Winry is the true victim of the original Fullmetal Alchemist. And that is saying quite a bit. The original 2003 Anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist is not a happy show. And it wasn’t until I’ve rewatched it in quarantine did I start to understand how somber and melancholic it is. The narrative takes its time, slowly establishes the characters, showing the viewers what complex and hopeful individuals, they are. Then proceeding to rip them apart for the sheer suffering of the audience. Ed, Al, Mustang, Nina, Hues, Rose, Izumi, Sig, Hohenheim, all meet a sad fate in Fullmetal Alchemist. And it’s beautiful.
This willingness to do actual damage to its characters without being excessively cruel is what I believe leaves the original FMA with a certain punch that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, despite being a Shonen Anime done to perfection, does not have (now that’s an unpopular opinion If I’ve ever heard one and soon I shall be writing why FMA 2003 is better than Brotherhood). No one really ends up happy in FMA. They find contentment, but at the cost of something. That’s sort of the haunting lesson of FMA, that you can find fulfilment in a world that feels chaotic and hopeless. No character learns this better than Winry Rockbell.
Winry’s suffering by the end of FMA isn’t given as much time as the other characters, but when you rewatch her journey with the Elrics, you see how unfortunate her lot is.
The obvious beginning of HER tragedy is the loss of her parents at an early age, a year before Ed and Al lose their own mother. Because of the nature of the world of Amestris, civilian losses are considered normal and as such there isn’t really anything unique about Winry’s plight. It is difficult and painful, but it is to be expected in a world of war, which is probably why Winry grows up fairly normal. Her sadness is clear, but she is able to continue living with her grandmother and the Elrics. The two brothers offer her some stability, an idea of family. If not for their actions, FMA could be about Winry growing up and learning to rely on an extended family for support. However, that isn’t the kind of show FMA is.
After the boys commit the ultimate taboo of human transmutation and leave, Winry must learn to live on her own. Separate from the people she considered brothers (The romance angle between Ed and Winry is toned down significantly in 2003 vs Brotherhood and plays upon the sibling aspect more), she endures adolescents, having not seen either of them until about 4 years after they took off.
As the show continues, Winry does go on some of the adventures with the boys, but by the end of the anime, she loses Ed. Then by the ending of Conqueror of Shambala, she also loses Al, knowing full well that she will never see either of them again.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a story of needing to accept loss. There is no direction to move but forward and while it is a bitter reality, it can be sustained by someone strong enough. Winry has lost her family and will likely never truly get over it, but there is hope, that as with all the FMA characters. She finds a new home in herself and the new people she surrounds herself with.