Homunculi are artificially-created humans manufactured through the art of alchemy. In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist, the creation of a homunculus was considered taboo as it required human sacrifices to accomplish, though in the official capacity it is regarded as merely theoretical. However, unofficially, homunculus creation is not only possible but has resulted in the birth of eight homunculi that serve as the main antagonists of the FMA manga series and the second anime series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Manga and 2009 anime
In the manga and 2009 anime, the Homunculi are the eight primary antagonists of the series. The central antagonist is the original homunculus known simply as Father, who is a fully artificial human created through alchemy several hundred years before the start of the series in a country known as Xerxes. The other seven Homunculi are embodiments of his vices, and therefore extensions of himself. He did this in an attempt to become the ultimate being by purging himself of the seven vices which make humans imperfect.
In Xerxes, Father used half the population to create his body, which was a physical copy of the body of Van Hohenheim, a former slave turned brilliant alchemist whose blood was used to create Father originally. By using the souls from the population of Xerxes, Father himself became a Philosopher's Stone of sorts that was capable of creating others like himself.
Father and his seven Homunculi have physical compositions similar to those of humans but consider themselves superior due to their heightened strengths and abilities. They boast human intelligence and emotions, taking pride in their existence as higher beings, but feeling humility and gratitude toward Father for having given them life. As a result, these Homunculi are largely devoted to the completion of their Father's grand plan (with the exception of Greed, as he defects twice). Each of the seven Homunculi has a Philosopher's Stone as its core, and all except for "Wrath" are capable of complete physical regeneration as long as their stones are intact. Wrath and the second Greed were unique Homunculi, being created from existing humans instead of Father himself.
Though the original six Homunculi have bodies that were built around the Philosopher's Stone, for the sake of his machinations, Father began experimenting with a new method of Homunculus creation. A new set is created by injecting one of Father's stones into the body of a living human being. The stone and the body of the human clash until one overcomes the other. Most often than not, the stone wins, and the human dies. An example to this is that Wrath as we know him in the series was the twelfth attempt by Father to create a Homunculus that embodied his wrath. Homunculi created in this manner have unique properties, like the ability to age - a property of which their Stone-based brethren are incapable of. Other properties may include a dual personality (between the human base and the consciousness of the vice), deeper emotional capabilities such as love and humility, and in the case of Wrath, an inability to physically regenerate due to a limited number of souls in the stone.
In Chapter 80, it is revealed that the Amestrian government, presumably under the supervision of Father, has created an army of lesser Homunculi whose soulless bodies are stored beneath Central Command. They are then injected with Philosopher's Stones, giving them life. These "Mannequin Soldier" Homunculi are white and red, skeletal thin, hairless humanoids with one eye in their foreheads and green "blood". They lack intelligence and appear only to follow base instincts toward feeding and destruction, similar to the souls within the Philosopher's Stones who have long since forgotten their true identities. Envy at one point describes them as mere puppets injected with Philosopher's Stones. Their main attack is to try to eat their victim, since they lack the thought processes to do anything else. Envy also uses their bodies and their souls to recreate his original body after being reduced to a small parasite from having his own Philosopher's Stone drained. They do not regenerate as Father's children do, but are able to keep functioning even if their heads are grievously damaged, making them similar to zombies in a way. They seem to make similar vocalizations to the souls of the people of Xerxes trapped in Envy (crying out for help or relations and complaining that they are in pain), but they seem to want to get rid of their 'pain' by eating everything except each other.
They are awakened in Chapter 90 by one of the Generals of Central Command in an attempt to quell the insurrection going on in the city. For this foolish act, he is devoured by the monsters, who have no sense of loyalty or authority. From there, these Mannequin Soldiers begin to spread about the Central Command grounds, devouring anyone they come across. Major General Armstrong manages to remove several of them as a threat by severing their heads, at least at the upper jaw, leaving them mobile, but unable to eat anyone. Colonel Roy Mustang devises his own method of incapacitating them by burning off their legs with Flame Alchemy (in the 2009 anime version, he instead incinerates them completely to ash).
Because of the divergence in plot line in the 2003 anime, the origins, identities and secrets of Homunculi differ from those of the manga and second television series.
In the 2003 anime, Homunculi are said to be created each time an alchemist attempts a Human Transmutation. While the transmutation itself will result in a failure in that the person intended to be revived does not return as expected, a new existence is brought about. The result of failed Human Transmutation will be a grotesque, vaguely humanoid monstrosity retaining the genetic material, as well as some of the memory, of the resurrected. The "failed" Homunculus generally remains in this agonizing state until it dies soon after. However, newly created Homunculi who come into contact with Red Stones—much weaker versions of the Philosopher's Stone created by condensing human souls—and consume large amounts of them have their bodies reshaped into their intended forms and become exact replicas of the entities they were meant to replace.
The English dub of the anime states that Homunculi aren't failed human transmutations, but that they are simply incomplete.
Homunculi all carry the form of human beings, albeit some of them with exaggerated features. Some of them have cat-like slits for pupils, pointed teeth, pale skin, and each are marked with an Ouroboros tattoo somewhere on their body. The placement of their tattoo is often in accordance with the sin they represent (Greed's is on his hand, Gluttony's on his tongue, and Lust's right above her cleavage).
Although they are shown to eat, drink and sleep, it is not necessary that they do so in order to survive; they need only the energy provided them by the red stones they have consumed. It is likely the red "nodes" that Homunculi have across their limbs circulate this seemingly endless energy.
Despite being replicate humans, however, Homunculi are still aberrations of nature created by violating the flow of the natural universe, and as such, have no souls. This property gives them many physical dissimilarities to ensouled humans:
- Super-Human Abilities: Homunculi are physically superior to humans in every way. Their bodies are faster, stronger, and far more resilient than normal human bodies. They do not age (in most cases), are immune to all sicknesses and poisons, and can heal from any injury—even those resulting in death—as long as the energy from the red stones they consume is not depleted. Examples are severed limbs and even heads growing back in a matter of seconds.
- Molecular Mutability: Because their bodies do not have souls, the constituent molecules that constitute the Homunculi's bodies can be rearranged to form other substances or to grant shape-changing abilities. The Homunculus Greed is able to rearrange the carbon bonds in his skin to turn it into diamond-hard armour; Gluttony's saliva is acidic enough for him to bite and chew through and digest substances of any hardness; Lust is able to change the shape of her fingers and form them into long-reaching lance-like weapons; and Envy can change the shape of his body into the form of any person or animal, or even into crude weaponry. For some reason, this ability gives all of the Homunculi the ability to create their own clothing. It is black and can either cover or remain beneath the red circle patterns that decorate their limbs.
However, soullessness also acts as a disadvantage for the Homunculi.
- Non-Alchemists: Because Homunculi do not have souls, they are incapable of opening the Gate inside them and are thus unable to perform alchemy. The sole exception to this is Wrath, who is only able to perform alchemy because he possesses Edward Elric's lost limbs. (However, he eventually loses Edward's limbs, and as a result, the ability to perform alchemy.)
- Artificiality: Because the Homunculus are creatures created to replace certain persons who have died, coming into proximity with that person's remains results in the Homunculus becoming weakened to the point of immobility. Lust is shown to even faint when brought close to a lock of hair belonging to her original identity. Wrath is the only exception to this rule because he was actually transmuted from his own remains.
- The severity of reaction to their respective human-based remains appears to differ between Homunculi, and is also affected greatly by how close they are to them. Sloth and Lust were shown to be completely paralyzed when even near a small remnant of their original beings. In contrast, the homunculus Pride was revealed to handle his remains and would retain this ability, although being greatly troubled physically, so long as he couldn't directly see them. In his battle with Mustang he possessed enough strength to strangle his son with the nearby skull hidden, but was immobilized entirely when Mustang brought it into view (it's possible that he used up his remaining strength murdering his son). Greed was also shown to show at least some maneuverability when exposed to bodily remains in Dante's mansion, although he was still greatly weakened. It's unknown how severely Envy and Gluttony would react to their original bodies if in their proximity, although it can be assumed that Envy possesses a similar capacity to Pride based on his strength and high ranking in Dante's faction. Gluttony's outcome is even more enigmatic. Seeing as how his body has undergone numerous changes over his existence, he may experience a different physical response to his counterparts.
- Depleted Life Energy: If a Homunculus is depleted of the energy of the red stones they consume, they are reduced to having a single life, making them as vulnerable as any other creature. This can be done by killing them repeatedly or by utilizing the Flamel transmutation, which causes the red stones in the Homunculus to be regurgitated and then disintegrate, leaving the Homunculus with only its original life intact. Homunculi reduced to this vulnerable state are no less dangerous than usual, however, but can be killed with one lethal blow, the same way as any human.
- Red Nodes - Though only seen used on Lust, impaling Homunculi through several of the red nodes on their bodies at once can incapacitate them. Despite her great strength and agility, Lust was unable to free herself when skewered through her arms (though admittedly, she was never shown to try). It's likely that penetrating these nodes prevents the circulation of the energy from their red stones, and weakens/paralyzes them as a result.
Homunculi in the 2003 series are depicted as amoral, sadistic, sociopathic, and harbouring superiority complexes. They derive pleasure from witnessing and inflicting human suffering and death, and perceive themselves as better than humans—in some cases as the next step in human evolution. Throughout the majority of the series, the Homunculi are portrayed as clearly evil characters, but toward the end of the series' run, they are each revealed to be very layered, complex individuals capable of love, grief, guilt and despair.
It seems the Homunculi's superiority complexes may also mask complementing inferiority complexes, because despite their mockery of the human race, several of them desire to become fully human. When pressed by Edward as to why she would want to be human, Lust reveals that Homunculi feel incomplete, and that their desire to become human comes from a feeling of lacking any real identity.
Whereas Lust desires to ultimately become the person she was meant to replace, Sloth and Wrath both despise their makers for their creation, and seek to disconnect from their imposed identities and establish themselves as different from the people they were supposed to become. Sloth is tormented by her memories as Edward and Alphonse's mother and desires to murder them to prove to herself that she is not connected to the people who made her into an abomination. Wrath, on the other hand, merely wants to have a mother and be accepted and loved as a person instead of being cast aside as a monster.
Although he doesn't want to be human, Envy is similar to Wrath in that he feels rejected and cast aside by Hohenheim, who is both the father of the person Envy was meant to be and the alchemist who created him. In Laboratory 5, Envy assaults Edward for saying that Homunculi were "made" instead of "born", offering evidence he may harbour resentment for his own nature. In the end, Envy finally gets his opportunity for revenge against his maker, and even knowing that he would be transmuting himself in the process, he exacts it with a grunt of satisfaction. It is insinuated that Envy may have been moved by Hohenheim's final apology for the events taken place over his life and his previous son's. It should also be noted that Hohenheim pushed the jaws of Envy's dragon form together to exact the death blow, and Envy did not choose to kill his "father" at that time.
Pride is interesting in that he does not seem to care that he is a Homunculus. His compensation seems to come from being the most powerful person in the country, even if it is a façade. It is possible he genuinely believes in his position. He derives pleasure in instigating hostilities, and even though he is shown to have an interest in creating the stone, it seems simply to be because it is what Dante wants. Although the personality he presents to his citizens is one of a benevolent, charming family-man who values human life, he actually has no respect for humans. Pride's final moments sees him murder his ten-year-old adopted son after having unintentionally brought the homunculus' weakness to the battle with Mustang, despite having saved it from fire and being told "his (father's) life depended on it." Despite not revealing the implications of "his treasure" (the skull belonging to his original human remains) Pride believed it was solely his son's and humankind's innate "foolishness" that brought about his undoing.
All in all, the mental states of the Homunculi whose characters are explored are very much centred around the fact that they are not accepted as human by one or more groups, which is probably why Greed bonds so strongly with his fellow outcasts, the chimera. It is also worth noting that despite being the scourge of the Homunculus, Greed is probably the most psychologically stable of them all. He knows what he is and has no desire to change. If anything, he wants to become less human, proven by his scheme to bond his spirit to an inanimate object to escape further persecution from Dante and the others. He fully embraces his greed and lives life on his own terms, having no goals apart from hedonistic desire and true immortality. He also dies on his own terms, at the hands of someone he respects, while at the same time giving that person what he needs—information on executing Homunculi and the resolve to do it—to exact his retribution against his persecutors.
As the Homunculi all retain partial identities of their past human selves, as well as their current Homunculus "selves" they all suffer from some degree of psychotic behaviour. This "hidden weakness" leads to Dante's faction almost completely imploding by the series' end, contributing greatly to her defeat. When all is said and done, of the seven Homunculi only Pride and Sloth fight to the death, remaining loyal to Dante. Greed was never controllable, while Lust eventually defected to the Elrics; driven by the onset of memories of the Ishvalan woman she once was. Wrath and Gluttony are so interdependent upon Sloth and Lust respectively that when the former two are killed the latter two suffer total emotional collapse, causing them to become liabilities rather than assets. Even Envy, who appears relatively mentally stable at the time, abandons Dante and throws himself through the Gate in a desperate final attempt at exacting his revenge on Hohenheim, again a product of his past human identity militating against his new nature.
Killing Homunculi in the 2003 series can be done in a variety of different ways, but the task is still a challenge due to the difficulty in dealing with such deadly and unpredictable creatures. Furthermore, the fact they are "mythical" creatures shrouds the means in mystery until Greed reveals all before dying himself. Once the means are discovered, it is often necessary to take advantage of more than one of their weaknesses in order to kill them, the most important of which is the remains of the person they were meant to be, which are not always available. (Again, Wrath is not susceptible to this weakness because his remains no longer exist. He does have other weaknesses however; he is terrified of the Gate and paralyzed by the sound of a baby's cries.)
When Homunculi die, their bodies liquefy into a red ooze which quickly dissolves into the ground, leaving no trace that they ever existed.
The Homunculi are very versatile, capable beings, a fact that Dante abuses for her own benefit. She initially creates Gluttony in an attempt to discover a method to create the Philosopher's Stone without using alchemy. He ends up a failure in that respect, but her experiments do seem to convince her that Homunculi can still be of use. She makes at least two more—Greed and Pride—and Envy implies to Lust that if necessary, Dante can very easily create another to serve the cause. She also keeps her eye out for other alchemists who might resort to human transmutation in the hopes that if they do, she might reap the benefits of their folly. Those Homunculi she does recruit are tricked into helping her with the promise that she will make them human once she obtains a stone. Whether it is even possible to turn a Homunculus human with the stone is unclear, but from what Envy insinuates, Dante has no intention of even trying, and may very well be planning on killing them once she has what she wants.
From behind the scenes, Dante sends her Homunculi to scour the countryside for alchemists with talent enough to create the stone. The Homunculi spread diseases, commit assassinations, tempt the wealthy and the greedy, and use countless other means to push people to the brink of desperation. Those who come close but fail are erased from the world along with the evidence, and rumours are mongered of the dangers of creating the stone, rumours which keep the talentless at bay but draw in the curious and the capable.
After she creates Pride, Dante manoeuvres him into the position of Führer, and through him, initiates numerous campaigns to wreak havoc and destruction across Amestris and beyond, and to oppress the human spirit into a state of desperation and despair. She does this hoping that those driven to extremes will create her stone, which the Homunculi will then happily collect and bring to her.
By the time the series begins, the country is slowly recovering from a civil war instigated by Dante and her underlings. The primary mission of the Homunculi at this point is to continue the relentless search for talented alchemists, which is aided by the military's new State Alchemist program, which recruits only the best and the brightest. This gives Dante and the Homunculi the chance to add further flames to the defeated Ishvalans, who, as legend tells it, have the means to create a stone of their own. Through dozens and dozens of manipulations over the years—including the Ishval Civil War itself, the continued tormenting of the Ishvalan refugees, and the instigated conflict in Reole — the Homunculi finally succeed in driving Scar to create the stone at the cost of his own and several thousand Amestrian soldiers' lives. The situation spins quickly out of control, with Dante's deceptions reaching light in her frantic attempts to secure the new stone. Learning her true nature, several of the Homunculi revolt or change allegiances, allowing for their previously unseen human natures to be made apparent. As the end of the series approaches, the creatures who had been portrayed as unforgivably malicious are shown to be more human than several of their true human counterparts, even becoming more sympathetic than some of them.
All in all, the Homunculi serve to lay down philosophical questions as to the value of human life, while at the same time challenge the definition of humanity and the limits of tolerance and forgiveness.
Each of the Homunculi have their own natures and their own unique talents and abilities. They are each named after one of the Seven Deadly Sins and their personalities, appearances and/or powers seem to reflect the sins after which they are named.
- Father - The creator of the Homunculi is also a Homunculus himself, brought into being 400 years prior to the events of the FMA manga and 2009 anime. His form is an imitation of the human Van Hoenheim. Father creates the other Homunculi as extensions of himself and with their help he seeks to obtain all worldly knowledge and godlike power, even at the cost of all human life.
- Pride - The first Homunculus created by Father. He resembles a child, but he is older than Father's other six "children". He maintains a secret identity in the form of Fuhrer Bradley's son and observes all activity in Central City that could potentially aid or hinder Father's plans. He possesses the ability to manipulate shadows.
- Lust - The second of Father's children in the manga. Appropriately, Lust's form is that of a beautiful and voluptuous woman. She has the ability to elongate her fingers into sharp, piercing spears.
- Greed - Unlike the rest of the Homunculi, Greed holds no allegiance to anyone. He cares only about himself and his own appetites. The epitome of avarice, he desires any and all material wealth as well as the status and power it brings.
- Envy - Envy is an amoral, sadistic psychopath who relishes the suffering of humans. His form of choice is that of an androgynous teenager with long hair and a lean build, but he is capable of shape-shifting into any human or animal, as well as an enormous monstrous form.
- Wrath - Also known as Fuhrer King Bradley, the ruler of Amestris. Unlike the other Homunculi, he was created by implanting a Philosopher's Stone into a human body. As such, he does not possess the same degree of regeneration and invulnerability as the others and he still ages like a normal human. He is a master swordsman and his left eye allows him to see the near-future and also predict his opponent's actions.
- Gluttony - True to his name, Gluttony is an obese Homunculus with a limitless appetite. He is capable of eating anything and everything, though he has a preference for still-living humans.
- Sloth - A hulking mountain of muscle, yet he is utterly disinterested in putting it to use. He constantly gripes and moans about the jobs that Father has him perform and seems to be indifferent to life itself.
Father does not exist in the 2003 anime and the Homunculi were instead created by the alchemist Dante. Their roles and even their identities are significantly different to their manga counterparts.. Three of the Homunculi from the 2003 series are entirely different to their manga namesakes with entirely different origins, personalities and powers.
- Pride - Fuhrer Bradley takes on the name of "Pride" in the 2003 series. He possesses the same personality and powers as his manga counterpart, however. Bradley's adopted son Selim is not a Homunculus at all and is completely human.
- Sloth - This version of Sloth was accidentally brought into being by the Elric brothers when they attempted to bring their mother back to life with human transmutation. The creature had supposedly died shortly after creation, but Dante later found it and fed it Red Stones in order to complete it. This version of Sloth has the ability to turn into water.
- Wrath - The youngest of the Homunculi was created from the remains of Izumi Curtis' stillborn child. Though sacrificed back to the Gate of Truth immediately after creation, it remained there awaiting the opportunity to return to the material world. When Edward Elric attempted to save his brother Alphonse's life after his failed human transmutation, he gave up his arm and leg which Wrath then took. Wrath was brought back into the world by Dante and, with Edward's arm and leg attached to him, was capable of performing alchemy.