The first law of alchemy is that "one cannot gain something without giving something of equal value in return" - a rule that two souls dare to cross. When Edward and Alphonse Elric try to revive their dead mother, breaking the taboo of human transmutation in process, Ed loses his right arm and left leg while Al loses his entire body. After the tragedy, an alchemist named Roy Mustang visits them and tells Edward to become a state alchemist to find a way to recover what they have lost. Accompanied by Al, whose soul is now attached to a metal suit of armor, Ed is fitted with auto-mail parts in place of his lost limbs and becomes a state alchemist by the name of "Full Metal Alchemist." Together, they set forth on a journey to find the Philosopher's Stone - the one item that is rumored to have the power to restore them.
Story: It took a fair amount of time from my introduction to anime to properly start enjoying manga, and I generally started with series whose anime counterparts I liked. Despite this, I still hesitated to pick up Fullmetal Alchemist until the 2009 series, Brotherhood, began and caught my eye in spectacular fashion. Hearing that it was faithful to the manga’s plotline and being apprehensive about the anime’s release in the first place, I decided to give it a shot – and boy, was that ever a good decision! Fullmetal Alchemist documents the journey of two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, and their attempt to regain their original bodies following a failed attempt to bring their dead mother back to life. As they research more into the world of alchemy, the pair becomes embroiled in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy that threatens the lives of the entire country’s citizens, and extends far beyond their wildest imaginations. Despite being a fantastical plotline, never once does it seem too far-fetched or utterly implausible. No matter how many mindless immortal armies or bizarre homunculus-related powers rear their heads, mangaka Hiromu Arakawa manages to infuse a certain sense of realism into the story that makes even the oddest creations pose a truly creepy or horrifying threat. The convincing feel embedded throughout the storyline also carries through to the various action packed and awe-inspiring fights. With stone spikes skewering skulls and lion chimeras literally going for the jugular, the narrative’s brutality not only causes the reader to flinch at every stab, slice and bite, but also gives these bouts an extra edge. Impressively, Arakawa manages to create such gripping sequences without glorifying war in any way at all. Real battles aren’t like the polished or graceful shounen standards where individuals only ever get punched in the face or wounded in the shoulder before receiving a finishing blow of a single – and fairly bloodless – wound to the heart. Nor do they end with a massive impact that sends the enemy soaring into the sky with a ‘DING’ and a shiny light sparkle. No, they’re messy, dirty affairs that aren’t always pretty or even fair. Somehow I can’t imagine Zulu warriors playing nicely with the invading English… they’re more likely to turn the enemy into a human kebab with their spear before disembowelling them. Certainly, the plot’s no-holds barred violence (without resorting to full-on gore) and Arakawa’s extensive research into war, human experimentation, and the psychology behind murder make Fullmetal Alchemist all the more engaging and memorable. Amongst all the blood and epic peril, Arakawa sprinkles in plenty of humorous content to keep the story wholly entertaining. A well-placed and appropriate use of chibification and exaggerated facial expressions mean that exchanges between the characters often evoke regular hearty laughs, without being inappropriate to the dramatic nature of the plot. This lighter tone also helps the reader to become more emotionally invested in the characters, which ultimately gives the manga’s events all the more impact. Though the narrative itself is enough to keep the reader entertained, Fullmetal Alchemist throws in odd bonuses at the end of each tankoubon. Short 4-koma omake show the characters in a variety of humorous situations, such as Ed repeatedly trying to convince ‘Genie Al’ to make him taller, and Lin discovering the effectiveness of citrus fruit when fighting the homunculi – all of which frequently result in a giggle or two. Other odd flourishes added to the back pages such as random comical images and the special ‘In Memoriam’ section depicting those that have shuffled off the mortal coil floating up to heaven, all add to the overall enjoyment of your reading experience. Art: Hiromu Arakawa’s artwork throughout all one hundred and eight chapters is consistently impressive (as well as impressively consistent). Her relatively simple facial designs work nicely in tandem with more detailed clothing and backgrounds, while her competent use of screentone helps add texture, shadow and weight to every object or fabric depicted. Though Arakawa’s artwork may not incite an intense mangagasm with each turn of the page, she still manages to produce some exciting – and at times realistic – imagery that, when coupled with the events of the narrative, manage to take your breath away time and time again. While not part of the main manga, and only really a bonus, the pages separating the chapters in each volume offer up a beautiful visual treat. Consisting of a solid black background with a simple white line sketch of a selected character in one corner, the simplicity of these layouts results in some gorgeous imagery that looks as if it has leapt straight out of the mangaka’s sketchbook. Characters: It’s rare that any series with such a sizable cast demonstrates such good characterisation. Despite the legions of individuals appearing throughout the manga, Arakawa doesn’t allow any of them to simply fade away into complete obscurity. No matter how minor their role, every character has a definite part to play and – be it a glimpse at motivations, personality, or showing an evolution in their mind-set – they all make some form of impression. Part of this comes from the fact that while Ed and Al are undoubtedly the central protagonists within the series, they are far from being the only heroes. Even in the final climactic battle, they work as part of a larger team who fight to defeat their enemy, all of which gives opportunities for other characters to step forward and claim the limelight for themselves. Possibly the best example of the above is Mustang, who plays a huge role throughout the series. His ambition, calculating mind and, at times, harshly unforgiving personality bounces off of the Elric brothers’ idealistic views extremely well. On the other hand, his more carefree and flirtatious nature allows him to become an amiable individual. Meanwhile, his friendship with Hughes highlights the colonel’s more human side, which saves him from being portrayed as little more than a single-minded, arrogant upstart and instead accords him far more depth as a character. Much like the difference between his war-weary cynicism and Ed’s naivety towards the world, Mustang’s humorous persona also works nicely as a stark contrast to the icy demeanour of Olivier Armstrong, providing a perfect opportunity for humour. However, this also helps emphasise the narrative’s gravity, by showing individuals who are seemingly polar opposites co-operating for the greater good. Overall: Arakawa manages to hit the ideal balance of action, emotion and humour without relying on one too heavily, resulting in the reader developing a relationship with the characters and actually caring what happens to them. Without a doubt, Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the few manga that will manage to repeatedly make you laugh, cry, and desperately grasp for the next chapter like a zombie incessantly crawling around to sate his desire for brains.
Arakawa Hiromu's smash hit manga "Fullmetal Alchemist" inspired an anime series, a remake of the anime series, a few movies, and a sequel. So it should come as no surprise that this is perhaps one of the most popular anime/manga franchises of all time. Story: The story of "Fullmetal Alchemist" covers nearly every topic out there. The Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, are state alchemists working for the government. (Okay, that was kind of redundant.) Having lost an arm and a leg (Ed) or a whole body (Alphonse) in an attempt to resurrect their dead mother, the brothers set forth to find the Philosopher's Stone (no reference to the Harry Potter thing) in order to change their bodies back to normal. Perhaps one of the most incredible things about "Fullmetal Alchemist" is how well the story is executed. Ed and Alphonse have one of the most tragic backstories ever, yet they do not succumb to it. Instead, they try to fix their mistakes through sheer will and determination. Along with this, the story is a thinly veiled allegory of Adolf Hitler's reign. Fuhrer Bradley (guess who he represents) rules over all the alchemists as he attempts to rid the world of all Ishbalans (a discriminated race). The Ishbalans were mostly wiped out in a raging war which occurred only a little while before the start of the series. However, some still survive, including one particular Ishbalan hungry for revenge. Most provocative stories, manga or otherwise, would not even touch on this difficult subject matter. The fact that "Fullmetal Alchemist" manages to use it so seamlessly deserves a round of applause. Art: Arakawa-san can draw anything, as I have discovered. The art can be generic (see next point), but works very well. It's occasionally nothing special, though. The character designs are great and, even if some are unoriginal, they certainly fit the characters. For example, Lust, one of the deadly sins, is a curvy seductress with silky black hair. Of course, this is the epitome of a "beautiful woman," and therefore is not very unique, but that is the point. The woman is lust personified, so of course she has to be gorgeous. The comedy in this series ranges from overused schticks to "Azumanga Daioh"-type comic gold. The gag-style art during these scenes heightens the experience. But the most famous aspects of "Fullmetal Alchemist" are the fighting and the tragedies. It is difficult to rate a fight scene in manga, but the fights are varied and use well-drawn alchemy. As far as the deaths go, they are enough to make any seasoned anime veteran reduce into a puddle of tears, and the shock of most of them only makes them more sob-worthy. And, since such a mature topic as Hitler cannot be overlooked, even the deaths of simple commoners is noted. A man could be killed. He has never once said a word throughout the whole manga, in fact, we just met him. He could be in the distance, an unnamed soldier. We will still cry for him, because of the beautiful way Arakawa-san handles death. She seems to think that every man deserves to be known by all, and her artwork shows this. Characters: The characters of "Fullmetal Alchemist" make this a wonderful read. The story may be great, the art may be really good, but the characters are fantastic. Every backstory is shown in a way which makes the characters more than just three dimensional; it makes them seem like walking, talking people whom you've known your whole life. Every action is explained, and every character is fully fleshed out. The Elric Brother's love for themselves and for their friends is shown in full detail. Roy Mustang is more than just the perverted slacker he seems to be; he is a man with admiration for his country and love for his subordinates. Scar is not just the murderous madman he is on the surface; inside, he hates the white men because of their horrible treatment of the Ishbalans. His backstory is another moment which will have you blowing tissues like it's pollen season. "Fullmetal Alchemist" also boasts some of the best villians of any manga, period. If I delve into this, I will probably start to spoil, so I will stop and tell you to read it to find out more. Overall: "Fullmetal Alchemist" is a manga everyone should read. There is not much else to say, because I don't want to say much more in fear of spoiling. So I will end my review with this: Read this manga.
Fullmetal Alchemist, not only one of the greatest animes (no, i haven't seen, neither do i plan to see the 'Brotherhood' remake), but also one of the greatest mangas to grace my shelves. I've been looking forward to this. Art: Absolutely sublime, the character design is beyond comparison, literally, there are no two characters that look the same, yet also look believable. The backdrops are just stunning, the towns and cities well planned like a real city, it needs to be seen to be believed, just amazing. My main comparison would be with Akira, though the character design is a completely different style, the backdrops have the same feel that they were drawn not by an artist, but by a machine, and i mean this as a compliment, it's so masterfully drawn that it makes me want to weep and give up illustrating myself because i'll never have that kind of skill. Breathtaking. Characters: Brilliant characters in this story, from the protagonists Ed and Al Elric, to Father, the Homunculi, to Scar, Solf. J. Kimblee, to the military personel Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye and Alex Louis Armstrong. All of them evolve and develop into such well formed personalities that they could easily step from the page and be regarded as well formed human beings. Is there any criticisms here? No. None. Zip. Nada. Even Barry the Chopper who only really stars in one or two comics near the beginning of the story eventually comes back into it and plays a vital role, and it's believable. My favourite characters are the homunculus Lust, Lin Yao's bodyguard Lan Fan, and Greed. Ah Greed, how bloody brilliant you are. He also has one of the best speeches in the entire series, which they thankfully kept for the anime. Story: Now i must make a confession. Over here in the UK, not all of the books have been released yet, and so i don't yet know how the story concludes. This is fine though, because up to book 24, chapter 99, i already know a lot of what has happened, and can make my own predictions (which i will leave out of this review). The story is immense, it has so many twists and turns, yet never becomes complicated, it's not like watching pirates of the caribbean where so many things are happening you no longer know what to believe and lose your grip on sanity/reality, it flows well and keeps you in the loop of whats happening, why its happening, and what the consequences are. The story reminds me of The Wave by Hokusai and the Seagram Paintings by Mark Rothko, both very simple paintings (though one is figurative and the other abstract) but when observed closely, they both have so much depth of field, so much detail, and thats the key, a simple story detailed. The whole premise of alchemy is one that i love and you could easily live your life by in the real world, 'To obtain, something of equal measure must first be sacrificed.' We work hard to earn cash, we then exchange this money for services and goods, in social situations we have to give something of ourselves to learn something of others, we help people to be helped in return. It's a good philosophy to live by, one that doesn't encourage selfishness, greed, and the world would be a better place if this was hammered into people. The other thing to note about this story is just how much it keeps you guessing, it's never predictable, but then it never throws a curveball that makes you think 'god thats just ridiculous, why'd they do that?' It's storytelling at it's greatest, fluid, emotional, and it leaves you wanting more! Overall then, this is a must read manga, it's by far and away the best i've ever read and if you even have the slightest doubt about it, forget it because there just is no criticism to throw at it. So why not 10/10? Well firstly as previously mentioned, i don't yet know how it ends, and secondly, i'm just not ready to call any manga perfect. Though this comes as close to perfect as i doubt we'll ever see again.
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