Mangaka: Arakawa Hiromu
Years running: 2001 – 2010
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Adventure, Science Fiction
Cheapest to Buy (Volume 1 New Copy): rightstufanime.com
Cheapest to Buy (Complete Collection Used Copy): ebay.com
This title is heavily influenced by the recent world events (by recent I mean in the last 20 years or so) so there are some parallels that you may recognise.
These parallels are not meant to culturally offend or insinuate Arakawa’s political thoughts so I request that you take what is written as it is. Thank you 🙂
So now, the plot:
Taking place in the fictional country of Amestris (which kind of resembles Europe) in the early 1900s, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are on a quest to find a way to bring back their bodies. A mishap in attempting human transformation to resurrect their mother caused Edward to lose a leg and Alphonse to lose his entire body with his soul now bound to a suit of armour, causing Edward to sacrifice his right arm. Edward becomes a State Alchemist (a title with a dark reputation) at the age of 12, using the title’s privilege to obtain unlimited research material and get closer to their goal. But the political circumstances in their country is changing rapidly and the two brothers will be caught in the middle of it.
Now, unlike shounen manga Fullmetal Alchemist does not run in an episodic manner. There are no character or story arcs clearly defined. The adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric are intertwined with the main plot.
As such, the entire manga or volumes 1-27 is just one huge arc with a few select side stories that are not long enough to be considered story arcs.
To summarise the entire manga with a few choice sentences:
1. Edward and Alphonse are on a quest to search for the Philosopher’s Stone as a way to bring back their bodies but have to resort to different means upon finding the truth about the stone.
2. Tons of military secrets are exposed in the process causing a political upheaval that affects both brothers and the people they care about.
3. Culminating in a huge military coup that revamps the entire government to become a more bridge-building entity.
Interesting right?? I suggest you take some time off and read it. If you’ve never seen a plot structure such as this, I guarantee it’s worth the look.
Real Life Influences
Arakawa actually did a ton of research when creating Fullmetal Alchemist. While the concept of the Philosopher’s Stone was her main trigger for the series, she wanted to put some social problems in her creation so she watched a lot of news, war films and talked to refugees and orphanages to see their perspectives.
At the time of the manga’s serialisation, the most recent major conflict was the Gulf War which I guess this was why a lot of the refugees in Fullmetal Alchemist resemble Middle-Eastern people — again, influenced from watching the news. If you are wondering why Arakawa didn’t put other events like 9/11 or something similar, note that a manga concept can be created long before serialisation and since the manga began serialisation in 2001, it was probably too late to add in a new concept.
Regardless of what people and events resembled in the series, it was a pretty gutsy move for someone let alone a JAPANESE mangaka to add in social problems into their creation. I have high respect for her because it takes balls of steel (excuse my crude language ( ◞･౪･) ) to attempt to integrate heavy things into a manga of all things.
Is Alchemy Real??
You would be surprised that the practice of alchemy was indeed real and was widespread throughout history. There are even alchemic societies that exist today.
As someone who is really interested in the history of science, I had a lot of fun researching this. Arakawa also did a lot of research regarding alchemy and while a lot of things in Fullmetal Alchemist was influenced by that research, she chose to focus on the philosophical aspect of alchemy instead of the practical aspect since it was confusing her lol.
I don’t know why but I feel a lot closer to Arakawa because I can see her thought process and can imagine how she integrated these historical ideas into her work. It’s interesting how one person’s research can create a new concept altogether. Arakawa’s “alchemy” per se is not like any alchemy that we actually know but is her own creation which is pretty cool if you ask me ( ᐛ )و
Ethics and Morals
No surprise there. With social problems in the mix, there is bound to be a discussion on ethics and morals somewhere.
This part includes some spoilers so you have been warned:
State Alchemists (which is what Edward Elric is) have a dodgy reputation for being human weapons since they were involved in mass killings throughout Amestris’ recent history. In the middle of the manga, there was a discussion between Edward and someone else about what to do with those who committed war crimes. Edward said they need to be put to justice but the other person countered that would mean putting Colonel Mustang (his friend) on trial since he was involved as well.
That is just one of the dilemmas that Edward and Alphonse face as the story moves forward. Both brothers are still children compared to their peers who are adults in the military and have experienced a lot in life so the impact of the decisions carry a lot more weight in their hearts as they are still fundamentally children despite their intelligence in the field of alchemy.
It’s very forthcoming of Arakawa to put moral dilemma out there in her work because it allows us, readers, to see the full impact of the choices we make. Some may agree, others may not but in all, I do like the fact that she’s trying to send that kind of message to her demographic (young boys).
It Ain’t All Sad
Fullmetal Alchemist has a lot of comedic scenes spliced into the doom and gloom. Arakawa didn’t want the manga to be so tragic that it puts people off.
This was a good move on her part as it made the heartbreaking scenes a little more palatable at time. That isn’t to say that serious scenes should be funny but it’s good to have some laughs, given that they are put in at the right time.
One famous joke in the series is Edward’s height. He isn’t very tall and hates being called “little”. It’s a really good inside joke that fans love very much.
Impact of War
This theme is greatly explored in this title. It talks a lot about the impact on the people that suffered, the soldiers, the society, and the country as a whole.
Arakawa’s research did extend into war films and documentaries so I would say that’s where she got her inspiration from. However, while the consequences of war are clearly shown, there isn’t much on PTSD or on how the soldiers live their lives after service.
I’m sure some veterans will agree with me that while it’s good that the effects of war are shown, the healing process is not. I guess Arakawa didn’t research that part extensively but it would be nice to have that somewhere in the manga — at the end perhaps when all the fighting stopped.
Our Dual Protagonists
I like to think of Edward and Alphonse as one person: Edward represents the human will while Alphone represents the human heart. When you put both together, you have someone who is able to connect with others and earn their respect.
Notice that everyone puts the two brothers as one person? It is never “Edward does this” or “Alphonse does that”, it’s “the Elric brothers”.
It’s a neat little thing that I’ve noticed after re-reading and re-watching this series so many times. I think it is nice for the readers and the viewers to know this as well ( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ
Arakawa’s Political Views??
Arakawa never made it clear what she is heading towards with Fullmetal Alchemist.
Arakawa said that she wanted to bring light to the issues to today hence all the scenes of war, destruction, and its effects. Some people think she was trying to bring to light the dying culture of the Ainu since she grew up in Hokkaido where most of that ethnic group still live.
While she does make that hint with the Scar-faced man in Fullmetal Alchemist, there is nothing explicit that would indicate her own political views — at least that’s what I think.
I like to believe that Arakawa wanted to bring to light the societal problems that the world face today to a population of people that have lived in peace for the last 70 years since WWII — Japan. However, international audiences from similar places are also targeted since the situations are fairly similar.
4.7 out of 5 mangabooks.
First, my general review:
A title that hits close to home, Fullmetal Alchemist is a must-read that all people no matter how old should read. It has a lot of real-life parallels that will shock you and while the alchemy that Arakawa has meticulously created adds a supernatural element to it, there is no denying how realistic this manga is. Of course, not all scenes in Fullmetal Alchemist have to be sad, there are enough funny moments to bring a smile to your face despite the doom and gloom that occurs frequently in this series.
Now, my personal review:
This manga is actually my favourite manga of all time — yup, you heard it.
So why is it not ranked 5??
Well, having a favourite doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect you know. The reason why this manga is not rated 5 is that it will not age well as the world moves on. The social problems of today will not be reflected in Fullmetal Alchemist because it was made almost 20 years ago so a lot would have changed by then.
At the time of the manga’s serialisation, 9/11 had just happened and the Gulf War was still a pretty recent conflict. Now, we have terrorism, the Syrian Civil War, and the fight for equality for genders and sexualities. A lot has happened in the last 20 years and while war and violence is still a social issue, new things have popped up.
Fullmetal Alchemist will always remain my all-time favourite because of how hands-on Arakawa is. I don’t know any other mangaka who makes such an effort to see the real-world as it is for a manga of all things. I love her perspective and imagination when she made this series, touching a lot of people since its release in 2001.
I haven’t seen much of her work lately but after this review, I think I may explore and see what other things she has created. She is one of my favourite mangakas and I really want to see her succeed and be happy in what she does.
In all, Fullmetal Alchemist is a wonderful series that I would recommend everyone to read, not just because of the real-world stuff that is has but because of the great storyline, beautiful art and scenes, and pacing.
If you would like to read Fullmetal Alchemist, you can purchase the first volume today at rightstufanime.com
As always, if you would like to say anything about my review, feel free to do so down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂