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In the manga / Brotherhood, we learn that the reason human transmutation is forbidden is because it would otherwise allow people to create their own private armies (at least according to the man who talks to General Armstrong after she's transferred to Central). Right after that, we're shown the mannequin "soldiers", implying that they're the results of some form of human transmutation.

But it's pretty obvious that the mannequins are different from the products produced by Ed, Al, Izumi Curtis, and Roy when they attempt (or are forced to attempt) human transmutation - in the case of the mannequins, the transmutation has actually produced what the alchemist probably wanted and is "successful".

Given this, what's the difference between the human transmutation referred to in the context of the mannequins and human transmutation as attempted by the sacrifices? Is the difference in result simply an issue of having a different intended result and/or maybe philosopher's stones, or is there potentially a different explanation for this?

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It's very simple. The so called act of "human transmutation" means that the intent of such alchemy is to create a fully functional human being, complete with memories, emotions, capability to feel and think. In other words, a perfect copy of a person.

The mannequins are mere cannon fodder. They don't have the ability to feel or have complex thoughts. They are just war machines following the order. That was the original intent with which they were created.

Compared to transmuted people, mannequins are much simpler, and as a result pose a much lesser threat to the world. Imagine if human transmutation went perfectly every time, and that you could create any number of smart, ingenuous people. What would bad alchemists do? Recreate evil geniuses of the past maybe, which would be much more dangerous than a bunch of brainless soldier mannequins. That's one of the reasons why human transmutation is forbidden, aside from being impossible to perform perfectly.

  • True - I suppose they're actually operating under different "definitions" of human transmutation, though I'm not completely sure about the second bit. (I suppose in of themselves the mannequins are also dangerous, to a degree?) – Maroon Jul 11 '14 at 8:25
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    Sure, if you create a million mannequins, you'll have a freakin army of mannequins. But just one smart person could be enough to overweight their numbers with brainpower. – Hakase Jul 11 '14 at 8:30
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    Aside from danger aspect, there is an emotional side to this question. When you see a ton of murderous monsters obeying their creator, you probably won't freak out as much as if you'd've seen a horribly disfigured screaming mass of agony frighteningly resembling your loved one or a friend. Consider that an argument against human transmutation due to high risk of inducing insanity. – Hakase Jul 11 '14 at 8:33
  • Also I guess you could multiply yourself to exponentially increase the number of alchemists who can do this transmutation and "spam" the entire planet's surface with copies of some random people (or one person to add to the insanity). There are probably scifi stories about such a scenario, and it doesn't sound healthy for the rest of the planet's population :p – Hakase Dec 14 '17 at 0:33
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The mannequins are explicitly stated to be "humanoid receptacles", not attempts to create a human body. Rather than attempting to call back a soul that no-longer exists in the world, the mannequins were existing souls bound to ready made doll bodies.

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