Fullmetal Alchemist’s Izumi Curtis Was Invaluable as a Mentor

Fullmetal Alchemist’s Izumi Curtis Was Invaluable as a Mentor

The role of a mentor in shonen anime is a consistently utilized trope, being a vital component for the growth of a story’s protagonist. Fullmetal Alchemist is no different, with Edward and Alphonse Elric learning the methods of using alchemy and the skills of martial arts under the tutelage of Izumi Curtis. Whilst her mentoring is seen primarily through flashbacks and revisited in dialogue, she continues her training up into the present story, balancing an iron fist with understanding care of their position.

Izumi is a unique mentor in several aspects. She may have certain attributes and story beats similar to that of other shonen mentors, but other characteristics and narrative points make her stand out from many of the other mentors in anime. These differences actually make her the perfect mentor for Edward and Alphonse, and if she had any minute changes to her characterization, her position and importance in the narrative would be entirely shifted for the worse. It is not only unique that she is a female teacher to a male protagonist but also that she is so incredibly vital to the story as a whole.

The most obvious difference in Izumi as a mentor is the fact that she is a woman. The common trope for male protagonists is to have a male counterpart, almost acting as a father figure as well as a teacher. For instance, Jiraiya is almost like a real grandfather to Naruto Uzumaki, All Might is the image of heroism that Izuku Midoriya aspires to be, and while Askeladd may have been the killer of Thorfinn’s father, he still taught Thorfinn everything he knew. Each of these mentors to their respective protagonists share a similarity in childhood, ambitions, personality or trauma.

A common reason for this is the absentee father trope found within anime. Usually in anime, the mother signifies safety, protection and security, and the protagonist must venture out on their adventure either without the guidance of a true father or after the loss of one. Fullmetal Alchemist shifted gears due to a few differences with the Elric Brothers’ development Hohenheim may have been absent, but the death of Trisha Elric was the catalyst to the beginning of Edward and Alphonse’s story.

What Izumi shares with other mentor figures is the similarity of their pasts with their protagonist students. Izumi was a victim of a stillbirth and attempted the same taboo alchemy as the Elric brothers in an attempt to revive her baby. She too suffered at the hands of the Gate of Truth and lost part of herself to obtain the ability to perform instant alchemy. Because of this, she shares the same abilities as Edward and the same consequences as both brothers for their attempt to manipulate nature beyond human capabilities. This connects the trio, making her the only true candidate to train them.

It is in her position as a female mentor where Izumi expands upon her role. While other male mentors play the role of father figure and teacher, Izumi balances mentor, father and mother to the vulnerable pair. Maintaining the equilibrium of kindness, discipline and understanding, without attempting to replace their mother yet still filling the void made by their tragic childhood, is how she was able to develop the brothers into capable alchemists. The death of mothers in anime has been known to lead once-heroic figures into turning into antagonists, but Izumi’s unique position of knowing their pain and having lost her child forms a perfect student/teacher/parental relationship, whereas a male mentor such as Kakashi Hatake to Sasuke Uchiha may have failed.

Another common trend for the shonen mentor is their untimely deaths. Usually, this is to cause a crisis within the hero’s journey, taking away their support structure and forcing them to face the world alone. The structure of Fullmetal Alchemist could not allow for this due to the previous trauma of Trisha’s death and the fact that the Elric brothers had been on the road alone for some time. Izumi’s survival until the conclusion was far too important to ensure Edward remained on the right path. Her death would have only taken away from the story instead of adding layers to Edward and Alphonse, who had already gone through one of the highest forms of suffering.

Izumi stands out in shonen anime not only due to her rare position as a female mentor to a male protagonist but also due to the stress of having to balance out three different roles when caring for the Elric brothers in their youth: mentor, father and mother. It is made clear in the story that Izumi was the one and only mentor that could have looked over Edward and Elric no other character or mentor from any other series would have been able to navigate the delicate mental and emotional stress the brothers had suffered while also ensuring their growth and strength.

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