Solar eclipses are interesting events that have occurred throughout history and were seen as harbingers of doom and/or had religious connotations. It comes as no surprise then that solar eclipses will appear in modern media including anime. Digimon Adventure and The Familiar of Zero use the eclipse as a gateway to another world, while in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood the eclipse is part of the big bad’s evil plan. Today I will be doing my best to explain what a solar eclipse is? How it happens? And if any part of the eclipse is portrayed correctly in the shows mentioned.
What is a Solar Eclipse
An eclipse event occurs when the moon passes between the sun and earth, blocking all or part of the sun over a portion of the earth for a short period of time.
While the diagram is a simplification, the basics are all there. The moon passes between the sun and the earth during daylight hours, creating a shadow over a part of the earth.
Now for the more complicated version. The moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle around the earth, like circling the dessert table hoping that there are still some cookies left. The moon’s orbit is elliptical, but that is not the most important aspect of its orbit in regard to an eclipse. The moon orbits in a different orbital plane at a slight angle to the earth, as seen below.
This means that sometimes the moon is slightly above or below the Earth’s equator, and this translates to several different types of solar eclipses, of which there are four: total, annular, hybrid, and partial.
The eclipse that passed over the United States recently is a total eclipse, which is both very rare and extremely common. The reason for this discrepancy is that a total eclipse will occur somewhere on earth every 18 months or so, and given that 70% of the earth is covered in water it is highly likely that the eclipse is going to happen where no one will see it. Adding to the rarity is that an eclipse will repeat in a particular area every 360 to 410 years. This is less of an issue these days where planes can be used to follow an eclipse or allow you to travel quickly to an area where one is occurring. NASA research has also shown that total solar eclipses can occur just about everywhere on Earth.
At the end of the first season of Digimon Adventure a solar eclipse is used as a portal between the real and digital worlds. This is a not uncommon use of a solar eclipse, and something I won’t try to explain. However, what I did want to discuss was that the portal is only open for about two hours, which is said to be the length of the eclipse. This is both correct and incorrect, as a solar eclipse will only be visible in one spot for about 7 minutes on average, much shorter than what is stated in Digimon Adventure. But a solar eclipse travels across the surface of the planet as both the Earth and moon move relative to the sun, meaning that the total time the sun is eclipsed is two hours or more. This of course means that the Digidestined have two hours to say goodbye, but if they wait too long they could be dumped on Earth pretty far from Tokyo as the eclipse moves.
The Familiar of Zero
In The Familiar of Zero Saito has the incredible luck of seeing a news headline highlighting an upcoming total solar eclipse, which he can use to return back to Louise’s world. Tokyo is Saito’s home and that can be used to determine when The Familiar of Zero takes place. By analyzing the few background shots available it is pretty easy to see that Saito is from the modern day and the only total Solar Eclipse that is going to occur in or anywhere near Tokyo will happen in 2019. This means that The Familiar of Zero takes place in the very near future. Now I wouldn’t mind exploring the medieval fantasy world Saito is dumped in, but I’ll pass on the violent tsundere; the elf, on the other hand, I could live with.
Historians can do a more elaborate process of what I just did, as eclipses occur in cycles and can be predicted. This means it is possible to date ancient historical events that occurred at the same time as solar eclipses. An example of this is dating the departure of Xerxes army for the invasion of Greece to Febuary 17th, 478BC.
Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood
The solar eclipse in Fullmetal Alchemist is used in the final stages of the big bad’s plans, and I will not be looking into that, but rather how the eclipse is depicted. Before I can examine that, I need to talk about shadows for a moment. As you may or may not have noticed, shadows can have a darker area and a lighter area. The darker area of a shadow is called the umbra and this is where all of the light from the object is blocked. The penumbra is the lighter area of the shadow where not all of the light from the object is blocked.
In the case of a total solar eclipse the umbra will only be about 100 miles in diameter depending on location. Thus, if viewed from space, it would look something like this.
Which is actually pretty close to how it is depicted in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
A bit shorter this time, but I hope everyone was able to learn something new about solar eclipses. Please leave any questions or comments below.