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I've been watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood lately and got to the episode where Ed and Al deliberately try to lure out Scar for their own purposes (I'm trying to be spoiler-free here).

Anyway, I noticed that the townspeople of Central City are all rather astonished that an alchemist would be kind enough to restore their broken stuff to them. The same thing happened in Liore, when Al fixed the broken radio.

It got me thinking: wouldn't alchemists be the best handymen and fixits? All they'd have to do is draw the circle runes and, well, clap their hands. I can understand having tradespeople and mechanics -- those are rather beyond alchemy -- but basic fixings would be well within the realm of an alchemist. Heck, even being a basic production house (making forks and spoons, for example) would be fairly lucrative.

So: do all alchemists end up joining the military in some capacity? If not, do we ever see alchemists engaged in trade?

  • This isn't directly an answer, but in FMA, alchemy itself is a science that takes years to learn, and a decade or more to master. There's a reason the Elric brothers are considered geniuses... – Izkata Sep 16 '12 at 21:58
  • Keep in mind that while becoming a state alchemist has its benefits, you definitely don't have to become part of the military. Even the first episode has a corrupt priest alchemist in it. – Gorchestopher H Sep 17 '12 at 15:02
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No. All alchemists are not part of the military. There are notable examples including Alphonse and Teacher (Izumi Curtis) whose exposure to the Gate of Alchemy/Truth augmented their alchemical abilities.

  • The military does try to see and find all people gifted with the ability for alchemy. They hold regular trials for young alchemists to be discovered, and older ones to find patronage with the state. Not all are successful.

  • The military does prefer alchemists whose skills are able to be applied to the Art of War. Those with powerful destructive abilities tend to rise fastest. See: Solf J. Kimblee, Colonel Roy Mustang

  • Alchemy is not just a physical art, whose intricacies were in the relationships seen in the alchemical transmutation circles, it is a mental one. One has to be able to understand the chemical properties of matter and how they relate to one another; a deep understanding of chemistry separates the good from the great alchemists.

  • The creation of alchemical circles is also part of the art of alchemy. Good circles enhance the alchemical processes and some circles absolutely define what can be done with alchemy. Circles can have properties which can be countered but only if someone understands the relationships between the resources used, raw materials sacrificed and results expected.

Sample Transmutation Circle

Sample Transmutation Circle

  • As far as fixing devices or making repairs, alchemists would be less inclined to engage in such work because it requires an understanding of what is being repaired and the relationships of the materials. They would also need to create a transmutation circle unique to what is being repaired. Alphonse and Edward are able to make random repairs because they are both intellectual prodigies and do not have to create alchemical circles to repair things they already understand.
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  • The OP noted in the question they're not very far. The parts below the image are a major spoiler. – Izkata Sep 16 '12 at 23:52
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    Are we really protecting people from a series completed almost a 5 years ago? – Thaddeus Howze Sep 16 '12 at 23:53
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    It's not a hard rule, but please, when the asker specifically mentions having not yet seen the rest of the series, yes. If it's really necessary, use the spoiler markup. – Izkata Sep 17 '12 at 3:57
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    @Thaddeus: Not everyone knows what "everyone" knows: xkcd.com/1053 – Maciej Piechotka Sep 17 '12 at 7:46
  • The very first episode makes it very clear that not all Alchemists are part of the military. It's also clear that being an alchemist is by no means "easy", typically requiring innate talent and extensive training. This seems to be a question easily answerable by simply watching the rest of the series... – Gorchestopher H Sep 17 '12 at 20:31
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Not all alchemists are in the military - that opportunity is made available only to a select few. There are tests - both theoretical and practical - that people need to pass to become State Alchemists. Since the state seems to be practically run by the military, that means being part of the military.

The consequences of being a State Alchemist are several, the most important being that you have to orders from your supervisors and access to government libraries. Not all alchemists see active military duty, some are engaged in research, but even this research has to be of practical value to the military.

Not all alchemists are State Alchemists, Alphonso being the most obvious example. I do think we see some privately-employed alchemists, but I don't think those would be the best in the country.

Of course, alchemists don't seem to be exactly as common as mechanics, so I assume that their services would be worth much more than those of mechanics, meaning that such services would be available to a selected part of the populace and for far higher cost. And even if all an alchemist needs to do is make a circle and clap his hand, that hardly seems like an intellectually challenging job (and it seems that alchemists have in general a higher mental capacity than others). For these reasons, I doubt alchemists would be fixing stuff on a regular basic.

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  • Keep in mind that the "alchemist" would also have to know the workings of a functional radio, in order to assemble the broken one back into a working one. You'd have to know how to fix it or build it before alchemy steps in and makes it easy. – Gorchestopher H Sep 18 '12 at 14:03

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