The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Fullmetal Alchemist: Fullmetal Edition Vol. 1
What's It About?Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are well known for their alchemy aptitude and startling appearances. After an attempt to resurrect their deceased mother cost more than they gambled for, Edward lives with two mechanical limbs while his brother's soul was transmuted into a suit of armor.
Together the two of them are searching for a way to restore their bodies to their previous forms by working as contractors for the government. That goal might have to take the backseat though when a killer known only as Scar begins roaming the city streets targeting prominent alchemists.
Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist manga has inspired two television anime adaptations, two anime films, and most recently a live-action movie starring Ryosuke Yamada as Edward and Atom Mizuishi as Alphonse. Viz Media is re-releasing the manga series in its hardcover “Fullmetal” Edition and the first volume goes on sale on May 8 for US$19.99.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Knowing how captivating Fullmetal Alchemist eventually goes on to become, it's possible to see these first few chapters as a touch slow and formulaic. However, compared to many other manga, it's quite a dynamic beginning to a tale that goes on to be so much more. Tossing the reader into an adventure Edward and Alphonse undertake with a throwaway villain provides the reader with a look at their personalities, their powers, and the rules governing this world. It even has time to pack in an emotional punch, even if the secondary characters in that first story are unimportant to the story at large. This volume also briefly flashes back to the brothers' childhoods, explaining how one ended up with a metal arm and leg, while the other has his soul attached to a moving suit of armor. It's a tragic, emotionally draining origin that touches on loss, desperation, and grave mistakes people make that they seem to be unable to come back from—and yet Edward in particular is forever determined to try. This first volume also offers an introduction to fan-favorite characters and villains such as Roy, Riza, Scar, Lust, and Gluttony, further drawing you into this world populated by rich personages. Also included is the story about Tucker and his daughter, a classic, heart-wrenching installment in the franchise as a whole, adapted even in the live-action movie.
Arakawa's art breathes life to this magical, yet simultaneously almost-scientific world of alchemists and war. Al's and Edward's designs in particular are iconic, unlike any in other manga. Al being an adorably pleasant giant suit of armor aside, Edward's short stature; long, red coat; bionic limbs; and long, blond braid make him instantly recognizable—even when drawn in outline. The detailed background art brings this steampunk Europe-ish world to life without overpowering the proceedings, and the manga seamlessly rotates between action scenes and smaller, more character-driven moments.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a classic series beloved by many, and this special Fullmetal Edition is as good a place as any for newcomers to dive in to the series. The only problem is, you might become so intrigued by what you read, you won't have the patience to wait for the next special edition release when there are already single and 3-in-1 volumes to be found. As far as collecting this edition goes when you already have one (or more) of the other editions, I can't speak to the value of the hardcover (or paperback) edition's presentation since I was given a digital review copy. There doesn't appear to be any bonus manga content, just extra sketches. You can never go wrong with more color pages, though, and a more “collectible” version of this long-time fan favorite on your shelf.
It's with some amount of shame that I have to admit that this is my first real encounter with Fullmetal Alchemist. Everything I know about the series prior to reading this volume is info I picked up via fan osmosis. I had a general idea about the characters, setting, and conflict but I'd never sat down and read through the manga or watched either version of the television anime. This isn't a brag, I just happened to miss the boat on one of anime's biggest touchstones in the last 20 years, so I was excited to sit down and read the manga, as well as give a perspective for any newcomers to the series.
So, how does Fullmetal Alchemist hold up 15 years later? There are certain aspects of the comedy pacing and artwork that definitely feel a bit dated, but the story as a whole is still lives up to the initial hype. Arakawa drops readers right into a world of charlatans and magic where our heroes are already famous. Edward is our brash, firecracker hero and Alphonse is the level-headed, gentle giant. Together they make a well-rounded pair if not for the fact that both are still processing their magically-induced disfigurement, childhood loss, and the ugliness they regularly confront as a result of their employment. It's that conflict I found the most interesting and emotionally effective. These are two young adults regularly at odds with their own powers. Arakawa reinforces throughout this first volume that alchemy brings very little goodness into this world and is more commonly corrupted by narcissists and power-hungry politicians to disenfranchise the weak.
Behind much of this are the sub-antagonists named after the Seven Deadly Sins, something I could have a metaphor heyday with if we want to extend this preview's word count by a factor of 10. However, Lust, Gluttony, and Envy are mostly relegated to the background in this volume, except for the few times that Gluttony goes on to cannibalize a few unfortunate people. The central foes for Ed and Al in this volume are one-off villains, except for, of course, Shou Tucker. Tucker's plot line has become notorious and I still see screenshots of his horrible experiment show up ironically as social media jokes. He has the well earned reputation as the worst dad ever, so I was actually really surprised that his entire arc is contained to a single chapter. I would have liked to see this plotline drawn out at little longer as the big reveal felt anti-climatic given how much emotional weight it has on the Elric brothers. It's not given much room to breathe before we're immediately dropped into the Scar storyline.
Fullmetal Alchemist remains just as engaging now as when it first debuted, thanks to a strong world view, and a likable central cast, and a nuanced handle on the emotional issues affecting its leads. If you're like me and missed the train on this classic series, the manga is an excellent place to start.
How many times does Fullmetal Alchemist need a re-release? While the cynical answer is “until it stops making Viz money,” the better way to put it might be “until everyone who should read it has.” This new Fullmetal Edition of Hiromu Arakawa's science fiction series about two brothers who mess with the powers that be in ways they really shouldn't is a beauty, but what's more important is that it still really holds up as a story. Both Ed and Al are very human characters – two kids who are really hurting from the death of their mother and who do something stupid, and how they handle the results of their actions is not only interesting as we start to watch them grow up, but also done in a way that really shows that Arakawa considered how actual human people react to things. Ed gets angrier at the world and at himself for what he accidentally did to Al, and Al tries to stay level-headed, tempering his brother even as you get the feeling that he might be hiding his own anger or worries.
Of course, the fact that one brother is now a soul housed in a giant suit of (cat-hiding) armor and the other has a mechanical arm and leg and that they're navigating a war-torn world where alchemy is much more than just a myth is what keeps us reading beyond the human elements of the story. In that sense, these early volumes are a little weaker than some that come after them; Arakawa is still setting up the world the boys live in, and it feels like she has a better sense of who they are than where they are. She's also still working out a few of the kinks in the alchemy system and establishing the international conflicts, so while this is good reading, it also does feel like set up to a degree. Fortunately she tempers that will an excellent sense of humor – alongside the drama and angst, this is a very funny book, and that helps to keep things moving even when the plot feels a little forced.
Also worth noting is the art. It's very clear in its lines, and the opening color pages do a good job of immediately pulling you into the story. While readers of Arakawa's other works will recognize that she has maybe ten basic character designs that just keep getting reused, she uses them well, and some of her funny faces are terrific. There are plenty of intricate details in the backgrounds and alchemical symbols as well, so there's never a lack of things to look at on the page, no matter what's going on. Simply put, Fullmetal Alchemist is a title that reads just as well the seventh time as the first. If you haven't picked it up yet, this would be a good moment to do so.
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