Alchemists are knowledgeable and naturally talented individuals who can manipulate and modify matter due to their art. Yet despite the wide range of possibilities, alchemy is not as all-powerful as most would believe. Human transmutation is strictly forbidden, and whoever attempts it risks severe consequences. Even so, siblings Edward and Alphonse Elric decide to ignore this great taboo and bring their mother back to life. Unfortunately, not only do they fail in resurrecting her, they also pay an extremely high price for their arrogance: Edward loses his left leg and Alphonse his entire body. Furthermore, Edward also gives up his right arm in order to seal his brother's soul into a suit of armor.
Years later, the young alchemists travel across the country looking for the Philosopher's Stone, in the hopes of recovering their old bodies with its power. However, their quest for the fated stone also leads them to unravel far darker secrets than they could ever imagine.
Hagane no Renkinjutsushi won the 49th Shogakukan Manga Award for the shounen demographic in 2004. Hiromu Arakawa also won the 15th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in the New Artist Prize category for the series in 2011. As of 2015, over 64 million copies of the series have been sold worldwide, making it one of Square Enix's most successful publications, according to Nielsen Bookscan. A live-action film is in development by Warner Bros. Japan and is scheduled for release in Winter 2017.
The series was published in English as Fullmetal Alchemist by VIZ Media from May 3, 2005 to December 20, 2011, and in eBook format by Yen Press on April 15, 2014. A 3-in-1 omnibus edition was released by VIZ from June 7, 2011 to November 11, 2014 as well as a complete box set in November 1, 2011 (which included the novel Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind). The manga was also published in Italian by Panini Comics under the Planet Manga imprint from July 13, 2006 to September 3, 2011, in Polish by J.P. Fantastica from January 2006 to to April 2012, in Brazilian Portuguese by Jbc from February 2007 to April 2011 and in Spanish by Ivrea Argentina starting December 12, 2016.
One of the problems with something being truly good is that every so often it becomes a victim of its own success, and in a sense that's what happened with the fans of Full Metal Alchemist.
Arakawa Hiromu's tale of two brothers and their adventures in alchemy is one of the most well known stories in anime and manga to date, and has spawned a horde of games, a movie (with a second one planned), numerous doujins and fanfics, piles of merchandise ranging from tatoos to chibi plushies, and two very different anime series. The story itself is very typically shounen at times, however there is
a depth to proceedings that belies the initial look and feel of the manga. While things begin innocuously enough, it's not long before the reader finds themselves wrestling with moral, religious, and even philosophical motives and actions as the Elric brothers make their journey towards their destiny.
Enough waxing lyrical, on to the nitty gritty. Anyone familiar with Arakawa's other works, especially her one shot manga, will undoubtedly find some surprising similarities to certain events and situations that occur in Full Metal Alchemist. The reason for this is because Arakawa had the foresight to test out various ideas in another form and format before adapting them for use in her flagship title, and this refinement process shows throughout the story. Although this is a shounen tale in the truest sense, there's a degree of complexity and innovation which has been carefully applied in an effort to draw the reader in, and this is one of the hallmarks of Arakawa's storytelling style.
As with any work though, there are a few areas that could have been improved upon. In an effort to lighten the mood from time to time the mangaka has seen fit to apply a few doses of comedy here and there, and while stories like Raiden 18 make it clear that Arakawa has some skills in that department, the application of humour in Full Metal Alchemist is sometimes a bit haphazard. That said, it seems like the mangaka herself also had a similar realisation as the tone of the series becomes much more serious during the latter half, and the frequency of comedic moments drops quite sharply. Surprisingly, the humour is less of a distraction and more of an anodyne for the reader during the later stages of the story, which is a testament to the idea that "less is more".
The artwork is very typical of the mangaka, however once more there is that look of refinement about the characters and settings, and even some of the action sequences. One big plus is that the reader is given a more visual, and sometimes visceral, look into the author's world than one might find in other shounen manga. That said, Rumiko Takahashi's InuYasha is a serious contender in this department, but like that manga, Full Metal Alchemist also suffers from the same problem - the highly stylized characters.
The main issue with the design is that some people may find it doesn't suit their tastes, which will in turn impact upon their appreciation of the story. That said, as an advocate of more individualism in manga and anime, it's nice to read something that remains true to the author's style as there are far too many titles that look identical to each other (e.g. harem romantic comedies and about half of the shoujo manga out there).
As for the characters themselves, suffice to say that the development of the lead roles is very good indeed, and the supporting roles are given a healthy amount of space to shine as well. One of the more interesting aspects is the pace at which the characters are developed throughout the story, and a big plus is the degree of attention given to the "bad guys", especially later in the series. It's a sad fact that shounen tales are filled with shallow antagonists who serve no other purpose than to give the lead character a wall they must "beat down" in order to move the story forward, and while Full Metal Alchemist contains the basic elements of this type of progression, it manages to mask them far better than most action manga out there.
Is there a major downside then? Well, unfortunately there is, but it's one that's very much dependent on personal taste. The reason why the Full Metal Alchemist franchise is a victim of its own success is because of the original anime adaptation of the unfinished manga.
Now one of the problems that fans have is that the two versions of the tale are wildly different in terms of atmosphere, story and character mentality (basically they're like chalk and cheese). The main issue at hand is that while the manga version of Full Metal Alchemist is an excellent series, the original anime adaptation is becoming maligned and misunderstood because it deviates too much from Arakawa's story. Personally I consider both to be equally good, just not in the same way.
Here's what I mean.
Arakawa's manga is a very good story that incorporates a number of typical shounen aspects like never giving up, trusting in one's friends and allies, etc, and while the tale is excellent in both content and execution, in all honesty, it lacks a degree of "darkness" that was inherent in the first anime. One of the things that struck me about this dissonance was the fact that the whole theme of obsession seems to peter out by the end of the manga, whereas the first anime actually ended with that theme still running strong.
Now, some of you maybe a little confused by that perspective, especially as both tales feature the same characters to a degree, however one look at their respective endings will begin to make things a little clearer, and pay particular attention to Alphonse Elric as he is the reason why I consider the two tales to be so very different (and if you're still unsure, then feel free to ask me about it).
It's pretty obvious that I enjoyed Full Metal Alchemist immensely, however my only real gripe with the manga, especially after reading Arakawa's other works, is that there are too many occasions where it feels like the author has purposely moved away from a theme or situation that was used in the original anime, and this can make parts of the story feel a bit rushed. That said, this is actually a minor problem as the whole tale fits together extremely well, and in terms of content Full Metal Alchemist is easily on par with Takahashi Rumiko's masterpiece.
What Arakawa Hiromu has given us is a work that is truly good, despite some minor niggles here and there, and while there are some typically shounen aspects to the tale, Full Metal Alchemist, like Inuaysha, is a far cry from what one would consider a typical shounen manga.
Isn't it ironic then, that the two of greatest shounen tales weren't written by men?
Fullmetal Alchemist is not spectacular. What I mean is that nothing about the art or the plot immediately strikes the audience as impressive or unique. The art is not flashy or detailed. It gets the job done, but only just. The action is easy to follow from panel to panel, and it is just dynamic enough to be interesting. The characters are all pretty much distinguishable from each other, despite their simple designs, and some of them look kinda cool. More than anything, the art is solid. It never gets in the way of the audience's enjoyment. And sometimes that's enough. The only times I
ever took issue with the style were when the characters were morphed into chibis in a weak attempt at comedy.
And that brings me to my next point: The comedy. It's not comedic. Early on, there are many repetitive running gags and the only thing they accomplish is kicking me out of the story. Such a blatant attempt to appeal to the audience can backfire if delivered poorly, and so it felt like a slap in the face delivered through the 4th wall. I don't want to deal with that. But I think that the mangaka realized this direction wasn't working early on, and the manga generally gets more serious as time passes.
Although the presentation of the plot changes over time, the plot itself rarely deviates from a single unified arc, and this becomes more apparent towards the middle of the series. It's clear that the overarching plot was plotted out from inception to conclusion from the beginning. The major villains and major allies are essentially the same throughout the manga, and this helps with the sense of unity and harmony that I get from it. (A unity that reinforces the main themes of the manga, which might otherwise seem to be poorly applied pseudo-philosophy.) There are no major power-ups or ridiculous ass-pulls. All of the plot developments are logical and well-paced.
The action, unfortunately, can be a bit of a weak point. There are several characters who use special alchemy techniques to interesting effect, but Ed's (the main character) fighting style is rather pedestrian in comparison. Still, the idea of equivalent exchange helps the fights maintain an appealing sense of reason and rationality that I appreciate quite a bit. It makes them feel less contrived, something that this genre tends to suffer from severely. Also, nothing was ever dragged out unnecessarily and mid-fight dialogue/flashbacks were never taken too far. Fullmetal Alchemist avoids the major pitfalls of battle shounen and brings in a sense of logic that is very rare to see.
The characters are mostly static, and there is no unexpected development. Sometimes they can feel like cardboard cut-outs. But other times I find myself thinking "wow, a couple of these cardboard cut-outs actually look pretty good in context." Rather than linear development, the characters are developed via increased insight into them and information about them. They are developed from the perspective of the audience. This is a very sensible approach given the relatively short time frame that the series covers; there is some linear development, but it is subtle. Not subtle as in hard to spot, because it is pretty clear when you see it, but it is slight. The characters don't suffer from any about-faces or drastic personality transplants. The most apparent changes that the characters undergo are simply a result of us learning more about them. This makes the manga somewhat reminiscent of a well-structured canvas painting. It is all one unified and unmoving image, but as you look at it, you notice more about it and it seems to tell a story. There are also some irritating imperfections, it looks better from a distance than it does up-close, but these flaws fail to ruin the whole.
The issue with the above picture is that the foreground is probably weaker than the background, and isn't that where our eyes are drawn? Ed's character is mostly defined by basic traits, habits, and general goals; all nuance is absent. This is certainly intentional, to avoid alienating any of the audience from him, but this lack of ambition is irritating for me. Al's character is kind of empty. (Pun retrospectively intended.) His most significant developmental event was his contrived existential crisis that was quickly resolved and never really dwelled on again. These criticisms apply to many of the characters, in varying degrees. Even as we get more in depth into them, they don't ever feel real. That said, they are often entertaining and they get the job done. Ed is not always the focus and even minor characters are established early on and given essential roles. Rather than any individual characters being well-written, what is well-written is their interactions and relationships with one another, and where they are placed and what they do. Every character has purpose and motivation and defining character traits, even if they don't quite feel organic. If you pulled one character out of the plot, everything could collapse. No character is superfluous and no character is forgotten. This says more about the plot than the actual characterization, but it's a positive nevertheless.
More than anything, Fullmetal Alchemist is solid. Most of its imperfections are minor and don't reach the series' core. Nothing about the series is all that exceptional or original in itself, but it adds up into a very well-structured and cohesive work that manages to avoid making a lot of mistakes that are not often avoided. (And, despite its popularity, it never overstayed its welcome and was relatively concise for what it was.) Still, it doesn't really accomplish all that much that I haven't seen done as well or better. It is simply less flawed than most similar works. This makes it feel unique holistically, but not on a more critical examination. It is unique in that you'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect battle shounen, but this quality is negatively defined: Fullmetal Alchemist is most praise worthy for the things it does not do; what it does do is not nearly as impressive or difficult.
The lack of originality or risk-taking factors against Fullmetal Alchemist, but the form and presentation of it warrants a solid 7. It's quite good, but not quite great.
Too often, artists promote their own inexperienced and narrow-minded agendas in their stories, shamelessly condemning the actions and decisions of those living in circumstances they couldn’t possibly imagine accurately. Hiromu Arakawa, thankfully, is not one of those artists. Where her ignorance would have left holes in her story, she did research and conducted interviews. When opportunities came during the story in which she could pronounce judgment on one type of people or belief, she refrained from making naïve and arrogant assumptions. As her characters experience the sorrows and joys that come with facing the truth, that crouching
monster who laughs in derision as it reflects one’s own soul and reveals the stark realities of life, she herself refuses to embellish the facts.
That is not to say that Fullmetal Alchemist is any kind of allegory. This series goes so far as to include characters named after each of the seven deadly sins, and most of these characters, in many ways, come to embody how peculiarly pathetic these sins actually are. But the series remains a fleshed-out story until the end, with no character or event reduced to simply playing out one “message” or another. Fullmetal Alchemist is really entertainment at its finest, though the subtle blade of the truth nevertheless cuts right through the barrier between fantasy and reality.
The series begins with a few somewhat episodic adventures of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two alchemists in search of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to amplify the user’s transmutation. (Alchemy itself, a “science” of deconstructing matter and reconstructing it into something else, is a really imaginative and unusual type of “magic,” and there are several different styles in which it is used.) Edward and Alphonse have committed the ultimate taboo in trying to resurrect the dead using alchemy. This mistake literally cost Edward an arm and a leg, and it cost Alphonse his entire body. Edward's lost limbs have been replaced with “automail,” and Alphonse is now a soul bonded to a suit of armor. The two are on a journey to find a way to recover what they lost.
The story unfolds at a relaxed but gripping pace. After a couple of volumes, the series leaves behind its episodic feel and begins to accelerate into one grand story in which everything, including the early episodic sequences, begins to tie together. All of the characters are thoroughly developed and explored over a long period of time. At first glance, Edward seems a smart-aleck who loses his cool easily (especially when remarks are made about his height), and Alphonse seems to be the dull, plodding sidekick who must hold back the hero from getting into a fight with everyone they meet. This first impression of the latter is partly due to the inability to see Alphonse’s facial expression, and over time, as the two brothers are forced to act independently, we begin to see the quieter and more cool-headed Alphonse’s individuality. Edward, too, though somewhat hotheaded, is revealed to be more complex than he seems and undergoes subtle but well-done development throughout the series. One of the most defining moments for the two brothers is at the end of the second chapter, in which a young woman loses everything she clung to for so long. As she collapses, weeping, and demands to know what she should do, they both walk calmly by her with the admonition to get up and move forward. Edward and Alphonse, despite what it might seem at first, do not go around taking it upon themselves to solve everyone else’s problems.
The secondary characters are also slowly and completely developed, showing up and disappearing at natural times, enhancing the story without serving as mere devices to move it forward.
Wound throughout the story is an inexhaustible sense of incredibly wacky humor. Just when things could become melodramatic, the characters morph into chibi characters and jarringly draw the reader’s attention to the humor in the event at hand. These moments rudely break the spell of the story and bring you crashing back down to earth. This element is partly what makes this series so real. You aren’t allowed to morbidly dwell on the seriousness of the events; instead, you are prompted to laugh at yourself. As some might contend that the world isn’t all sunshine, Fullmetal Alchemist will remind you that the world isn’t all shadows, either.
The world in which the story takes place is fascinating but not one you would necessarily want to visit. There are layers of culture and history that include wars and racial discrimination. However, it does not possess the unnatural hellishness that colors dystopian-style fantasy. Fullmetal Alchemist explores numerous interesting and thought-provoking ideas that all escalate into one final confrontation with the truth that can resonate with us more deeply than all the calculated tearjerkers in the world.
The panels flow as naturally as the story, and the artwork itself, especially in the facial expressions, is great, but not pretentious. It is complex when it needs to be, but hardly noticeable the rest of the time, which is an accomplishment in itself. The character designs are diverse and unique.
In short, Fullmetal Alchemist is both honest and optimistic, entertaining and thought provoking. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Recently I have found it impossible to find a good shonen series to watch or read. It's come to the point that if it even looks remotely shonen, I stray away from it with untamed fury. Why do I keep coming back though? Why do I still look for shonen manga to read? It's all because of series like Full Metal alchemist.
When it comes to critiquing, I'm somewhat merciless. I'm sure some of the people who have seen my reviews of their favorite series think I consider myself a know it all, but nothing could be further from the truth. Often I see "but they
make a lot of money," as a response to my heavy critique, but not once have I considered it a valid excuse for a drop in quality or lack there of. This is something that I can guess Arakawa understood. She did not write just to get money, she wrote because she had a great idea. She wrote because she had a compelling fantasy world, and compelling story in which involving characters exist.As an aspiring novelist, this is something I can respect and one of the reasons that I'm proud to say I'm a fan of FMA.
Full Metal Alchemist story hits close to home, because I lost my mother when I was about four. It may sound like a lie but I had hopes of bringing her back from the dead, of course I couldn't because no such magic exist in the world and the hope that it did was just the hope of an ambitious kid. Edward and Alphonse had this ambition and as a result, they were met with a gruesome response. Understanding their wrongs the duo set out, and that as they say is that... somewhat. The journey that the duo took immersed them in colorful characters and a well designed world. This would not be the first time alchemy was used in a series, but I sure it will be a time well remembered.
While in an AIM group chat once, I heard a female speaker say that Full Metal Alchemist's art is simple, but I'll be honest I can't agree. For the record I can't draw to save my life, but I think there's something great about the drawings Arakawa provides. As I said earlier I'm an aspiring writer, so to me anything put into the story should have a certain charm to it that will make it memorable. That's what the art in full metal alchemist is. Even if its simple it does not stand in your way of falling in love with the series.
As I said above, anything put into the story should have a certain charm to it that will make it memorable, and like it can be said about the art, the same can be said about the story. Riddle me this; "How do you get a reader to miss a villain, without giving them a sappy backstory?" "How do you make an otherwise minor character one that your readers will remember?" To tell you the answers, I don't really know, but Arakawa figured it out. Not one character in FMA struck me as one dimensional. While I thought "god this guy is an evil bastard." Not once did I find one appalling enough to insult Arakawa for creating. One of the things that I think drive a story is it's plot and it's characters, evident by the manga in question.
If it's not apparent already, I really did enjoy this series. I remember the moments I spent catching up with it and the "full metal alchemist withdrawal" that I went into when I did. I had only seen the first anime before I started, so I didn't know what to expect. Upon reading through I realized the difference right away, and realized more that the difference between the two made the first anime a very affectionate adaption.
At this point, there is not much more to say. If you want a engaging fantasy series with affectionate art, and compelling story then this is one for you. The fights are great too but really, they shouldn't be your concern when going into Full Metal Alchemist, a manga that has much more. and even though Arakawa Hiromu will probably never see this, I congratulate her for making a great shonen series in a time that's majorly lacks them.