It's hard to pick just one horribly upsetting moment from Fullmetal Alchemist and its reboot/remake/we-promise-it's-more-like-the-manga-this-time follow-up Brotherhood. If we're looking for a character whose death brought us the greatest range of twisting, churning emotions during the series, however, it's certainly Nina Tucker.
In all versions of the story series protagonists Edward and Alphonse Elric spend a great deal of time with the rather likable child. The trio grows closer through shared adventures in that way only flashbacks and montages can properly achieve.
Nina's father Shou, however, isn't so likeable. Oh, sure. He's quiet, throws himself into projects he refuses to talk about, and cares more about his job as a government alchemist than his family, but... You know what? Maybe we should have seen this coming after all.
Besides being kind of a crappy dad Shou specializes in a very particular kind of alchemy (the show's word for transforming things into other things). "Bio-Alchemy" to be specific. Just the sort of thing the show's imperialist government could use to raise an army of "chimera" soldiers stitched together from humans, animals, and whatever else happened to be laying around. Except Shou is also a bit of a failure. His only successful chimera having been secretly made out of his supposedly estranged wife.
One night Nina gets just a bit too clingy and gives good ol' dad a horrible idea: to buy himself a win by sacrificing his daughter and the family dog. The result is passed on to the military, but an eagle-eyed Edward notices some uncanny similarities to his once-human friend.
Needless to say, he's not as impressed by the top brass.
Now here's where the two anime series -- and the manga -- diverge. In the books and Brotherhood Nina is peacefully disintegrated by a misunderstood murderer by the name of Scar. In the 2003 series, however, Scar blasts the half-dog, half-Nina concoction into a hard-to-clean stain.
And that's just the start of her woes as a cloning subplot drags Nina back into the story much, much later. So, with all due respect to Maes Hughes and the other victims of Fullmetal Alchemist's brutal plot, we give the trauma award to Ms. Tucker.
In a world of serious, often dreary mecha anime there came a series called Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Besides being gorgeous, energetic, and propulsive, this show was fun. Much of which had to do with the principle cast: the worrywart with potential, Simon, the knowledgeable resistance fighter Yoko, and the trio's heart, soul, and official Cool Guy Kamina.
Of the three Kamina seems the most likely to lead humanity to the surface in a post-apocalyptic world where society has been driven underground by alien "beastmen" and their giant robots. It sounds pretty serious on paper, but their fearless, impetuous, and brash leader Kamina does a fantastic job of lightening the mood.
Here is a man who believes in everyone, and isn't afraid to shout the news three inches from their faces for the better part of an episode. Here is a man put a giant pair of sunglasses on his giant suit of powered armor. A suit he stole from more-or-less the first person he saw after encouraging his partner, Simon, into drilling to the surface world. Here is a man who knows that sometimes, someone, somewhere has to pull off wearing a cape with no shirt.
And then he dies. It's a heartfelt, powerful death that sees him go out with all the flair you might expect. It's also only about a third of the way through the series, against a third-rate lieutenant working for the ever-growing rebellion's true target: the Spiral King Lordgenome.
For those who didn't know it was coming, ethis was more than a little shocking. Simon was always going to be the true hero of th series, but anyone watching at the time expected the duo's dynamic to last at least until the first climax.
In the end this might have been the right move on the part of the showrunners. Kamina is as likeable a martyr as he was a warrior. His expulsion from the story gives Simon motivation, and the room to grow into a tall glass of charisma in his own right. Still, the abruptness of the change -- and ensuing, multi-episode depression spiral it sets our heroes down -- were enough to make Kamina's short time with us feel too short.
Here's another hero whose abrupt departure caused some concern for unwitting viewers. Not just because it was unexpected, but because of what her death meant for the show going forward.
Mami Tomoe is a veteran magical girl in a series that is, ostensibly, about magical girls. Even among other magic wielding middle-schoolers that fight the forces of evil with perseverance, friendship, and enchanted weaponry she's a bit of a badass.
That should put her in a pretty safe place, all things considered. Assuming one of those considerations wasn't the series we're talking about.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica starts off harmless enough with Sailor Moon-style school antics, talking animals from space, and characters learning to care about each other over meticulously drawn desserts. Slowly but surely, however, things start to seem a little bit... Off. One of the magical girls, Homura, seems just a little bit too solemn for the source material. The vociferous space-cat, Kyubey, seems just a little bit too detached.
By about the third episode the reason for all this becomes clear: Madoka Magica is some dark shit. The main cast get magical, monster fighting powers alright. Except it's at the cost of their very souls. A price that eventually leads to them turning into the very creatures they were fighting the whole time. Just so their emotions can be harvested to power the extraterrestrial feline's home world.
And what is it that happens in episode three that kicks off this chain reaction of painful realizations? Nothing short of Mami's death at the hands (or in this case teeth) of a colorful, cartoony witch made from children's books and pastries. Drunk on the power of friendship, Mami takes on the malevolence solo -- after tying up the only person who could have helped her -- before turning her back on the danger. The result is a Mami missing several very important inches above the neck.
It doesn't stop there, either. Mami's would-be reinforcements were Homura Akemi, the sullen magical girl from before. Homura has been traveling back in time over, and over again to stop not just Mami's death, but that of the whole human race. Her constant timeline hopping means Homura has seen Mami die time and again, including one reality where the veteran spell-slinger snapped, murdered her friends, and had to be taken down herself. These magical girl clichés, right?
Speaking of multiple deaths in multiple timelines, here's Mayuri Shiina, aka Mayushii, childhood friend of Stein's;Gate protagonist Rintarou. The sweet, somewhat naive young woman is the centerpiece of the series (as well as the visual novel on which it's based). More specifically, it's her death that inspires Rintarou to repeatedly time traveling microwave to undo all the good he and his nerdy friends managed to do with it in the first place. Just roll with it.
To specify, we're talking about her repeated death. Between the anime and its source material Mayuri is shot, run over by a train, run over by a car, shot again, has a heart attack, gets liquefied, gets shot again, and is stabbed just once for good measure.
What's upsetting about Mayuri's death in the anime isn't the whole of what makes this story so traumatic. Though that would probably be enough, given how in a cast of cynics and nervous wrecks she's just about the most genuine character in the medium. What with her basically LARPing as Rintarou's "hostage" in an elaborate fantasy the two concocted to combat depression. Just keep rolling with it.
What's more upsetting is how her death affects the rest of the cast. Naturally, everyone is upset to see Mayuri take a bullet the first time 'round (fired by a character they all thought was their friend, no less). None more-so than our hero Rintarou who realizes that the only way to save her is to undo nearly every change he and his gang made to the timeline.
Which would be fine, except the geeks weren't exactly petty in their chronological meddling. One used it to save her father from dying when she was young, while another managed to change her biological sex to match her gender identity. There's also the minor wrinkle of Rintarou being the only subject to remember alternate timelines, so all of the happy memories they made together before Mayuri's death have to go instead of her.
It's heavy stuff that just keeps on getting heavier as the series progresses. Stein's;Gate doesn't give the audience an easy out with a last-minute rescue, either. From Mayuri's death to the series finale the writers decided that each episode should open some new, melancholic wound for all to witness. Ultimately, things wind up working out for most of the roster. Either through closure, or the new timeline they forge together. Though in this case it's the journey, not the destination, which brings out the tears
What if Sherlock Holmes didn't go to the grave with his long-time nemesis, but kicked the bucket long before Moriarty's reign of terror ceased? That's basically the shocking twist that occurs in Death Note (spoilers, by the way).
Like Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note was a formative series for many Western watchers. Coming as it did during one of Cartoon Network's many Toonami heydays. That only served to make this tense turn of a events all the more biting to our more innocent selves. Here we had one of our first, dramatic looks at a pretty objectively evil guy winning out over an eccentric hero.
L, like his murderous counterpart Light, was a teen genius and all around weirdo. From his mannerisms (like never sitting down) to his diet (desserts and candy) all the way to his massive, bugged out eyes it wasn't tough to fall in love with him. Especially when the serial killer he was hired to track (Light) starts to slip further into a monomaniacal god complex.
Being on the side of not killing people with a magical, murderous notebook didn't save the private dick, however. At the end of their nationwide game of cat and mouse Light manages to maneuver another into killing his foe. Probably so the obsessed serial killer could stand over his bested frenemy with a creepy smile on his face as L fell lifeless to the floor.
In the anime this moment is capped off with two very important moments. The second of which teases that L's successors are on the way to finish what he started. Though that only comes after Light gives a long, bad guy monologue about being the god of the new world. So for one sharp moment it seems the central killer has achieved victory over justice, fate, and millions of Toonami-watching teenagers' understanding of storytelling.
Apparently someone in Japanese filmmaking was just as shocked as we were, too. The live-action successor to the Death Note anime and manga went so far as to retouch the climactic showdown such that L is victorious, not Light. They even made a sequel, starring L, that has jack all to do with anything. But at least someone, somewhere thought the Sherlock of the East deserved a return.