Baptisms of Fire

Hiromu Arakawa
Fullmetal Alchemist, book 2

fma-v2

Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3-in-1 Edition), Volume 2 includes Volumes 4, 5, 6 of the original Japanese manga [1]. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation, by Jake Forbes and Egan Loo; touch-up art & lettering by Wayne Truman.

The first thing a stranger might notice about Edward Elric is his prosthetic arm and leg. The first thing they might notice about Edward’s younger brother Al is his huge metal body. More on those detail later. Both are skilled alchemists. Both are not yet teenagers. Both are members of a military organization, trading service for training.

As Volume 2 of the omnibus edition opens, Al and Ed have gotten their asses soundly kicked by a stabby, shape-shifting woman named Envy and her minions [2]. Death is a distinct possibility.


Readers who know that this manga series ran for 27 volumes (and 108 chapters) in Japanese will not be surprised to learn that Al and Ed do not die. Their enemy does not bother to finish them off, as she believes that the brothers cannot possibly interfere with her cunning plans. She levels the facility in which the brothers were conducting an investigation and leaves.

As in so many martial arts movies. curb-stomped protagonists believe that they must have been doing something wrong and visit their teacher, who will surely set them right. Al and Ed set out with their mechanic pal Winry Rockbell to visit mentor Izumi Curtis. This would seem like a simple quest, but the path from point A to point B is not always straight. Winry suggests a side trip so she can gaze in awe at a genius mechanic ; the party ends up supervising an unexpected birth, out in the country. In the midst of a torrential downpour.

Meanwhile, Captain Maes Hughes (Al and Ed’s colleague in the military organization) hits a roadblock in his investigation of certain military secrets. What he has discovered so far is bad enough, but it soon becomes clear (to the reader, if not to the captain) that the enemy is far closer to Hughes than he suspects.

To return to the martial sequence: Izumi is not happy at all to learn that Al and Ed’s decision-making process can be summarized as “hey, let’s do that stuff Izumi told us not to do.” The teacher-student relationship is forever transformed.

 ~oOo~

Normally I like to start reading series at the beginning. Alas, the patron who signed out Kitchener Public Library’s copy of the first Fullmetal Alchemist omnibus has yet to return it … even though it was due 03-28-17. NOT THAT I AM BITTER

I was somewhat afraid that by starting in media res, I would not understand what was going on. Results were mixed. I am still unclear as to Envy’s goals, though I know it has something to do with a philosopher’s stone. However, this omnibus includes Ed and Al’s tragic backstory, which answered more than a few questions.

Ed and Al were eleven and ten respectively when they turned their hard-won alchemical knowledge to the task of raising their mother from the dead. As one might expect, the rite went horribly wrong. Ed lost an arm and a leg. Al lost his entire body, surviving only because quick-thinking Ed transferred Al’s soul to a durable metal shell.

Their only hope to restore Al (not to mention their mother) is to find a philosopher’s stone. There are two problems with this strategy:

  1. It is not at all clear that philosopher’s stones exist.
  2. Such stones may prove to have unexpected properties.

I was unable to suss out the rules of alchemy (per Arakawa) from this one volume, but it was clear that Arakawa has a very specific model in mind. Presumably it’s all slowly revealed over course of the next twenty-five issues (just as the way Japanese readers of the original manga did not discover what Al and Ed’s backstory was until several issues into the series).

While Al and Ed may have plot immunity because they are protagonists, and Winry might be kill-proof because she is clearly the intended love interest, other characters are not so lucky. In this volume, the author carefully paints one character as a likeable, sympathetic figure, only to kill them off. I was surprised by the death. Apparently so were a lot of other readers.

In retrospect, it should not be too surprising that a universe in which filial piety combined with overconfidence ends in dismemberment is also one where death is fast and frequent. In fact, various incidents like the Ishbalan genocide suggest that, as bright and endearing as some of the character are, their world is pretty dark. No doubt I will find out more when I read future volumes.

Fullmetal Alchemist, (3-in-1 Edition), Vol. 2 is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

Feel free to comment here.

1: Yes, it bothers me that they use volume both to denote which omnibus this is and which issues it includes. Because I am not a monster.

2: The bad guys’ significance would be clearer to me if I had begun at the beginning. It’s safe to say they range from probably not human to very definitely not humans: the alchemy that takes the place of science in this setting allows the creation of homunculae and metal shells imbued with human souls.


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