Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics
鋼の錬金術師4コマ (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi 4-koma)
Shounen – 4-koma, comedy
1 Volume (complete)
Ed and Al may be carrying a large emotional burden, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have time for fun — or that others don’t have time to mess with them and each other! Combining the bonuses from the original Fullmetal Alchemist manga, the DVDs, and brand new strips, the country of Amestris has never been so crazy!
I bought the Fullmetal Alchemist manga because I enjoyed the anime. I still remember the day I picked up the first volume. The cover was so shiny. But of course, most of the inside was storylines I already knew thanks to the show, although minus some scenes like Ed and Al in the desert. It’s not too uncommon for early episodes of an anime series to be better than the manga, as the staff has a good indication of how the characters and story are developing versus a mangaka just hoping their new creation isn’t going to be swiftly axed. Again, I missed some of the added charm like the desert scene.
But then I got to this, and suddenly, the manga was much more interesting.
I mean, this strip is so brilliant. The early chapters show that the Elric brothers are both strong fighters and talented alchemists. It’s not too often that we see shounen manga heroes as powerhouses right from the beginning of the story. And in the first two panels, here they are, bragging about themselves. But Riza wordlessly — and without any cruelty or malice — manages to render them immobile in the most smart-alecky, trollish, yet surprisingly brilliant way possible.
OK, I also love this strip because it’s Riza, who is my favorite character, doing it. But still, it’s funny, and it just shows off that Arakawa loves to rag on her characters or let them be crazy. Anyone who has read or seen Fullmetal Alchemist knows that the series is already full of comedy, but the 90s anime managed to blend a couple of these strips right into the series, like one being the inspiration for this classic:
So Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics is exactly what the title suggests: a collection of these 4-koma (four-panel) strips. If you read my initial impressions on the hardcover rerelease of the manga, you will remember that one of the negatives I listed about the Fullmetal Edition was that it did not include the bonus comics. So here they are. But this also adds ones that were in the Japanese DVD releases, magazines, game booklets, and even a couple new ones.
Now, with 4-koma (well, comedy in general), the humor is often hit or miss. I lavished the opening with the Elric brothers and Riza, but are the rest just as good?
Well, here’s the thing: although I remember loving them in the individual volumes, I didn’t quite feel the same level of enthusiasm. There could be several reasons for this: my age, the fact that I know the punchlines, my mood. But I think the biggest reason is that most of these strips were meant to be included read after watching or reading each disc or volume of the series. This is particularly noticeable for the graphic novel bonuses. Every time you flip the page, you are jumping ahead in the story. I found it a bit discombobulating to have to try to fast-forward through the plot in my head every two pages, particularly with some of the later parts of the story when the main cast are separated.
This really feels like it should have been released after the Fullmetal Edition had wrapped up. Give everyone a chance to reexperience the brothers’ journey, and then end it with The Complete Four-Panel Comics. Right now, the revised edition’s English edition isn’t even one-third complete. I really think my opinion of this book would have been very different had I been reading it with Fullmetal Alchemist fresh in my mind. It’s like the difference between watching post-credit movie scenes right after the movie versus somebody slapping them all together in one video on YouTube. The Complete Four-Panel Comics does list where each 4-koma section came from, but there’s still a disconnect.
On the bright side, there is a lot more new-to-English-fans content than I expected. From the advertisement blurb, I knew Arakawa drew some new comics, but I would expect that even if I didn’t know. But just about everything from page 57 to the final page (128) should be fresh for English readers, as Funimation’s home video releases did not include these bonuses. So even if you are sticking with your original Fullmetal Alchemist manga set, you won’t be paying for just a couple of pages of new content. That was a pleasant surprise.
As I said earlier, most of these funnies are written in response to something — a manga volume, an anime episode, a game, etc. So there’s bound to be some confusion since not everything has been licensed in English. But the number of these is rather small, as they don’t reference the events in those media as strongly as the manga/anime-related strips do. However, there are some cultural gags; even with translation notes, these strips just went over my head. Japanese-related jokes are spread throughout, so you won’t be suddenly hitting a dead spot. Other strips celebrate Gangan or Fullmetal milestones with twist, and additional ones are generic tongue-in-cheek antics that may break the fourth wall. For instance, Ed is impressed by Blu-ray visuals.
Otherwise, this is purely the characters being dumb, crazy, trollish, or realizing that something seriously doesn’t add up. Al and others model some different hairstyles, Winry’s newest feature for Ed’s automail ends up being worthless, Bradley remembers why he hates taking the train… you get the idea. There are a lot of recurring gags like Ed’s height, Al’s love of cats, or Armstrong flexing his muscles, but almost every character of significance plays a role in one of the strips. It’s just a lot of good-natured fun as the author pokes fun at her own creations. (Heck, she admits she drew Pinako’s hair a certain way just to write a particular joke for these funnies!) Plus, my favorite couple had a moment or two that I wasn’t expecting, which is nice consider the shaft they got in the ending.
I do want to clarify some things though. They are probably not dealbreakers but are facts that may be nice to know.
First, while the “filler” panels are included (like Arakawa discussing keeping boobs in the story or Scar looming behind Arakawa), the “In Memorium” drawings and large images are not. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please see below.
While these aren’t 4-koma, including them would have been a fun and relatively easy way to pump up the pagecount. These could even have been shrunk so that perhaps you can get multiples on each page.
Second, there are no color pages here. The first image in this post is in color, but that’s only because that’s the back cover. It’s reprinted in black and white, just like everything else.
Third, there is no digital version of The Complete Four-Panel Comics. That may not be too surprising since Yen Press has the digital rights to the manga version of Fullmetal Alchemist. Because of that, I did want to discuss the release. It’s a slightly oversized paperback, larger than the original volumes but not as big as the Fullmetal Edition. The front cover and spine has the same type of foil print as the Fullmetal Edition. The size and the foil printing contribute to the book’s higher-than-normal (for Viz anyway) price of $12.99. That may be a little high considering there’s no story here and that it has less than 130 pages in total. You might also want to be careful if you do buy it, as in my copy, the 10 middle pages in the book weren’t cut evenly with the rest. They stick out by about a millimeter, but it’s enough to be noticeable when you look at it from the side and when you touch it.
From what I see, the translation for the manga bonuses are the same as the original version. However, I hate the font. It’s similar to Felt, Augie, and Comic Geek. I am almost certain other manga have used it before, but it may be normally a comic book font. Either way, the updated Fullmetal Edition of Fullmetal Alchemist does not use this same font, and I’m surprised Viz just didn’t use the same font. Perhaps that’s because these strips are a) comedic and b) often have a lot of text in small-ish speech bubbles. Still, while it’s okay for side comments or writing, 130 pages of this was just too much in my opinion. It was like if Comic Sans tried to be cool and failed. So the lettering was a turn-off for me.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Complete Four-Panel Comics is one of those releases where you are going to have to gauge how much of a Fullmetal Alchemist fan you are. Are you someone who knows the story pretty well and/or want all things Fullmetal Alchemist? Then pick it up. Are the type of person who never cares about bonus features on movies and/or find Ed height jokes tiring? Probably pass. Have you not read the manga in a while or are following along with the Fullmetal Edition? Wait and come back later.