Viz’ Fullmetal Alchemist (3‑in‑1 Edition), Volume 4 includes Volumes 10, 11, and 12 of the original Japanese manga. 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 2005. The English translation appeared in 2013. Volume 1 was reviewed here. Volume 2 was reviewed here. Volume 3 was reviewed here.
Eager to clean up loose ends, the homunculi have released Barry the Chopper’s former body into the wild. Although Barry’s soul is housed in a tough metal body, that soul is still connected to his body by his spiriti. The plan: body will naturally seek out soul, and in so doing lead homunculi Envy and Gluttony to their disloyal servant.
It was a plan as straightforward as it is doomed. Now Barry’s old body is on the run and might lead enemies directly to one of Father’s lairs (Father being the big bad and the creator of the homunculi).
There’s worse to come.
Barry has new friends. Some of those friends, like Prince Lin of Xing and his loyal retainer Lanfan, have an uncanny ability to spot the homunculi, even the shape-shifting Envy. Several — Roy Mustang, Alex Louis Armstrong, and of course the Elric brothers — are among Amestris’ foremost alchemists. The situation spirals out of hand. By its end, one of the nigh-invulnerable homunculi is dead and Father’s enemies have learned a great deal about him.
One revelation affects Edward and Al Elric personally. Al and Edward believed that Al’s former body had been destroyed when their attempted resurrection ritual went horribly wrong. Now Edward is convinced that Al’s body is still alive … somewhere. How to find it and how to re-install Al’s soul are questions Edward has not been able to answer.
Mounting evidence hints that Father’s minions include in their number none other than Fuhrer-President Bradley himself. Al and his friends know that the homunculi are very reluctant to kill Al and a select few of his allies (not for any good reason; they’re needed for an upcoming sacrifice), but that doesn’t seem to stop Bradley from using his power as head of state and commander of the armed forces against the brothers and their allies.
Needing more information about the forces arrayed against them, Al and the rest of the crew set up a cunning trap for the homunculi. This is a risky gambit. The homunculi’s forbearance is limited and if pressed sufficiently, they might just kill the intended sacrifices and look for new ones.
Even if the plan works, the homunculi have powers of which the protagonists are utterly unaware. Capturing one does not guarantee that you will survive attempting to keep one prisoner.
Pretty much every volume seems to begin and end with a fight. I guess it gives the series thematic unity, but it sure is hard on the supporting characters. Not only is there a significant death in this volume, but two of Al’s allies are badly injured. One of them can be helped with automail prosthetics, The other one? There may be no way to save them.
If Bradley is any guide, Father’s concept of loyalty is one where loyalty is owed by subordinates to their masters but not the other way round. Since subordinates tend not to survive long once Father or one of his children decide their utility is at an end, betrayal is a very risky choice for someone who is part of Father’s forces. Still, I suspect that, in the long run, depending on people who are only allies because they have no choice is not going to be the winning strategy.
Lin and Roy in contrast refuse to abandon their friends. This may be occasionally inconvenient; it baffles and annoys Bradley; but it pays off in loyalty. In the case of Edward and Al, their dedication to the cause can be counter-productive — both are more enthusiast than prudent — but since they and not Roy Mustang are the protagonists there’s no getting rid of them. Poor Roy.
One subplot I could not fit into the section above involved Al and Edward’s father, who turns up after a long delay. We don’t learn much about him but he is oddly bullet-resistant, which suggests he’s not exactly human. Whatever the source of his invulnerability, it’s not enough to keep him from fleeing Amestris to escape a looming calamity. Foreshadowing: the mark of quality literature.
Speaking of the mark of quality literature, it turns out that as is so often true minor details like Edward’s lack of height are in fact far more significant than they first appear. It pays to keep close attention while reading this series.
Fiction can fall into more than one category, something that seems to baffle and confound some. Fullmetal Alchemist is a fantasy … but it is also a mystery, of the variety where the detective deliberately makes their investigation very noisy, to see who takes a shot at them. Generally this is only a safe strategy if the detective is the lead in an ongoing seriesii. By surrounding themselves with interesting characters, any one of whom would make an interesting lead should the current leads suddenly become unavailable, Edward and Al are eroding their own plot armour. While I’d like to say that won’t come back to haunt them, this is a series where the plot was kicked into motion in the first place by the Elric brothers’ poor judgment.
Sadly I am out of volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist. Time to make an appeal to ILL.
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iPeople are composed of body, spirit, and soul. I don’t quite get the difference between the last two.
iiI can think of at least one series where the protagonist suddenly lost their plot armour. Coincidentally, I think it was also the final book in the series. Ten quatloos to the intrepid reader who can guess which series!