying monsters. Some of them look completely or mostly human. Others are just… well, look at him. If that’s not already your sleep paralysis demon, it will be from now on.

These terrifying monsters moving around in beautiful scenery makes them stand out even more. It’s one thing to look gruesome in a show that specializes in gruesome. It’s another entirely for a monster to pop out of the ground right outside a beautiful oil painting. And Arakawa’s images of nightmarish monsters are unique to begin with.


The Chibis


If you’ve seen even one episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, you’ve seen it happen. There’s an intensely emotional scene, or an intensely dramatic scene. Someone might be in huge danger. And then the chibis happen.

There’s something amazing about Arakawa’s timing with funny faces, and the silliness and simplicity of them. For one thing, it’s a reassurance that you’re allowed to take a breather in that particular scene. If the suit of armor is blushing, things are probably fine. But it’s also a mood whiplash that a lot of series either never attempt, or don’t land quite as well.

All those things pulled together — fine art, nightmarish imagery, and perfectly-timed chibis — make Fullmetal Alchemist a strange but lovable mix of art styles and moods. It’s not completely unheard of in anime, but there’s a reason we keep coming back to this series in particular for more.

Will you be rewatching Fullmetal Alchemist for its big anniversary?

Kara Dennison

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and presenter with bylines at Crunchyroll, Sci-Fi Magazine, Sartorial Geek, and many others. She is a contributor to the celebrated Black Archive line, with many other books, short stories, and critical works to her name.