Character: Roy Mustang
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Spoilers: The whole manga (up and including chapter 48)
Disclaimer: Roy Mustang, other characters and plot belong (thankfully) to Hiromu Arakawa. Since I´m not mentioning the anime adaptation (its only redeeming value being Toru Ohkawa) even once I owe the people at Bones nothing.
Author: zauberer_sirin —
"Change the world" because I have always believed (and even Arakawa has said it herself) that in the universe of Fullmetal Alchemist Roy represents a "chance for change", the faith in a better tomorrow. Idealist? Yes, that´s another word to define Roy Mustang.
Fullmetal Alchemist (the manga)
Created by mastermind and genius all around Hiromu Arakawa, "Fullmetal Alchemist" appears in the pages of the magazine GanGan each month. In its world alchemy is more powerful (and a little more magical, though not wildly so) than in our world. Alchemy works by the rule of "equivalent trade", you have to give the same that you recieve. The main characters Edward and Alphonse Elric practice alchemy in their childhood and when their mother dies they attempt the ultimate alchemical taboo: human transmutation. They try to bring their mother back but instead of it Ed loses his leg and Alphonse his whole body. Ed is able to fix his brother´s soul to a steel armor but in exchange he loses one arm. In the beginning "Fullmetal Alchemist" is the story of how Edward and Alphonse start a journey to gain enough power and knowledge to restore their bodies, but the plot has grown into something more complex and it´s not only the fate of the Elric brother in risk now.
Roy Mustang has a key part on the Elrics´ story since he (accidentally, he was looking for potemtial adult alchemists) found them after they had attempted to relive their mother; horrorized at what they had done Roy offers them a way out of their hopelessness. Becoming National Alchemists they would have access to greater power and information, the best chance they have to restore their bodies. Ed becomes National Alchemist and so he becomes a "dog of the military", a soldier. Ed is Roy´s subordinate (though he never acts like one) and as the plot progresses they have to join forces against the common enemy: homunculus, non-human creatures with a secret agenda for both the brothers and Roy.
A Shakesperean Conception of the Character (the writing)
The shakesperean conception is a direct approach of the character, letting each character appear in front of the public as he or she is, with no intromision, no judgement from the author. Arakawa may be the most shakesperean writer nowadays and her characters seem to be more real, more alive than people we pass on the streets.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a work full of subtleties and ambiguity; the most we know about the characters is from what they say, what they do and what other characters say about them. But there is no absolute truth in Fullmetal Alchemist.
This applies specially to Roy Mustang, King of the Subtle. After 48 chapters we think we know him pretty well, still he has a unique ability to surprise the reader, and in my case to make me love him more than I already did. He is like an iceberg, there are just too many things about him hidden.
The monthly format of the manga has allowed Arakawa a paused and mature rhythm that not many shonen series can achieve. Arakawa has often indulge in the luxury of focusing entire chapters on "just people talking"; she doesn´t need action to make the story exciting, she portrays real people with real relationships (Fullmetal Alchemist addresses seriously themes like family, friendship, responsibility or loyalty) rather than puppets that just follow the plot´s flow. That´s one of the many reasons why Fullmetal Alchemist is the best manga I have ever read.
The Man. The Myth. The Alchemy.
A first impression might lead us to wrongly think of Roy as a somewhat shallow, ambitious, easy-going young colonel. The more we read of the manga the more we realize these assumptions are incorrect. He does nothing to discorage this image of himself. Sad is that a large part of the Fullmetal Alchemist fandom has been uncapable of seeing past his masks and still label him as arrogant, flashy and cold-hearted.
We are never given any concrete information: Havoc hints at a promise Roy made to Hughes, Hawkeye talks about the "goal" of the person she has to protect, Armstrong explicitly says that someone who has seen the horrors of the war but remained calm can help the country.
We don´t know what exactly Roy wants to do but we do know that everything he does is for the greater good of the country; it´s funny, he never sees himself as noble but what he is doing is a very noble thing, proof of (despite the usual cliche of his arrogance) his humbleness. But anyone can see just how humble he is from his way of treating people, warm and close.
I believe Roy was an idealist when younger but that changed him a lot; anyway he came from the war with renewed idealism, set out to make his country a better place, to end the years of war and dictatorship.
Now he has constructed an image of himself, as a shallow social-climber, so that his superiors don´t glimpse his real plans, for there are more rotten apples than Bradley in the military.
Recent chapters (well, since Barry the Chopper was found by Hawkeye, anyway) showed how well-prepared Roy and his people are: he has several safe houses throughout the city, communication spots ruled by the blooming mastermind that is Fuery, and more personal contacts and alliances than we had suspected (that Knox, the one who did the autopsy on Ross´ "body", turned out to be such a good friend was a brilliant move). Roy is ambitious, but he has worked hard for the right to be hopeful.
One of the things I love more about Roy is how he never coaxes anybody into his personal war; he always offers ways out to his subordinates (see Falman) and he doesn´t like to bring innocent people into his crusade. His recent behaviour towards our dear doctor Knox is very telling, how Roy commented that Knox had family, and even though he was divorced we get the feeling that Roy felt bad asking help from him.
Most of Roy´s inner demons trace back to the war in Ishval, of what he had to do there, and his decision to turn the country from the ways that caused that war.
The guilt he feels for what he had to do there (he puts on a very specific angsty face whenever Ishval is mentioned, and Hawkeye, who was there with him, has a similiarly radical reaction) shows in the way he tends to feel guilty about everything that happens around him, he has an over-developed sense of responsability.
The murder of Maes Hughes shaped many of the events in the plot, as well as changed Roy´s way of doing thing, subtly but affectively.
We have seen Roy open up a bit with people (his close friendship with Havoc), realizing that there is always the chance of having to make sacrifices but that´s no reason to shut himself from the world. The new Roy Mustang has loosen up a bit, and it´s beginning to let himself be loved by those around him, betraying the cool exterior he wanted to keep.
Still Roy has a Hughes-shaped hole in his heart, and the wound is very much open still, as we saw when he reacted violently to Lust´s comments about Hughes´ death.
In any case Hughes´ murder made him erase the line between personal and professional in what he was doing once and for all.
Roy´s alchemy nickname is "Flame Alchemist" due to his control of fire. I think that it´s more than a little symbolical that his element is fire, seeing how he is (despite what he tries to pretend) such a passionate character.
With the probable exception of Izumi there is no alchemist as powerful as Roy in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist. Arakawa had even the decency and sense of realism to let him beat the hell out of the Ed (the title character, don´t forget) in the fight Flame versus Fullmetal.
The malicious comments about him being "useless when it rains" have faded since he proved in chapter 38 that he is actually more dangerous with water near than not. It also showed how Roy is a person capable of finding a way to overcome his limitations. He is nothing but resourceful, our man.
Because I totally suck at science I´m going to quote summerwolf — ´s very insightful comments: "What he does is splitting water molecules in the air for hydrogen and oxygen, which is junior high chemistry and can be done with a flashlight battery, compared to other forms State Alchemist techniques. (His array has two 'our world' alchemical symbols for fire criss-crossing with one of water, forming an approximation of the symbol for 'air') Most people's 'matter/form changing' requires a pretty big reaction to change one element to the other, which we in our world do by shooting neutrons/electrons into the atomic core, or at least rearranging the bonds between elements in an object ALL AT ONCE in solid, stable state, which also requires a humongous amount of energy. (Perhaps this is the source of the blue spark?) The resulting energy released and the energy required is perhaps the rebound...with Roy's requiring as little energy as is, there's very low chances of it ever backfiring. When I think about it, while the method is novel and certainly very, very graceful, his gloves didn't break any new ground in alchemical knowledge. Great invention, but it's what everyone already knows and that shouldn't make Roy's alchemy remarkable at all. But then I thought about the law of gases. Might be the reason why everybody else work with solids. Beside him being worthwhile as the only guy who ever thought about working with it, it's hard. Gases are volatile by nature, and to control it and keep it going where you want it to must be incredibly difficult. As Alchemy is controlled by willpower, that means Roy's strength of will is incredible, controlling such a volatile substance and making it look so easy. This might be the real reason he needs to control the path his flames travel quickly and instantly---take time and the gases change, and also too slow and the fire dissipates. Also why they zigzag---making a route is hard enough. Making a straight route is impossible. Electrolysis is using electricity to feed electrons to water and parting them into ions. Perhaps that is why his blue spark travels with his fire in the manga. The irony here is that Roy probably is at his most deadly after it rains, where the air is moist and the water is concentrated enough for a massive chain reaction, although it'll probably be hard to control the fire. He just needs to carry around a lighter in case a pipe dumps rainwater on him, since he just needs a spark and that spark can come from literally everywhere."
Womanizer (the legend)
The fandom (mis)conception I hate more about Roy is how most people believe him to be a womanizer, a ladies´ man, somebody who sleeps around. For me this is as hard to buy as it was to believe Roy killed Ross, I knew it was impossible from the beginning. Maybe I read Roy too much, or I over-analyze everything he does or says but I truly believe most of the fandom doesn´t read him twice, and it angers me because Roy is a very complex character as it is but if you don´t pay attention then it´s impossible to get him. But let´s get to the facts:
- Roy has recieved 203 love letters and almost every woman in East was in love with him: okay, as I see it if Roy slept with so many women as people believe, if he went from one girl to another there is no way he would have been loved by so many of them. In fact he would have been hated and resented, labelled as a heartless womanizer. No really, people usually hate that kind of man. But Roy was liked and respected in East. My guess is that all those women were platonically in love with Roy and part of the appeal is that Roy somehow seemed unreacheable. Of course he is going to get hit on by women, he is the most beautiful man they have ever seen, after all; and I might concede that he flirts (although we have never seen him doing so) but he does not sleep around.
- When have we seen Roy have a date? Once, and it was canon only peripherically (the Flame Alchemist booklet) and it was when he knew Havoc was spying on him. Since we don´t see Roy go out with anybody else we can suposse that he did this only time to piss Havoc off, or to mislead him, anyway it was more of a joke than a real date. Also I doubt very much that a person as consumed by his work as Roy has time to go out with as many women as he is believed to; he is spend almost all his time in the office (we see that Hawkeye had a day off when he didn´t), making everybody work late.
- He doesn´t have superficial relationships. It just doesn´t go with the kind of person Roy is; first of all he is not so shallow as to be a womanizer, he is too considerate to treat women like that, and he is just not the kind of man who likes fleeting romances, since all his other relationships are based on trust and affection. Roy finds it very hard to open up to people, despite his easy-going exterior he is a very reserved person, who doesn´t express his feelings often. One may argue that many womanizers are exactly that way, they have meaningless relations with women because they can´t open up, but one thing that Roy is not is selfish so I don´t think it´s the case.
Roy, in anyway, seems very comfortable with that myth of himself; it helps the image he tries to communicate, of shallowness and arrogance, so they won´t see him coming.
Devotion (the relationships)
"Lose your way
And I will follow
Here today and here tomorrow."
"Lose your way
And I will follow
Here today and here tomorrow."
As the story goes on more and more characters display their loyalty to Roy. This is one of the things that warm my heart about this manga: that I see my own massive love for Roy mirrored in other characters. In the beginning I felt like I had to defend Roy from critics, from the short-sighted views about him, but not much time has passed until most of the other key players in the series have seen all the goodness and selflessness inside Roy as well.
The fact that so many people is willing to do *anything* for Roy should be as defining for the character as what he does or says.
Touchstone (Riza Hawkeye)
I know this is not a ship manifesto and have no desire to turn it into one but for me one of the defining features of Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye as fictional characters is that they love each other and are in love with each other. Though I totally believe the nature of their relationship (whether consumed or not) to be romantic I can accept other people don´t; but what it´s clear to me is that Hawkeye is the most important person in Roy´s life, just as Roy is the focus of Hawkeye´s.
Riza Hawkeye is every bit of a mystery sometimes as Roy. Reserved and not very talkative the little glimpses of the passionate person she is show always in relation with Roy -take her conversation with Winry in chapter 24 where she says she has "someone to protect", or more recently in chapter 44 talking to Havoc, admiting sweetly that it´s "nice to have at least one idiot (like Roy) in life", a confession we never thought we´d see Hawkeye making.
We know that she doesn´t like the military and killing people but that she doesn´t regret her choice, because she holds a gun to protect Roy. After chapter 39 (where we saw the extent of her feelings for Roy, when she gave up life because she believed Roy was dead) she has doubted of her capacity to do so. But of course Roy needs Hawkeye in many ways, not only to guard his back, and because he loves her so and because of the very protective nature he has, Roy often (see chapter 38) feels compelled to turn the roles and protect her. Specially after what happened to Hughes, he is as scared of losing her as she is of not being able to save him.
Both Roy and Hawkeye behave very differently when they are alone with the other, like they can finally be themselves. This is a very beautiful characterization on Arakawa´s part, because no matter how many masks Roy wears normally they all fall down when he is with Hawkeye. He doesn´t mind her seeing his flaws, his weakness, he has so much trust in her that he is even comfortable enough to let her see his tears at Hughes´ funeral.
Roy: Will you follow me?
Hawkeye: Are you asking me that now?
The one defining moment in Roy´s relationship is when he asks Hawkeye to come with him to Central. He doesn´t ask the rest of his team, he just handles them the order. But with Hawkeye he has to make sure that it´s her choice every step of the way. Even if she promised to protect him long ago (we don´t know the terms: Arakawa? Flashback? Hello?) Roy makes it clear that it´s her call to leave if she wants to; it´s Roy´s very subtle way of telling Hawkeye that he doesn´t take her for granted, ever. And of course Hawkeye´s choice is to renew her vows of faith for him right in the moment he needs love and support more.
This fits very well with Hawkeye´s insistence that the decision to protect Roy was always hers, that nobody pressed her in any way.
Ghosts (Maes Hughes)
Roy: There is no such thing as "profesional" or "private". My intention of an individual is to become the president as well as avenge Hughes.
Along with Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes was the person who knew Roy best, who could see past his masks. He knew Roy through the Ishval war, he has shared many years, even though they had been living in different cities these last past years.
Hughes was a more down-to-earth man and often enjoyed teasing his more ambitious friend. He had a wife and a daughter, and still he was very committed to his work, to helping Roy and the Elric brothers; this was, ultimately, his downfall. In true Arakawa fashion we don´t know yet what it is that Hughes found out, what was he murdered by the homunculus for. We just know that it had to be with the corruption inside the military, and that with Bradley in absolute power, we can only imagine how far it goes.
Even if Hughes died very early on (volume 4) in the series his presence lingers and is still affecting other characters and the plot.
Family (Edward and Alphonse Elric)
From the very first time Roy stepped into the Elric´s house (and horrified he saw the blood, he understood what they had done), from the very first glimpse into Ed´s eyes ("eyes full of determination", Roy says) the Elric brothers have been something very special to Roy Mustang.
He offered them hope when their lives seemed empty; with the goal of becoming National Alchemist and gaining enough power and knowledge to restore their bodies Edward found a reason to keep fighting. I don´t think many people have mentioned this but in becoming a "dog of the military" Ed found meaning in a life he has given up before Roy appeared. And since that very moment Roy´s sense of responsability regarding the brothers has only gotten stronger with time.
One of the things (of the many) that I hate about the anime adaptation is that Ed and Roy´s relationship was of rivalry and animosity whereas in the manga is totally different. Of course Ed has many issues with authority and father figures (Roy is both, a mixture of a caring and annoying older brother, and the parent Ed can always count on, unlike Ed´s real father) but he also has enough sense to realize that Roy genuinely cares about him and Alphonse, and that his objectives are noble. Ed has softened even more after he has found out that Roy didn´t kill Ross, in fact he saved her life. The next conversation between the two of them after Ed comes back portrayed a very mature Ed saying he is sorry about Havoc and not pressing Roy on the matter of Ishval, after Roy tried to change the subject.
Roy´s relationship with Alphonse is slightly different, it lacks the tension of having to deal with someone as stubborn as Ed. Sensitive person as Al is he sees right through Roy; he said the problem was that Ed and him were too alike, specially in how reckless they are when someone they love is in danger (Al was referring to the happenings in chapters 38-39).
In the middle of the desperate situation of chapter 39 Al decided to protect Hawkeye saying that he won´t let anyone else die because of his weakness, Roy heard this and replied: "well said, Alphonse Elric". While the Fullmetal Alchemist fandom often overlooks Al here Roy has aknowledged him as an individual, separated from his brother. As much as the siblings love each other I think it would do Alphonse good to realize he doesn´t stand in Ed´s shadow.
Devoted (Jean Havoc)
When chapter 38 came out few were prepared for the impact of realizing how important Havoc had become to Roy; he had in fact taken up Hughes´ place as Roy´s best (male) friend. Someone with whom Roy can loosen up a bit, laugh and be malicious in a way he seldom allows himself. A guy like Havoc is just what Roy needed after Hughes´ death. Of course when Roy found out that Lust´s attack had Havoc unable to move the lower side of his body Roy blamed himself just like he blamed himself for Hughes´ death. The hospital room scene in chapter 44 is one of the most heartbreaking Arakawa has ever written, with Havoc begging Roy to leave him behind and Roy, in his subtle way ("I´ll leave you so... you´ll have to catch up. I´ll go first") refusing to do so.
In exchange we had never suspected that soft-manered, girl-crazed, lazy Jean Havoc could become so commited with Roy´s cause. But Roy has a way of bringing out the most unexpected qualities in the people around him. Havoc is a good soldier, specially gifted for action, but somehow we always felt that he lacked the ambition, or he just didn´t care. Well, he does now. He cares about Roy.
Chess Piece (Heymans Breda)
He used to be the mysterious man of the office. While we were slowly discovering things about the rest of characters Breda remained in the background, offering the ocassional humorous comment but never really betraying his true personality. Until chapters 40-41 came out and we came to know how much Roy trusts him, and how reliable Breda is.
Like Havoc before him Breda never seemed the type to blindly follow Roy´s idealism but he surprisingly does. His real nature showed during the "Ross problem"; not only he helped Roy to fake Maria Ross´ death but he personally escorted her away from danger, giving her a way out of the country. We also learned that he had orders to kill Ross if in the end she turned out to be Hughes´ killer, and by the look in Breda´s eyes we were sure he would have pulled the trigger without a second thought. This is what made me think of him as somehow very Hawkeye-like: both are reserved, extremely intelligent people who, surprisingly for their natures, would do anything for one man. They would kill, and they would die.
Trust (Alex Louis Armstrong)
Armstrong has seen what war can do to a man, still he believes that Roy is the one who can save the country from its current state. Working with Hughes for so much time it is very likely that Armstrong has heard more than he shows from Roy´s best friend, and the story goes that the more you know Roy the more you love him.
If it had been any other man than Roy I´m sure Armstrong would have kicked the shit out of him when he thought him the killer of Maria Ross. Roy knew it was better for Armstrong not to know what had really happened to her and he was resolved to let him believe her dead. But in the last moment Roy was too weak (or soft, using Havoc´s affectionate term) and gave him one hint that allowed Armstrong to find out where Maria Ross was hiding. Of course Armstrong´s utter shock had been because he refused to think that the man he so fervently believed in had murdered his subordinate.
Hero Worship (Kain Fuery)
The love Fuery feels for his colonel is like a child´s love for his parents: in Fuery´s eyes everything Roy does is perfect (see the hilarious comment in the Flame Alchemist booklet about "the colonel´s artistic skills"). Which is not to say that Fuery is not insightful when it comes to Roy; he was the one to chat with Alphonse about how much Roy resembled Ed, how reckless he was about Hawkeye and Havoc being in danger.
Fuery´s faith in Roy is totally justified, and in exchange Roy trusts Fuery with his life and admires him for his intelligence and skills. He also spoils Fuery like he does nobody else and truly acts like a proud father (he even totally fanboys Fuery´s reliability) when around him. It´s very endearing to see these two interact.
The Quiet Man (Vato Falman)
Roy: Also, forget everything you have heard tonight. Do you understand? It is a dangerous bridge and though you are my associate you have no need to cross it with me.
Falman: Hmm...that is true. However, colonel, the regretful thing is that I have too good a memory. Telling me to forget is an advice that´s impossible to follow. Since I stepped aboard this boat I have to follow you wherever you go. If there is anything I can do, just say so.
Of all the people working for Roy, Falman, intelligent if a bit clueless, lukewarm and sensitive, seemed the less likely to get caught up in Roy´s idealism. Roy´s passionate nature doesn´t seem to go well with Falman but surprinsingly he has proved his loyalty as the rest; I was delighted to see him stick by Roy (and say so) when he had to "take care" of Barry the Chopper. The proud look on Hawkeye in that scene is priceless, I believe I made the same face.
Roy would better get used to people declaring his love as Falman did in such a Falman-esque but touching way.
Humanity (King Bradley)
I have always found fascinating King Bradley´s view on who is supossed to be his nemesis (specially after surprisingly killing Lust); the most human of the homunculus has developed a strange kind of admiration for the very person who holds the most danger for him. I have always defended that Bradley has misguided fatherly feelings for Roy: he considers his passion as useless but at the same time it´s this deep humanity in Roy what he admires, or rather what he is drawn to, as he is something not human himself.
Roy has always been aware that appearing weak before his enemies is a deathly mistake; Bradley witnessed the events of chapter 39 up close, he saw how Hawkeye was Roy´s soft spot and the extent of his kindness, as Lust herself noted before dying. This is very vital information that Bradley could use against Roy.
It is still a mystery what the homunculus want to do with Roy; he supossedly is, along with the Elrics, an important human sacrifie, whatever that means for their plans. The situation is specially tense since this last chapter 48: not only Roy has found out that Bradley is a homunculus but the Fuhrer himself has realized that Roy has this information now.
For all things Roy Mustang go to ROY-MUSTANG.NET
For good meta on Roy and FMA in general keep track of summerwolf — ´s comments.
For the best characterizations of Roy in fic go read team7 — , rabbitprint — and kittu9 — .
Supplementary (though I feel bad pimping) almost all my fics deal with the mystery that Roy Mustang is, and you can see my ideas about the character brought to life there.