FMA OC Guidebook: Alchemy
So exactly how does alchemy work in fma?
Well.. After analyzing the hell out of almost every instance of its use I could possibly remember and then doing hours more research. (Is it normal for me to have this much of an obsession? Yeah... I don't think soo ANYHOO ) I finally am ready to put together my guidebook result of what I have learned. This is still a work in progress so bear with me (g-d help me make this good)
How Alchemy Works
Ok, the first thing to understand is that alchemy is a science; this is what differentiates it from magic. This is why it's so much of a skill to learn.
What is actually happening when you preform alchemy?
Alchemic acts as stated by the series are consistent of three stages; Analysis, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Let's go over each of these
This is probably the most unclear one of the three. Beyond just the basic knowledge of what it is you are transmuting, there is another hidden component that is the key to understanding why not everyone in the fullmetal world becomes an alchemist despite is great usefulness. Simply put in order to preform an act of alchemy you have to understand all the physics and chemistry behind that act. (how can you dictate something you don't understand.) This is why it often takes years to become an alchemist. This is why organic alchemy is so hard!
For example in order to freeze a glass of water you have to understand the chemical and physical reactions taking place in the process of freezing it. Now imagine having to understand all the chemical and physical reactions taking place in a living organism. Yeah
The next step is deconstruction, (It appears that the only part of analysis this stage needs is knowledge of what it is you are transmuting. (as shown by Scar, It is also possible however there was something unique about his tattoo )) but what exactly is it you are deconstructing? Atoms? Unlikely, you'd get a nuclear reaction. Much more likely you are deconstructing molecules and/or the arrangement of them or bonds between them. (See the conservation of mass/matter and equivalent exchange section.)
Reconstruction is the process of putting things back together the way you want. This is where understanding of physics and chemistry comes in. but there is another complexity to this. It appears you do not necessarily have to know where everything would go in your transmutation. And you do not have to think about it. As long as you know what you are transmuting and the physics and chemistry behind the reactions you can do it. (As shown by Alphonse's ability to fix a radio) Another possibility is that objects retain a sort of memory of their previous position. However chimeras seem to be in a class all their own (You can be able make a human body but not be able to return a chimera to its original form. Hmmmm This warrants deeper investigation.) Another interesting note is that at least in the manga reconstruction seems to depend slightly on the personality of the alchemist (As shown with the Izumi/horse scene) It is unclear how much this is done consciously or automatically.
Conservation of Mass/Matter and Equivalent Exchange
"In chemistry a reaction has to be balanced so does alchemy" Edward Elric
"Your output has to be of equal mass to the materials you started with. The base elements have to be similar too" Alphonse Elric
The law of conservation of mass also known as the principle of mass/matter conservation, states that the mass of an isolated system cannot be changed as a result of processes acting inside the system. And that for any chemical process in an isolated system, the mass of the reactants. (starting materials) must equal the mass of the products. (end result)
The law implies and relates to the law of conservation of matter, and the names are used interchangeably. This law states that matter cannot be created or destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space and changed into different types of particles;
In keeping with being a science Alchemy is the manipulation of existing matter. Not the creation of new matter. Deconstruction and reconstruction refer to molecules and/or the arrangement of them or bonds between them.
So what is the difference between this word and theirs? In the world of FMA an alchemist can hardness energy using transmutation circles in order to make chemical, physical, and molecular changes to matter in the world around them.
Will of the Alchemist
Alchemy is preformed based on the will of the alchemist. It does not just happen automatically. This is why a transmutation circle does not automatically activate itself (Imagine what would happen with tattoos and alchemic accessories if they did!)
In the original anime, more specifically, it reacts to the desire of an alchemist to change something. This is why alchemy can happen in a way that surprises the alchemist. (at least in the original anime)
Let me give an example. In the original anime Ed finds out he can transmute without a circle, during Gracia's birth, when he grabs a tub of water intending to take it into the kitchen to boil it and it boils automatically. This worked because Ed wanted the water to boil and knew the science behind the process of boiling.
It also appears that bigger sized transmutations require more willpower? and skill in order to perform.
In alchemy transmutation circles are a way of harnessing and directing the flow of energy.
I will not be going over what different what symbols and components mean in transmutation circles, as that would be taking credit for the research of another person. He deserves the views the results of his hard work and research would give him. Instead I will link to him at the end of the document. I will however add something that helps understand it in the context of how circles are used in the fullmetal world
More complex transmutation circles make transmutations easier to preform but also more specific. Thus they limit what alchemy a circle can be used to do. As such they are generally not of good use as tattoos or on alchemic accessories and take a long time to draw with chalk. (see later section) however with more complex transmutations they can be very helpful.
Human Transmutation and Soul Attachment(very much WIP)
Due to the complexity of the human form human transmutation is incredibly difficult. (as more complex things are harder to transmute.)Medical alchemy to help heal wounds is one thing and hard in and of itself, But creating a human body? That is a remarkable feat! Beyond that, it is the soul that gives alchemists the hardest time. Trying to create a soul is doomed to failure because it can't be created. Soul attachment on the other hand works by manipulating an existing soul. Even that is beyond normal human understanding so alchemy on human souls is nearly impossible until you have seen the gate.
Now knowing all this the following basic formula for alchemy seems to be:
Difficulty of an alchemic act = complexity of the physical and chemical reactions needed to produce it + unsimilarity of starting product to end product + Amount transmuted complexity of transmutation circle.
Tattoos, Accessories, or Chalk
Besides clapping with no circle we see three ways alchemists use to preform alchemy on the go in FMA. If your oc is an alchemist it is good to think about which one would best suit them.
First of all there is the chalk (or stick in the dirt) method. While this is slower than the other two methods it also is the least limiting. After all you can draw any type of circle using chalk or a stick.
The next two are ways to have the circle ready to use and to cut out the circle drawing stage: Alchemic Acessories (gloves jewelry etc.) and tattoos. Now think about it for a sec, Why would anyone chose an alchemic accessory over a tattoo? Alchemic accessories could be lost stolen or destroyed, While an alchemic tattoo would always be with you. (Alright fine I suppose if you had a tattoo on one arm and it got cut off you'd be helpless while if you had a glove you could just switch it to your other hand but really ) The answer is that once you have an alchemic tattoo you cannot perform any other type of alchemy not found on that tattoo! This is the reason many chose to go for the middle ground between the two extremes and use an accessory in order to perform their transmutations.
To specialize or not to specialize
Specializing (aka choosing a particular type of alchemy to focus on) has its advantages and disadvantages. While on one hand it means you can go very deep into one particular type of alchemy this means less time can be spent on general alchemy. Think of it like a dr who specializes in one area, say an eye doctor for example, as opposed to a general practitioner. (the kind you go to first for checkups and the like) Beyond the basic alchemy you can chose to spend your time on one thing. (Thus becoming exceptionally skilled at it beyond the skills of many other alchemists.) Or to spend that time focusing more on general alchemy, (possibly knowing more about a broad range of alchemy then someone who specializes on one thing.) Or a combination thereof. (think Ed or Izumi Vrs Roy)
Alchemy and Age
Because alchemy is such a skill to learn, the younger you start learning it the better. Not everyone will be very skilled at a young age but the earlier you start the more time you have to learn the skill. Additionally like learning a language (or almost any other skill) if you have the basics hardwired into you while your brain is still developing it'll be easier to expand on that later on.
That's not to say every alchemist will be amazing as a child. Most grownups will indeed be better and in many cases more able to comprehend a lot of the advanced concepts. But think of it this way, the more a grown-up will have learned as a child the more they can focus on the more advanced stuff as an adult. Also, if your character is an alchemist, generally the older they are the more time they would have had to become skilled in alchemy. (Up until the point where they start to lose their intelligence ) but the slower they will learn. Until the brain is fully developed learning will be easily be very deeply stored and sort of hardwired in instinctually. After that learning will be more memorization but the older you get the more you have memorized and thus the slower and harder it will be for info will transfer from short term memory to semi-permanent or permanent memory.) It would be hard for an aspiring alchemist to start learning the basics of chemistry and physics as an adult.
I'm sorry if I've done anything to insult or offend
This article is part of tansyuduri's FMA OC Creation Guidebook and cannot be copied redistributed or stolen without credit to her AND a link back to this EXACT document. It is however encouraged to be used and disributed through linking. Thank you for your respect and cooperation with the above terms.
I can't believe I even have to add this but If you wish to make your own tutorial and use info from this I would like the credit due to me for the effort and time I put into making and researching this. Please! include a link back to this as a source. Like you would do for an official paper written for school or work