Saturday, August 29, 2020

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: Under the Faraway Sky (book) by Makoto Inoue, translated by Alexander O. Smith, original concept by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist: Under the Faraway Sky is the fourth light novel starring Hiromu Arakawa's characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, a fantasy action series.


This book is divided into two stories, "Under the Faraway Sky" and "Roy's Holiday." I'll discuss them separately.

"Under the Faraway Sky"

Edward and Alphonse Elric have now been traveling on their own for a year. Edward ends up with a cold, forcing them to stop at a nearby town for a while. The local doctor is busy, so the person he sends to give Edward a checkup is his assistant, who turns out to be Edward's best childhood friend back at Resembool, Pitt. It's a shock - when they were growing up, Pitt was just as much of a troublemaker as Edward, but now he's mature and pursuing a career he's interested in and that clearly helps people. It makes Edward a little jealous.

These light novels are of course all filler, but this story felt particularly filler-like, with its introduction of Edward's childhood best friend, who was somehow inseparable from him and yet never previously mentioned in any incarnation of the series and who would never be mentioned again. It made it really hard to care any time they talked about their fun days back at Resembool.

I spent the whole story thinking that there would be a big revelation about Pitt's reason for apprenticing himself to a doctor in a town he hadn't previously had any connection to, something more than "his dad researched medicinal herbs so he was sort of continuing the family business." However, this was more about Pitt and Edward accepting the choices they'd made and not comparing themselves to people who'd chosen other paths. For Edward, it was also about realizing that he didn't have to completely leave his past behind - that it wouldn't hurt to occasionally stop by Resembool and see people like Winry, even if his automail didn't need repairing.

This story was just a big pile of "meh" for me, combined with slight annoyance at Pitt's very existence.

"Roy's Holiday"

Roy is given orders to temporarily change places with a commanding officer at a tiny post practically in the middle of nowhere. He grumbles about it, but in reality he views it like a vacation...until he actually gets there and realizes how undisciplined and badly trained his new subordinates are. Then his vacation morphs into a mountain of work, until Hughes and Armstrong make a detour to see him after a nearby investigation of theirs fails to pan out. Hughes and Armstrong drag Roy away, swearing that they have a great view to show him, which results in a semi-terrifying hike that forces them to stop at a village that wasn't on their map. Oddly enough, the village is populated only by children.

The table of contents called this "Roy's Holiday," while the title is listed just before the story as "Roy's Vacation." It's one of several examples that illustrate this story's need for better editing and attention to detail, which is a shame, considering that this was the better of the two stories in the volume.

It was fairly obvious what was going on with this little village, and the length of time it took Roy to figure it out made him look a bit stupid. Still, it was nice to see him try to help out with chores, and I was amused at how proud he was of the one task he was actually able to do well. Meanwhile, Hughes and Armstrong had no trouble at all fitting in and being useful.

Another so-so story, but at least better than the first one. This could have made a decent filler episode in the original anime series.


One full-color illustration of Hughes, Armstrong, and Roy (the image of Hughes holding both a knife and pictures of his daughter makes my heart squeeze, ugh), a few black and white illustrations throughout, an afterword by Makoto Inoue (who apparently has a pet chipmunk), and an afterword by Hiromu Arakawa that includes a four-panel comic and a sketch of what appears to be Winry, Edward, and Alphonse as adults.

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