Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most beloved shonen manga in the world. Despite having ended in Japan in 2010, the franchise has been kept alive by Western publishers introducing newly translated books like The Complete Art of Fullmetal Alchemist. Today I’m here to check out the latest release from VIZ Media, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics, which brings together all of Arakawa’s four-panel manga across the series’ history. Is it worth your time? Let’s find out!
Fullmetal Alchemist is a gripping, high stakes shonen series, but between the life-or-death situations Arakawa finds plenty of time to have some fun. This largely comes in the form of four-panel manga, where the cast are chibified and tell short, visual jokes. These range from Mustang proclaiming that he’ll change the army uniforms to miniskirts, to Al’s armor being home to a huge collection of cats, to Ed using any means necessary to become a little bit taller (even if it means taking advantage of his cowlick).
The comics are short but full of charm. Even when just quickly flipping through the book, you can see how much Arakawa cares about the characters she created. As a fan of the series, the collection is a reminder of how much we, too, love the cast. Despite the gags sometimes stretching the Fullmetal Alchemist universe to its limits, the characters always behave as you’d expect them to. There are some great fourth wall-breaking jokes in here too, my favourite being centred around a valentine Mustang receives.
Viz has collected every four-panel comic in existence for the series and split them into five sections in this release:
- Graphic Novel
- Brotherhood DVDs
- Other Products
- Bonus Comics
The bulk of this 130-paged book are the four-panel comics collection from the Fullmetal Alchemist graphic novels, which comes in at 57 pages all on its own. In some ways this is a shame because the four-panel comics from the graphic novels have already been released in English (they’re in VIZ Media’s current 3-in-1 editions of Fullmetal Alchemist). However, as best as I can tell, none of the other content has previously made it into English, so even those of us who’ve seen the graphic novel content before will find something to enjoy.
VIZ Media are in the midst of releasing Fullmetal Alchemist in hardback ‘Fullmetal’ editions, and newcomers jumping on board with those (or those of us replacing older editions of the manga) will certainly welcome the opportunity to own the four-panel comics in their own release. Having said that, if you’re new to the world of Fullmetal Alchemist you’ll want to be a little wary of reading this book as there are some spoilers for the end of the series.
Where artwork is concerned, the strips look great. They’re obviously not quite as high quality as the main series itself, given that their very nature is to accompany much bigger releases, but Arakawa is a very talented mangaka, so each strip is still a real joy. Backgrounds are well detailed when needed but panels are never overcrowded and Arakawa gives her cast a wide range of detailed and comical expressions from scene to scene.
As previously mentioned, this release comes to the West thanks to Viz Media. The translation has been handled by Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, who’s a different translator to the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. The change in translator proves not to be an issue and the book reads well. I also really liked how the top of every page notes where that particular four-panel comic came from.
Overall, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics deserves a place in every Fullmetal Alchemist fan’s collection. Containing hidden gems that are being released outside of Japan for the first time, this release is a treasure trove of content. Hiromu Arakawa’s characters prove themselves as being truly timeless.