Fullmetal Alchemist Manga Review

by - 3:00 PM

When I was 13 years old I was completely and utterly obsessed with everything Japanese. Except sushi. Other than that every hint of Japanese culture sent me into fangirling hysterics. That's why my friends decided to give me a manga for my 14th birthday. The manga they chose: Fullmetal Alchemist. Little did any of us know that this manga would be the one consistent factor in my life for many years to come. With 27 volumes at €10 a piece I had quite an expensive journey ahead of me. A journey that ended last May with loads of tears streaming down my almost 21 year old face. I'd spent a third of my life reading about Edward and Alphonse Elric. It's the only manga I've read from start to finish. Fullmetal Alchemist set the bar pretty damn high on all levels. I tried different mangas, but they never lived up to the fullmetal standard. I doubt I'll ever find a manga that will. I've spent seven years of my life reading Fullmetal Alchemist, and now I'll spend a few more hours of my time explaining why you should give the manga love of my life a chance too.

For those of you who don't know Fullmetal Alchemist and haven't seen the anime (which was apparently a big deal in every country except mine), here's the story: after their mom dies Edward and Alphonse Elric try to resurrect her through an alchemical ritual. Their attempt fails, Ed loses an arm and a leg, Al becomes nothing more than a soul in a suit of armour, Now they travel their country Amestris in search of a philosopher's stone, which could give them their original bodies back.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? That's what I thought at first too. Trust me when I say it's not. All this takes place in a world so similar to our own, yet so different. There's automail, highly developed prosthetics that function just like real limbs would. There's alchemy, in this story a mix between European medieval alchemy, modern science and magic. There's the role of the military, recruiting alchemists as human weapons and fighting endless battles both in and outside of Amestris' borders. There are cars, radios and modern firearms, but no computers, which makes Amestris look like a formerly impoverished country that's just found its feet. In that chaotic environment villains with names like Lust, Gluttony and Envy (no you know where I got the idea to use a biblical sin as a name) work on their evil plan which I won't spoil for you. The whole set-up is epic, but that's not the only epic thing about Fullmetal Alchemist. The story itself is epic on a Harry Potter level. There are all these story lines intertwining, touching and not making sense until you get more information and see the bigger picture. Warning: if you take 7 years to read it, all these little things and connections will be lost on you and at times the story may not seem to go anywhere. If you read it in one week all the pieces of the puzzle come together perfectly, everything will be crystal clear and your mind will be blown. And it's not just the way everything is connected that makes the story so damn good, oh no. The story also touched on topics such as racism, civil war, religion and morality. It makes the story thought-provoking, but not too heavy to be enjoyable.
That last thing I mentioned, the story still being enjoyable, is mostly because of the characters. There's a mostly clear line between good and bad, accentuated by a few characters that are in the grey area between darkness and light. No matter which side a character you relate to is on, they'll have realistic motives. That's why you're relating to them in the first place: their actions are products of feelings and instincts that every human experiences in life, such as fear of death or the love for friends and family. This speaks to the most basic version of ourselves, our very core or soul if you like that word better. It makes you feel everything Ed and Al go through as if you're there with them. It's intense and awesome.
The characters are also undoubtedly Japanese, despite their Amestrian passport. Japanese culture shines through in their words and actions, for example when Ed, usually hot-headed and reckless, says things like: "Let's work hard to get stronger!". That struck me, a western girl, as weird. No one here would ever say that, fictional or not. It's a little difference in culture that I can appreciate and it doesn't irritate while reading Fullmetal Alchemist.

Now on to my favorite part of every review: the art. It's not for nothing that I compare every manga I see to Fullmetal Alchemist. This art is on a whole different level. Every line serves a purpose. Even in the fight scenes the images remain very readable, with one look you know exactly what's going on (unlike the action scenes from a certain Deadpool comic). What impressed me the most were the way the characters visibly aged throughout the manga. Arakawa uses the most subtle details I've ever seen to show Ed and Al growing up. She has an amazing talent for giving each character unique facial features, even the ones with a more generic manga-look. Different ethnicities actually have different looks, not just different skin tones. Put these characters in the realistic and detailed backdrops Amestris provides and you've got something you'll want to hang on your wall.

Apart from the actual manga, the art at the start and end of each chapter will blow you away as well. My favorites have always been the character studies in negative space. They're so simple yet so gorgeous. I've spent many hours in high school trying to draw these characters, but nothing ever came close to Arakawa's amazing art. She's a master.

Now I've sat here for a while writing this review and I feel like I'm forgetting about something. No worries, that happens literally every single time I get to the artsy part of my reviews. It takes just a quick leaf-through of one volume to remember I was going to obsess over the extras. I think this is how my love for extra pages came into existence, because Fullmetal Alchemist has the best. The funniest inside jokes can be found on the last pages of each volume, sometimes there's a comic about Arakawa's life as a mangaka or little insights in Japanese culture. During some slower periods in the story (they're there, like in every story) I couldn't wait to see the funny little quips on the story at the end. And sometimes, because the volumes are printed Japanese style and should be read from right to left and I opened it the western way... I spoiled part of the Fullmetal Alchemist awesomeness for myself. I'm not sharing any images of those today, because I don't want to spoil the ending of any of the 27 volumes. And speaking of endings: don't worry you'll end up disappointed at the end of volume 27. The ending is glorious, everything I hopes for as a little 14-year-old came true. It made me cry happy tears. Twice.

Now if all this doesn't convince you to start reading Fullmetal Alchemist, there's only one more thing I can say: just pick up the first volume. Just do it. You won't regret it, I promise.

x Envy

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7 Fellow Ramblers

  1. It's a good thing that you loved it enough to read it-and keep continuing all these years later! I have yet to find a book, or even a comic, that has me enthralled and enraptured like this; the only thing I can think that came even close would be The Dairy Of Anne Frank. Great post, keep at it. X

  2. So glad your love for this has gone through the years! It sounds like and amazing manga it's art style is great 💖

  3. Love this post! Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those mangas which I've always wanted to get into but just don't have the time for, I love how passionate about it you are though and it makes me want to start reading it even more! I have a special place in my heart for a manga called Vampire Knight as it was one of the first I started reading so I know what you mean when you express how much you love this one! Have you read or watched Attack on Titan? Thanks for sharing x


  4. I love the sound of this, I've heard a lot of good things.
    There's nothing simultaneously better and worse than spending years with a series and then it ending.
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

  5. After hearing about this series for absolutely ages, I loved reading your review! My sister was super into the anime, and I honestly didn't realize there was a manga! I'm he worst former student of Japanese on the planet. But on a positive note: the art really is lovely and now I want to binge read the series!


  6. Aww I loved reading your review! I love the anime so damn much and both me and my boyfriend are yet to read this manga... You've given me a Christmas present idea for him this year. ^_^


  7. I LOVE FMAB. SO MUCH. I have the entire anime saved in my computer and I finally got my friend hooked on it (she never watched anime and after getting her to watch all of Attack on Titan, I handed her all the FMAB episodes) and she loves it.
    I think the greatest part of FMAB is that it's so hard NOT to like anyone? Every single character is amazing and fleshed out and so realistic. It's great honestly, the top anime, best anime, first anime I would ever recommend.



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