Not too long ago, I broke down and watched an anime. I don’t really enjoy anime, so I rarely watch it, even when (or especially when) people rant about how great a particular series or movie is.
So, I’d heard people talking about Fullmetal Alchemist for a long while, but hadn’t watched it. But I gave one of the series (Brotherhood) a shot and did enjoy it. Sure, it had a lot of the tropes and stylistic flourishes that makes me not like anime, but the series is good in spite of all that, and I like the basic story. Also watched the 2017 film on Netflix. It’s OK, but man, the things they cut out to get right into the action triggered some changes that I think don’t really work.
One of the things I partly like is the approach to magic – excuse me, “the science of alchemy”. They play fast and loose with the rules they lay down, but there are some rules there: the alchemist constructs a circle of transmutation for the desired effect, contacts the target material, and transmutes it into a new form (limited by the Law of Equivalent Exchange.) In terms ofmagic power sources, alchemy is primarily words of power with a little psychic power on the side: they use drawing symbols instead of speaking ritual phrases, and the “meditation” is brief, but it more or less follows that pattern.
State alchemists specialize in a single specific transmutation and wear gloves with the appropriate circle of transmutation already woven into the fabric, so they can perform their one trick over and over on command. They, like alchemists who don’t work for the military, have to do things the slow way if they aren’t doing their one schtick. There are a handful of characters who don’t fit this pattern, the most obvious being Edward and Alphonse, but they basically went through hell to get that ability… and let’s face it, they break the rules because it makes for faster paced, more exciting, over-the-top anime battles. We can basically ignore them.
I’d ask if anyone has made a translation of the Fullmetal Alchemy system into D&D rules, but (1) someone probably has, and (2) it’s probably an overly complicated mess. I might have more thoughts on this at a later date.