Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #02 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, July 05, 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, Edward and Alphonse Elric, state alchemists, gained their powers years ago, in an accident that turned one brother into an "automail" cyborg and the other into a living suit of armor. Now they roam the land dealing justice, encountering strange stories like a bio-alchemist who fuses life forms into "chimeras", impossible crossbreeds. But the government they serve has enemies. A man with a scar wants them dead. Lust, Gluttony and Envy, three of the "Seven Deadly Sins", will kill anyone who stands in the way of their goals. And between them, the Elric brothers are in serious trouble, because even if you sold your soul to the devil, there's always someone who got a better deal.

The Review
Arakawa wastes no time in throwing the Elric brothers into the fire, really turning up the heat on the story and proving it's best-seller status.

The cover artwork is from the Japanese release, featuring Ed and AL in a brightly colored illustration. The artwork is sandwiched between the English logo above and the creator bar at the bottom. The high-glossy finish on the book really allows the colors to shine brightly, with the silver parts of the log and background looking quite sharp. I think it's a great cover, and a high profile title like this deserves it.

Inside is another cow illustration and a few words from Arakawa. There is a volume header with artwork, character profiles with a story summary, the appropriate chapter headers, a hilarious 2 page strip comic featuring Alphonse, a preview of volume 3, and a couple more funny illustrations using a couple of the State Alchemists. There is also a couple FMA product advertisements in the back. The print is job is good, with a couple areas where the grey tones had a moir´┐Ż effect. Almost a perfect presentation.

I find Arakawa's artwork to be deceptively excellent. If I flip through the book hurriedly, just glancing over each page, it looks quite simple and unremarkable. But it is as I'm reading the story that I truly start appreciating her great work. The line work is unbelievable clean and very strong. The tones are also sharp and really bring the panels to life, as well as giving the artwork a nice texture. The action artwork, especially during the scenes with Scar, is really exciting and laid out in a clear, concise manner. I become a part of the world of FMA when I'm reading it, the artwork being a big reason for that.

SFX are translated and retouched. The retouch job is okay, with most of the new text looking quite nice. I thought a few instances of the SFX were a little blocky, and there is some boxing going on, some more noticeable than others.

The translation reads very clearly. The way the State Alchemists talk is handled perfectly, as they do have that proper, military style of dialogue that suits them quite well. Of course Edward sounds like the 15 year old hot-head that he is, while Al's dialogue is very calming and filled with reason. Definitely a nice translation job.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Continuing their quest to find the key to reclaiming their lost bodies, the Elric brothers meet up with an expert in bio-alchemy, the reclusive Sewing-Life Alchemst Shou Tucker. Tucker made his mark on the world of alchemy when he created a chimera that could speak during his State Alchemist board certification a couple years back. Since then he has been feeling the pressure to repeat such a miracle, but unfortunately hasn't had too much success. When Tucker is forced with a decision to save his research funding, he makes a difficult decision that challenges the Elric brothers and shatters their beliefs to the very core.

For those who have seen the anime, you are probably already aware of the gut-wrenching mini-arc surrounding Shou Tucker. The events in the manga are told in a much more direct manner, taking up only one chapter, but still has that same emotional affect. If you hadn't noticed it yet, after reading this chapter you will begin to see the dark issues and themes surrounding the Elric brothers' journey. Shou Tucker is what Edward could become if he is not aware of how powerful alchemy is and learns how to use that power responsibly. In some ways, the both of them are already very much alike, but it is up to Edward now to make sure that his life does not follow the same dark path as Shou Tucker. This is where the importance of Alphonse comes into play, as there are many moments in this volume where he displays his cool-headedness despite his younger age. Alphonse seems to be the voice of reason, always keeping Edward in check. The bond between these two brothers is something wonderful to experience.

Stage left enter Scar, a mysterious man with dark skin and red eyes who is wanted by the government for killing State Alchemists by what appears to be blowing them up from the inside. Scar, named because of the X-shaped scar on his forehead, sneaks around the city searching out State Alchemists because the act of alchemy changes God's design, and therefore they are trespassing on his work. But there also appears to be an even bigger reason for Scar's attacks, vengeance for his people that were killed in a civil war that involved many of the State Alchemists.

Two volumes into the story and I am already extremely impressed with the strong, multi-dimensional characters, rich history and background, and mysteriously winding storyline that involves more than just the Elric brothers. Many of the primary characters so far have a lot of inner conflict and deep issues that they are trying their best to deal with. The State Alchemists aren't just a bunch of military heroes, but survivors of a civil war in which they were the tools of genocide. How would you like to have that hanging over your shoulder? This is all rich enough for a great story, but then thrown into the mix are these mysterious characters with markings on their skin that seem to be immortal and possess superhuman powers. Not much is known about them at this point, but they seem to be pulling quite a few strings behind the scenes for some greater purpose that has yet to be determined.

While all this may sound rather gloomy and morose, Arakawa does take a little time away from the main storyline for a while and interjects a more lighthearted and comedic chapter as the Elric brothers, along with Major Armstrong as their escort, travel back to their hometown of Resembool. However, the story picks up once again when they meet up with an unexpected former, and missing in action, State Alchemist. Along the way, they run into an ex-researcher for the Central government named Dr. Marcoh, who is now living under an alias and helping out the people of a small village. The secrets that Dr. Marcoh was researching might be a key to helping out Edward & Alphonse, but they'll have to get the information before a 3rd party tries to interfere.

Wasting no time after a great introductory volume, Arakawa gets the story firing on all cylinders with an emotionally charged conflict for the Elric brothers, as well as lots of revelations surrounding the State Alchemists and their history. I am really impressed with how rich this parallel world is that Arakawa has created. The characters are also remarkably strong already, with many having to deal with very harsh issues.

If you haven't noticed it yet, the story gets pretty dark and intense at times, which is highlighted in this volume. Arakawa does do a nice job with adding in some lighter, humorous moments to break up the morose, but she doesn't waste time with getting back into the always evolving storyline driving it all.

While I thought the Shou Tucker story packed more punch in the end with the anime adaptation, the way this story is wrapped into all the other happenings around the city and the world was much tighter and better scripted here. The manga story is more to the point without the unnecessary filler to draw out episodes. This creates quite a mysterious mood that is kept at a high level and is very engaging for the reader. So far Fullmetal Alchemist has definitely proven it's best-seller status. Highly Recommended.

Mania Grade: A-
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 192
ISBN: 1-59116-923-2
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist