Hi, I’m Sam, and my favorite example of doubles, at least at the moment, is from an anime. It’s a little embarrassing depending who you’re talking to to say that, but in this case I just have to talk about this. In the amazing series FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood, the main antagonists are creatures called homunculi. These are living beings created artificially through the process of alchemy, in which by magically rearranging the correct materials you create something new. In this show Alchemy is a stand in for science, having alchemists typically be researchers, which leads me to its drawbacks.
Unfortunately alchemy has a law named equivalent exchange, which means that to make something, something of equal value is given. So this brings up the difficult question of how much a life is worth? Turns out the answer is really easy, it’s another life. Homunculi are created by sacrificing several other lives, kinda like Frankenstein but instead of just gathering corpses you have to make the corpses too. In the beginning, homunculi are seen as immortal creatures, but we later find out that they can only die a certain amount of times because they spend the energy given to them by an amount of sacrificed lives.
But I know what you’re thinking; “Sam! Shut the fuck up about anime for one second! We’re here for our Doubles and Doppelgangers class!” And while I respect your thoughts, they’re wrong. You see, I still am talking about doubles, after all, a living being created from the remnants of other humans in the vain attempt to create immortality is amazing! The goals that lead to homunculi are typically entirely self centered, and there is no good of the people involved for this version of immortality, since it means taking the lives of several other people for yourself. And the result of this still does not give the user immortality, because it instead makes the homunculus. It is a creature whose creation is entirely caused by hubris.
So what are the homunculi actually like? Well to start, they’re a lot like us. See, while they are the antagonists throughout the series, we see that it is entirely due to two factors; How they were raised, and how they were made. For example, the first homunculus, named Father, was created centuries in the past as the first attempt to create immortality, and it was made through the sacrifice of a slave’s blood. Because of this it is too weak to leave the tiny flask it lives in, and has no real shape. Even in its state it begins to find other ways to help it’s creator, taking any information available to make itself useful as a teacher to the king. But pretty soon the homunculus is consumed by it’s desire for power. It mimics his master’s thirst for immortality, and shows him that he would become immortal by sacrificing the lives of his people. But in the final moments of this process, the homunculus tricks the king and takes the immortality for himself and the slave who made him. After this, Father and the Slave look identical, but the slave didn’t know about Father’s trick, and is disgusted by the extents taken by the homunculus. And from then on, the two become immortal enemies, each a doppelganger of the other. The first ever homunculus is made from slavery and raised by the power hungry and reckless king, and so he becomes one.
After this, Father tries to make himself even better, and tries to remove his negative traits by turning them into his own homunculi. That is how every other homunculus is made, and they’re all named after the seven deadly sins. Pride is the first to be created, like the first homunculus, they are weak, formless, and need a protective container. But Pride is also seen as the strongest character, just as long as they remain covered somehow. Pride is egotistical and cruel since he was made with the express reason to remove evil from Father. Yet in the end of the series, pride faces a sort of rebirth. He ends up living inside the body of a baby boy, and has no recollection of his past life. And because of this he is seen being a sweet and caring child, practically human. Along with this they are raised by humans, and the end of the show leads us wondering what Pride will grow up to be.
The next homunculus is named Lust. Since this show is PG13, we see the least out of her, and she is actually the first homunculus to die. However she reveals in the show that homunculi aren’t immortal, and just as she dies it is shown she wished for more somehow, and felt as if she was missing a lot from her life. Lust shows the audience that Homunculi are not all they’re cracked up to be, and that they may be more human than expected, setting expectations for the next homunculi.
The next homunculus is Greed, and because Greed only wants things from himself, he immediately ditches Father to become a criminal. Greed always feels like he is lacking something, however he just assumes that it comes with being a manifestation of someone’s greed. However, Greed later realizes that there’s something he wants besides money and stuff. He also likes human affection. And because of this Greed eventually takes the side of the humans, enjoying “owning” friends. Greed shows us that while yes greed can be bad, it’s also a very natural thing that can also make us human.
After this was Gluttony, arguably the dumbest of the homunculi. He just likes to eat, and he’s loyal to his master. And that is it. Honestly if he weren’t working for the bad guys and didn’t eat actual people, he would have been alright. Still bad though. Gluttony really hits that uncanny valley, having the personality of winnie the pooh but the eating habits of Hannibal Lector.
The next homunculus is Sloth, who was made both to make Father a better life form AND to dig a tunnel the size of Germany. See, Sloth is the fastest and arguably strongest homunculus, but because of his laziness, his potential is overall wasted. He represents Sloth perfectly in this sense, because he’s not just lazy, he’s actively wasting time and effort. However being created out of a desire of not wanting to do things creates a depressing creation. As apparently even living is a pain for Sloth. So while how you’re brought up does have an effect on what the homunculi become, another thing is how they are made. It’s like nature vs. nurture in human psychology.
After Sloth is the worst Homunculus, Envy. Envy is the combination of being made with bad traits and being raised to have bad traits, being a literal leach that constantly consumes human life to sustain itself, since it was originally made with very little life force. Because of this Envy always seeks to take from others, but also grows to be extremely spiteful of humans, doing some of the cruelest acts in the show. Envy however also has the ability to mimic the appearance of others, changing shape often to manipulate their enemies. However because of this constant sense of inferiority, Envy is the only homunculus to actually kill themselves. Not out of shame over their misdeeds, but simply because they realized they would never be better than people.
The last homunculus is Wrath. Wrath was created by attempting to transform a human into a homunculus. Because of this the human before becoming Wrath was raised in secret, being trained in cruel circumstances to be the perfect soldier. This life without any real agency is what has truly given Wrath his namesake, making him only feel at ease when fighting for his life, the only thing he sees as his. Wrath was undoubtedly made by how he was raised, and the fact that he is also a homunculus has much less effect on him then the others.
These creatures all were created from terrible circumstances, so while the uncanny effect of these inhuman humans certainly exists, they typically surprise us by making us always unsure of how human they are. And this is what I believe makes these Doubles all the more interesting, because we know they’re like us, and we know that they’re different, but how exactly that is is an unanswerable question.
And that’s where I should have ended the video, but then I thought of something else. Alchemy itself has a duality that should be taken into consideration. While the restructuring of matter is done by magic, everything created with Alchemy follows the laws of physics and chemistry, making it a very science based magic. And in the few times Alchemy is used to create life, the user has to face an entity called “The Truth.” This thing is the god of Fullmetal Alchemist, which kind of makes the use of alchemy into a sort of religion, which we often don’t associate with science. And the creators of Fullmetal Alchemist know this from the start, since the protagonists, two military researchers for Alchemy, have a cult leader using alchemy as one of their first enemies in the show. Through that episode, science and faith are kept very separate, with science as the perceived good, since sometimes a religion’s blind faith often can lead to more negative consequences than science’s scepticism. but in the very same season, the protagonists meet Shao Tucker. This military researcher does horrific acts of cruelty in the name of science, turning human beings into chimeras, living creatures created by alchemy that in this case use animals instead of humans. While it does create the first semi-intelligent chimeras, we can all agree that it’s incredibly fucked up, and should never have been done. Just as Science and Religion have huge roles in what kind of people we can become in the real world, the world of Fullmetal Alchemist shows the same thing, but with an interesting in-between as Alchemy.