Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Hiromu Arakawa
Translated by:Akira Watanabe
Adapted by:

What They Say
Alchemy: the mystical power to alter the natural world, somewhere between magic, art and science. When two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, dabbled in these powers to grant their dearest wish, one of them lost an arm and a leg and the other became nothing but a soul locked into a body of living iron. Now they are agents of the government, slaves of the military-alchemical complex, using their unique powers to obey their orders -- even to kill. Only their powers aren't unique. The world crawls with evil alchemists. And in pursuit of the ultimate alchemical treasure, the Philosopher's Stone, their enemies are even more ruthless than they are.

The Review
The cover features the same illustration of the Elric Brothers as the Japanese release. Where the original logo appeared at the top, there is now the English logo, which is the same one FUNI uses for the anime, with a silver background. The red Action strip appears at the top. The bottom features the creator name as well as the volume number in the middle of a gear. The cover has a high gloss finish that really makes that silver coloring shine. Holding it in my hands, it is a great presentation.

Inside we get a volume header page along with a few words from Arakawa about how she sees this story like an over-the-top B movie. There are quite a few extras at the back of the book, including some really funny strip comics. There's a two page preview for the next volume which looks fantastic. The print job looks fantastic, with a couple instances of fading, but overall the tones look really sharp.

Arakawa's artwork is remarkably clean and streamlined. The character designs feature some really simple line work that looks very refined, with a great array of expressions. Even Al, who is a suit of armor, has some subtle changes that get across his personality. It is funny to see a semi-deformed suit of armor. The tone work on the clothing, metal, and other objects looks really smooth.

The action and alchemy scenes are really exciting and pop right off the page. I could almost feel and hear Ed creating a spear or other weapons. The action features some great panel work and some dynamic artwork that gets the intensity across nicely. The backgrounds also look great when they are present. Overall, Arakawa does a great job of pulling in her readers through her artwork, making them a part of this great fantasy world.

SFX are translated and retouched. The retouch job looks really nice, with only a couple of them boxed in. The translation was done very nicely, as it reads very smoothly. There are some parts in the first story where the dialogue can get pretty heavy with lots of terminology and philosophical discourse, and it comes across perfectly. The dialogue for the characters also felt quite appropriate.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
One of the most anticipated, and already best-selling, manga has finally hit US shores courtesy of Viz Media. Fullmetal Alchemist is the original manga that inspired the hit anime adaptation that has not only been a success in Japan, but is also doing quite well here in North America. Personally, I'm a big fan of the anime, so I'm very excited to finally get my hands on the manga and see how this great story began.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that it deals with alchemy, a real studied practice in Europe that was the early beginnings of chemistry. Most of the alchemists of this time were concerned with turning metals into gold or silver. In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist, the alchemy is more of a fantasy element, which I think works really well. Alchemists can turn any matter into whatever they desire so long as they follow the law of Equivalent Exchange. This law states that to obtain something, something of equal value must be lost. In other words, an alchemist cannot create a car out of water, as the water does not have the equal substances to create the car. This theme of Equivalent Exchange is one of many overarching themes in this story.

The setting is a parallel world that mimics medieval Europe, where alchemy was a studied practice, mixed with some more current technologies like trains, cars, and other motorized machinery and high tech gadgetry. Even more interesting are the conflicts in the background. The populace seems to be ruled by a strong militaristic government where the enforcers are the State Alchemists, licensed alchemy users who are "dogs of the military". These alchemists enforce the law of the land and keep the civilians in line. Keeping with the medieval setting, there is also quite a battle going on between alchemy/science and religion. Is alchemy a miracle gift from god, or is it a function of science?

The core of the story follows the Elric Brothers as they go on their quest to find the Philosopher's Stone, an item of legend that might help Ed & Al get their bodies back. You see, Al, the younger brother, is only a soul attached to any empty suit of armor. Ed, the older brother, has auto-mail, or metal prosthetics, for his right arm and left leg. When they were young, they did what alchemists are never supposed to do. They tried to bring back their dead mother by using alchemy, which failed miserably and almost cost them their lives. If they could find the Philosopher's Stone, they might be able to get back what they have lost. It is quite a tragic beginning to the story that is revealed bit by bit to the reader as flashbacks.

The complex and philosophical themes are mostly kept in the background and the focus is mostly on the Elric Brothers and their quest. Their first stop is a town where everyone is a follower of the Sun God Leto and are controlled by the head priest Father Cornello, who is able to perform what are seen as miracles by using alchemy. Their second stop is a mining town that is being oppressed by the local State Alchemist who is abusing his power, illustrating that the civilians really don't think to highly of the enforcement by the State Alchemist. There are seen as corrupt and power hungry. Finally the brothers head back to headquarters on a train, which ends up being the center of a hijacking, which Ed & Al must do their best to put to a stop. During this scene we are introduced to more members of the Army and Roy "The Flame Alchemist" Mustang, an interesting character who seems to know more than he lets on.

One thing I was concerned about was that it would feel a bit redundant after watching the anime. So far, this does not appear to be the case. While all three of these stories appeared in the anime, there are enough little changes that make for an interesting read. The one major difference is that the train hijacking storyline takes place after Ed is a State Alchemist, where in the anime it before. The end results might be the same, but the journey there does have a few new things to offer that kept it feeling fresh and not redundant at all. It does offer and new experience that fans of the anime can enjoy.

If you haven't at least heard of Fullmetal Alchemist by now, then most likely you are living in a cave. This franchise is one of the more publicized and talked about anime in recent memory. The anime is a top 10 seller and, at the time of this review, the manga is in its 3rd week at #1 for BookScan's top graphic novels. With all this hype and popularity, the question is, does Fullmetal Alchemist live up to it all? With the manga, so far the answer is most definitely yes.

The first volume of the manga presents an peek into a complex world with a lot of political and religious conflicts that are mostly kept to the background. It will be interesting to see how this comes to the forefront of the story later on, as it could offer some real rich discourse. The fantasized use of alchemy provides a lot of great action, as well as some commentary on power and the responsibilities of having great power. The heart of the story is the journey of two brothers trying to get back what they lost. The small flashbacks to their pasts as the story progresses presents a real dark mood that no doubt will return later on. The stories in this first volume do a great job of balancing comedy, action, as well as interesting commentary between the lines.

For those who have seen the anime, the manga can be enjoyed without that feeling of complete redundancy. The end results of the stories might be the same, but there are minor differences in how the story plays out. Arakawa's artwork is very refined and does a good job at drawing you into her world. The action sequences are also well laid out and illustrated very well.

Overall, I am very pleased with this introduction into the manga world of Fullmetal Alchemist. Having already been a fan of the anime, reading the manga just solidified my stance in my feelings about this franchise.

Definitely worth checking out.

Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.95
Pages: 192
ISBN: 1-59116-920-8
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist