anax imperator (anax) wrote in ship_manifesto,
anax imperator

Elricest - Edward and Alphonse Elric

Title: Inerasable Sin
Author: Kinslayer (anax)
Fandom:Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Elricest (Edward and Alphonse Elric)
Spoilers: Major backstory spoilers for the anime through Episode 6. One minor spoiler each for Episodes 10, 17, and 46. See Disclaimer.


Elricest is the fandom slang term for the yaoi pairing of Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric in the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist. This series has aired in its entirety in Japan, and has just begun its run in dubbed format on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in the United States.

DISCLAIMER: I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, and the majority of the spoilers are related to the basic backstory and will take you through Episode 6. However, if you read this you WILL be spoiled for a few things that you don't normally learn until Episodes 10, 17 and 46. They are all fairly minor spoilers, and you should be able to enjoy the anime even knowing this, but BE WARNED if you are very paranoid about spoilers. You will also be spoiled somewhat for the manga, although the manga and the anime do not follow the same timeline. I actually could have cited even more evidence for Elricest based on what happens farther down the anime, but I decided that avoiding spoilers was more important, considering how new the anime is to the United States.

NOTE: Although I have read the manga, I am more conversant with the anime, and at the risk of sounding like a heretic, I think the anime plot is better than the one in the manga. I therefore refer entirely to the anime in this essay. However, the evidence for Elricest in the manga is more or less the same as the evidence in the anime. Only the details of the events differ.

One of the more interesting aspects of Elricest is the way the fandom reacts to it. There aren't many people who have given the idea any thought, and who are blase or indifferent to Elricest - most seem to be either avid supporters or rabidly loathe it.

The evidence for Elricest is, of course, all over the series. The plot of the anime more or less revolves around the relationship between Edward and Alphonse, and only a scant handful of canon pairings (Maes/Gracia, Izumi/Seig, Trisha/Hohenheim, etc. - all married couples) have more solid evidence for them. And yet people who actively 'ship the most implausible pairings, pairings where the characters barely tolerate each other (Roy/Ed) or actively attempt to kill each other (Envy/Ed), have been known to practically froth at the mouth at the mention of Elricest. (Note that I am not trying to say that there is no evidence for Roy/Ed or Envy/Ed ... I am simply saying that there is MORE evidence for Elricest.)

The only possible reason for this is the fact that the relationship is undeniably incestuous as well as yaoi and that is squicky for many folks.

Characters and Story

Edward Elric is the elder brother and title character, the Fullmetal Alchemist. He is loud and brash, and does not appreciate being sidelined or overlooked for any reason. Somewhat undersized for his age, Edward is extremely sensitive about his (lack of) height, and has been known to physically assault people who comment on it. He's also an extremely skilled alchemist, the more naturally talented of the brothers.

Alphonse Elric is younger than Edward by almost precisely one year, quieter and far more polite. He has a soft spot for animals, particularly kittens. His personality is restrained and understated, and he is often overshadowed by his much louder and more vocal older brother; Alphonse does not seem to mind this at all. He is also a very skilled alchemist, and arguably has as much or more technical knowledge than Edward, even though he lacks some of Edward's innate talent.

The brothers were raised for many years by their mother, because their father left the home shortly after Alphonse was born and never returned. They had an almost painfully happy childhood, learning alchemy from their father's books, but it all ended when Edward was ten years old, and their mother fell ill and died. A grieving Edward, who had read about human transmutation in their father's notes, suggested that they attempt to revive their mother with alchemy.

After a year of additional research and training with an alchemy teacher, the boys tried to do just that. The overarching principle of alchemy, however, is that of touka koukan or equivalent trade - in order to create something with alchemy, you must begin with materials that are equivalent to what you want to obtain. You cannot transmute a 100 kg object out of 50 kg of materials, and likewise you cannot transmute a human soul out of nothing. The Elrics had nothing to offer that was equivalent to a human soul, except their own lives, and so the alchemy went wild.

Edward's left leg was taken by the transmutation reaction. Alphonse was killed entirely, but human transmutation is a strange sort of alchemy. At further risk to his own life, Edward performed another sort of human transmutation to pull his brother's soul back from beyond. Through the means of a transmutation array drawn in his own blood, Edward transmuted Alphonse's soul and bound it to the nearest thing at hand that seemed appropriate - a suit of steel armor.

Alphonse awoke, remembering nothing beyond the failed attempt to revive their mother and his own disintegration, to find Edward bleeding on the floor and missing both his left leg and his right arm.

So is a series born, for Edward swore the next day that he would correct this massive mistake ... somehow. He had his missing limbs replaced with automail - prosthetics which are wired directly into his natural nerves, and which are grossly identical in function to the limbs he lost - and decided that he would attempt to gain certification as a State Alchemist, which would give him access to information, research and funding not available to outsiders. Somehow, he would find a way to restore his brother, and the resources available to State Alchemists seemed like the best bet.

Whose Angst Is It, Anyway?

So whose fault was that original attempt to revive Trisha Elric, the failed transmutation that changed everything?

Edward, naturally, blames himself, and it's very easy to agree with him. He is the more aggressive brother, and he was the one who, staring at their mother's grave, said "Al, let's revive Mom." He was the driving force behind the project; he was the one who reassured Alphonse that everything was perfect, when Alphonse was having second thoughts about it. Edward is vocal and pushy, and when he wants something, he doesn't hide it very well. He also suffered considerably less in direct damage from the transmutation - while Alphonse was devoured whole, Edward merely lost his left leg from the knee down. Hardly comparable to what happened to Alphonse.

However, it would be a mistake to discount Alphonse's responsibility, although it's less easy to quantify. Alphonse's sin is one of omission - he had second thoughts, but failed to sufficiently impress them upon Edward, preferring to let Edward have his way. Those second thoughts only came at the eleventh hour, in any case; Alphonse was an enthusiastic supporter of the plan for the entire year that lapsed between Trisha's death and the transmutation attempt, and only began to reconsider when the resurrection array was already drawn and oh my god we're really doing this and what about the touka koukan for the soul ... It would have been impossible for Edward to forge ahead completely against Alphonse's wishes, and even at that final moment, if Alphonse had put his foot down instead of meekly nodding and acquiescing to Edward, he could have stopped it.

Edward's responsibility for what happened is therefore quite easy to see, and his angst gets quite a bit of attention from the storyline. However, Alphonse was equally responsible, even though his role was more passive and his guilt over what happened to Edward is given far less screentime, because he had veto power over Edward and he failed to use it. Alphonse is not the completely innocent victim of Edward's aggressiveness that he appears to be at first glance, and it's this shared sense of guilt that is part of what binds the brothers so strongly together. Arguably this is their strongest bond.

Their shared secret is another reason they cling so firmly to one another. Human transmutation is taboo - a sin, you might say, and possibly even a crime - and the fact that Alphonse is basically a disembodied soul makes him unique in the experience of most alchemists he encounters. It's assumed that the military would want to have him analyzed if they knew ... analyzed in the cut-apart-by-the-alchemical-equivalent-of-vivisection sort of way. Colonel Roy Mustang, Edward's commanding officer, in fact uses this threat as a way to control Edward. The fewer people who know what they did, and what the result was, the better.

There are other people who sooner or later find out what the Elrics did - Colonel Mustang, their childhood friend Winry Rockbell and her grandmother Pinako, Major Armstrong, and their teacher Izumi Curtis, to name a few. However, for various reasons, none of the people who learn the truth can ever be fully trusted or depended upon, particularly when people who are close to the Elrics start to die. The only person Edward can completely trust is Alphonse, and vice versa - they are the only ones who should suffer for their mistakes, and they therefore can only count on each other.

So Okay, They're Close

Edward is a State Alchemist - he has a military certification in alchemy, and in exchange for funding and access to alchemical research, he is a "dog of the military" and subject to government orders. He functions as a kind of field agent, doing Colonel Mustang's dirty work, sometimes even inadvertently (having been manipulated into it). In between assignments he looks for information about the Philosopher's Stone, the semi-legendary artifact which is said to allow an alchemist to bypass the touka koukan requirement of alchemy and which therefore might allow them to do the impossible and restore themselves to the way they were before.

Edward therefore travels quite a bit, and beyond all logic, Alphonse is always with him. It's rare that the Elrics are separated from each other for any length of time, even though it would be far safer for their secret if Alphonse were to remain secluded. There is especially little reason for Alphonse to be with Edward when Edward is actually doing his job, as opposed to working on his Philosopher's Stone side project. The acquisition of the Philosopher's Stone is at least something that concerns Alphonse; following Edward while he's working on things that have nothing to do with the Philosopher's Stone exposes both brothers to unnecessary risks.

So why does Alphonse do it? The stated reason, given by Alphonse himself, is that he simply does not ever want to be separated from his older brother, and that's the only reason that makes anything like sense. But it begs the question of why not? Why, exactly, is Alphonse so adverse to remaining behind when Edward travels on military business? And why does Edward tolerate this behavior when he is ruthlessly practical in so much else? (another good question would be why does the military tolerate it? but that would need to be a topic for a different essay)

Each of the two looks on the other as his only remaining family, which is not true in either in the literal or figurative sense (their father is still alive, and the Rockbells are like family to them both despite being unrelated by blood, something that even an outsider like Major Armstrong can see easily). They cling to each other to the exclusion of all others.

There are several sets of brothers that show up over the course of the series, but none of them are as tightly bound as the Elrics. Bound by ties of blood, ties of common history, ties of guilt and shared sin, ties of love, ties of mutual trust that includes no one else, the Elrics form a single unit, and it seems less natural to see them apart than it is to see them together.

Edward and Alphonse are devoted to each other, and in many ways each of them lives solely for the other. This is considerably better evidence than that available for many 'ships, but one little thing gets in the way and makes Elricest haters dismiss the pairing out of hand: they are, in fact, brothers, and brothers are expected to be devoted to each other in a non-sexual way.

So Why Include Sex?

Why not? There are several lines of dialogue that are sexually very suggestive. (These notorious lines from Alphonse come to mind: "But there's one thing that I'm sure of. I want to touch you again, Nii-san. Isn't it weird? We're this close, but the sensation of touching you, and the warmth of your body ... I can't remember them.") But things do change in the translation.

Even better than the questionable, sometimes eyebrow-raising dialogue is Edward's sheer non-sexuality. By the end of the series, Edward is nearly seventeen years old, and the extent of his sexuality consists of blushing in embarrassment when he comes across a 400-year-old love letter, and again when he accidentally gropes an adult and blatantly sexual female. While it's certainly not outside the scope of "normal" for a seventeen-year-old to still be a virgin, it's difficult to believe that Edward is completely suppressing his sex drive. Normal teenaged boys, virgin or otherwise, have some kind of directly or indirectly sexual thought a couple of times every minute, on average, and yet Edward seems to get through almost five years of puberty without his mind ever wavering away from the goal of the Philosopher's Stone and toward inconvenient distractions like how to get off. This is, I find, somewhat difficult to buy into. It's far more likely that Edward does, in fact, take care of personal business like having orgasms the same way he takes care of all those other bodily functions that the anime writers in their wisdom have chosen not to detail at length.

Given the assumption that Edward masturbates, you have to decide whether or not his brother knows about it ... or, to put it another way, whether or not Edward has both the ability and inclination to conceal it from Alphonse. I'm not going to try to claim that it's impossible for a teenager to find alone-time, even one who spends nearly every moment with a brother who does not sleep. However, I'm also not going to claim that he would get sufficient alone-time to jack off on a regular basis. Despite this, Edward Elric does not seem to ooze sexual frustration the way many teenaged boys do. This could be attributed to either his formidable willpower, the loss of something in the failed transmutation that is somewhat less visible than a leg (such as his hormones), or an ability to get laid on a regular basis despite the conspicuous lack of a non-incestuous mate. I suppose it's your pick.

But ... EWWW! It's Incest!

Indeed it is! Even if you decide for yourself that the love between Edward and Alphonse is purely fraternal and platonic, the fact that they do love each other is hard to dispute. Their utter devotion toward each other (and their utter devotion toward their guilt) is a major theme of the series, and you would have to try very hard to argue that it's not there.

The depth of the emotion between the Elrics is so much more tangible than anything that binds either of them to anyone else that, were they not siblings, their relationship would be all but canon. It's only the fact that they are siblings that throws a wrench into the works, and is that really such a big obstacle?

The Elrics are sinners. They know this, the same way they know that they are alchemists - it's simply part of who and what they are, and they never deny it. Edward is particularly unapologetic about it, never trying to justify himself. He also never tries to justify his decision to become a State Alchemist. Both ordinary people and other alchemists view State Alchemists as "dogs of the military" ... alchemists who have sold their souls to the military in exchange for privileges. Alchemy is supposed to be used for the good of the people, or so goes the popular wisdom. State Alchemists instead use it for their own selfish gain and, in times of war, to kill people. The role of the State Alchemists in the Ishbal Rebellion is particularly infamous, but all State Alchemists are suspect because they hide their research and work for the government instead of the people.

As someone who attempted human transmutation, and as a dog of the military, Edward has completely lost touch with anything that might be considered a moral high ground, and has instead firmly identified himself as a sinner. Would he be so adverse to sleeping with his brother? Perhaps. But not for moral reasons.

Alphonse is less comfortable with his identity as a sinner, and is not a State Alchemist. However, his devotion to Edward runs very deep. If Edward is determined to suffer for his sins, Alphonse is equally determined not to let his brother suffer alone. Alphonse was willing to try for a State Alchemist certification as well, and was only deterred by the danger of discovery. Would Alphonse be so adverse to sleeping with his brother? Perhaps. Only if he believed it would hurt Edward further.

The Elrics are already living on the dark side, having taken the sinner's path of human transmutation, and going under the wing of a sometimes brutal government. Having done so much that was wrong already, it's hard to buy into the notion that "incest is wrong" would keep them from each other, if they wanted each other.

Why Bother?

There are a couple of arguments against Elricest, and it isn't as if Edward and Alphonse ever kiss. So why should anyone bother with such a taboo pairing?

The first argument against it ("But they're BROTHERS!") has been addressed above. I don't personally see that as an obstacle to the pairing. It's true that it's realistically difficult to look at your sibling and see a potential sexual partner, but it does happen, and the Elrics are already damned for other things. As has been said before, what's one more sin?

A slightly more sophisticated argument against it states that the purity of the fraternal relationship between the brothers is somehow damaged if one assumes that they are having sex. I don't buy into this either. Sex is not innately dirty, or unholy. For two people who love each other as deeply as Edward and Alphonse clearly do, sex could be a sacred thing - it all depends on how you write it. I think this argument says more about the attitude one has toward sex than the alleged purity of the Elrics' relationship.

Incestuous relationships are going to squick some people, and that's fine. Elricest is not for everyone. But the pairing is interesting because it is simultaneously so simple and so complex. They are so close, and yet there are so many different ways that each brother could come to the relationship. It's an inherently angsty relationship, even before sex is thrown into the mix, but potentially very beautiful.

The greatest potential in Elricest is, I believe, the potential for unconditional acceptance. Most people crave unconditional acceptance, but have difficulty finding it; no matter how much we trust our partners, there is always that urge to show only our best sides. This entails, of course, concealing our worst sides, and introduces the doubt that we are loved not for what we are, but for what we appear to be.

The Elrics already know each other's dirty secrets. They grew up together, they've seen each other at their best and their worst, seen each other make mistakes, and together they engaged in the most dangerous and forbidden alchemy. Even knowing all of these bad habits, dark secrets, and embarrassing quirks about each other, the Elrics still love each other. They fight sometimes, but are less comfortable apart than they are together.

And even though they might be less than whole, not entirely human anymore, they remain together, and continue to love and support one another.

Wrong Versus Really Really Wrong

For the course of virtually the entire series, Alphonse Elric is a disembodied soul bound to a suit of animate armor. This is something that many people find unsexy.

There are several solutions to this problem. The most obvious one, and the one that many Elricest writers take, is to posit that at some point, Edward succeeded somehow in his quest to restore Alphonse to normal living status. Alphonse was an attractive child, and would likely have grown up into an attractive young man. There are a number of fanfics that take this route; it's so common, that many fanfics with this solution don't bother much with the explanation of how this happened, instead focusing on a different plot entirely.

Another possible solution is the ever-popular AU - ranging the gamut from putting the Elrics into an entirely different universe, to modifying the Fullmetal Alchemist universe so that Alphonse was never killed.

A third possibility is setting the story prior to the failed resurrection attempt. This introduces the added squick of sex between pre-pubescent minors.

The other way to deal with the issue is to decide that it isn't an issue at all. That Edward and Alphonse are capable of having sexual relations while Alphonse is still an armor-bound soul. There is a kind of poignant angst to this that isn't present when Alphonse is entirely human, for two major reasons. Primarily, Alphonse-as-armor cannot feel anything, and therefore cannot share his brother's pleasure, and secondarily because sleeping with an unattractive suit of cold steel armor is a level of unconditional acceptance on Edward's part that isn't required under any other circumstances. The mechanics of armor!sex ... well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

C'mon ... Incest??

When I first came to Fullmetal Alchemist my slashometer immediately went off the scale at Edward. He's a short, blonde, angsting genius with a guilt complex and an ego a mile wide - prime slash material. It took slightly longer to decide that Edward's best slash pairing was with his brother. Roy Mustang is the obvious choice, after all, being the other major (attractive) character, and someone with a canon working relationship with Edward.

However, I had a hard time getting Roy/Ed to work. The age difference and power difference was just too great for me to manage, and there is also a distinct lack of canon affection between them. Whenever I attempted to write them, the characters preferred to argue rather than have sex. Edward and Alphonse, however, have such a close and complicated relationship already built into the canon events. There is just so much that could be done with them ... assuming, of course, that one can get over the fact that they are close blood relations.

As far as I'm concerned, the fact that they are close blood relations makes the pairing even hotter. :)

Recommended Fics and Sites

The elricest Livejournal community would be one of the primary sources toward which I would direct a potential Elricest shipper, for everything from fanfiction, to fanart, to Elricest doujinshi scans.

elricsexual is a somewhat newer community with a higher level of moderation - please read the rules before you try to join it - but the quality of fic there is consistantly high.

Touka Koukan is a Fullmetal Alchemist yaoi fanfiction archive. The fics can be sorted by pairing, and some of the better Elricest fics can be found there (all sorts of yaoi pairings are represented as well, not just Elricest).

For specific fics, I would recommend:

Perfume by mikkeneko. Dark, disturbing. Again, not very long, but definitely unique.

Whatever It Takes also by mikkeneko. Experience Edward's guilt complex.

Seasonal by kaltia. An unfinished multi-part fic that is shaping up to be quite the work of art. Prod her in the comments for more. Tell her Pride sent you.

Thunderstorms also by kaltia. I inspired it. :) That would be enough for me to love it, but I would have loved it anyway even if not for that. It's just a damned good story.

Individual authors who write a great deal of Elricest and often have interesting takes on the pairing:

ishnaru Note that this is kaltia's fic journal.
Unfortunately, hagane_no's journal is friendslocked. Refer to the elricest community for anything she might post.

If I have corrupted your soul sufficiently to believe in this pairing, my job is done.

Tags: #anime/animation, -incest, fullmetal alchemist

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