Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010)

Author: Hiromu Arakawa

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist

Format: Hardcover tankobons

Pages: lots πŸ˜› (approximately 5200)

Series: 108 chapters in 27/18 volumes

Whew, what a month! I finished two lengthy manga series this February – Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist spanning 27 volumes and Kishimoto’s 72 volume-long Naruto. A month of goodbyes! It’s a bittersweet experience, to close the cover on the characters whose adventures I’ve been following for almost two years. As I did with my reviews for Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and, to a lesser extent, Yotsuba&!, I will start with a quick general summary of my reading experience and then dive into short snappy reviews of each volume written right after I had read it – in other words, I will lift my reviews from GR ;).

Fullmetal Alchemist is a shonen title, but with some caveats. Yes, it is full of epic battles and desperate fighting against all odds, but it’s also focused more than a typical shonen on relationships and emotions – many of them pretty dark. It is a dark manga, inching at times into horror, but because its foundation is formed by a touching familial relationship – and the tropes of found family and friendship are particularly pronounced – it is also wholesome and delivers an unequvically positive message. The early volumes attest to the manga-ka experiments with overall tone and style, and are generally more whimsical and funny, with some kawaii cameos and absurd situations, but later on the tone darkens significantly, the losses become real and painful, and the stakes grow accordingly. Also, strong, realistic women are in abundance, and there’s no gratuitious nakedness! Wait, could that be because Arakawa is a woman??

What can I say? I enjoyed my time with the Elric brothers. As all manga journeys, it was at times uneven, but Arakawa managed magnificently to keep a tight leash on the plot and leave no loose ends or stray arcs. The story of Fullmetal Alchemist is precisely planned and meticulously executed, and very satisfying from a purely reading perspective. The art is loose and vibey. Don’t expect amazing panels of sheer artistic skill, black-and-white masterpieces of detail and emotion. The art is simple and it knows its place: it’s subservient to the plot. That said, there are certain panels that are amazing in their simplicity: Arakawa sure knows how to play with shadows and darkness, and how to use perspective to her advantage. She’s also very skilled at rendering her sometimes very abstract ideas in a way that is easy to comprehend. Believe me, after reading Naruto I know it’s not as easy as it sounds πŸ˜‰

Here we go, then – on a journey through the wonderful Fullmetal Edition volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist!

8/10 stars

A promising start to a series; funny and heartfelt, with nicely introduced backstory and a dystopian world where alchemy is used by the state to wage war and control population, and yet at the same time is one of the very few options of advancement for those with talent and drive.

The highlight of this manga is definitely the relationship between the two teenage brothers: Edward and Alphonse. Sweet and tender and funny in places, it showcases the two of them as a great team, unified in their quest to right the desperate errors from their past.

Looking forward to the next installment!Β 

7/10 stars

Still quite strong, though the direction in which it’s going is not entirely to my liking. The mystical deadly sins seem really far fetched at this point.

As a side note, I’m still not fully accustomed to the art. Very transient and sketchy, highly reliant on contrasts and shadows. The odd funny face still makes me laugh, though πŸ˜‰

5/10 stars

Welp, this is the weakest volume so far. The story is interesting enough, but the conflicts and resolutions feel way too manufactured, abrupt, and without emotional payoff. All the buildup of this volume leads to a wet firework fizzle, when Ed’s life is spared because “reasons.” Yeah, yeah, the human sacrifice and whatnot, but because it’s not yet explained, at this point it just doesn’t make an impact it should, it just seems contrived.

There is a lot of stage setting for the future installments, and while these elements stay in the background, they make me curious enough to continue.

As a side note, I still can’t get used to the whole FΓΌhrer-President thingy. Not sure if it’s there to evoke the grim echoes of national socialism, or just indicate the convergence of political and military power, but it sounds wrong.Β 

10/10 stars

This is definitely the best volume so far. The backstory of Elric brothers, only hinted at before, here is finally told in all its gory and lovingly polished detail. It gives the brothers the much-needed depth, and lets us see beyond the angry/insecure and yet competent and determined facade that Ed shows to the world.

I also really enjoyed the character of the teacher – she’s absolutely great, unexpected, and confounds expectations in the best possible way. Also, I love how a very short exchange between her and Ed shows so cuttingly clear both her mysterious past and the sameness of their shared, unwanted desire, guilt and experience.

A small vignette concerning Riza Hawkeye is also highly illuminating and showcases Arakawa’s skill at complex storytelling – apparently unrelated conversations suddenly show her actions in a new light.

10/10 stars

Another great volume with some new characters thrown in the mix.

My, my, the homunculi get more diverse by the minute. I must say that’s a welcome change for as their initial mystery started to fade their goals and behaviors became too stereotypical for my liking. But here we have a rogue homunculus with his own agenda, which means they actually can possess some agency and will of their own. Greed is a sweetie, he and his gang of misfits, and I didn’t expect that.

The story really gets better too, kicking in the higher gear and revealing more about the stakes that the various factions have in the long game. And a good thing that I had next few volumes lined up already – this stuff is addictive!

7/10 stars

A solid volume, with the plot strands thickening and interweaving more closely by the panel. A lot of exposition here, so it’s less snappy than the last two. Some shortcuts are taken, especially with the two mysterious strangers from Xing coming at exactly the same moment to Amestris, albeit to different places, and appearing to look for exactly the same thing. Also, some twists are quite predictable, too, making the whole setup and reveal a bit cumbersome and without real tension. Well, it’s shonen after all, so I really should be used to it by now πŸ˜‰

Still, it’s good to see a bit more of the world beyond the main cities of Amestris, and take a peek at the past that had impacted so many of the characters in meaningful, irreversible ways.

Plus, Barry the Chopper is always a welcome comic relief!

And of course, Greed gets his own additional star. He deserves it for sheer stubbornness and cheek.

8/10 stars

While there’s a lot of exposition in this volume, as certain previous plot points are explained, there’s also a lot of explosive (and I mean explosive) action. Those latter moments are among the best this manga has to offer, and have the additional bonus of working incredibly well also as character development scenes. The more thoughtful scenes with the main villain are also interesting, as they show him from different perspectives, giving him a more grounded presence beyond the usual finger-twirling, menacing shadowy look.

As I mentioned before, there are no surprises here, as certain plot twists were preceded in the earlier volumes by an overabundance of foreshadowing – still, the exposition is done nicely, in a rather subdued, understated manner that fits very well into the larger picture.

8/10 stars

Can’t believe I didn’t write the review for this one! Welp, here it is, much later, so I might be fuzzy on details ;).

What I do remember, though, is that Arakawa’s attention to the motivations of the characters is really impressive. Here we get backstories and character development not only for Edward and Al, but also for Winry and Scar, and Mustang, and even Ling. There are some heartbreaking scenes here, and a lot of action, and it all finally converges toward a detailed yet broad canvas where the history of Amestris, its alchemy and its people is tightly interwoven with the history of its neighbors. I like Arakawa’s style the most when she’s subtle.

6/10 stars

This is an ok volume. I loved the design for the real Envy – it was spot on, creepy and horrifying and visually compelling, and most importantly, true to its origins.

The constant twists are getting boring, though; quantity seems to be already winning with quality. There is such a point in all mangas, after all they are all serials, all with ups and downs, but I didn’t expect to encounter a dip so soon into FA.

I love how throughout the series the design for Edward reflects his growth. The changes are incremental and thoughtful, so you never lose the sight of the boy he was at the beginning, but you can see he’s maturing fast.

Apart from that, though, nothing to write home about. I hope the series picks up soon!

7/10 stars

This volume was mostly dedicated to the Ishvalan war, and it was mostly quite well done – especially the negative spreads, highlighting the horrors of war. On the other hand, however, I felt as if this was mostly unnecessary – we already knew what had happened there, and FMA style doesn’t entirely lends itself to the images of war, IMO. The motivations of different characters are made clear…er, but at the same time it means that the manga loses some of its ambivalence – which I valued. So, in a way, I’m of two minds about this particular volume ;).

I like some of the reveals, though, and I’m waiting to see it all come together soon.

5/10 stars

Mmm, this one was just barely okay. Quite boring, and without any emotional payoff, this one is meandering and clumsily bumbling along and setting up the scene for the future more than anything else. Maybe the break I had from Fullmetal Alchemist was a tad too long and I lost some of the interest, or maybe it’s just a filler volume.

Anyway, on to the next volume!

8.5/10 stars

A very good volume indeed.

Winry’s back, and I don’t think I mentioned this before but I really like the fact that the best mechanic out there is a girl. She knows what she’s doing, that one, and she’s no wallflower or a damsel in distress. The way Arakawa showcases all those relationships, the love and friendship and loyalty within the grand found family gathered around Elric brothers, is truly heartfelt and precious. Of course, what makes it so cool is that what unites them are not Elric brothers per se but the values they are standing for.

The action is flowing fast here, with highly enjoyable twists and turns. Finally it’s becoming obvious that the end is in sight. Avanti!

10/10 stars

Now we’re talking! Lots of secrets spilled out in this one, the past uncovered, decisions made. Finally!

All the pieces are in place, or almost in place, and the big confrontation is looming ever closer. I particularly like the way in which Arakawa shows how the Elric brothers through their inherent goodness acquire loyalty and trust and love of those around them. The ranks of their friends and supporters grow, and their ultimate goal changes with them – the bodies are important, sure, but the wellbeing of others gradually takes the place of utmost importance for both of them.

A very satisfying volume.Β 

10/10 stars

Oooh, that was fun! I swallowed this and the next volume whole, and now I’ve got one final one to read…

At this point, anything I say about the actual plot constitutes spoiler, so let me just put this out there: Ling/Greed/Grin is such a great, complex character. I love the fact that Arakawa goes beyond simple divisions between humans and homunculi, or humans and chimerae. Each can be good, each can be bad – it’s a matter of personal choice. Everybody gets a chance at redemption, too – and it’s a driving force for many of these characters, righting past wrongs, becoming better versions of themselves.

That said, there’s no one creepier than Pride ;).

10/10 stars

There’s so much going on in this volume. Al’s continuous naive goodness of heart, so often leading him into trouble, is tempered by perseverance, responsibility, and composure – but most of all, his willingness to help others at all costs.

Mustang and Armstrongs make a great team and with the rest of the old guard they simply excel at wreaking Havoc (pun intended) in Central City πŸ˜‰ I really love how suddenly economic Arakawa became, her master plan of leading all the characters to their right time and place put in motion seemingly effortlessly.

Can’t wait to see what happens next!

9/10 stars

So good! I was glued to the pages till the very end of this volume. I love how Arakawa interweaves all those disparate threads together here, forming a big, incredibly complex picture of a dozen independently moving elements. And the grand reckoning is almost here! I so wish to have the next volume already!

As usual in FA, Greed is good ;). Very good, in fact, and I appreciate how Arakawa kept the old Greed’s expressions in his new face. I also loved Envy’s goodbye, didn’t think that cold-blooded sucker had it in him.

All in all, a great setup for the great (hopefully!) finale. Gimme the next volume now!

6/10 stars

This one was a bit of a letdown, unfortunately. While it seems that a lot is happening on many fronts, the action doesn’t move forward until the last pages. And while there are several great scenes, the whole is underwhelming, plagued by sudden changes in logic. The fickle authorialΒ fiatΒ is not something I cherish, and here it is implemented in crucial places, just to get the action going.

Also, Arakawa is not the best at fight scenes and here most of the volume is devoted to them. Particularly the battle with father seems weirdly static and without any tangible stakes. The battle between Scar and Wrath is cool, though!

All in all, a bit of a filler volume with weirdly flat emotional tone throughout. Still, I’m looking forward to the conclusion!

9/10 stars

A very good conclusion to the series, with well-earned endings and emotional beats. It was bitter-sweet and poignant, meticulously designed and highly enjoyable. Arakawa must’ve spent a good amount of time on planning the ins and outs of the plot, and it shows. The story is tight, logical, and with nary a hole. It is truly a satisfying read, entertaining and stimulating, delivering the age-old message about the value of friendship and found family in a way that makes it fresh and touching.

Can’t believe I’m done. What am I going to read now??

Here we are, and my question from that last review still stands. I’m reading Jujutsu Kaisen and am enjoying the heck of it, but it’s an unfinished manga, so I’m left biting my nails for the next volume. I probably shouldn’t divulge that, but I’ve read 16 volumes of Jujutsu Kaisen in one day…

Any manga recommendations??

36 thoughts on “Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist (2001-2010)

  1. 18 volumes, you must be reviewing the larger fullmetal releases?

    Glad to hear you found the ending satisfying. That is one thing that always worries me in longer manga.

    You can always try xxxHolic and Tsubasa. That’s enough volumes to keep you occupied for a bit and since they are finished, you don’t have to worry about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, the hardcover edition, 3-in-1. Very pretty, if you can lay your hands on it I highly recommend it! Has some additional sketches, some full-color pages, and the format is slightly bigger which is always a pleasure with manga πŸ˜€

      I was thinking of trying SpyxFamily and Attack on Titan, but the latter mostly because I’m desperate πŸ˜‰ Tried some Tokyo Ghoul but I’m not too drawn to it. Doctor Stone can be quite funny but I can take its utter silliness only in small doses πŸ˜‰ Choices, choices.

      I’ll check out xxxHolic, thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I watched 2 episodes of Attack on Titan and couldn’t take anymore. That’s when I realized I’ve aged out of a lot of the stuff out there. It just didn’t interest me.

        I have seen good stuff about SpyxFamily. As for xxHolic, just be aware that it does cross over with Tsubusa. Not necessarily integrally, but the situation as a whole are tied together. If you do try Holic by itself, I’d be interested in what you think of it as a standalone series.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So should I first try Tsubasa, then?

          Lashaan was moderately happy with Attack on Titan, and I’ve seen it making a splash generally, but it doesn’t seem too interesting for me. The art’s rubbish, and that’s one of the main things that matters to me in the early volumes when the plot is only being discovered πŸ˜‰ But I guess I’ll be trying a bunch of stuff, as I finished almost all of my main manga titles – Demon Slayer earlier this year, too – and I’m left only with Jujutsu Kaisen! And Kaiju no 8, but that’s also far from done.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’d do Holic and Tsubasa concurrently or look at some wiki page to see how the volumes should be read together. I read them together as they came out and then again together when I finished them up.

            You need to go investigate some old school manga. Stop this “new” rubbish πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

  2. This is very interesting for me, Ola. I am still searching for my first manga, something that appeals to me. This one sounds interesting although a bummer to read that the art isn’t special. Also, 18 issues doesn’t sound too long for a manga series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d give this a try if I were you, Jeroen. This one is more Western than most, both in style and in tone. You’d have to read at least a few volumes, though, as most manga just drops you right in the middle and makes you work for your understanding, and the early volumes are often slower for it πŸ˜‰

      Word of warning, the 18 volumes is the 3-in-1 edition, the regular edition comprises of 27 volumes. If you can, try the Fullmetal Edition, 3-in-1 tankobon, though, instead of the paperbacks – it has a slightly larger format with some nice additional material, and definitely enhances the experience. Btw, if you try this, you’ll see where Takeda lifted her monster concepts from for Monstress… πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Ola! I will definitely go for the 3-in-1 tankobon edition. That sounds the best. I had actually made up my mind to try Akira as my first manga. I think I will pick that up after Saga. But this sounds like an excellent one to try after that. I’ll put it on the list.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll be very curious to know your opinion about it. I might pick up Akira too, it’s a pretty short and over the top one that I’ve read only pieces of πŸ˜‰


  3. Long post that! Like Jeroen, still looking for a first manga series. I’ve looked at a few – don’t remember which ones – but they were OOP.

    I do have a comic rec though: Ralph Azam by Lewis Trondheim, but I think I’ll do a write up only when the remaining 2 volumes (of 4) of the English translation will be published later this year.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m halfway through volume 2, I really like ‘m. Depends a bit on how things will resolve in the remaining volumes, but could turn out to be 5 star material. Pretty sure it will be at least 4 stars for me.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, but divided into very small paragraphs and lots of images πŸ˜‰
      Manga is generally over the top, just like myths. At least the genres I’m reading, can’t vouch for the shojo and josei genres πŸ˜‰ But the greatest storylines in shonen/seinen closely follow the structure of myths, and display them in fantastical, often partly allegoric settings.

      Thanks for the rec, I’ve already ordered the first volume from my library!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve only bought 3 books last year, on sale, and got two manga box sets as a birthday present because I really, really, really wanted to own the manga. πŸ˜€
          Back in Poland, I used to buy tons of books.


  4. Glad you liked Fullmetal! πŸ˜€ I consider it a fav although I haven’t completed the manga (I’ve completed the animes). I also appreciated that the female characters in it aren’t often sexualized.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually didn’t make it to then end, lol! It’s one of the reasons why I’ve wanted to rewatch it and complete the mangas. I first watched it years ago and I remember the platform I watched it on didn’t have the last couple episodes available. But I liked the story up until the point I stopped.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, wow, the curiosity would’ve killed me! 🀣 But manga’s ending is very satisfying, so there’s that πŸ™‚ I might give the anime a try at some point, after I finish watching the first season of Jujutsu Kaisen πŸ˜€


          1. If you try the anime, maybe try Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It’s slightly different from the original anime (the original is faithful to the books) and I believe it has a different ending.


  5. It’s so rare for a manga to give it a proper send-off but this one does it right, for once! I’m glad your time with it turned out to be so good in the end too. My girlfriend and I also concluded that it probably takes a woman writing shonen to get strong female characters in manga hahahaha I’m impressed that you binged Jujutsu Kaisen that intensely! πŸ˜€ I honestly can’t say you’ll adore Attack on Titan though… The ending killed it for me, making it hard for me to recommend it to anyone. If I was forced to recommend it, I think everyone is better off checking out the anime instead. I also had a rough time getting used to the…artwork… If you ever try it, you’ll see for yourself that its not the mangaka’s forte, to the point where you can’t even tell who’s who sometimes… However, I do recommend Spy x Family!!! I’m convinced you’ll have a blast with that one! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, I must say that the over the top and later lazy and overly long ending for Naruto (with the exception of the Naruto-Sasuke love spat, that was well deserved and built since the very beginning πŸ˜€) proves your point perfectly. My fav manga ending is still, unsurprisingly, Dragon Ball πŸ˜€. I am keen to find out Jujutsu Kaisen’s ending, though!! (As you can already surmise, I’m addicted to this manga. It is clearly influenced by Naruto and Demon Slayer, but it does everything so much better! I was even wondering if Akutami is a female, on the strength of their female characters, but in one of the volumes they describe themselves as ‘a younger brother’, so thankfully there are exceptions to your and your girlfriend’s conclusion ;))

      Okay, I’m steering clear of Attack on Titan, then, and will pick up Spy x Family. Do you have any other recommendations, Lashaan? I’m keen for some new titles!!! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s an older series that I loved reading back in high school and plan on rereading soon, Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, which could be something you could test out. I also planned on revisiting an old favourite, Katsura Hoshino’s D. Gray-Man. The mangaka never finished the series since her hiatus but has been releasing here and then volumes in it. That might be something you’d enjoy too! πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I started Monster a year or so ago – read the first omnibus, and was intrigued, but not head over heels into it ;). Might come back to it at some point, it was decent. D. Gray Man looks interesting, very much FMA vibe in terms of art style! I’ll give Tsubasa/xxxHolic a chance, some early volumes are already on their way to me πŸ˜‰
          Thanks for the recs, Lashaan! πŸ˜€

          Liked by 1 person

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