So, to my understanding, the idea of alchemy is equivalent exchange, in which you get in return as much as you gave.

This doesn't make sense to me, as in the beginning when they tried to transmute their mother back, Alphonse lost everything, and Edward lost his leg. They didn't get anything in return, or at least anything worth of a soul and a body. After this Edward transmuted his arm to get Alphonse back.

So, put in a calculation:

Things lost

  • Random piled ingredients which were supposed to compose the average human
  • Alphonse's body
  • Alphonse's soul
  • Edward's arm
  • Edward's leg

Things gained

  • A blob of purple stuff with Alphonse's soul affixed to it ( for a while )
  • Alphonse's soul

So, where the hell did the rest of the stuff go? And more importantly, why could they not just have transmuted everything back?

  • Did you actually watch the show??
    – Hellreaver
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 7:49

7 Answers 7


Unmarked spoilers for both Brotherhood and the 2003 series follow.

You're missing a key bit of information: they did gain something for their loss[1], just as Izumi did.

The boys gained the knowledge of what was beyond the gate. Unparalleled truths of alchemy reside beyond the gate, and no mortals are ever allowed access to it—unless they commit the taboo.[2]

Both Edward and Alphonse were shoved through the gate and absorbed as much material as they could from it, Edward even wanting to go back to get more. In the 2003 series, Alphonse never recalls this, though in Brotherhood, he recalls it after having blood spilled on his seal. Ed remembers it from the beginning, and this knowledge is what allows him (and later, Alphonse) to transmute without a circle.

The reason they couldn't just transmute everything back is because they had already committed the sin. If you steal something, and are caught, but then give it back, do the police let you go? No; and this is also the way of The Truth. Performing the sin is the punishable act; transmuting it back would be futile.

1   Keep in mind that by the end of the series (at least in Brotherhood's case, original FMA was not as forgiving), much of what was lost is regained through further equivalent exchanges.
2   It's a bit more complicated than this, but it will suffice for this explanation.

  • Alphose didn't gain knowledge from beyond the gate, otherwise he wouldn't need a transmutation circle. Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 22:13
  • 2
    @MiharuDante ... As I said, in the 2003 series, he never recalls what he knows. In Brotherhood, he can transmute without a circle after episode 14.
    – Cattua
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 22:14
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    @Mythic It was actually addressed in Brotherhood, wherein Izumi and Ed realized that Al probably saw more of the truth than Ed due to having sacrificed so much more. I don't think this ever has a bearing on the story, though. I'm not sure what you mean by "give up the truth", though..?
    – Cattua
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 14:15
  • 1
    @Mythic Ah, that. Yes, theoretically Al could have sacrificed his gate and lost his ability to do alchemy, if he had thought of it. But even Ed didn't think of it until the last episode, and shortly thereafter Al was back in his body. I don't think it's fair to apply mathematical equivalence here; The Truth takes what he feels is most ironic. While to Izumi, the loss of her ability to reproduce was heartbreaking, losing her sight as Mustang did may have been less impactful (for example). What they lose is something that affects them personally.
    – Cattua
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:31
  • 1
    You're probably right, after all, to me it seems ironic when Ed was trying to revive his mother, but ended up losing Alphonse instead. But then again he also lost his leg, and the toll is supposed to be paid by the person who activates the transmutation, right? If I remember correctly, both of them activated it at the same time, so could be Alphonse was actually first, and managed to lose his body because of that. But then why did Ed lose his leg, and how come a leg is equivalent of a soul and a body? After all, Ed had only unlocked the part of the truth he got from sacrificing his leg.
    – Mythic
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 18:53

Here's an analogy for you

Suppose you are cooking, and you're making a dish that uses a lot of expensive ingredients.

Suppose you royally screw up, and make something completely inedible.

The ingredients are still gone. Even though you've ended up with something unusable, the things that you've put into it don't come back.

That's what happened here. Just because they didn't end up with anything useful didn't mean that it would cost them any less.

  • I don't think that's still enough to make up for it. Alphonse's and Edward's master had also done human transmutation, and ended up with the same results. Only thing she lost was an organ. To add even more to it, the soul is supposed to be the greatest power source, as that's what philosopher stones were made of, right? Then how come Edward was able to get Alphonse's soul back just by sacrificing his arm?
    – Mythic
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 21:38
  • @Mythic just to clarify, Izumi lost most of her internal organs as if it was just one it would have been just her womb, the organs that remained adapted functions but it still wasn't enough. this is more explained in detail in the 2003 Anime than Brotherhood
    – Memor-X
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 22:27
  • @Mythic also with Al's Soul, remember he can loose it much more easier in his current state than if he had a real body if the Blood Seal is removed/destroyed. while rare a person can survive a bullet or impalement to the head, Al can not survive even the seal being burned (Barry in the 2003 anime). in the 2003 anime he seems to also be loosing his memories
    – Memor-X
    Commented Apr 15, 2014 at 22:36

They did gain something, though it cost them a bit more. See while the materials were enough in theory to remake a human body, it might not have been enough to construct it. So it took their bodies to help with the construction.

What you gotta remember is they did get what they wanted. Their mother, at least in the 2003 version. In Brotherhood, it's never revealed who it was they really brought back. So in either case, they did gain the body they tried to revive. In the '03 version, Alphonse did not gain anything because he lost his body, so Edward was the one to gain from the transmutation, and when he transmutated his leg, he gained back Al's soul, since it was still being taken by the gate. Maybe souls take longer to breakdown, so he was able to pull it back, and anchor it to the armor. So, that's what Ed gained for that transmutation.

In Brotherhood, it's the same, the boys did get something from the human transmutation, but in this case, they got two things each. The creature from the chemicals they'd used, and the Truth. But what they learned, probably can't be measured in what they gave up. Since Alphonse was so young and eager to grow up, that could be why he lost his body. And since Edward was so proud of his Alchemy that he'd stand against life to gain back his mother, he lost his leg, and maybe to be ironic, the truth took the last of his family since he opposed Trisha's death so much. (those were just my thoughts there) In the end, both boys received the Truth as recompense for their bodies being lost, but it's hard to say if Al gained more or not, since you can't really measure what he lost in measure to what he gained, which he didn't really get until later on.

Or maybe everything I said sounds like nonsense, either way, hoped this helped.


I think Ed was able to get Al's soul back because it was never taken by the gate. The gate took Al's body but not his mind and soul. Those where left standing in front of the gate or the void. Ed learned from the gate that if he acted quick enough he could get them back. So he used his right arm as material to summon the gate. At witch time he got Al's mind and soul back and affixed it to the aromor via the blood seal. Had the gate taken his soul Ed wouldn't have been able to get it back because there is nothing you can trade for a soul not even another soul. Thats why you cant bring dead people back to life. 2003 anime.

  • 3
    try to put your answers together instead of spamming several answers. If you have more detail, edit your first answer. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 19:21

In Brotherhood, it's alluded to in Episode 14 that Alphonse's soul was within the body that he and Edward had created in an attempt to bring back their mother. Essentially, Alphonse lost his body to properly construct a new body (which was deformed because it didn't really have all the elements that make up a human) and Edward lost his leg in order to transmute Alphonse's soul into that new body... and then Edward lost his arm to transmute Alphonse's soul before the deformed new body completely died, transferring it over to a suit of armor.

None of this is explained properly because you're meant to come to your own conclusions via context clues and theorycrafting. It's the mark of a good story when people actually care so much about the protagonists' backstory.


Let me try to explain this better. Think of the gate as god. When you die the gate reclaimes your mind, body and soul.

Since the mind and soul are completely unique, there's nothing you can trade for them. So you can't bring someone who has died back to life.

When Ed and Al tried to bring their mom back, they preformed human transmutation which automatically summons the "gate of god". Since the human body is composed of simple elements they got their mom's body back via the pile of stuff they poured in the bowl, but it was a soulless and mindless body so it didn't take a human form.

That is, until Dante feeds it pieces of incomplete philosophers stone which contain souls.

The gate also gave them knowledge of alchemy. Ed got a little for his left leg, and Al got a lot for his whole body. Al just can't remember any of it until much later. But the gate didn't take Al's soul or mind, it left those sitting in front of the gate.

Ed used the knowledge he got from the gate and his right arm "human transmutation" as material to summon the gate, where for his arm he got a little more knowledge and since Al's mind and soul were not in the gate he got those back for free in the process. Where he affixed it the the armour via the blood seal.

On a side note, Ed will never get his limbs back because the homunculus Wrath took them for himself and left the gate with them. So unless Ed can get wrath to give them back to the gate, Ed will never get his true arm and leg back.

This is going off of the 2003 anime. Just my personal theory

  • Probably a spoiler for you but to correct you Ed does get his Limbs back, Dante calls the Gate and has it take Ed's limbs from Warth and Ed gains them back when Al uses up the Philosopher's Stone bring Ed back to life. Ed only losses them again as apart of the price to bring Al back to life
    – Memor-X
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 2:34

They did gain something. The fact remains the thing they get it was not in the exact form they wanted. "Sometimes not everything is in our hands", that is what the author's main idea was.

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