Ep. 11: Fullmetal Alchemist Vol 1

The international smash-sensation, Hiromu Arakawa’s FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, is the subject this week on Mangasplaining! How can a universally beloved series be anything but universally beloved? Well you’re about to find out…

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Fullmetal Alchemist: Fullmetal Edition Volume 1 (We read the softcover though, I just liked this image better.)

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 1
By Hiromu Arakawa
English adaptation by Egan Loo. Translation by Akira Watanabe.
Touch-up & Lettering by Wayne Truman
Published by VIZ Media. Print from VIZ, Digital from Yen Press. 

00:00: SPOILERS: We spoil the hell out of this episode. Fair warning.

Those Irresponsible Aliens

1:00: Lum and her family, Those Irresponsible Aliens, is sort of the title of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura in Japanese. Deep cut. 

1:10: For the record, Arakawa-sensei had only completed a few short-stories, chief among them Stray Dog and Ghost Demons of Shanghai, before starting Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) which was her first serialization. 

Also worth noting that Arakawa-sensei serialized other stories during the serialization of FMA, including Hero Tales, which has been released in English by Yen Press. Currently out of print, but not impossible to find.

01:20: It’s true! Fullmetal Alchemist is a massive property, the second-bestselling one we’ve covered following AKIRA. Actually, AKIRA might have sold fewer total copies eventually, particularly as FMA runs for 27 volumes! Dang. Certainly hope Chip likes it, otherwise we’ll have a whole world of disappointed folks to contend with. 


3:30: This won’t be the only time we mention Hiromu Arakawa’s other big work, Silver Spoon. Started serializing after the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, it’s a VERY different story. Here’s the publisher’s official description:

“Defying the expectations of family and teachers, Yuugo Hachiken chooses to leave the city and enroll at Ooezo Agricultural High School. Having always been at the top of his class, Yuugo assumes a rural school will be a breeze, but mucking out stables, gathering eggs, and chasing errant calves takes a lot out of him-and fills him with something he’s never experienced before. Surrounded by endless fields and fresh air, Yuugo discovers a new connection to the land and to life…Springtime begins at Ezo AG!!”

It’s a manga about farm school, and as mentioned, Deb absolutely loves it. 

5:00: Christopher is thinking here of Steam Detectives by the way, Kia Asamiya’s noir steampunk mecha thriller which has an admitted Mignola influence on top of Asamiya’s early-shonen-manga-inspired artwork. I feel like Arakawa’s work on the first few volumes of FMA shows a definite influence from both Asamiya and his influences, though that dissipates considerably as the series moves forward and Arakawa comes into her own. 

Fun fact: Steam Detectives was published in English in 2002, and in 1994 in Japan. Were you even born then? Is that why you have no idea what I’m talking about? 


07:35: Oh no, the hate mail we’re gonna get.

09:15: Meme idea: Chip hates the colour pages. We all sort of laugh it off, but here’s the colour page in question, we’ll let you decide for yourself. 

10:30: Fullmetal Alchemist is the rare manga to get two (2!) anime adaptations. The first, simply titled Fullmetal Alchemist, is a more straight-ahead adaptation starting at the beginning of the manga and continuing forward. Meanwhile, the remake, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, starts the adaptation much further down the line as the leads are more established within their world, while still take care to introduce the characters, themes, and plot to viewers unfamiliar with the property. David says, if you wanna check it out, definitely check out FMA: Brotherhood


10:45: Square Enix launched their North American manga/book publishing arm a year and a half ago: https://squareenixmangaandbooks.square-enix-games.com/en-us

The basic version of this one is that Square and Enix used to be separate video game companies making competing Japanese Role Playing Game series (among many other games) before they merged in 2003. They then gobbled up a bunch of other companies including the folks who made Space invaders and Bubble Bobble (Taito), the folks who made Tomb Raider and Deus Ex (Eidos), and a bunch of other smaller companies. 

They make games, they make game engines, they make online games, they make arcade games, they have a film division, they publish manga, art books, and merch, and they control dozens of top pieces of intellectual property. 

A lot of Square Enix properties on one graphic. Or “Squeenix” as they are occasionally called.

12:15: Light novels! What are Light Novels? Out of the mouths of babes. Light novels are easy-reading novels for otaku, basically. There’s more to it, I’m sure that LN fans are fucking furious with this description, but like… that’s what they are. In Japan as soon as a light novel gets too heavy, it becomes SF. Books for people without friends

15:00: “Oh no! My podcast crew discovered that I was a teenage light novel reader in another world and now they keep prodding me to say meaner and meaner things about light novels!”

The other world is pre-pandemic. 

If you want a less biased description of light novels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_novel 

A typical light novel.

17:00: Literally genocide in volume 2. If you bounce off volume 1 because it all seems a bit surface, definitely give volume 2 a shot to see that the mangaka, Arakawa, is thinking deeper about these issues. There’s a reason this one went to 27 volumes…! This is a theme we return to throughout the podcast.

Also, this is in deep opposition to how similar themes are handled in Attack on Titan, and I’m eagerly awaiting the 10 minute YouTube video explaining hot AoT f’d it up and FMA got it right, considering how much the fans of AoT hated the end of that series.

18:40: So there are multiple versions of Fullmetal Alchemist in print right now. There are three editions:

OG: Stand-alone, original editions, running 27 volumes at U.S.$9.99. They have backup material!

The “Original” English edition of FMA.

3-in-1 Edition: Collecting 3 of the above volumes in a half-price bind-up, for U.S. $14.99 each. 9 volumes. These have the back-up material too!

The 3-in-1 Edition of FMA.

Fullmetal Edition: It’s the new hardcover editions, complete with nicer paper, colour pages, and great binding. 13 volumes total. Doesn’t have the back-up material in each volume, but they did release a stand-alone volume called The Complete Four-Panel Comics, which collects them all, and they’re great. Definitely get this volume too. 

The Fullmetal Edition.

There’s also: A box set of all 27 volumes; 2 stand-alone art books; a complete art book collecting the two separate art books; 1 manga profile book; 5 light novels; 1 anime art book; 1 anime profile book. That’s just the print material, there’s also the anime and toys and stuff. All in print, so far as we can tell. 

20:00: It’s GREY. like, it’s actually really grey. Chip’s copy from ComiXology had significant production problems. Here’s a screencap of one page from the book from Chip, and here’s what it would look like if it was the right shade of black. 

Screengrab of the digital edition. This does not seem right.

21:15: Double page splash of a train is… not the best use of a double-page spread. Particularly in a book with some incredibly bad-ass fight sequences. 

22:55: Alphonse is an expressionless suit of armor! Everyone loves that!

Alphonse Elric graces the cover of volume 2.

24:15: Here we go, it’s the story about the little girl and her pet dog, so fucking sad it’s literally a meme. Sorry we’re talking about this but like, you can’t talk about FMA without talking about it. So, here it goes.

We made this really big so you can use it as a meme.

28:00: Friendship! Effort! Victory! The three pillars of Shonen Jump’s shonen manga… but shonen manga is published by other publishers too, which give us things like Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist, among many others. 

Funny enough, if you google that phrase you get a Quora question asking if this motto is still relevant in today’s world. The top answer is from manga translator William Flannagan, but the second answer? Why it’s from our very own Deb Aoki! Check it out:


31:25: David makes a great comparison here, being a Marvel fan or DC fan is akin to being a Shonen Jump fan or a fan of shonen manga from other publishers. I think Mermaid Saga might technically have been shonen, instead of seinen too, now that I think about it.

34:00: Oh yeah, there are live action FMA movies too. Can’t stress how big this series is, and how mid we’re all being on it.

35:00: Look, it’s a shonen protagonist! I think this one’s name is Edward, but does it matter? Not in the first volume it doesn’t!

37:00: There’s a LOT going on in this series as it goes on, around religion and maybe thinly-veiled religious references? David is the expert here and gives a good explanation of the road ahead, and what the series is trying to say and what it becomes, but if you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world you’re going to maybe be left with some questions about what exactly the manga is trying to say here. 

39:45: We’re not getting into it because saying his name summons him and his awful fans, but suffice’d to say that dude is a dude who sucks, and it makes watching the anime in English kinda suck. Watch it in Japanese with English subtitles. Google “Edward Elric voice actor” if you wanna dig in. 

41:15: This is a hell of a reaction image. 

Shout out to Halliday! Thanks for listening buddy <3 <3 <3

42:40: Deb trails off there when talking about Hiromu Arakawa’s great female characters (none of which get any real screen time in the first volume), but let’s simply say that shonen manga, especially very popular shonen manga, aren’t always great to their female characters. 

43:15: It’s time for the BREAK!

Please remember that time-stamps after this point are approximate.

Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil.

43:30: Daredevil advertisement by Chip Zdarsky. I wonder if we got paid for that? Hmm. Anyway, if you want us to read your ad on-air, hit us up at mangasplaining@gmail.com and like, we’ll chat about it. 🙂

45:00: What’s a good detective manga? Why Deb has so many answers for you!

Case Closed (aka Detective Conan), by Gosho Aoyama. explain plus image. A top teen detective gets magically turned into a small child, but still wants to solve mysteries! This long-running (99 volumes in Japan!). https://www.viz.com/case-closed

There’s a whole museum dedicated to him, the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory in Tottori Prefecture! https://www.detectiveconanworld.com/wiki/Gosho_Aoyama_Manga_Factory

Kindaichi Case Files, by Yozaburo Kanari. Another teen detective solving crimes the police can’t. Out of print, but lots of volumes floating around second-hand bookstores for cheap (despite insane online prices), and most volumes are stand-alone complete mysteries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kindaichi_Case_Files 

Sherlock Bones, by Yoma Ando and Yuki Sato. Same author as The Drops of God, the wine tasting manga, under a pen name since this series is for kids. But yeah, it turns out that the lead character’s dog is the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, and they hang out and solve crimes. But he’s a dog. https://kodansha.us/series/sherlock-bones/ 

I Tell C, by Kazusa Inaoka. A young woman investigates crime by like, almost committing crimes, to push criminals to turn themselves in? I dunno, but there’s six free chapters on the Jump website: https://www.viz.com/shonenjump/chapters/i-tell-c?locale=en 

So there’s 4 detective manga for you to enjoy, not counting Panorama Island which we discuss in a few weeks down the road. 

Here’s the second Question of the Week:

CactusGalactus asks: “While I love the deep dives into specific books on Mangasplaining, I am finding myself snap-buying the books they mention off-handedly like Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san and Wakakozake. This is becoming a problem. “

So we go ahead and make his problem worse. Have we got some oddball recommendations for you! 

Deb’s Recommendations:

A Man and His Cat, by Umi Sakurai. A windowed man adopts an ugly cat, and he cares for it and the cat cares for him and it changes both their lives and it’s just adorable. Really sweet and cute. https://squareenixmangaandbooks.square-enix-games.com/en-us/series/a-man-and-his-cat 

BL Metamorphosis, by Kaori Tsurutani. A 75 year old woman accidentally buys a BL, or Boy’s Love manga one day, and instead of pulling a Karen and demanding the library pull it or the bookstore stop selling it, falls in love with it and wants to know more. She connects with a shy highschooler who works at the bookstore, and they develop a friendship. Really lovely, sweet, and nostalgic. https://sevenseasentertainment.com/series/bl-metamorphosis/ 

David Recommends: 

FrankenFran by Katsuhisa Kigitsu. A sexy-horror-comedy about a reanimated sexy young lady frankenstein who becomes a very bad surgeon with darkly hilarious results. Despite the cover, not actually hentai. Shout out to Christine Wong / OneChrispy.com for the recommendation. https://sevenseasentertainment.com/books/franken-fran-vol-1-2/ 

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku, by Fujita. Really chill series about adult workers at a typical Japanese company who slowly reveal to one another that they’re secret otaku, and romance blooms. Rare to get a manga about actual adults… Great manga, great anime too. https://kodansha.us/series/wotakoi-love-is-hard-for-otaku/ 

Christopher recommends: 

Ping Pong, by Taiyo Matsumoto. Two highschool boys have a complicated relationship with one another, that revolves around the sport of ping pong. As the characters progress through the story, their friendship and relationship to each other and the world changes in amazing ways. Surprisingly not a BL manga. Christopher’s top 10 manga of all time, probably. https://www.viz.com/ping-pong 

Maiden Railways, by Asumiko Nakamura. A josei (women’s) romance/slice-of-life manga centered around trains and trainstations south of Tokyo. A unique, rare josei manga, short stories, perfect to pick up and enjoy.  https://denpa.pub/manga/maiden-railways 

Oh, and if you were curious about the horny Super Hxeroes manga Christopher mentioned, well, here ya go. https://sevenseasentertainment.com/series/super-hxeros/

Fun Fact: We completely forgot this entire conversation when we were picking books the next week. Despite Chip wanting to read some of them, we just totally forgot to pick them. I think we collectively blame COVID for the brain-drain, here, apologies to anyone hoping for a Wotakoi episode. Won’t happen til at least July at this point. Gomen nasai.

And that’s it for this week!

Coming up on Mangasplaining:

Ep. 12: Oishinbo, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki. Published by VIZ Media. (May 4)
Ep. 13: Beastars, Vol 1, by Paru Itagaki. Published by VIZ Media. (May 11)
Ep. 14: Paradise Kiss 20th Anniversary Edition, by Ai Yazawa. Published by Vertical Inc./Kodansha. (May 18)
Ep. 15: Naruto Vol 1, by Masashi Kishimoto. Published by VIZ Media.
Ep. 16: The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, by Suehiro Maruo. Published by Last Gasp.

Oh, and those links again are:
D.A.D.S. on Spotify

Thanks so much for listening to this episode, see ya next week!

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10 Responses

  1. Yuu says:

    I think the fullmetal edition will be 18 volumes, not 13

  2. Erica Friedman says:

    Gonna rant about Light Novels. They existed before Isekai, although, yes, that has catapulted them into mass popularity.

    Light Novels were (and still are) illustrated novels targeted at teenish audience. They started as shousetsu from magazines like Cobalt and Dengeki mags. They are light in content and size, as they also have a small trim running somewhere between 200-300 pages, so you can physically carry a LN in your pocket easily. Yes they absolutely exploded with the online shousetsu culture and yes, *of course* are sometimes derivative content from popular series. Just as often the LNs are the source material. Sure, Sword Art Online set off the Isekai books this time (ignoring the 70’s-80s DnD version of same.)

    I do agree that LNs now are wholly leaning towards otaku culture, when you see that Square Enix ansd Dengeki are the mass publishers, it become obvious.

    I’m a fan of LNs and webnovels and their ability to include and expand from fan works to original creations. As a fanfic author myself, I guess that that’s expected. ^_^

    • Alex Case says:

      And additional note to this – one of the non-isekai light novel series that got a US release prior to the boom was the “Slayers” series of novels (a fantasy series featuring the adventures of sorceress Lina Inverse and her Himbo swordsman traveling companion Gourry). The novels were adapted into a very popular anime, which got a real following here in the US, leading to Tokyopop releasing some of the novels, which included a localization by (tying into an earlier episode) Kelly Sue Deconnick. The new releases by J-Novel Club have a separate translation though.

      Finally, probably my less judgemental elevator description for Light Novels would be “Japanese pulp novels aimed for a teen and young adult to a college-aged audience.”

  3. Matthew Murray says:

    Glad Erica talked about light novels in the comments. I certainly haven’t read any that I’ve enjoyed, but they are popular and I think they’re kind of interesting. A 2019 article I found recently (The Plight of Translation In America, https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/79407-the-plight-of-translation-in-america.html) said that 47 Japanese titles were translated and published into English in 2018. This number clearly doesn’t include manga series (Viz alone appears to have put out over 20 titles this month) or light novels, which are potentially the largest single group of prose translated into English in the USA.

    Two other things worth mentioning are how many of them are original properties (that then get turned into manga and other media) and that many of them start as (free?) fiction released online. Some of them probably are written by teenagers!

    Chip complaining about the “printing” in his copy of FMA reminded me that I will forever be disappointed by the copy of Blame! Master Edition, vol. 1 that I bought at SDCC and got signed by Tsutomu Nihei. It has _terrible_ print quality and really washed out blacks. Other printings look much better, but mine does not look good and it’s not like I’ll ever get another opportunity to get one signed. : (

  4. Cesar says:

    Though I really like FMA, I kinda agree on almost all points (I wasn’t particularly sold on FMA from the first volume, kept reading it most from my friends’ hyping it), but I really feel the series improves as it goes on, or at least that it takes some volumes for it to finds its footing, and I love the conclusion.

    This is actually a common feeling I have from “longer series” of comics in general (Sandman, Fables and Uber came to mind as series where I don’t think the first volume is representative of what I like of the series as a whole).

    Is this the first “long serialized” story in the podcast? (IIRC everything so far was a short series and/or composed of shorter mostly standalone stories instead of a large overarching plot, wasn’t it?). I wonder if series like this one could warrant “sequel episodes”.

    Just to be clear, it’s obviously pretty fine to have different opinions on stuff, and I definitely don’t want to make anyone read a series they’re not into, just wanted to share that I don’t think vol 1 is that representative of the stuff I loved about it – mostly the large cast of (awesome) characters with different (and often opposing) motivations and how they bounced off each other, and the way the worldbuilding/overarching story expands, while managing to stay centered on the relation between brothers til the end

  5. I only say, I am so entertained about the topic, I’ve seen Miss Deb Aoki’s post about Mangasplaining, and there here I am, enjoying the podcast, and then was surprise that Here also is Sir Zdarsky, I love his artyle and I even draw Daredevil fanart for the firts time ( drawing a western comic fanart, I usually draw anime inspired style ). I just wanna show to him my Daredevil fanart inspired by his art in Daredevil comic. https://www.deviantart.com/kazukishinta/art/Fanart-Daredevil-861765546

  6. Miguel Corti says:

    Glad to hear you all had a different take on FMA, and weren’t shy about sharing it. I love when the four of you don’t hold back your critical eyes and aren’t afraid to come out and say when something’s not working for you.

    I don’t have much to contribute the the light novels conversation but I had always thought of them as YA-style books. I think because the publishing industry in Japan leaned too hard in selling them to anime/manga otaku, they kind of missed a chance at broader appeal. (Erika’s comment above has a better summation than mine.) Of course, the Tom Cruise-Emily Blunt film “On the Edge of Tomorrow” was based on the LN “All You Need Is Kill,” so maybe packaging them as Japanese YA books instead of something just for otaku could help with appealing to a general audience.

  1. May 1, 2021

    […] David Brothers in the driving seat this week, as the team discussed the cultural phenom that is Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist, and how the first volume holds up as an intro to the series and its various […]

  2. June 8, 2021

    […] So I only read about half here, I encourage you to go check out Erica’s full comments. […]

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