"Fullmetal Alchemist" by Hiromu Arakawa is a highly enjoyable and innovative manga series comprising of 27 volumes (over 5,000 pages in total). It's both character and plot-driven and could be classed as a 'philosophical/action/science fantasy/thriller' but includes elements belonging to the horror and humour genres. I'll be reviewing the English translation.
There are two English translations, one by VIZ (an American publisher) and the other by CY Manga (a Singaporean publisher). I read all but three of the CY translations and found them superior to the VIZ translations (the former were more polished, had less mistakes). The CY Manga translations weren't without errors, they still had spelling and grammar mistakes and the occasional doubled up or missing word but on the whole they were better.
Simple but eye-catching. Ranged from manga 'realism' to heavily stylised eccentricities. I found some of the action scenes to be far too busy. They quickly became confusing (one of the disadvantages of a still medium). Also, some of the drawings in the last few volumes seemed rushed.
There's a huge and varied cast of characters. Alchemists, state alchemists, citizens, criminals, soldiers, homonculi and a god, amongst many others - all very human (both good and bad to some degree). Edward and Alphonse Elric are the protagonists but for much of the story they are separated from each other. They take different journeys and accomplish various feats, accompanied by friends and foes. Several characters are given more time in the limelight than they deserve (eg. Sloth) and other more interesting characters (eg. Envy, Lust) don't get enough time.
"Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving in return.
To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange.
In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one, and only, truth".
The series appears to be set in an eastern European-type country, where an ethnic cleansing akin to the Holocaust has taken place. In this world, a pseudo science (known as alchemy) is is used by the learned, skilled and sometimes desperate for good and evil purposes. The story takes place in an undefined era but much of the fashions, architecture and transport etc. suggest it's possible during the 1920's. The series begins with two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, when their father leaves home and their mother grows sick and dies. They try to resurrect her using forbidden alchemy but it goes terribly wrong. They leave home to start anew in search of the Philosopher's Stone, which is reputed to have great power. The philosophy of alchemy is a governing focus for "FMA" but the story also draws on some Judeo-Christian beliefs and values (particularly the Seven Deadly Sins), the seriousness of sin and guilt, the redemption found in forgiveness, the foolishness in playing God, and the idea that there is one God being Truth (though the latter isn't viewed in a particularly orthodox manner). There's also a touch of Eastern mysticism. While the series is action-packed, philosophical, unpredictable and disturbing, it manages to incorporate much broad humour that works (mostly) to great affect.
In general, I found the first half of "FMA" more interesting than the latter half, which, while enjoyable, played out differently to what I expected. Still, considering this series took us on a 9-year journey, the story is incredibly consistent and cohesive. Towards the end of book 27, there's a final battle between the heroes and the main villain. This battle suffers from what I like to call 'Dragon Ball Z Syndrome' - the action's great for awhile - there's lots of crazy, intense fighting and powers being thrown around but then the action becomes rather confusing and ultimately a little over-blown. The aforementioned battle covers almost two volumes of the manga - that's exhausting and not necessary. Thankfully, the story has a well-deserved conclusion that doesn't serve to wrap every character's story up in a neat bow but allows for developments beyond the pages. All in all, a very enjoyable manga series.
Not for children. "Fullmetal Alchemist": Contains strong fantasy violence, disturbing imagery and some language.
Anyone care to explain what happened in the final battle? I understood the gist of it, but not everything. Thanks!