Though essentially scientists, alchemists' abilities are incredibly practical and can be applied to the simple enhancement of normal life in the form of quick, relatively effortless repair of objects that ordinarily take a good deal of time and energy to fix. As such, alchemists are revered as productive members of society and hold the concept of Be Thou For The People as their unofficial credo. This creed dictates that alchemists use their abilities for the good of the public rather than for personal gain or political reasons, a creed generally rejected by alchemists who opt for government licenses and funding as State Alchemists.
Despite their obligation to the people, alchemists are also careful to keep the secrets of their research out of the hands of the general public so as to prevent abuse of that knowledge and power by those with less-than-noble intentions. As such, alchemists generally keep their research notes coded so that only they, or other like-minded alchemical geniuses, may understand them.
As members of the military, State Alchemists are privy to the most advanced alchemical resources, including exclusive access to the best research materials as well as state-of-the-art government laboratories, and are given a sizable research grant each year which can be put to any purpose a State Alchemist so chooses. Also on the list of perks is an automatic military officer rank equivalent to that of Major and all the considerable military authority and government influence that comes with it.
In exchange for these privileges, State Alchemists are commanded to obey three basic restrictions:
- 1) Obey the Military - As part of the military system, State Alchemists are subject to the government hierarchy and must obey the orders of their superiors as well as devote themselves entirely to the protection, advancement and well-being of the nation of Amestris as a whole. Their skills are to be wielded as an extension of the government's power as opposed to means toward individual or popular gain. This particular rule is the root behind the harshest drawback of being a State Alchemist - although alchemists in general are revered by the populace, State Alchemists are treated with a great deal of animosity by those not completely satisfied with the dealings of the current government. As alchemists who have turned their backs on the concept of Be Thou For The People in exchange for government influence, they are often called "Dogs of the Military". Additionally, ever since their successes on the front lines of the Ishval Civil War, State Alchemists with practical skills applicable to combat situations are ordered into battle as "Human Weapons", adding to their relative unpopularity.
- 2) Do Not Create Gold - Though all alchemists in the nation of Amestris are held to this law so as to keep the national economy from falling into chaos, State Alchemists are more heavily leaned upon to uphold this standard, due to their position under government surveillance, and are subject to military charges upon its transgression.
- 3) Do Not Create Humans - The nationwide prohibition of Human Transmutation, though also enforced in the case of all Amestrian alchemists, is particularly forbidden to State Alchemists due to the fact that their access to advanced research notes and materials makes it more likely that anyone making a realistic attempt at the forbidden craft would be in the government's employ. Though it is widely assumed that this law is in place because of the moral and ethical ramifications of attempting to toy with human life as well as the considerable danger involved with dealing in Human Transmutation, it is revealed that the true motive behind the government prohibition is to prevent individuals from alchemically manufacturing their own personal armies of homunculi.
In order to be selected as a State Alchemist, candidates must undergo an extensive examination process involving a written test proving a high level of aptitude in the field, a psychological evaluation to determine whether the candidate is of sound enough mind to serve in such a specialized branch of the military and a practical examination in which the candidate proves to a military board whether or not his or her skills can be used in real world situations.
Upon acceptance into the State Alchemist program, candidates are awarded a specially printed certificate of achievement marked with a symbolic title decided upon by the Führer based on both their unique alchemical skills as well as their personal and dispositional traits.
The document, as shown in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, reads as follows:
This official document certifies that the nation of Amestris, prefecture of the Generalissimo appoints the name *CODE NAME HERE* to *ALCHEMIST NAME HERE*, in the name of Fuhrer King Bradley.
The State Alchemist shall follow all orders and policies of the military.
A research assesment examination shall be held once every year. In the case that the State Alchemist does not show signs of progress in his research as a result of the examination, he shall be discharged from the services of State Alchemist.
The State Alchemist is entitled to the use of ample research funds, unrestricted access to classified documentation, access to various governmental facilities, and a military rank equal to that of "major".
-- King Bradley
Additionally, each State Alchemist is given a silver pocketwatch to hold as identification. This watch is engraved with the symbol of the State Alchemist program - the Amestrian Dragon circumscribed in a hexagram (though both anime series alter the hexagram to a nondescript polygram, presumably so as not to invoke Judaism). Although the manga does not describe the pocketwatch as anything more than official proof that the carrier is a State Alchemist, the 2003 anime suggests that each pocketwatch is an alchemical amplifier. The 2003 anime also depicts the watch's silver chain as extendable, as in the instance when the Strong Arm Alchemist, Major Alex Louis Armstrong uses it to tie up a target.
Though State Alchemists are more or less given free license to act as they please within their rank, they must each submit an annual assessment report, detailing the results of their research over the past year so as to prove that they are using their grant money and resources adequately enough to warrant continued membership in the program. It would seem that State Alchemists who fail to hand in an adequate report are put on probation for the next year and that a second failure results in the revocation of their government license. (As seen in the manga and 2009 anime) King Bradley can just renew their license if he feels like it, sparing State Alchemists the formality; when Ed went to renew his licence, Bradley ran into him by coincidence and signed off on the paperwork to renew it. Though this seems to apply to those not already military personnel; Mustang and Armstrong are never mentioned to have to go through this, likely because of they are already serving the State Military.
In actuality, the State Alchemist program is part of Father's plan leading up to The Promised Day—a system for identifying and selecting candidates for Human Sacrifice. This is likely why Wrath/Bradley renewed Ed's licence without the hassle of having him submit a report; keeping him part of the program would allow the Homunculi to keep better track of him.
Known State Alchemists
- While Al did not accompany Ed to the State Alchemist exams in the original manga storyline, he did in the 2003 anime. In that storyline Al took the test and had a chance to becoming a State Alchemist, but had to withdraw to prevent the military from learning the secret of his body from the physical exam.
- Near the end of both series, Ed is no longer a State Alchemist (either by choice in the 2009 series or declared a traitor in the 2003 series).