Fullmetal Alchemist, vol. 20-21
Story and Art by Hiromu Arakawa
Translation by Akira Watanabe
Adaptation by Jake Forbes
Original Japanese editions: Square Enix, 2008-2009
978-1421530345 (vol. 20)
978-1421532325 (vol. 21)
Between this blog and Manga Life, this is the fourth full review I’ve written for the Fullmetal Alchemist series. I’ll be honest: it’s hard to find a lot of new things to say the fourth time around without completely spoiling the volumes in the question. But I’ll do my best anyway. In the meantime, the short version of the review hasn’t changed much at all. This continues to be a smartly plotted shōnen adventure with some of the most kickass characters (many of whom are women!) that I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in manga. Of all the current shōnen action franchises–you know, the ones with multiple anime tv and movie adaptations, video games, and merchandise galore–it is by far my personal favorite.
In my review of volume 19, I noted that the series was definitely showing signs of entering its endgame, and Arakawa confirms this in her note at the beginning of volume 21. But even without her note, that wouldn’t have been in much doubt. All the characters are slowly coming together–and let me say that some of their reappearances are excellent indeed (one in particular made me laugh and laugh)–and the big showdowns between the heroes and villains are beginning to be lined up.
One thing I especially enjoyed in these two volumes were the subplots for Lin and May. When the Xing characters were first introduced in the manga, I didn’t quite know what to think of them. First, I was just plain surprised: I had watched the first anime, which didn’t include any of the Xing subplots, and was unprepared for their appearance in the manga. Second, early on, they seemed to be one-note jokes with bonus cultural stereotyping. But now I’ll be the first to admit that they’ve become a major part of the story; I can’t imagine the series without them. They still provide comic relief, but they also give the series some of its undeniable heart.
And the Xing characters aren’t the only members of the supporting cast to shine here. To list all who do would ruin too many of the surprises, but trust me, there are many. There are so many subplots, in fact, that we sometimes spend a fair amount of time away from our heroes, the Elric brothers. Oddly enough, that doesn’t particularly bother me. I am so entertained by the ensemble as a whole that I never start growing impatient for the story to return to Ed and Al. And that says a lot, because I am really invested in Ed and Al’s story.
(My prediction for the ending, by the way? Al will get his body back, but Ed will still have an automail arm. Ed getting his arm back would feel a lot like cheating.)
As always, I’m looking forward to the next volume.