Warner Bros. officially announced on Tuesday that a live-action film adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's 'Fullmetal Alchemist' manga is in the works and is slated to premiere in Japan in winter 2017. Although the fictional setting was inspired by European design, the entire cast of lead characters will be Japanese.
The choice to cast Japanese actors is an inspiring and welcome move in an industry that often replaces foreign characters with their white counterparts. It is particularly refreshing in the wake of the upcoming ‘Dr. Strange’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell' movies’ whitewashing of the Asian characters in their source material, instead signing Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, to play them.
“I want to depict something that follows the original work as much as possible,” the movie’s director Fumihiko Sori has said. “The cast is entirely Japanese, but the setting is Europe. However, their race and nationality isn’t expressed in a specific form.”
The film will star Ryōsuke Yamada (Hey! Say! JUMP member and live-action Assassination Classroom's Nagisa) as Edward Elric, Tsubasa Honda (live-action Blue Spring Ride's Futaba) as Winry Rockbell, and Dean Fujioka (live-action Happy Marriage?!) as Roy Mustang. Other cast members include:
- Fumiyo Kohinata as General Hakuro
- Ryuta Sato as Maes Hughes
- Misako Renbutsu as Riza Hawkeye
- Natsuna as Maria Ross
- Natsuki Harada as Gracia Hughes
- Yo Oizumi as Shou Tucker
- un Kunimura as Doctor Marco
- Yasulo Matsuyuki as Lust
- Kanata Hongou as Envy
- Shinji Uchiyama as Gluttony
- Kenjiro Ishimaru as Father Cornello
The world of ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ is an intriguing mix of steam-powered technology, alchemy, Japanese customs, and European influences. Amestris, the country where the bulk of the series takes place, is obviously fictional, but is heavily inspired by Edwardian-era Great Britain and German culture. Edward, ‘Fullmetal Alchemist‘s flaxen-haired protagonist, works as a State Alchemist tasked with traveling through Amestris to investigate various alchemy-related disturbances of the peace while seeking the one thing that can restore his and his brother's bodies - the legendary Philosopher's Stone.
Everything from the character’s names (like “Van Hoenheim”) to the tensions between Armestris and their brown-skinned neighbours in the nation of Ishval strongly suggest a European basis of the series, making the filmmakers’ decision to cast their leads as Japanese that much more interesting.
There is an ongoing, heated debate among the anime community about who Japanese creators are depicting when they design their characters with blonde hair, blue eyes, and features that (to Westerners) read as distinctly non-Japanese.
Some argue that Disney's global influence on animation is what inspired Japanese artists to draw characters with large, round eyes and brightly colored hair. Others, like writer Julian Abagond, argue that non-Japanese people see “white” anime characters as white because of their own media biases.
“If I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being,” Abagond explains in a blog post for The Society Pages. “For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc. The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.”
This is typified by the character of Marge Simpson. Despite having yellow skin and a blue curly afro, the character is still identified as white because in the world of 'The Simpson's, yellow is the majority and we associate the majority as indicating "white".
Despite these debates, what is paramount is that the world of ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ - from Edwards blonde hair to the European architecture - has always been Japanese at its core. They abide by Japanese customs, speak Japanese, the series itself is celebrated in Japan, and now, the live adaptation will also look Japanese.