Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Character Sorting: Alphonse Elric

The Sorting method I'm using can be found here. Please note that if there are any discrepancies between different versions of the characters, I'm using the manga as the default.

Alphonse Elric - Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw

It was actually surprisingly hard for me to Sort Al, even though he's one of my favorite characters and I can actually relate to him more than Ed (since I know what it is to be a younger sibling whose best friend is an older brother). A lot of the confusion, I think, comes (fittingly enough) from his relationship to his brother. Al is Ed's character foil, his opposite in many ways, which is one of the reasons they make such a good team. They balance out each other's strengths and weaknesses till they become unstoppable. At the same time, because Al has grown up hero-worshipping Ed to a certain extent, he often looks to Ed for approval and adopts many of his views and habits. So sometimes, he ends up looking rather similar to Ed's shining Gryffindor/Gryffindor example. However, despite their similarities, Alphonse Elric is a very different kind of person than his brother.

First of all, I don't think anyone will have much trouble seeing that Al is a Hufflepuff Primary. He's a kind-hearted boy who wants to help everyone who crosses his path, from civilians endangered by the crazy antics the Elric brothers get involved in to stray cats stuck in the rain. Al is usually the one to take the injured or innocent to safety (like Rose or Mei, for example), not only because of the extra strength and protection his armor gives him, but also because that's what he looks for first. While Ed spearheads a futile attack on Father and fights Homunculi, Al is the one who notices that Mei is hurt and hides her in his armor to carry her to safety.

I think one of the main differences between Ed and Al can be found in their different Primaries. Even though it's played for laughs, their disagreement about stray cats is actually very telling about their priorities. To Ed, anything that doesn't help them achieve their goal is just a distraction, and needs to be gotten rid of, so he refuses to let Al help the stray cats he always finds. But Al doesn't see their goal as the single most important thing in his life. Though he has as much determination and resolve as Ed to see their bodies restored, he knows that people (and even cats) are ultimately more important. So he'll take the time to save stray animals, carry innocent victims to safety, and make sure that a collapsed Xingese prince gets a bite to eat.

For a while, I was stuck on whether Al's concern for other people was a Hufflepuff's loyalty to people in general, or whether it was part of the moral perspective he adopted from his brother, or even part of a worldview he constructed partly from Ed's influence and partly from his own observations. But the time someone's Primary shines through the most is when they're under stress. Put someone in a desperate situation, where he has to choose between a rock and a hard place, and you'll find out what he's really made of. The scene that came to mind for Al was when Kimbley breaks Pride free of his stone prison and attacks Al and his friends. Al tries bravely to fight back, but Pride is just too powerful. Al finds himself in an obscuring cloud of dust, without his legs, trying to drag the wounded Heinkel to safety even though he knows it's only a matter of time before Kimbley and Pride find them and kill them all. Heinkel says to leave him behind, but of course he doesn't. Then Heinkel presents him with a terrible dilemma: He has a Philosopher's Stone, which will allow Al to fight back. But of course, Philosopher's Stones are made with the souls of human beings, and Ed and Al had already decided long ago that they couldn't use other people's lives for their own gain.

So what does Al do? After some deliberation and hesitation, Al takes the Stone and uses it to heal Heinkel and fight Pride long enough for him and his friends to get away. We never get to see what Ed would think of this, but I think that Ed's Gryffindor Primary would have a hard time accepting this. Al, on the other hand, is a Hufflepuff Primary. While his moral sense is very important to him, people always come first. He's willing to sacrifice some of his ideals, stain his hands a little, if it's necessary to save someone's life. Heinkel's argument that finally makes up Al's mind is that the souls inside the Stone would want to be used to fight against the evil that put them in there.

Another telling moment is when Al admits to Ed that he was considering giving up their quest to get their bodies back. Their search for answers and the things they've done have left a bloody trail of corpses behind them--from dear friends like Hughes and Nina to people who were actually their enemies, like Greed and his gang, whose deaths also weigh on Al's conscience. Al says that if getting his body back means more people are going to die, he doesn't want his body back. His existence is uncertain and comes with certain vulnerabilities and difficulties, but that's no different from anyone with a normal body who can get sick or die in an accident at any time. He's willing to give up the most important thing in their lives because he cares more about other people. But why does he decide he still wants to get his body back, despite all this? Because he doesn't want to be alone. In the end, people are always the deciding factor for Al.

One thing that stumped me for a long time was another part of the story where Al was under a lot of stress, revealing more of what's most important to him. One of the most interesting conflicts the brothers run into, I think, is the part when Barry the Chopper makes Al think that he never really existed, and Ed just created him for his own purposes. Though it gets resolved fairly quickly, you can tell that Al is shaken to the core. Everything he thought was true is suddenly brought into question. Who is he really? Has the brother he adores so much been lying to him all this time?

The important thing here for our purposes is what, specifically, is most devastating to Al here, because that will show us what he holds most dear. When the world as he knows it begins to crack, what is Al most worried about losing? As I pondered it, I realized that the answer to this question would point directly to what Al's Primary is. If Al is a Slytherin, he would be worried that he can no longer trust his friends--but most importantly, that he can't even trust his own brother. If Al is a Gryffindor, he would be worried that he can't tell what's right and wrong anymore, because Ed is his leader, his moral compass, and he'd apparently done something that went completely against everything Al holds dear. If Al is a Ravenclaw, he would suddenly doubt everything he thought was real and true about the world, his memories, his perceptions--everything would be a lie, and he would have no way of determining the truth anymore.

For a while, I was leaning towards the Ravenclaw explanation, but then I realized that what hurt Al the most wasn't the loss of the ability to trust his own memories and feelings. It was the loss of everyone he loved. It's not just that he questions whether he can trust Ed anymore. It's a sudden confirmation that he doesn't belong to the human race anymore. He's not Ed's brother, he's not Winry's childhood friend, he's not even a human being anymore. What hurts the most is the thought that everyone he knows and loves has been lying to him, keeping it a secret. It's the feeling of exclusion, like they're all laughing behind his back and not letting him be part of their community. And that has Hufflepuff written all over it. Also, what does Ed do to reassure Al that he is the Alphonse Elric he thought he was? Ed reaffirms their bond. He spars with Al, one of the activities they've always done together, and then reminds him of all the times they've fought over stupid things before. Everything he says and does--not to mention Winry's explanation that Ed was afraid Al blamed him for putting him in a suit of armor--tells Al that he's still human. He's still Ed's brother, and he's still part of the community of friends they've made. He still belongs.

Al's Ravenclaw Secondary was a bit easier to decide on than his Primary. It provides a great contrast to Ed's Gryffindor spur-of-the-moment charging, which is part of why they make such a great team. While Ed takes point, attacking the enemy directly and often distracting them or drawing them out to expose their weaknesses, Al hangs back to give support, watch for an opening, or lay a trap at just the right moment. While Ed confronts the phony priest Cornello to his face and fights him directly, Al makes sure to set up a makeshift megaphone so the whole town will hear his encriminating remarks. When Ed is at his most vulnerable in his final battle against Father, Al is ready to use the tools at hand--Mei's alkahestry and Al's own soul--to save his life and win the battle.

How does Al achieve this? Ravenclaw Secondaries operate by gathering information and putting tools and plans in place for future use. As long as he is faced with events that he has prepared for, Al is in his element and can quickly implement countermeasures. He draws the appropriate transmutation circle at the right time, because he has studied and researched alchemy so much that it's as effortless as breathing. He responds to Ed's subtle, often wordless, communication because he has long years of experience to tell him what Ed is trying to say and what he needs in that moment.

Outside of his comfort zone, however, Al hesitates much longer than Ed does before acting. Ed's Gryffindor Secondary gives him a natural gift for improvization, so when something gets thrown at him that he hasn't prepared for, he quickly formulates a new approach to meet it. Al needs to stop, take a step back, and reevaluate before he can respond. Think of the time Gluttony swallows Ed, Ling, and Envy, leaving Al wondering if they're even alive anymore. It takes Al until the next morning before he decides to make Gluttony take him to Father and see if there's a way to get them back out. Part of this is just the emotional shock, of course, but think of how Ed would probably respond if their positions were switched. Ed would immediately cast around wildly for any and every possible solution, charging at each one and trying it until he found one that worked. But Al has to run through what he knows and suspects before he can decide what to do, because he hasn't prepared for anything like this to happen and needs to build a new strategy to follow from the ground up.

None of this is to say that Al is slow or unintelligent in the way he thinks, just because he's not quite as swift to react as Ed. It's quite well established that Al is every inch Ed's equal when it comes to understanding, researching, and applying alchemy. One thing I really liked from the first anime was that not only did Al take the written exam to become a State Alchemist, he actually got a higher score than Ed did. That sounds to me like his Ravenclaw Secondary shining out. He read, he studied, so he was completely prepared to demonstrate his knowledge of the area that interests him the most. Al is also usually the one to suggest that they research more, or make sure they're prepared, or take logical steps to further their goals. I don't think it's just happenstance or Mei's crush on him that leads to him being the one to try to learn alkahestry, rather than Ed.

In many ways, the Elric brothers are the perfect team. They round out each other's weaknesses, and let each other's strengths shine through. Ed provides the direction, inspiration, and motivation they need to keep going with the roaring fire of his Gryffindor Primary and Secondary. Al softens his brother and reins in his recklessness with his Hufflepuff humanity and Ravenclaw knack for preparation and planning. Together, they are a force that is almost unstoppable.

(The only thing they're missing, I realize, is a dash of Slytherin. This is probably why they're not very subtle at all and far too often forget to actually take care of themselves.)