Friday, August 26, 2011

Mega Manga Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

Artist/Manga-ka: Hiromu Arakawa
# of Volumes in Series: 25 released; 2 still to come
Genre: steampunk/ shounen/ action-adventure
Recommended for: everyone

I recently finished the 16th volume of FMA (universal nickname for Fullmetal Alchemist) and was going to review it.  Then it occurred to me: most readers won't bother reading a synopsis for a review of the sixteenth volume of a manga series they don't know the plot or premise of, and who could blame them?  So, instead of writing a typical review for that specific volume, I've decided to undertake a review (READ: total unapologetic gush fest) for Fullmetal Alchemist in general.
No spoilers follow, only lots of awesome.  You have been warned.

 My Take: 

For me, stumbling upon a tattered copy of the first volume of Fullmetal Alchemist at the local library was akin to finding a gold mine between those creased cover pages.  I devoured the manga in an hour, then passed it along to my picky sister Pinky, of guest reviewing fame, who proceeded to devour it in about ten minutes.  (Pinky reads manga FAST!)  We've since watched the anime series-- which is nearly as good, and would be as good but for the fact that it is television and we all know TV can never compete with the written (or illustrated) word.  Though FMA is one of the most popular manga series in the US and Japan, if not the world, it's also one of those mangas which can be enjoyed by readers who don't usually like graphic novels, graphic novel fans who don't usually like manga, even people who normally don't like to read at all.  It's that good, that addictive.  FMA is the most suspenseful, perfectly-crafted manga I've ever read.  Its material is often dark, yet our heroes Edward and Alphonse bring much-needed light humor and determined optimism into the mix, therefore rendering it pretty much perfect. 

the Ouroboros.. a mysterious symbol
The basic premise of Fullmetal Alchemist goes a little like this: Amestris is a country run by the military in a war-torn world which resembles a steampunkish England around the time of the Industrial Revolution.  Alchemy, advanced and complex science which seems like magic to ordinary people, is wielded by the military to keep control and protect the borders.  Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are only children when they first discover their innate talents for alchemy.  After the sudden death of their mother, the boys use alchemy's most forbidden art in an attempt to resurrect her using alchemy.  But the first law of alchemy is equivalent exchange: you must sacrifice to obtain.  The brothers' alchemical ritual goes horribly awry.

Edward loses his leg in the process and is forced to sacrifice his arm in order to save Al from being lost altogether in the darkness beyond the mortal world.  He binds Al's soul to the only available host-- a suit of metal armor-- and hires his childhood friend Winry, an automail engineer, to forge him a new, fully automated arm and leg made of steel.  The brothers burn their small town home and set off for Central, capital city of Amestris.  Ed is determined to become the youngest-ever State Alchemists in order to find out more about the Philosopher's Stone, a mythical substance believed to give the alchemist who wields it great power.  The brothers are determined to restore their damaged and lost bodies to normal... but at what great cost?

The cast of characters in this series is beyond awesome.  In particular, we have so many people who we have so much reason to hate or dislike yet somehow worm their ways into our hearts.  We have State Alchemists who brutally murdered thousands in the name of the military; we have Scar, a refugee-turned-serial-killer who makes use of his own destructive brand of alchemy while trying to make sense of his muddled past.  And then there are the homunculi-- mysterious human-like creatures created via alchemy, convincingly human but for their lack of a soul... and their bizarre physical abilities.  The homunculi are so damn cool.  Very occasionally in fiction a villain comes along who is totally despicable, yet somehow you want to see more and more of them.  The manga-ka of FMA does an excellent job holding the identities and abilities of the homunculi over our heads, offering only occasional tantalizing glimpses of them.  And if the villains are great, the heroes are even better.
  Ed's the best.  He's easily aggravated, especially when it comes to his small stature and refuses to consume milk in any form (lack of calcium is probably the reason for his vertically-challenged condition ;).  He's stubborn, holds a grudge, and is a child prodigy convinced he can do absolutely anything.  Yet he's also incredibly haunted by his past, hindered by his auto-mail limbs, and suffers a ton of guilt over what happened to Alphonse.  Altogether, I pretty much love Ed to death. (So does Pinky, I feel compelled to add-- she wouldn't want anyone claiming to be a bigger Ed fan than her.)  His brother Al is in some ways the perfect contrast: Ed's genius without the infamous Ed ego, I guess.

I can see this fangirl post has definitely ran a bit long, so I'll just hastily add that Winry Rockbell, Ed and Al's neighbor, Lt. Riza Hawkeye, and her dog Black Hayate are a few of my other favorites.  If you're a fellow FMA fan, I'd love to hear from you, and I hope the rest of you will consider checking out the first volume in my favorite manga series of all time! 


~Valen~ said...

My little sister loves FMA. She started with InuYasha and has now been on a four year obsession spree with manga, Edward and all things Full Metal. She has all the plush dolls and a pocket watch and wall scrolls, and pretty much anything FMA tagged.. btw, I let her read your post and she loved it! She says "Yeeeee! Edward!" haha.


Brian Westley said...
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Lisa (starmetal_oak) said...

I also love Ed to death! What a great character and only 15 years old. I also love Al especially in those instances you see his innocence and goodness even though his situation is dire.

I should really rewatch the series....

Kat said...

@Brian-- *slaps forehead* Stupid me, I knew that.

@Valen-- My little sis loves Ed, too. Didn't know there was so much FMA merchandise out there, but it sounds great! :)

Allison said...

Though this is an older blog post, I just have to add--YES! ED IS THE BEST! I am a big fan of FMA. I've read the manga and the tv series is excellent as well. Ed, Winry, and Riza are my favourites too. I also like Hughes, May, and Greed.

Geek Banter

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