Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fullmetal Alchemist - My Favorite Manga

During Christmas 2014, I made a trip to my closest FNAC to buy my husband a few Wolverine comic books, and I happened to discover a little something that stole my heart.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who try to resurrect their mother using alchemy. The process fails, and Edward loses his leg whereas his younger brother Alphonse vanishes. In a desperate attempt to save his only remaining family, Edward sacrifices his arm and traps his brother's soul inside a suit of armor. Now the two embark on a quest to find the Philosopher's Stone to use its powers to recover their bodies.

Arakawa grew up on a dairy farm,
and always portrays herself as a cow.

Written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa, Fullmetal Alchemist thrives on strong characters, be they male, female or androgynous (the character Envy. What the heck is he/she/it?). For me, characterization is one of the strongest points in the story. We are presented to many people (think Game of Thrones amount of people...), and we have many women--something I appreciated.

Arakawa doesn't hesitate when it comes to blood, death and disfigurement. No one is safe in Amestris, and not just that, but Arakawa manages to make you care for each and every one of them. The Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, make a sympathetic duo from the get-go, and all the supporting characters (especially Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye) have their own intricate backstories as well as their own place in the story.

The adventure begins innocently enough, and the first few adventures are lighthearted--up until we learn about human chimeras. Soon the pieces of a much darker story fall into place and the characters discover they've been pulled into the heart of a nationwide menace. The story actually goes beyond the mere adventure, and brings forth questions on the meaning of God, "Truth" and the universe.

(Read from right to left.)

There has been quite a lot of talk about the religious message embedded in Fullmetal Alchemist. From posts which claim the manga is about Buddhism, to posts which claim that the manga has both a negative and positive message on religion. I tend to agree more with the mixture of positive and negative messages, as absolutely nothing is black or white in Fullmetal Alcehmist (and that's what I love about it).

Talking about black or white, Arakawa includes several intriguing villains, based on the names of the seven deadly sins. At certain points, readers actually care for the so-called villains, feel sympathy towards them, and hope they have a happy ending. But alas, we can't have it all!

The villain Envy transforms into a grotesque creature bubbling with
the faces of the innocent souls trapped in its body.

Overall, Fullmetal Alchemist grabbed me with its open-to-interpretation philosophical viewpoint, its rich story colored with tones of grey, and its sympathetic characters. I have the Kanzenban edition, comprised of eighteen colorful volumes. I strongly recommend it to anyone with an urge to take a peek at manga. You'll soon discover why it's become an instant classic.


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