Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 16 – 18 includes Volumes 16, 17, and 18 of the original Japanese manga1. Story and art are by Hiromu Arakawa; English translation by Akira Watanabe; English adaptation by Jake Forbes; touch-up art and lettering by Wayne Truman. The original manga appeared in 2007.
Still processing the revelations of the last few issues, Alphonse and Edward Elric head north to the Briggs’ Fortress, the kingdom of Amestris’ primary defence against neighbouring Drachma. In any sensible universe, Briggs’ commanding officer Major General Armstrong would be the most terrifying aspect of the trip. But as this is Fullmetal Alchemist, there’s far worse waiting for the brothers than one ruthless senior officer.
The first anomaly is the emergence of a behemoth from beneath the fortress: the homonculus Sloth. Luckily for the soldiers who have to deal with Sloth, he lacks the will to use his invulnerability and strength effectively. Less luckily for the scouts sent into the tunnel from which Sloth emerged, one of Sloth’s siblings is keeping an eye on Sloth; that sibling does not lack malice or lethality.
No sooner has Sloth been put on ice than noted sociopath Kimblee arrives, on the trail of an Ishbalan terrorist named Scar, who has spend years murdering his way through the alchemists reponsible for murdering his people. This Crimson Lotus Alchemist had earlier defeated Scar; Scar has since upgraded his skills. This time, Scar not only refuses to die but gets the upper hand during subsequent forays. Kimblee’s worst error is to use recurring engineer/love interest Winry as a hostage against the brothers Elric . Rather than deterring his enemies, threatening Winry simply convinces a disparate selection of people to ally against Kimblee.
The key question is given the choice between: the all too mortal human attempt to free the kingdom from the malign Homonculae or the clearly superior Homonculae, which faction will avowed Social Darwinist Armstrong back?
Stoic Major General Armstrong is Major Armstrong’s older, scarier sister, someone who despite being a puny human is well worth recruiting or at least worth not pissing off. Although she accepts the realities of war, she is also quite loyal to her troops; treating them as expendable resources is an excellent way to end up mortally wounded and covered in concrete. Harsh but fair.
This volumes continues the theme of horrifying revelations followed by even more horrifying revelations. Sloth’s inadvertent foray into Briggs, combined with some historical information, gives the protagonists some idea what it is the other side is up to; the scale of their scheme is biblical. As well, the protagonists become aware that it’s not that the Homonculae have somehow hijacked Amestris and steered it from the path of righteousness. Amestris was created as part of the Homonculae’s plot; the rolling tide of war crimes is not a tragic series of missteps but the whole purpose of the place. Cheerful!
A considerable fraction of the good guys have committed crimes against humanity. Others, like Scar, have committed lesser, but still terrible crimes2. Rather than sweep that under the rug on the grounds they were tricked and also it’s OK when good guys do terrible things as long as their hearts are pure, the characters are overtly aware that they have to at least try to make amends, and that making amends in no way makes their crimes forgivable.
On the bright side, there is some muttering about the need for democratic reform once Father and his creations are dealt with. I expect if the good guys win, those reforms will be crammed into a few panels but it’s nice to see an SF series where the solution to a bad autocrat isn’t to replace him with a good autocrat.
1. Previous reviews:
Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 1 – 3 was reviewed here.
Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 4 – 6 was reviewed here.
Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 7–9 was reviewed here.
Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 10–12 was reviewed here.
Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volumes 13 – 15 was reviewed here.
2: Murdering his way through the State Alchemists who murdered most of his people is an effective method of making sure they won’t do it again but explodinating Winry’s parents, doctors who risked their lives to treat Ishbalans in the war zone, was mere pique.