Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reader's Diary #1093- Hiromu Arakawa, translated by Akira Watanabe: Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 1

I've been chatting with a lot of other Western manga readers lately, at it would seem that those of us who find it difficult adjusting our reading to right-to-left and "back-to-front" are in the minority. Most seem to consider the transition an easy process. Others have suggested that all it takes it a little practice. I'm not sure how many books most would consider sufficient practice, but for me the magic number seems to be 4. Having struggled through 4 other manga titles that read in the opposite way that I'm used to (I don't include Akira in this tally, as the copies I read were Westernized to read left to right), I found myself reading Hiromu Akawara's Fullmetal Alchemist with ease. Was it the practice? Was it Arakawa's easy to follow arrangements? Maybe it was both? In any case, it made a LOT of difference to my enjoyment.

I was finally, actually entertained and caught up in the story. And what a bizarre, fun story it is: Fullmetal Alchemist tells of two teenage brothers named Edward and Alphonse who are both alchemists. In this reality, however, alchemy isn't just turning another metal into gold, it's turning anything else into anything else. There are certain rules though. One "scientific" rule is that to obtain something, something of equal value needs to be surrendered. There is also a moral rule against human transmutation (modifying or creating a human being), which Edward and Alphonse soon discover must also have a scientific basis. Trying to bring their deceased mother back to life, their plan backfires: not only does the mother not return, but Edward loses a leg, and Alphonse his entire body. Edward then sacrifices an arm as well, in exchange for Alphonse's soul, which winds up in a rather odd suit of armor. I'm not sure how that math works out, but I guess it's like those insurance policies that offer you prices that vary based on the limb or digit lost. Still, an arm for a soul seems like a bargain. Then the story is a bit muddled. Edward attains prosthetic limbs, the brothers join the military while looking for the mystical Philosopher's Stone that they hope can be used to get them their originals body back. But some in the military are also looking for the stone for themselves.

It becomes a bit of a whirlwind, and there were a few things that I didn't fully grasp, but there are 26 more volumes to go, so I suspect more will become clear. I'm not sure if or when I'll continue with the series, but I did enjoy the 1st one enough.

As for the art, it was good. I've seen better manga, but I've also seen a lot worse, and there were somethings that impressed me. Edward's prosthetics are detailed and interesting, and there were a few instances of techniques I'd not seen before that really got my attention.
Note the bottom panel, where the man's head acts as a panel divider. He's saying, "It shall me God's will," (smirk) and then it bleeds into the next scene where he's leading Edward and Alphonse to a door, as if his plan (the "God's will" statement was ironic) flowed flawlessly.

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