Review: Fullmetal Alchemist (15) by Hiromu Arakawa

I haven’t been reading new manga in quite some time, and Huda recommended Fullmetal Alchemist to me. In the first few volumes I found the story very interesting, but not as engaging as Naruto or Bleach (I enjoy the manga versions rather than the anime). However, by volume 10 or so I’ve decided that Fullmetal Alchemist is in another league entirely. It’s a lot more mature and serious than other shonen manga I’ve read (not that I’ve read that many), but it’s still very funny at the same time. At the moment, the only other story I’d compare it to would be Robotech: The Macross City Saganovels and anime.

This story is set in a world where alchemy – the ability to “create” – exists. The basic rules of alchemy was explained in the first volume; it works on equivalent trade. This means that one has to give up something in equal value in order to create something else. Those who are trained in this ability are called alchemists, and alchemists who are part of the military (the country the story is set in is a military state) are State Alchemists.

Edward and Alphonse Elric committed a serious taboo when it came to alchemy – they tried to bring back their dead mother to life. While their attempt failed, Ed lost an arm and a leg, while Alphonse lost his entire body, chaining his soul to a huge suit of armor. Determined to get their original bodies back, Ed became a State Alchemist (codenamed the “Fullmetal Alchemist”) in order to get access to previous research as well as conduct his own study, uncovering dark military secrets as he gets closer to his goal.

I really can’t write a brief synopsis for the last 14 volumes, but that would have to do. Volume 15 is a flashback volume, depicting the Ishbalan war that occurred when the Elric brothers were still children. This means that the Elric brothers are barely in this volume, and it focuses on the characters involved during the war, like Roy Mustang (The Flame Alchemist), Alex Louis Armstrong, Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes, the Rockbells, and Scar, whose real name is yet to be revealed.

*may contain minor spoilers*

This is my favourite volume so far because it showed how the characters came to be who they are at the beginning of the manga. Mustang in particular appeared as an idealistic young man at first, determined that being a State Alchemist meant that he would be protecting the innocent and fighting for the good of his nation. During the course of the war, his talents was used to kill, and he did more damage than most of the soldiers put together. This volume shows how he slowly became embittered, and his realization that despite being called the hero of Ishbal he had killed more people than he could ever protect. He still clung to his ideals, however – after the war was over he became determined to rise in power and knock King Bradley off his throne so that his dream of living in a peaceful country could be achieved. Riza Hawkeye, the daughter of Mustang’s tutor, only just graduated from military academy, but was sent to the battlefield as a sniper because she was an excellent marksman. Armstrong came from a long line of military men, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of having to kill so many civilians – his “failure” in the Ishbal war would continue to haunt him in the future, and would be the reason he would never be promoted despite his abilities and family connections. The Rockbells were doctors working to save the Ishbalan civilians during the war, but were killed by one of the very people they saved. On the other hand, other doctors such as Knox and Marcoh, were in their idea of hell – they were being ordered to kill and experiment on people instead of saving lives. Scar, an Ishbalan warrior-priest, hated alchemy and the Amestrians, but was saved by his brother’s alchemy and recovered because of the Rockbells, who were Amestrian doctors.

Reading this volume, I could see how the war had shaped all of these characters, and how it affected the characters who were too young to be involved, like the Elric brothers and Winry Rockbell. Since I really like the characters in this manga (even the villains), I appreciate the character back stories, and the fact that I am growing to like this manga more and more as I read on. Thanks, Huda, for recommending this to me, and I’ll definitely be recommending this to others!

“Before I went sketching my drafts, I went and visited some old soldiers who had served and fought in the frontlines during World War II. Their stories were more vivid and intense than any you could ever find depicted in books or documentaries. One in particular even trailed off halfway, looked down at his desk and whispered, ‘I’ll never watch a war movie, ever.’ It left a really deep impression on me…” – Hiromu Arakawa


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