As I’ve mentioned before, venturing into comics led me to mangas. I usually stay away from them because they seem like a lot (those shelves filled with numerous issues for a single series stomp me), but I became curious and decided to give them a try. When considering which manga to start with, I thought it best to begin with something familiar so I grabbed the first bind-up copy of Fullmetal Alchemist and kept returning for more to satiate my growing interest.
Fullmetal Alchemist is about brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who’ve joined the military to seek and study the Philosopher’s Stone, a chemical substance that grants immense power. The brothers seek the stone to replace their bodies — Edward’s arm and leg and Alphonse’s entire body, — which they lost when they used a forbidden alchemical ritual to bring their dead mother back to life.
Ed now has mechanical limbs called auto-mail and Al’s soul is bonded to a suit of armor. Though young, in their early to mid-teens, the brothers are incredibly smart and Ed, the oldest of the two, was able to join the military. They have many adventures while searching for the stone and meet many dangerous people who are also interested in the stone and its power. But the more the brothers the learn, the more they realize that finding the stone comes at a high price.
This is one of my favorite stories. It’s up there with Harry Potter and will remain in my memory for a long time. The story is a somber one centered on sacrifice and what should be treasured in life, but much humor is included to lighten the story’s load, especially the suffering of the protagonists, who it’s sometimes easy to forget are just kids.
Since I watched the anime before reading the books, I kept referring back to the show (or shows, rather, since there’s Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which seems to closely follow the manga than the first show) as I read. I’m glad that I watched the shows first because I doubt I would have liked them as much as if I’d read the mangas before seeing them. I watched them on Netflix after seeking and failing to find a show that rivaled Avatar: The Last Airbender. I wanted to find something as thought provoking, moving, and fun and it wasn’t until I saw Fullmetal Alchemist that I found something that came close.
Like Avatar, the characters, the world, and the magic system are complex. But where Avatar strikes me as a fantasy, Fullmetal Alchemist seems to be more sci-fi because its magic system is based in science: alchemy, which I’ve come to understand is a sort of precursor to chemistry. As such, I feel weird referring to the powers seen in Fullmetal Alchemist as magic. I think I’ll call them powers from now on. I like how the powers are explained, or rather, how Ed and Al explains them. Like this quote taking from the intro to the anime episodes:
“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one and only truth.”
It hints at Newton’s third law of conservation of energy. That’s one of things I love about this story: that the basis of its power system hints at science I’m somewhat familiar with. The quote above is said by Al and he goes on to explain more about the power system of the world, which is quite complex. It’s obvious that a lot of research went into crafting this story.
Even the names of characters, cultures, and rifts between cultures in the book refers to people and historical events many of us are familiar with. The conflict between the Amestrian military and the Isbalan people makes me think of conditions in the Middle East and in the U.S. I don’t know where Arakawa drew influences from for the conflicts in this series (and I don’t want to know yet), but I like that they are similar to what I see occurring in my society.
The characters are some of my favorite in fiction. I love them all, even the villains, and have a tender spot for a few. Of course, I sympathize with Ed and Al’s plight. I keep hoping that they’ll get their original bodies back, but I also wonder if they ever will (I didn’t complete watching the anime). Winry, Ed’s mechanic, is one of my favorite female characters. She’s smart, cute, caring, and a total nerd about auto-mail, mechanical body parts. One of my favorite parts in both the book and show is when Ed, Al, and Winry visit Rush Valley, the auto-mail town, and Winry goes crazy seeing all the auto-mail shops and wanting everything. Ahh….reminds me of me in a bookstore. 🙂 But the scene following that is one of my least liked ones — when Ed chases Paninya all over the town to get back his military-issued pocket watch, which Paninya stole. I just think that chase went on for too long.
Other characters I like: Riza Hawkeye, because she’s a bad-ass with a gun; Roy Mustang, because he’s acts as if he’s an ass; Pinako, because she’s a bad-ass too with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude, plus I love her name; Scar, because I just do and he’s pretty complex; Lt. Havoc…I think I may have a crush on him >_<; Maes Hughes, because who doesn’t like this guy?!; Sheska, because she’s a total book nerd and I wish I had her memory; Führer King Bradley, yes, I know I know, Why like this dude? Well, because I think he’s funny as fuck; Teacher! aka Izumi Curtis, because she’s awesome and strong; and Ling Yao because he’s annoying but sweet.
I also like that the series has a diverse cast of characters, cultures, and setting, and that it is an intriguing, endearing, and sometimes profound read. I so enjoyed reading these books! It’s great to watch the characters develop and see how their relationships change over time (thinking about the show here; I haven’t read that much of the books). I like how strong the bond is between Ed and Al and how loyal Mustang’s peeps are to him. It’s obvious, from the start of the books, that relationships and family are held in high regard. Even the homunculi, the bad guys, hold tight to familial relationships.
Well that’s enough about the story. Here’s a bit about the art. All that’s needed is this: I LOVE THE ILLUSTRATIONS!!! 😀
I’m new to manga so I don’t know if these sorts of illustrations are the norm or if there are different styles and what-have-you. I assume there are different styles. But I love Arakawa’s work. The illustrations are detailed and easy to follow even in a busy, jumbled scene. I also like how the panels are laid out and how the shading of scenes and characters sometimes fade in and out of panels and in and out of other scenes and characters. The organization of the panels (is it panels or frames? I forgot) are pretty cool too. It makes it easy to imagine the whole story as a running animation as I read along.
My favorite parts, though, are the extras at the end of the issues. Arakawa is funny. I like that she draws herself as a bespectacled cow and talks about random stuff as well as stress from contributing to the show and disbelief when told that she had won the Shogakukan Manga Award. My favorite, of course, is of the cow in her fighting panties. Love it!
Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1-3 ★★★★★
Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 4-6 ★★★★★
Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 7-9 ★★★★★
I love them and I HIGHLY recommend them!! Especially if you like Avatar: The Last Airbender! Whether you’re a kid or an adult, it doesn’t matter (unless you’re like 5 or something) go read them!!! I plan to get them all!!! Yes! All of them!!! Hahahahahaaaa…. (gonna be so broke)
I recommend the omnibus copies. You get three in one so by the time you’re done, you’ll feel as if you’ve read a novella with pictures.
By the way, I don’t get the bleeding nose thing when characters get really excited. I saw the same when I watched Naruto. Can anyone explain that to me, please?
Also, it took me sooo long to figure out how to read the books. I looked like a dummy on the train trying to figure out where the beginning was and why the story sounded weird when reading left to right. Then I read some comics and had some trouble switching back from the manga’s right to left. I’m good now though. I got it!