“Don't forget 3 Oct. 11.” This message was inscribed on the inside of Edward Elric's State Alchemist pocket watch. The date has even become a real-world day for fans to show appreciation for Fullmetal Alchemist. It was a personal secret of Edward's, and he sealed the watch with his alchemy. The only way to open it was with alchemy or tools. The fact that he kept this message in such an important and personal place spoke to its significance but what does it mean?
Edward’s childhood friend Winry Rockbell knows the answer, though it’s not a pleasant one. 3 Oct. is the day the Elrics set fire to their house and began their journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone. However, even if they’re going on a journey, destroying their own home seems excessive. Winry probably won’t say much about it since it’s a touchy subject. Thankfully, viewers have the rest of the series to contextualize the Elrics’ actions and see what leads them to this choice.
The first step to understanding the Elrics’ actions is to look at the events leading up to it. As children and budding alchemists, Ed and Al lived a blessedly peaceful life with their mother Trisha. When Trisha died from illness, the boys tried using alchemy to resurrect her.
Unfortunately, Human Transmutation is a strictly taboo practice in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist as it always has terrible consequences. When the boys tried it, they each lost parts of themselves; Ed lost his left leg and Al loses his entire body. Ed used alchemy to transmute Al's soul into a nearby suit of armor, which also cost him his right arm. Despite everything they lost, the thing that was supposed to be their revived mother turned out to be a mangled abomination of flesh and blood. The boys learned from their folly, but they still wanted their bodies returned to normal so their goal becomes a search for the solution to their newfound problem.
The Elrics' opportunity arrives in the form of the military. Lt. Roy Mustang, who was horrified yet impressed by Ed's affinity for alchemy, offered for him to try out to become a State Alchemist. Ed realized that if he joined the military, he could use their research materials to find the Philosopher's Stone, which can bypass the laws of alchemy. Edward took Mustang up on his offer with the hopes of finding the Stone and using its power to restore himself and Alphonse.
This is where 3 Oct. comes into the picture. On this day in 1911 (or 1910 in the 2003 anime), the Elrics set fire to their old family home. According to them, destroying their old home symbolized their resolve to leave the past behind and head for their goal of restoring their bodies. This was what Edward said, but there is another interpretation of this action. According to their father Hoenheim, Edward burned down his house not to commit to the future but rather to run away from the past. He believed that Ed had regrets about trying to transmute Trisha only for Alphonse to lose his body.
It's worth noting that the date changes by a year between FMA (2003) and FMAB (2010). The 2003 series has the year written as 1910, while in the 2010 anime and the manga, it's 1911. This change to the 2003 version reflects the alterations made to that anime's storyline. In FMA (2003), Edward spent a year under Shou Tucker’s roof as he trained for the State Alchemy Exam, so he set fire to his own roof a year earlier. In both FMAB and the manga, the house isn’t burned down until after he passed his exam. This doesn’t change anything about the Elrics’ resolve, but it is something to keep in mind when watching both series.
In any case, 3 Oct. clearly meant a lot to Edward if not both Elrics. To move forward with no way to go back is a tough but important decision to make. Of course, there may also be some truth to Hoenheim’s word. It would certainly explain why Edward considered this such a personal matter and how Winry knows what a sensitive subject it is. While 3 Oct. isn't a happy memory for Edward, fans can still celebrate it as Fullmetal Alchemist Day while remembering their own journey with the series.
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