Edward and Alphonse Elric are prodigies in the study of alchemy-- the transmutation of items and elements. When their mother becomes ill and dies, they attempt the forbidden practice of 'human transmutation' in order to bring her back to life. But everything goes wrong, and Edward loses his arm and leg, while Alphonse's body vanishes and his soul is fixed in to a suit or armor. Together, the brothers seek the Philosopher's Stone in order to restore their bodies. But along they way they will face greater trials than the boys have seen already. They must face each obstacle with a will of iron, and a spirit that's full metal.
Welcome to this week’s Manga Monday! Today we’re covering the much raved Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.
You know the drill: The cover first! This cover depicts a young man with a strong jaw, blond hair, and bright yellow eyes, putting on a glove, while an imposing looking armored person stands behind him. When you peak in to the young man’s sleeve, you see his arm is made of metal, just like the armor behind him. These are the Elric Brothers. Alphonse (the armor) and Edward (the young man). And Edward is the titular Full Metal Alchemist.
You might be thinking, wait, what?! You got that right, Carol? Shouldn’t Alphonse be the Full Metal Alchemist? Well… No I’m not wrong, and no, he’s not. Also, Alphonse is the younger brother. He’s 10 years old, and Edward is 13 (at the start of the manga).
Don’t worry, I’ll explain soon. Anyway, some history on the manga. Full Metal Alchemist was first published in Square Enix’s (yep, the video game company) monthly magazine, Shonen Gangan, from August 2001 until June 2010. It took this comic nearly 10 years to run its course (though I’ve reviewed manga that has run longer and STILL isn’t done). The story takes Edward and Alphonse over 3 or 4 years of their lives, and tells the story of their incredibly epic journey, and how they touch the lives of countless people in their country and beyond.
The main narrative is about the Elric Brothers. Edward, eldest by a year originally, and Alphonse, who are prodigies in the scientific practice of ‘alchemy’. Alchemy in this universe is the transmutation of items through manipulating their base elements, and conserving the matter that makes up those items, in order to create something new. The laws of Alchemy resemble the first law of Matter: Nothing is destroyed or lost, only manipulated and reshaped. Alchemists create many things, and even fight and innovate their world, by using transmutation circles and the Three Laws of Alchemy: Comprehension (understand the composition of the items, their elements and compounds), Deconstruction (break it down in to the base form) and Reconstruction (put it back together in a new, stable form). The key to it all though is the conservation of matter, or ‘equivalent exchange’. You need the same amount and required materials in order to create anything.
Edward and Alphonse aspire to become great alchemists. But one day, their mother becomes sick, and she shortly dies. Their father abandoned them long ago, so the brothers have no one, except their neighbors, the Rockbells. But the boys want their mother back, so they do the forbidden practice of ‘human transmutation’: using Alchemy to bring back the dead, or reshape the human body. They save and purchase items that are found in the human body, and attempt to rebuild their mother’s body, using drops of their own blood to be the ‘equivalence’ of her soul. It doesn’t work, however, and the boys open up a gateway, known as ‘The Gate of Truth’. Alphonse’s body and soul are lost to the Gate, but Edward manages to escape, losing only his leg. However, unwilling to lose his only remaining family, the 11 year-old uses his blood and an empty suit of armor, to get back his little brother’s soul. Edward loses his arm, but he gets Alphonse’s soul back… It’s just now stuck in the armor, via a seal made in Ed’s blood.
The brothers eventually get help from their neighbors, who are crafters of prosthetic, mechanized limbs called ‘auto-mail’. Edward recuperates from the ordeal, while Alphonse must tell their childhood friend, Winry, what happened. Eventually, word of the brothers’ father’s reputation is heard and the military sends Col. Roy Mustang to come and find him. Mustang finds the brothers instead, and he learns their secret. He doesn’t take it to their leader, however, or the police. Instead he suggests that Edward apply to the military and join them. Edward wants nothing to do with the military, due to the country’s most recent wars with Alchemy-fearing race of Ishbalans. The army once called upon the Rockbells to ask Winry’s parents, both doctors, to come serve and help wounded, only for the two to die in the fighting. Mustang leaves, but entices Edward with a challenge. Eventually, Edward decides he’ll go join the military and use their wealth of Alchemic knowledge to find a way to restore his and Alphonse’s bodies. Ed uses the rest of his family’s savings to have the Rockbells create automail limbs for him, and he goes through rehabilitation and training with Alphonse, until the two are ready. When Edward is 13, and Alphonse is 12 (though still 10 in his soul), the brothers burn down their home, and set out for the capital of their country to seek answers and a way to become whole again.
This manga is AWESOME. The story itself is a mixture of epic-high-fantasy, with touches of steampunk, parallels to European history and allegories (I mean, their ‘leader’ is called a Furher!) and major minglings of magic and science. The characters are marvelous, with Edward being a hard-headed, stubborn little squirt (somewhere he’s screaming at me for calling him short), and Alphonse is wise beyond his years, and so adorable in his innocence. This series boasts a massive cast of people, not limited to who the Elrics are most social with. We get to see stories and the events surrounding Roy Mustang and his rise through the ranks in his own ambitions of becoming Fuhrer, and the members of the military who follow him, including over the top Gen. Alex Louis Armstrong III(*sparkle sparkle FLEX*) and the evil, mysterious, and sinister creatures known as the Humunculi. What are the Humunculi? Creatures who look human but are actually monsters made by Alchemy. They are all named after the 7 deadly sins; Lust, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth, Pride, Wrath, and Greed. Greed is something of a frienemy to Ed and Al, especially later in the series, while Envy pits himself against Edward the most as an arch enemy. But all seven must answer to the man known only as ‘Father’. And we can’t forget the memorable Prince Lin Yao of Xing- a country that uses Alchemy for healing rather than simply creation and weapon advancement.
No wonder it took 10 years to write it! And 2 animes!
Wait, you say, two? Why two? Well, the first anime, released in 2005, followed the manga only to the point it had reached at the time of the anime’s creation. Since the manga was still going, the anime needed things to make for the rest of the series. Though they had the blessing of the mangaka, what we got was an entirely DIFFERENT story in terms of the anime and manga, and by the time the manga had finished, well… they had no way of reconciling the two, so they became two different stories. But then a second anime adaptation, named ‘Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood’, was released, which follows the manga entirely. I love the original series, but the second one isn’t bad, either. I’d just seen it already through the manga.
The artwork of the manga is a bit of a mix, but I think it finds an equivalence (ha!) in the balance between the simple designs of the human characters, and the complex and gorgeous details of Alphonse’s armor, the weapons and the buildings, the scenery, and the intricate Alchemy circles. The story, as said, top-notch! So, I can’t find many cons here. So, I give this manga 5 stars!! Read it today, and I promise, you will NOT regret it!