Monday, March 29, 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist Volumes 1 & 2

By Hiromu Arakawa. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Gangan. Released in North America by Viz.

Sometimes, you just get behind, and have to play catch up. Maybe other series hold your purse more. Maybe you got sick of the ship wars and take a break from fandom for a while. Or maybe you read something that freaked you out, and you just couldn't go on as you kept thinking about THE SCARY THING.

But, time passes, and your tastes change. And so you go back to remember what it was you first loved. And that's what I'm doing now with Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the best shonen titles currently being published, and which I accidentally kinda got 21 volumes behind on, and I fell behind on the anime as well (like 7 years behind - I keep meaning to watch Brotherhood). However, I've remained active in the fandom, and the chatter has gotten big enough that I wanted to go back and do some mass reading.

(If you don't know how you can be active in a fandom without actually reading or watching any of the source material, boy, are *you* new to the Internet.)

So, for the uninitiated, Fullmetal Alchemist, or FMA, is a fantasy action series about two young teenage boys searching for the Philosopher's Stone. Due to an alchemy experiment gone horribly wrong (get used to that phrase throughout this series), the younger brother, Alphonse, is merely a living suit of armor with a soul, and the older brother, Edward, is short. Oh yeah, and he's missing an arm and a leg as well, replacing them with robotic 'automail'. They travel around, trying to track down leads, occasionally righting wrongs, and taking a lot of umbrage at having his size made fun of. (OK, that last one is just Ed.)

Volume 1 start off with what appear to be a few stand-alone chapters, with Ed and Al battling corrupt priests, corrupt military officers, and normal boring old train robbers. We do meet two of the series' villains, Lust and Gluttony, and aren't they just creepy as heck. Most importantly, this series lets you know right off the bat that it is not Shonen Jump - there will be death, and blood, and so you'd better get used to it. Shonen Gangan is for the *older* boy. We also meet, at the end, the goofy Colonel that Ed reports to, Roy Mustang, and his stoic Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye. Far more on them later.

Volume 2 gives us another running plot, as a man is running around killing State Alchemists. To be fair, the Alchemist we see him kill here really was an utter scumbag, but still, vigilantes are bad! Chapter 5, by the way, is the series' first really nightmarish one, and was the main reason I paused in both the manga and the anime. Those who've read it will know exactly what I mean. The vigilante, Scar, then goes after Ed, and manages to utterly annihilate his automail arm before the cavalry arrives. We also meet more of the military, including one of the most ludicrously silly men in the entire series, Alex Armstrong, and another, as yet unnamed villain. (Given his cohorts are Lust and Gluttony, I think I can take a few guesses at what he might be called.)

FMA has a very good balance between action, drama, exposition, and humor. And there's several bits in the two volumes that are really rather scary - I wouldn't show this to anyone under 12, that's for sure. Oh yes, and since the manga is drawn by a woman, I am pleased to see several strong female characters in here - both good (Hawkeye) and bad (Lust). An excellent series for those who like thrills and fights with a good dose of backstory intrigue.

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