Saturday, August 29, 2020

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind (book) by Makoto Inoue, translated by Alexander O. Smith, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind is the fifth light novel starring Hiromu Arakawa's characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, a fantasy action series. I bought my copy brand new.


Do not read this book unless you've at least made it through volume 4 of the manga, episode 10 of FMA: Brotherhood, or episode 25 of the first FMA anime.

Edward and Alphonse are training with Izumi in Dublith when they spot a book, The Evolution of the Body by Balerea Dell, in an old photograph. The book was banned, and all copies of it should have been destroyed, but the brothers decide to travel to the town of Lambsear in the hope that the bookstore and that particular book are still there. It might contain a clue that could lead them to the Philosopher's Stone, or information relating to successful human transmutation. Meanwhile, there have been a bunch of chimera attacks in the area, and Roy Mustang has been tasked with investigating and putting a stop to them. 

Man, this was kind of weird to read right after the fourth book and its "Roy, Armstrong, and Hughes go on a trip and end up doing chores for children" story. This fifth book very clearly takes place after Hughes' death.

Of all the Fullmetal Alchemist light novels, this was probably the best, despite the almost B-movie monster ridiculousness at the end. It had heavy ties with one of the more emotionally impactful events in the series' timeline, the Ishbalan massacre, and dealt with more serious issues than I expected, considering what the last few FMA light novels had been like.

When Ed and Al found the bookstore, it was being run by the wife of the son of the original owner. She and her husband had taken in Kip, the son of an Ishbalan couple, when he was just a baby - he'd become separated from his parents during the chaos of the Ishbalan massacre. Shelley had come to think of Kip as her own son, and Kip thought of her and her husband, Luon, as his parents, but Luon was determined to reunite him with his birth parents. Kip was caught between worlds - he looked like an Ishbalan and had a few Ishbalan friends, but he'd been raised by Amestrisian parents and didn't have the gut level hatred of state alchemists that most Ishbalan survivors had.

I correctly guessed some of the ways Edward and Alphonse's part of the story would overlap with Roy's, but not all. While the revelations were good and had decent emotional impact, it was all a bit too similar to things that happened in the original manga. It took me a bit, but I finally realized that the reason why Luon and Kip gave me such a sense of deja vu was because they reminded me of a couple pairs of characters in the manga.

The whole "augmented blood" thing was so-so, and the one character's plans had holes you could drive a bus through. Also, the monster at the end wasn't so much horrifying as just ridiculous.

Well, I've now read all of the FMA light novels, or at least all of the ones that were translated into English. I'm pretty sure they all had slight typos and errors, and the writing was never more than serviceable, but overall I'm glad I read them. One of these days I need to reread (and actually finish!) the manga.


One full-color illustration, several black and white illustrations throughout, an afterword by Makoto Inoue (who now has a Java Sparrow in addition to a chipmunk), and an afterword by Hiromu Arakawa with a four-panel comic featuring a scene from the book and a sketch of Roy.

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