Fullmetal Alchemist (novels) Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Monday, September 26, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Makoto Inoue (Original Concept: Hiromu Arakawa)
Translated by:Alexander O. Smith
Adapted by:

What They Say
An original story translated from the Japanese! The Elric brothers travel to the ghost town of Xenotime - once a prosperous mining town, now slowly sinking beneath the drifting sands. To save their town, the inhabitants of Xenotime have hired two of the world's most powerful alchemists to create a Philosopher's Stone... and when the Fullmetal Alchemist and his brother meet them, sparks are going to fly. How can there be *two* sets of alchemists named Edward and Alphonse Elric? Plus a bonus story, "The Phantom in Warehouse 13"!

The Review
The Fullmetal Alchemist franchise continues to grow here in the US with the release of the first of a series of novels dedicated to telling more about the Elric brothers. This also marks the beginning of VIZ's new Fiction imprint, branching out their library to fictional novels as well.

As this review copy is an uncorrected galley proof, I will be unable to assign a grade to this portion of the review. However, I am able to offer some comments to those interested. The cover features a color illustration of Ed and Al, using the manga character designs; although I am not sure whether it was actually illustrated by Arakawa-sensei herself. The English logo is used on the front and back covers as well as the spine. The new "VIZ FICTION" imprint appears on the spine. There are a few pieces of artwork inserted in the novel, but they are nothing special. I don't know if it was part of the original release, but there is a bonus chapter, "The Phantom of Warehouse 13" included in this release.

As with the packaging portion, I won't grade the text but will offer some observations. For those wondering about consistency, everything seems to match quite well except for the name "Mugear" which was spelled "Mugwar" in the anime. The tone of the dialogue matches the characters appropriately, with the interactions between Ed and Al feeling much like it should. The villagers have a tinge of a 19th Century frontiersman style of speech to their dialogue that I found quite appropriate and not overdone. There were a couple of minor grammar mistakes that I noticed, so I hope the editing team gets those ironed out before the actual release. Overall it's very solid.

Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
There is no doubt that Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the hottest franchise properties from Japan today. The anime is tearing up the ratings on Adult Swim and the DVDs are selling quite well, as well as the manga which has seen it's 3 volumes in the top 10 graphic novel list for at least a combined 30 weeks. Hoping to cash in on the success of this property, as well as providing a launching point for their new Fiction imprint, VIZ now brings us one of a series of novelizations of the original concept by Arakawa-sensei.

In "The Land of Sand", the Elric brothers have come to the desolate mining town of Xenotime to investigate rumors they heard about research being done on creating a Philosopher's Stone. The town of Xenotime used to be a bustling place filled with gold and the goldsmiths that would work the precious metal in extraordinary works of art. However, the gold mines have run dry and the excavation of the land has killed off all the vegetation, leaving the town a barren place that is constantly attacked by the blowing sands.

The rumors have it that someone in the town has been trying to create gold out of stone, a trick that breaks that rules of alchemy, which is what brings the Elrics to Xenotime. This type of feat could only be accomplished with the help of the Philosopher's Stone. The town's former gold tycoon, Mugear, has hired two famous alchemists to help with the research on creating this stone of legend. Many of the former goldsmiths in fact have stuck around, throwing every last bit of their money to Mugear, hoping that the lost days of wealth and commerce will return.

The Elric brothers hope to use their name and some of their notoriety to get them into the research lab, but end up the objects of ridicule when they find out that the two alchemy researchers that are present are calling themselves Edward and Alphonse Elric. This leaves the real Elric brothers not only with the task of trying to get to the research data, but also with having to try and clear their good name. The fake Elrics, whose real names are Russell and Fletcher, have strong personal reasons of their own as to why they took on the famous Elric moniker, and they won't give up without a fight! Well, Ed and Russell will do most of the fighting, while the younger brothers sigh at the older brothers' behavior.

This novelization of the Xenotime story, episodes #11-#12 from the anime, keeps true to a lot of the characterizations and themes of the Fullmetal Alchemist storyline that many of us are already familiar with by either the manga or anime versions (or both). The town of Xenotime is stuck on the successes of its past and unable to move on, relying on a forbidden power for their own personal gains. There are some, like Mugear, who hold much more responsibility than others, but overall everyone is afraid to move on with their lives and would rather bring back the good old times. Russell and Fletcher also give up some of their individuality as they try to live the lives of someone else in order to see through the research that was started long ago by their father. The themes of responsibility of power, hubris, living the past, as well as others are all familiar ones from the other incarnations of this story, so it is nice to see them continued here. Also continued is a lot of the humor surrounding Ed's height, or lack thereof, as well as the personalities of both Ed and Al and how their relationship works. The familiarity and consistency definitely makes this novel enjoyable, despite being already traveled territory.

As far as differences between the novel and anime, I found quite a few. There are a lot of bigger events from the anime missing; there are no Homunculus or poisonous underground spring, as well as other things. The purpose of many items and interactions are also changed a bit; the Water of Life has a much different purpose here in the novel. There is a lot more focus on the villagers and their troubles in this town, which feels more personal to me. Overall, this novel story feels much more self-contained and focused on the characters than any overarching plot. As expected, it takes it's time and has a much slower pace than the anime. What this novel does not do is explain a lot of the background motivations and setting, leaving the uninitiated possibly not understanding the bigger picture.

There is a small bonus chapter at the end of the book that many will probably find quite humorous. It follows Roy Mustang and a few of his crew of soldiers as they investigate the rumors of a ghost haunting the unknown Warehouse 13. It reads much like a fan-fiction, offering some humorous moments with some of our favorite characters outside of their usual element. This story also made it into the anime adaptation, which can be found in episode #37. Again, for those that have seen the anime this might feel that re-treaded material, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

For those already familiar with the anime, the story of the fake brothers Elric in Xenotime is a story that occurred early on in the anime run, but was not originally part of the manga storyline. This novelization tells the same story, keeping a lot of the characterizations and familiarity with the world of FMA intact, but offering twists and different takes on a lot of the events that in the end play out a bit differently than its anime counterpart.

There is not a lot of ramp up time about the history of the Elrics or the underlying political story, so this novel is definitely written for the fans of the franchise who are looking for more. Unfortunately it is a story that many of us have already experienced, so your willingness to rehash the events might vary, regardless of the differences. The bonus story "The Phantom of Warehouse 13" offers some good laughs with a fan-fiction type of story that puts Roy Mustang and his crew in an unusual situation, but is also a story that was put into the anime.

With a clean reading translation, this novel is a nice treat for the fans of the series who want everything FMA they can get their hands on. For those uninitiated, I would start with the manga or anime to get your feet wet first before diving in. As a debut title in VIZ's new Fiction imprint, I'm definitely impressed and am looking forward to more.

Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Text/Translatin Rating: N/A
Age Rating: All
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 220
ISBN: 1-4215-0155-4
Size: B6
Orientation: Left to Right
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist (novels)