Aspiring alchemists Ed and Alphonse Elric are back for a fourth helping of transmuting action focusing on their never-ending quest to find that most elusive of pebbles, The Philosopher’s Stone. Before they can get to the business at hand, however, the Elric siblings have to contend with Scar, an enigmatic Alchemist with a thirst for violence. At the same time they find themselves protecting Marcoh, a fugitive with a troubled past, a past that may be inexplicably linked to their own.
Earlier volumes in the FMA series (while entertaining in their own right) failed to nail the right balance between the uproarious and the heartbreaking, coming off either too inane or just downright depressing. With volume four, however, the series has finally found its feet, forsaking juvenile humour in favour of a serious, focussed narrative. Of course, the odd gag inevitably slips through, but as the series moves into darker territory the humour is gently being phased out allowing the series’ dramatic chops to really shine.
Chief among this volume’s highlights is the reappearance of Scar, a scarred (believe it or not) zealot with a very, very big chip on his shoulder. Whenever he’s around something spectacularly gruesome is never far behind and his little tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte with the kiss curled, Strong Arm Alchemist is one of the best sequences to grace this disc. Up until now he has remained something of an unknown factor, cropping up now and again to put the wind up our young heroes. This volume, however, sheds some light on his bloody quest, and as the pieces of his murky past fall into place it’s clear there’s more to him than your average “freak of the week’.
Characterisation is as strong as ever and while the personalities thrown up don’t often err on the side of originality they each have enough ticks and quirks to save them from obscurity. The lengthy stretches of development that pepper the action don’t hurt either and this disc blesses the viewer with plenty of exposition that goes a long way to deepening our understanding of the weird and wonderful world the Brothers Elric inhabit and the people they meet.
Visually, this volume is easily on a par with earlier instalments in the series and the usual combination of graceful line work and silky animation never fails to get the eyes watering. My favourite aspect of the visuals has to be the character designs that have a wonderful, chunky feel reminiscent of cult Dreamcast scrapper, Powerstone. It makes a refreshing change from the angular, dare I say clinical, character design that plagues so many modern anime titles, and while I wouldn’t necessarily slap it with the retro tag it has that mid-nineties flavour.
16 episodes in, and Fullmetal Alchemist shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, I’d go as far to say this disc has been the most impressive yet, blurring the line between the humorous and the heartfelt with a deftness oddly lacking in volumes 1-3. It’s still early days, but if you’re looking for an action adventure with a bit more grit than your average Shounen series you could do a lot worse than give Fullmetal Alchemist a look.