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Fullmetal Alchemist 1: The Land of Sand

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Hiromu Arakawa

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Author: Hiromu Arakawa
Genre: Comics & Graphic Novels
Publisher: Viz
Date Published: January 22, 2008
1 review about Fullmetal Alchemist 1: The Land of Sand

In Which I Begin My Own Travels in the World of Manga

  • Apr 14, 2009
Pros: Interesting storyline; two unique characters with unique, um, bodies

Cons: None

The Bottom Line:

Edward and Alphonse Elric have hooked me with their alchemistry and their heart-wrenching, humorous, adventure-filled story

While I've long been a fan of graphic novels I just haven't ever gotten very into manga.  For on thing, I'm afraid reading a book "backward" will give me a headache, and for another... well, it's tough to get me to try something new.  After being enttrusted to purchase a large collection of graphic novels and manga several months back I've begun seeing my budget-damage [evil grin>:)] hit the shelves recently, and one bright, shiny series that caught my eye was Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist.  I first learned of the series through the animated series that airs on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim... after being hooked on-screen I figured it wouldn't hurt to try the manga version.  I'm glad I did.

As mentioned before, this is the type of book that is read 'backwards."  Manga are Japanese styled comic books, and are traditionally written and thus read from right to left.  I always assumed I would have trouble reading from what I've always known to be the back cover, and reading the panels in the right order seemed like it would be difficult, too.  However, within the first two-page spread I was reading it... and enjoying it... like a real manga pro.  The book, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand is volume 1 in a series that follows the two orphaned Elric brothers, young alchemists on the quest for the Philospher's Stone who happen to get into a lot of mischief and adventure along the way.  Edward, the older brother, is a state alchemist with an unusual amount of skill for someone of his age (and, though he hates to be reminded, for his short stature).  His right arm and left leg are made of auto-mail, an incredibly strong steel.  Alphonse, the younger brother, is simply a spirit that inhabits a large, bulky suit of armor.  We find out throughout the series that the brothers' unique bodies are the result of having committed the biggest alchemical sin, trying to bring a human back to life.  Edward has been dubbed the Fullmetal Alchemist due to, well, his full-metal limbs, as all state alchemists are given special names.

The book is divided into chapters:
Chapter 1: The Two Alchemists
Chapter 2: The Price of Life
Chapter 3: The Mining Town
Chapter 4: Battle on the Train
As well as Extras and a Preview

Chapters 1 and 2 are our first introduction to the Elric brothers.  They are sitting at an outside bar/restaurant at what appears to be a desert town, looking very ho-hum.  A religious radio broadcast comes on, much to the brothers' surprise, and to the residents' surprise, the brothers haven't heard of the famous Father Cornello.  The citizens explain to the brothers that he has special powers which sound to the Elric's like they may be through the help of the Philosopher's Stone.  The brothers stand up to leave, and Alphonse's bulky body bumps the ceiling and knocks the radio off, breaking it into thousands of little pieces.  The horrified customers and the reader then get a taste of the Elric brothers' alchemical powers as with one quick move they put the radio back together.

The brothers find the religious imposter and sure enough, his miracles are being performed with the help of the Philosophers Stone.  A girl they've befriended who has her heart set on seeing her boyfriend brought back to life is present as the Elric brothers trick Father Cornello into coming out with the truth and his plans for creating a mass of followers he hopes to one day turn into his own personal army.  While these three know the truth, can they convince the rest of the previously hopeless desert town citizens that he is an evil-doer? 

Chapter 3, "The Mining Town," is a shorter story about the brothers passing through an almost ghost-town with very few residents and a strict town Lieutenant.  The brothers stop to stay at an inn (for a hefty sum), but when they find out Edward is a state alchemist they banish him from the house, saying they don't serve or house "dogs of the military."  Edward, always with a few alchemical tricks up his sleeves and and a sharp brain, strikes a deal with Lieutenant Yoki that ends up being in favor of the rest of the town- the poor, the miners, and the inn-keepers.  This chapter really showed off the the Fullmetal Alchemist's wit and charm... as well as his goodwill towards everyone... even those he doesn't know very well.

Chapter 4 is a little harder to follow, but its very action-packed and fun.  The Elric brothers are on a train that happens to also be transporting General Hakuro and his family, who are headed towards a vacation.  A group of evil-doers attempt to overtake the train, mostly to take the General and his family hostage... not a smart plan with a state alchemist and his armor-suited younger-bigger brother on board.  This story highlights Edward's quick thinking and swift alchemical abilities, as well as Alphonse's body of armor and the advantages it can have as the two try to regain control of the train while keeping all the passengers (particularly the General and family) safe and sound.  Another shorter story, this one left me on the edge of my seat, and as the last the last story in the book it ensured that I put volume 2 on hold.

The images in this manga could have been better, but weren’t really lacking anything specific for me.  Ed is depicted as a small (but don’t ever tell him that!) blonde boy but his facial expressions, movements, and decisions tell you he’s more than just a “pipsqueak.”  Al, as mentioned earlier, is younger, but almost twice the size and width of his older brother, as his body is actually a large suit of armor that simply encases his soul.  The boys are drawn in great detail in many of the frames, but when Ed gets put-down or simply gets angry for whatever reason (it doesn’t seem to take much!) his face becomes made up of simple, traditional, comical Japanese line-drawn expressions.  His eyes, for example, become Xes, while his cheeks become splotchy blurs.  Al, on the other hand, has no expressions at all in his face, because it isn’t even his face anymore.  However, the artist has somehow managed to give his character expression and emotion without changing much, except for his posture or movements.  While I could have used more detailed illustrations during some of the action and fight scenes to help explain what was happening to me when there weren’t words, I still don’t think the illustrations are lacking anything worth noting.  The frames flowed easily, especially for someone new to the manga-world such as myself.  Occasionally a frame would take up an entire page, or expand outside the lines, which is something I tend to enjoy… variety, after all, is the spice of graphic novels. 

Chapters 1 and 2 were the hook, line and sinker for me.  They told me just enough about the brothers and their background to make me want to continue my new-found manga excursion, while keeping some of their background a mystery.  By the time I got to chapter 4, the confrontation on the train had me enjoying the action, something I don’t always find myself a fan of.  The Extras and the Preview were quirky and funny, and having wrapped up the entire book in less than 45 minutes, I was sorry I didn’t check out the next few volumes when I picked volume 1 up. 

The Elric brothers, while inhabiting what seems to be another world, are real to me.  There feelings are real, and their quest has a drive behind it, pushing them to find the Philosophers Stone for reasons that pull at my own heart.  Little tidbits about their background come through in different parts of the book, and while I’ve cheated and watched many episodes on Adult Swim, I found myself learning new things about the alchemists the more I read.

I can’t wait to get my hands on more of this manga… when I ran back into work the next day the next four volumes were checked out, and just like I was warned would happen, not only did I put them on hold, but I proceeded to check out a different manga series, the ever popular Death Note series.  I think I’m hooked.

Teachings that do not speak of pain have no meaning... because humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return.

This review is an entry into the I NEED A HERO! write-off.  Edward and Alphonse Elric have been through a lot, and are young heroes of mine as they travel through their world in search of the elusive Philosophers Stone.

This review is also an entry into my own Second Annual National Library Week Write-Off.  We’re well on our way through a successful NLW here at my own public library… what is your library doing for yours?  Show your favorite public or school librarian some lovin’ this special week, and heck, participate in this write-off while you’re at it!


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