Fullmetal Alchemist 26

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2011 – 27 volumes

Oh, dwarf in the flask. You do get up to such mischief.

This is mostly a long, drawn-out, emotional fight. To say anything more about it would be a spoiler. But there are many parts that are well-planned. What the dwarf in the flask does with his master plan, the whole sequence where he is getting what he wants, was absolutely fantastic. I think I can say that. The scope of it, the visuals, the methods he used, all of it was great. I also liked the psychological warfare he used against Hohenheim at the end of the volume, too. I liked it as a rebuttal to a somewhat self-righteous observation, and I also liked that that dwarf in the flask wasn’t necessarily all about the painful physical attack at that point.

One thing that disappointed me a little bit was the cost reversal of this, and the fact that… uh, the sacrifices… I don’t know what was going on with the “sacrifice” part of that. I couldn’t figure that out.

The counter measures were spectacular too, especially the one involving Scar. The series had been sitting on that one for quite some time, and I was happy to see it come out at the very end. But, of course, the counter measures aren’t quite as impressive as what the dwarf in the flask does, because you know they’re coming.

There’s a little bit of a fight with Wrath at the beginning of this volume, and another with Pride at the end. The Wrath fighting had worn out its welcome at this point, and I was relieved to see that it was over. Actually, that’s true of all the homunculus fights, and I was a little disappointed when the action switched from the main villain to a fight between Pride and Al. I was won back over when Kimblee played a role. Excellent.

Basically, I’m still all kinds of happy with this fight, and I’m finding it hard to believe there’s three solid volumes of a finale in this series, all of them good. I have no doubt the last volume will be an awesome end to the series. Here’s hoping the epilogue is fun and not overly sentimental. Or, better yet, that the gag strips are still present and accounted for. I almost like those as much as the main story in every volume. They’re surprisingly funny.

Fullmetal Alchemist 25

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2011 – 27 volumes

We’re two volumes from the end, and the story has obviously entered its climax here. I’m enjoying it immensely, and literally can’t wait to tear through the last two volumes. I need to re-read the whole thing, because I recall hating the beginning. I wonder if my opinion will have changed now.

Anyway, I could not be happier with the direction the story took here. There’s the collection of the five, and the fact that they had to force Mustang to open the portal. This whole thing. What Mustang lost. AL’S BODY, DAMMIT. All of it. Everything I’ve been waiting for is here in this volume. Aside from actually using all these characters in conjunction with the huge transmutation circle, I’m not sure how two more volumes of story could happen from here. But I’ll read them. Because I have to know.

As if that wasn’t enough, Wrath fights. Wrath’s fights are obviously going to be something to see, because that’s what he does. Wrath is like Michael Myers in this volume. People keep fighting him, and they sort of win, but then Wrath will simply just fall off a balcony somewhere and show up with two swords, ready to take out an entire room of main characters. He’s awesome.

And that’s about all the intelligent commentary I have to offer for this volume. I can’t really spoil it, and if you haven’t read this far… well, it’s still good. It’s worth finishing. Trust me.

Fullmetal Alchemist 24

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2011 – 26 volumes

It is so honestly aggravating that there are so many plot points to resolve before the end of the series. While this volume is amazing, and has a lot of battles that I’ve been looking forward to the whole time, I am dying to read the end of this series, and this all just seems like filler, or going through the motions, where it would’ve seemed great several volumes ago.

Wrath re-appears, and of course he needs to be dealt with. We learn a whole lot about him, and it winds up being Lin/Greed, Lin’s bodyguards, and Captain Buccaneer from Briggs that take him on. Don’t get me wrong. Wrath can really fight. Seeing him zip around with his sword, causing all sorts of hardcore mayhem without breaking a sweat, is awesome. This is probably one of the best fights in the series, especially because the characters wind up using extreme measures to take him down. But again… it’s not the conclusion. It doesn’t even really have anything directly to do with the conclusion. And I want to see Al get his body back. We don’t even really see the start of that path in this volume.

Elsewhere, Olivier and Alex Armstrong take on Sloth with others. I can see why Sloth was the last of the “children” to see action. He can hold his own as a homunculus for sure, but… he is inherently slothful. He doesn’t like to fight. He causes all sorts of damage, but he only winds up taking two or three passes total in this volume. And he dies pretty easily.

Izumi steps in, and I love that her husband and Alex Armstrong have some sort of strong-man bonding moment. But of course Izumi is a loose end from much earlier in the series, and we knew she would somehow be involved with the end, so we have to resolve her story too…

Again, as ready as I am to read the conclusion to this series, I still love every minute of these volumes leading up to it. I’m growing impatient with the fact that we haven’t even seen the beginnings of the apocalyptic final battle with Ed and Al and Mustang (though this war at Central could be construed as the beginnings, the main characters aren’t involved, so…), but that doesn’t mean that any of this isn’t worth reading. I’m still amazed by how much humor Arakawa puts into the story here, despite how serious everything is. This is largely due to the goofy characters, who can stay goofy while laying homunculi low and saving the country. All the characters in this series are really great, and these volumes always make me laugh, even when serious stuff like a resolution is happening.

But seriously. If the final battle doesn’t start next volume, I’m going to be upset.

Fullmetal Alchemist 23

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2010 – 26 volumes

I like this series a lot. An awful lot. But holy crap, this war stuff is really dragging on and on and on. I know it’s getting close to the end, but the fact I’ve got three more volumes of fighting and a thousand characters for the storyline to jump between makes me not look forward to the end. You know, if Al got his body back, it would make this a lot more tolerable. When will that happen again? Grr.

So. Lots of fights with homunculi this volume. Ed and Al versus Pride, the Armstrong siblings versus Sloth, and Mustang and company versus Envy. Greed is still wandering around too, but no fights with him just yet. The Envy fight at the end of the volume stole the show, since he was one of the first homunculi introduced and there was backstory and things got heated between him and Mustang, literally and figuratively. Mustang showed up about two-thirds of the way through the volume and literally wiped out everything that Al, Ed, and the others were fighting, which was a great reminder of how scary powerful he is.

But even with the awesome fight between Envy and Mustang, there was just so much talking. They stop it near the end and just lecture Mustang. Then Envy lectures everybody. Then everybody lectures Envy. In the end, nobody really kills anybody. This is to be expected in a series that takes the moral high ground, and I do appreciate that, but after reading this and a volume of Blade of the Immortal together, I just get so tired of everybody whining about the cost of human life while waging bloody wars. The war in Fullmetal Alchemist is more or less inevitable, so it’s expected that a lot of this agonizing about the cost will happen. It is a theme of the series, after all, that the genocide of the Ishbalans still haunts the soldiers. But still. In a fight between Mustang and a homunculus, I just didn’t want to hear it.

All the same, it was a RADICAL fight. Totally worth the wait, and Envy really knows how to take a bow.

The fight with the Armstrongs and Sloth is still underway, and is made more interesting by a sudden increase in Sloth’s powers and the fact that they have to dodge soldiers that were told to shoot them on site. It’s good, and made even better by Alex’s grandstanding.

I want to like the fight with Pride at the beginning of the volume. But nothing really happens, save to Kimblee, who was only really… I mean, why is he even in the story? He just… steps in as a threat, without a whole lot to tie him to the other characters, and then this happens. Why? Why, Kimblee? Also, as much as I love seeing Ed and Al go all out in an alchemist fight, Pride just isn’t that exciting. He’s too smug. Bah.

Obviously I still like it, or I wouldn’t care so much about all the little things, but I do wish the story moved a little faster. I want to see Al’s body!

Fullmetal Alchemist 22

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2010 – 24+ volumes

Reading this last story is absolute agony.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, since I’m completely addicted to everything that’s going on, I’m flying through the pages, and I wouldn’t miss any of it for the world.  It’s more because I know what I would like to happen.  I want to see Ed and Al get their bodies back.  I want to see Roy succeed.  I want to see Ed and Al walk away with Hohenheim and go back to Winry.  I want to see Wrath and his little son Pride go down in a horrible way, along with Kimblee.  And I want to see what that gigantic alchemy circle is for (not that I don’t already know).

But before I get to see all that, I have to watch all the preliminary fighting.  Those parts are still good.  Quite good, in fact.  There’s a great scene where Hohenheim and Al outsmart Pride, and then later, Pride outsmarts them back.  Lady Armstrong pulls a nice ace out of her sleeve, and the fighting gets underway in Central City, and I loved watching Roy’s army outsmart everyone they were fighting against a bit further away from headquarters.

All that stuff is great.  But man, I know there’s at least two or three volumes of this awesome stuff before I get to the parts I really, really want to see.  Nothing wrong with that, since ignoring all the exposition would break the story.  Still.  Curse you, Fullmetal Alchemist, for being so awesome that you make me impatient.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Fullmetal Alchemist 21

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2009 – 23+ volumes

There is really only one important thing that happens in this volume.  It’s hinted at on the cover, but I did not see it coming, which is both interesting and refreshing (though, sometimes, in better stories, I do miss out on clues like this).  Pride finally starts attacking the characters, but, you know, he’s just a little kid.  So he has to use someone bigger to attack both physically and emotionally.  It made me love the series a little more for how sad it made me.  The complete consequences of this are not shown in this volume, but… I have a feeling that it’s not a worst-case scenario, because what kind of ending would that be?

I was a little disappointed with Ed’s reunion with his father, but only because Al’s reunion last volume gave me such high hopes.  I should have expected a little less this time, but… come on, my suit of armor?  Classic.  The humor recovered nicely when Pride noted that Ed was his role model, since, you know, Pride is just a little kid, and Ed is so short, and for whatever reason, the short jokes have still not gotten old.

Aside from those two large chunks of plot, most of the rest of this was exposition and what appears to be preparations for the final battle.  Arakawa pretty much confirms that this is the final stretch, though since the series is still running, I have no idea how long this final battle will last.  Probably a long time, because there has been a lot of work put into getting things to this point.

Really, I could care less about the fate of the country.  I just want to see what happens to Ed and Al.  I’m growing a little impatient, but as long as the fights continue to be amusing and relatively epic, preferrably involving homunculi, I think I will be okay with the way things are.

Also, I loved the “I make this look good” quote on the very last page of the volume.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but… Men in Black?  I was very amused.

Anyway, the plot has been so well-laid at this point that yes, of course I’m going to keep reading until the end, because I’m extremely caught up with everything all the characters are doing, not just Ed and Al.  The only thing is that I know that I’ll probably have a few slow volumes like this with lots of fights and politics happening.  Actually, I’m expecting a lot of that out of the ending of the series, but I know I will be rewarded with a gigantic alchemy fight between, at the very least, Hohenheim and Father, and Ed and Al and their teacher, if I’m lucky.  I’ll be waiting for that day with a smile on my face.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Fullmetal Alchemist 20

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2009 – 22+ volumes

One thing I should mention every few reviews for this series is that Hiromu Arakawa does really decent end matter for her books.  She and Mikiyo Tsuda are the only artists whose copious bonus comics I even bother with anymore.  For some reason, Mikiyo Tsuda draws consistently entertaining bonus comics about whatever topic she chooses, and Arakawa’s bonus comics are always parodies of moments in the story or of her characters in general that always manage to be hilarious.  I especially enjoyed her “In Memorium” moments that were included with every volume, showing the characters that died going up to heaven (or pondering what was going on if they weren’t actually dead in the story yet).  They stopped after nobody died for a long time, but it’s really nice to see them appear again when they’re needed.

Anyway, this volume was quite suspenseful (I was going to say action-packed, but it’s mostly just awesome exposition), and it seems to be hinting that the final battle is about to begin… though there’s still quite a bit going on.  The characters all seem to have met up with each other and gotten their goals straight, and all seem to be headed towards Central City in order to stop some sort of “promised day” use of the gigantic alchemy circle that surrounds the country.

Especially noteworthy was the somewhat touching reunion between Von Hohenheim and Al.  It starts off rather comical (as both see one another, they call out in recognition, except Von Hohenheim recognizes his suit of armor, not his son), but then settles down and is appropriately awkward, since the two haven’t seen each other in ten years.  I liked that it wasn’t  sappy when the two finally did connect a bit later, too.  It’s good to see Von Hohenheim a part of the story now, and I’m curious to see how Ed will take his sudden appearance.  He seems to believe the same thing Al did about the doppelganger underneath Central City, which is interesting.

Greed reappears, and is still split between his Greed and Prince personalities.  Ed deals with him wonderfully, and I loved seeing Ed basically spell out why he’s willing to put himself through any humiliation to do what he has to do at this late stage.  It’s nice that he pointed out that pride isn’t something he particularly cares about, since he doesn’t need it to win.

For some reason, the short jokes never get old.  I can’t explain why it’s still funny seeing Ed react to them, but it is.

It’s only been one volume, but already I’m dying to see Ed and Al back together.  Al is too heartbreaking a character to leave away from his big brother too long.  I suspect there’s all sorts of interesting things that can happen now that the final battle is commencing that will be far more important than their reunion… but you know.  Their relationship is one of the things I love best about this series, the way the two brothers stick together and support each other in their common, heartbreaking goal despite all the weirdness going on.

So let’s see how the endgame plays out.  I think the series is still running, so we’ve got at least three more volumes of battles ahead, probably more like… four or five for the series to really wrap up.  Maybe more, who knows.  It is a manga.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Fullmetal Alchemist 19

Hiromu Arakawa – Viz – 2009 – 22+ volumes

What have I done to deserve all this Fullmetal Alchemist?  The release schedule slowed way down for awhile, presumably because we’d caught up to Japan.  While we were slow, a few more volumes came out in Japan, so now we can have three or whatever all at once.  I like this method, especially for a series with a plot as intricate as this one.  Having the volumes release close together is wonderful.  I’ve even got one more to read after this.

After complaining about the slow pace in my last review, I was kind of taken aback by how quickly things were moving in this volume.  Kimblee and Ed fight, and… bad things happen.  Bad things happen to Ed, and I’m not sure how he will recover from them, but he’s the main character.  I don’t like the idea of what it is that he’s sacrificing, either, and I suspect it’s not his life he’s working with.  But oh well.

We get to see an awesome, awesome conversation between Hawkeye and Mustang.  I have no idea how that worked so well in translation, but it did, and… wow.  I love that the two of them are so in-sync that something off-the-cuff like that would work.  I also like that it’s never a question of romance, either, just 100% devotion on both sides, presumably.

Aside from Ed’s fight, we also get a flashback that explains absolutely everything about Von Hohenheim.  I… didn’t quite understand what was going on, since it looks like the same person is the master of the homunculi as well as Ed and Al’s father.  Why would he bother to raise a family when he was doing the thing with the seven sins?  And… wouldn’t he be a homunculi himself, so why would King Bradley need to find out if he could have a son?  But all that is answered, and in a way that was entirely unexpected.  Now the only question is why he ran away from his family, I suppose, but the fact the series turned a villain around and made me love him and see things from his perspective is pretty incredible.  Also, the plot of the series makes a lot more sense now.  The only thing now is… I’m all worried that Von Hohenheim will sacrifice himself to save Ed and Al at the very end of the series.

Von Hohenheim’s past, the conversation between Hawkeye and Mustang, and the fight that ends badly for Ed.  Any one of these three things would have made for an awesome volume, but all three together, at once?  This was the best volume of the series yet, and it’s great to see that it hasn’t lost its touch after all these years.  I’ll be sad if things don’t move fast from here… but it’s very likely they will, since war has been declared and the tunnels are finished and all.

On to volume 20!

Fullmetal Alchemist 18

I love this series, and it strikes me every time I read a volume just how well the characters have been developed through the course of the series and just how far-reaching the plot has been all this time… but I can’t help but think it’s been dragging a bit lately.

On one hand, I like that the entire country has been enclosed in a gigantic transmutation circle, because there are so many horrible implications, and so many different ways to interfere and stop it.  On the other hand, I feel like the whole Eastern Alchemy angle was tacked on.  It was clear that the problem that Ed and Al would have with the philosopher’s stone was plotted out from the beginning (since the homunculi would always have been powered by them, so they would need to be something really horrible hewn from the bones of the stillborn or whatever), but for as long as the characters that practice Eastern Alchemy have been involved with the plot… nothing really significant has happened, and they haven’t really had a direct impact on the plot in any way, aside from the fact that one of the characters was… appropriated by Father some time ago.

The only solid tie it seems to have with the plot currently is in Scar and his brother’s past, and perhaps that gigantic rune that Ed and Al found early on (I don’t remember that part too well), but again… I feel like there are lots of other things that can take the place of Eastern Alchemy, and it just doesn’t fit in with the series nearly as well as absolutely every other element.  And at this point, nothing has happened concerning it, yet a lot of time is spent each volume discussing the possibilities of what it could mean for the characters.  It just feels like really weird filler.

It is supposed to be the ultimate solution for Ed and Al, but… other things, like maybe something Father possesses or could do for them, might work just as well as Alchemy, and would tie more directly in with the main plot of the country going to war.

Anyway.  In this volume?  Ed and Al spend time dancing delicately around Kimblee, trying not to let him in on what’s going on at Briggs while doing as he says since he seems to have drug Winry in as a hostage.  I’ve been griping, so you might guess that part of the mission involves fetching the little girl and talking a lot about how Eastern Alchemy would be so much better than the philosopher’s stone, and a few other little things about Eastern Alchemy… probably not as much was discussed as I make it sound, but an awful lot of time has been wasted on it over the past several volumes.  It had better pay off big.

Al always makes me cry inside.  I do wish his situation was exploited a little more frequently, because, really… he’s the only one that can go out into a blizzard because he can’t feel or get tired ever. That’s the most heartbreaking thing he could have said.  Al’s soul is tired, guys.  I want him to get better soon.

Also, as much as I complained about Eastern Alchemy, you wouldn’t guess that this business with King Bradley and the government has been escalating at an insanely slow rate for several volumes now.  I believe the balance is about to be tipped.  Or at least I hope so.  Getting two volumes a year that feel like mostly exposition is difficult when I like a series this much, especially when it has so much to offer.

Fullmetal Alchemist 17

This is another series which is best read with volumes back-to-back as much as possible. The plot is quite good, but there’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of everything in the gaps between volumes, especially since we’re basically on the same release schedule as Japan now.

The action is currently taking place in Briggs, under the supervision of Major General Armstrong. I can’t really recall what Al and Ed were doing up this far north (I’m going to have to go back through the last few volumes to refresh myself), but I didn’t really have to think about it too much, because right away, the last homunculus, Sloth, attacked. Well, he didn’t so much attack as he did appear out of a hole, fall asleep, and take a beating. I actually kind of liked Sloth, he wasn’t nearly as antagonistic as the others.

Most importantly, the entire plot of the series is pretty much revealed in this volume, including what was behind the founding of the country and all its military conflicts. It’s actually kind of an interesting revelation, and I’m always pleased by such things so late in the series, because I admire stories that are tightly plotted and planned this far in advance. Actually, that’s an understatement, because having a story this tightly plotted is a rare treat given the fact manga is subject to the pressures of… well, trying to be as popular as possible with readers. I imagine what readers like and what the most popular types of storylines are has a lot to do with what the artists are allowed to draw. These types of plots that are planned far in advance and have such extensive story leading directly to the climax are rare in the normal shoujo-type stories I read.

A slight con is pulled in the end, which I also liked, but it seems like the con may backfire given the fact a murderer is now on the loose and is authorized to exercise his own best judgment by King Bradley.

Scar and Mei are still around. I guess just keep them in mind, because nothing much is going on yet, save for the fact another person traveling with them explains how the Astarian alchemy works, as opposed to how the energy is collected for Mei’s Eastern alchemy.

As always, Hiromu Arakawa has some of the best omake. The bonuses at the end of this volume aren’t quite as funny as they usually are, but they still make me laugh, which is good enough for me.

At least we don’t have to wait so long for the next volume, I think volume 18 comes out in March or so.


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