the Little Red Reviewer

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 1, by Hiromu Arakawa

Posted on: September 29, 2010

New to Manga? Check out Manga 101: Let’s talk about Manga and Manga 102.

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favorite manga series, definitely my favorite shonen series. Fullmetal Alchemist wa redhead san no ichiban shonen!

Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is contemporary shonen, with plenty of action and comedy, and just a teensy bit of romance. The science the steampunk-lite country of Amestris is alchemy. A trained alchemist takes the materials at hand, draws a transmutation circle and can create something else of similar mass and volume. Alchemy has one, and only one rule, a rule that can not be broken – the law of equal exchange: to obtain something, something of equal value must be given. The idea that everything costs something, that you can’t take without giving, that everything must be in balance, these are concepts that have resonated with me for a long time. A lot of what I read in Fullmetal Alchemist, a lot of the philosophy, I took to heart. I have been reading this series for nearly 10 years, and yes, I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it. Two, in fact.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two talented brothers who got in over their heads and have been paying the price ever since. Forbidden in the practice of alchemy, the grief stricken young brothers had attempted to resurrect their dead mother. Even human transmutation must follow the law of equal exchange. But what is equal to a life? To a soul? What did it cost them?

It’s been a few years since the failed human transmutation when we first meet Ed and Al in volume 1 of Fullmetal Alchemist. Ed is fifteen and Al is fourteen, and they are investigating reports of miracles in a rural city. But there is no such thing as miracles, Father Cornello must have a philosopher’s stone, the one thing in the world that allows you to break the law of equal exchange. Ed confronts him, only to find that Father Cornello has the mother of all aces up his sleeve.

While exposing Father Cornello’s false philosopher’s stone, Edward battles chimeras and takes every opportunity to rip off his cloak or shirtsleeve, exposing everyone to his super shiny high tech automail arm. In a country torn by war, the metal prosthetics bound to your nervous system called automail aren’t rare, and Ed does like to show his off. He just doesn’t want to tell you how he got them.

You see, when the brothers attempted human transmutation, although the transmutation was a failure, they still had to pay for it. Alphonse lost his entire body, and Edward lost his leg. If Edward was going to save his brother’s soul, he would have to pay more. In exchange for his arm, he was able to bind Al’s soul to a suit of armor.  Two automail prosthetics, a year of physical therapy, and one passed state alchemy exam later, the brothers are on the hunt for the philosopher’s stone, the legendary item that allows you to break all the laws of alchemy, to do anything you want. All they want to get their original bodies back. 

Although there is a lot going on in Volume 1, Arakawa keeps it simple, giving us the opportunity to learn about Ed and Al, Amestris, and alchemy. With the help of some flashbacks we get just a taste of what the brothers went through after their mother died, how their grief pushed them to do the unthinkable. Arakawa seamlessly goes back and forth from dead serious dramatic action to slapstick. It sounds strange, but she makes it work.

All they want is for things to go back to normal. But their journey is just beginning.

Stay tuned for more Fullmetal Alchemist!

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2 Responses to "Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 1, by Hiromu Arakawa"

I love this series, too!! Magic shouldn’t be free, so I love the concept of equivalent exchange. The relationship between Ed and Al is another reason that I love this manga so much. The anime was awesome, too! You keep writing about my favorite titles – keep it up :)

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