Friday, November 23, 2012

Comic Book Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist follows the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, in their quest to regain their complete human bodies after a failed alchemical experiment. They had attempted to resurrect their dearly departed mother, and paid the price -- Ed lost his left leg, and Al lost his entire body. Since the core law of alchemy is "equal exchange," Ed sacrifices his right arm to transfer his little brother's soul into a suit of armor. The neighborhood granny takes them in, but word of the brothers' prodigious skill in alchemy has reached the military. The ambitious Col. Roy Mustang comes in person to recruit the boys, unaware of their condition. Meanwhile, a group of superhumans named after the seven deadly sins works secretly to incite bloodshed all over the country. So it begins...

For me, one of the bests part about this manga series is the perfect balance between action-packed confrontations and physical humor. You get everything that manga delivers: contorted limbs, tortured facial expressions, fangs, pools of blood, ridiculous fighting, and so on. The use of alchemy in the story requires suspension of disbelief, of course, but the writer uses the invented principles consistently and with a grounding in reality, which helps. For example, Ed has to fight Greed, whose body turns into impenetrable armor. But he makes the mistake of telling Ed that all superhumans have forms with the same elements as human bodies, which helps Ed realize that the "armor" is really just rearranged carbon. So the Fullmetal Alchemist transmutes a weapon to counter! Science! Or pseudo-science? You decide!

The characters are awesome. Edward starts out in the manga as a 15-year-old who hasn't hit his growth spurt yet, so he's under five feet tall. The military assigns him the title "Fullmetal" Alchemist (boring ol' "steel" in the original Japanese), but he's so tiny that everyone assumes the title goes to his brother Alphonse, whose armored body looms at almost seven feet tall. Ed also can't stand up to his childhood friend Winry, who often beats him up with a wrench. Then there's Major Alex Armstrong, a mustachioed muscleman who takes off his top at every opportunity while the panel sparkles with his manliness. And his beautiful yet terrifying sister, Major General Olivia Armstrong, gets sparkles, too, whenever she's threatening someone, which is pretty much every time she opens her mouth. The bad guys mostly play it straight, although one of them acts pretty goofy until readers figure out he's a villain. Then it's all murder-murder-kill-kill.

I was delighted to confirm my suspicion that a woman wrote Fullmetal Alchemist. I got the idea when Ed swears to beat up a thief, and when Al points out that she's a girl, Ed shouts, "Equality of the sexes!" Another clue: the best villain (IMO) is Lust, who remains calm and efficient when instigating violence and finishing off loose ends. Meanwhile, the best supporting character is either Lt. Lisa Hawkeye, a super-competent sniper, or Major-Gen. Olivia Armstrong, who keeps readers guessing about her true motives. Male mangaka (comic artists) usually underdevelop female characters' personalities and overdevelop their boobs. Tite Kubo of Bleach, I'm staring straight at you! Stop attaching Momo and Rangiku to their men! Geez!

I thoroughly enjoyed the manga. It read like a video game I would totally play. Hiromu Arakawa-sensei did a great job. I probably won't check out the anime, although I might YouTube some of the key scenes, like when Hawkeye gets her throat slit (spoiler: she gets better!) and Mustang cradles her in his arms and it's so romantic because they care about each other sooooo much. Anyway, at 27 volumes and four chapters per volume, it's maybe an 8-10 hour read. If you like manga, check it out!

Oh, and TGIF!