“The Philosopher’s Stone… The Heavenly Stone… The Great Elixir… The Red Tincture… The Fifth Element.”
Magnum Opus – The Great Work
Alchemists throughout history have sought after it–the Philosopher’s Stone, said to transmute metals into gold and grant eternal life to the one who wields its power. The Philosopher’s Stone maintains a level of popularity in fiction even today appearing in anime and many popular books such as the Harry Potter series. It’s hard not to be fascinated with such a powerful item that holds power over life and wealth. The quest to live forever continues to this day with discoveries of a so-called immortality gene, while the quest to create gold has actually been achieved. (Unfortunately to create gold requires a process far more expensive then the small amount created which involves particle accelarators and nuclear reactors)
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
If you’re unfamiliar with the series and care nothing about spoilers than…
Fullmetal Alchemist is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are alchemists. When their mother tragically dies from a disease, they try to bring her back with power of alchemy. They fail and as a result Ed loses his left leg and Al loses his entire body. Ed is able to attach Al’s soul to a nearby piece of armor, sacrificing his right arm in exchange using knowledge he gained from meeting “the Truth.” Apparently one is able to see “the Truth” from attempting human alchemy. Afterwards, the brothers only seek to regain their bodies and are specifically interested in learning about the Philosopher’s Stone.
“…it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself” [Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 14: Mysterium Coniunctions]
What the brothers discover is that the Philosopher’s Stone is created from human lives. As they delve deeper into the secrets behind who made and researched the Philosopher’s Stone, Ed and Al uncover strange beings calling themselves Homunculi and also discover secret work and research conducted by the nation. Eventually we discover that a being referred to as “Father” by the Homunculi is behind a devilish plan to use the entire nation’s populace in an alchemic reaction as a means to essentially become a god.
In Fullmetal Alchemist, normally alchemy is performed through the use of transmutation circles drawn on a surface. There are also laws that dictate an equivalent trade between the original substance and new substance being created. With the power of a Philosopher’s Stone, an alchemist seemingly has the power to ignore the law of equivalent exchange (although later we find out that they are simply drawing out power from the stone). The Philosopher’s Stone is not a source of infinite power, but has is limited by the number of lives used to create it. When using the stone, an alchemist has no need for transmutation circles.
If you haven’t watched Baccano! yet I will shake my head sadly in disapproval. With a cast of some of the most awesome, unique, and memorable characters, Baccano! belongs in my top ten anime list. For those have watched and enjoyed Durarara!!, they should seek out this series immediately and feel shame for not knowing the connection between these two series. Both are adaptations from the light novels written by the same author. Two Baccano! characters even make a cameo appearance in the first season of Durarara!!. For now both series on on my top ten.
And STOP reading if you haven’t watched it yet. Many spoilers to come.
We meet many immortal characters who laugh in the face of death in Baccano!. In the first episode we watch as characters are shot by machine gun fire, yet after a brief moment are perfectly mended and well. It isn’t until well into the series that we discover the truth of this amazing serum, which the main antagonist craves so much, is actually the Elixir of Life, a form of the Philosopher’s Stone. Although they never refer to the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life has for a long time been associated with the Stone.
In order to create the elixir, Maiza Avaro learns how to summon a demon from a man who had summoned a demon 300 years previously. Upon summoning the demon aboard the ship Advenna Avis, Maiza is taught how to make the elixier and is also given enough of the elixir for all his fellow alchemists to drink. Some rules are then given to the immortals from the demon.
Immortals have the ability to “eat” other immortals through their right hand by placing it on the other’s head. By doing so, one gains the knowledge and experiences of the one eaten. The person’s life who was eaten will have ended. Immortals also have the ability to share knowledge by placing their right hand on the other’s head. Immortals are also forbidden to use false names among other immortals.
Szilard Quates, another alchemist of the group, wants to share the knowledge of the elixir and though likely wants the knowledge for himself. Maiza however concludes that the no one else should be given immortality yet and wishes to seal the knowledge away. Most of the others decide that this is the best course of action for now, and that they can always come to a new decision later. Soon after his dissent, Szilard kills many of the immortals aboard the ship including Maiza’s brother, Gretto. Szilard had hoped to learn the formula for the elixir by eating Gretto, but only learns half of the formula that Maiza shared with him. Szilard later is only able to create an elixir which grants partial immortality to the one who drinks it. Szilard’s elixir grants the person immunity from bodily harm and presumably disease, but they are not immune to aging. Thus Szilard continues to seek the true formula.
This series was the first I ever watched subtitled and will always have a place among the anime I look back on. In the first season of Slayers, the Philosopher’s Stone has little to do with alchemy and more to do with magical amplification. It is the ultimate catalyst for magical use. Rezo the Red Priest, obsessed with curing his own blindness, seeks the Philosopher’s Stone in order to summon the Demon Shabranigdo, convinced that only the Demon can cure his blindness. It is discovered later in Slayers Next, that Rezo had ample plans to defeat Shabranigdo upon curing his blindness.
“An alchemist is someone who studies the art of transforming one material into another. The most common goals are gold, immortality, and homuculi, or artificial life. They’re created by using a substance called the Philosopher’s Stone.”
“It’s said that powerful alchemists possessed the stone, and some hold that it was colored a deep red like a pomegranate.”
“However, alchemy and the like is all a bunch of claptrap. Those who talk about alchemists, believe in them, or make a fuss about them… are all idiots! Fools of the highest caliber!”
*munches on a cookie*
Leviathan the Alchemist: “Winter, 1899… It is winter, and I, Leviathan, am about to greet the final year of this century. Long ago, I was a nameless traveler. During my journey, I procured a certain item. The Philosopher’s Stone. Its power gave me eternal time and a life forever adrift.”
The mysterious character Leviathan plays an interesting role in the total picture of the anime. The intrigue behind his identity, as well as the truth behind the gold which he produced, are the subjects of some my favorite episodes in Gosick.
In the end it’s up to Victorique to “take the fragments of chaos and reconstruct them,” to solve the mystery.
Generally in fiction the Philosopher’s Stone will have a red color when it is described and will also have the common properties associated with it throughout the ages. Despite the knowledge we’ve gained in the sciences, people will always crave the mysterious powers of the Philosopher’s Stone, which has been sought after by alchemists since perhaps antiquity. The Philosopher’s Stone has been found mentioned in writing as old as 300 AD. It almost seems but a matter of time that science will finally procure power of immortality. We have already created gold.