When I saw the words “Fullmetal Alchemist” and “Complete Comics” together, I thought I was in for an omnibus of Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) comics. The important part of this title is “four-panel.” This book is a collection of the four-panel comics, also known as 4-koma, that have supplemented FMA manga, anime, and other content over the years. They have been translated from Japanese to English and maintain the traditional back-to-front (spine on the right), right-to-left layout of manga.
The 4-koma strip genre is written as gags or outtakes—a means of breaking the fourth wall by letting the characters comment on and make fun of the storyline. Most of the artistic style of the FMA 4-koma relies on deanimated rough sketches of characters, with chibi (cute or exaggerated) faces that reiterate the spoof nature of the panels. These 4-koma panels let main characters Edward and Al have a reprieve from their ongoing quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone to comment on other characters and the storyline.
For those who are unfamiliar with FMA, it is a shonen manga (aimed at teenage males) published serially from 2001 to 2010. It was made into an anime series in 2003–2004 that loosely followed the manga, then produced again as anime in the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series in 2009–2010, which more closely followed the manga plot. Two feature-length anime films have been made, as well as most recently, a live action version in 2017. The series has also published novels, audio dramas, video games, art books, and boatloads of merchandise.
The story follows two brothers who become alchemists on a quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone. When they were young, their mother died, and they used their rudimentary alchemy skills to try to bring her back to life. They failed, and in the process Edward lost an arm and Al lost his entire body, with Al’s soul becoming bound to a suit of armor. If they can find the Philosopher’s Stone, they hope to reunite Al with a flesh body. However, during their journey, they realize that human souls power the Stone, and they must find another way to restore Al’s body. They must also fight those who wish to create more Philosopher’s Stones from the lives of humans.
This volume has a specific audience, and that is FMA fans. A reader unfamiliar with this series would not be able to appreciate the storyline from the 4-koma. I don’t know how many others are like myself, who have only immersed themselves in one aspect of the series. I watched the original anime in high school and have since watched FMA: Brotherhood twice, but I never made it through all of the manga. Many of the jokes were lost on me because I lacked the context to appreciate them. The volume would be much more fun to consult in tandem with reading the manga or watching the anime series. Overall, it’s a great gift for an FMA lover, and it would be a nice addition to a collection if you have both the manga and the anime on the shelves. If not, you might want to pass this one by.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics
By Hiromu Arakawa
VIZ Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T