The first time someone described the plot of Fullmetal Alchemist to me, I was skeptical that I would enjoy it. A couple months later, I finally saw an episode on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and fell in love. This was my first introduction to the works of Hiromu Arakawa, manga artist extraordinaire and a hard-working badass among creators. Arakawa has several award-winning series to her name, some of which I have read and/or seen, and those are the ones I am highlighting in this post.
Arakawa grew up on a farm with three older sisters and a younger brother in Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan. She attended an agricultural high school and spent the seven years after graduation working on her parents’ farm. In 1999, she moved to Tokyo to become a mangaka (manga artist) and started as an assistant to another mangaka. She published her first one-shot in 1999. In 2001, she published the first chapter of Fullmetal Alchemist, the story that launched her into popularity. Between then and now, she continues to live in Tokyo, Japan with her family and is one of the hardest working mangaka in the industry. Her work that crossed international boundaries into North America include Fullmetal Alchemist, Silver Spoon, Hero Tales, and The Heroic Legend of Arslan.
As the most accessible form of Arakawa’s works are the anime adaptions of her manga, I pay closer attention to those. Her influence bleeds into the anime adaptions, so even though I have not read a lot of her manga, I still recognize her touch as a creator.
Fullmetal Alchemist (also written as FMA) is about brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. After their mother died at a young age, they attempt to bring her back using Alchemy, the science of changing one element into another. Things go awry: Edward loses his left leg and Alphonse loses his entire body. Edward exchanges his right arm to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armor. A couple years later, the brothers travel the world looking for the Philosopher’s Stone, an alchemy tool that can bypass the fundamental laws of Equivalent Exchange which are the foundation of the science of alchemy.
FMA started in 2001 and was adapted into an anime in 2003. I posit that the first half of the anime is the best thing that will ever grace your television screen. The first anime has an original ending different than the manga, done so because the manga was incomplete in 2003 and 2004. In 2009, with the ending of the FMA manga, a reboot anime was released–Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood–this one following the events in the manga more closely than the original anime.
Fullmetal Alchemist was my introduction to Arakawa, and it is where I recommend new readers start. It is a long-running series, which can be a turn-off for some people (including me), but it is one of the only long-running series I will take the time to re-watch. The story, both manga and anime, explore deep themes, like the traumatic effects of war both as a victim of genocide and as a soldier forced to do horrific things. The philosophy of equivalent exchange is prevalent throughout the series. Especially in FMA:Brotherhood, the show touches on alchemy as a spiritual or religious practice. I have notes for an essay on this somewhere, so be on the lookout for that from me in the coming months.
Silver Spoon is a slice-of-life anime about an agricultural school in Hokkaido. Hatchiken Yuugo enrolls at the school to escape the strict reign of his father back home. He befriends a motley crew of interesting characters and learns the hard way the value of hard work and the satisfying rewards that accompany it. A lot of the content is inspired by Arakawa’s own experiences at a similar high school. The manga is still ongoing, released monthly in THIS MAGAZINE. This, too, got an anime adaption of the same name, which I saw on Crunchyroll several months ago.
I have yet to read the manga of Silver Spoon, though a recent foray on the Barnes and Noble website revealed that the manga has not released in North America, which explains that. The anime I greatly enjoyed. Hatchiken takes under his wing a piglet and names it Pork Bowl because that is the poor little piglet’s destiny. He deals with having to slaughter and eat an animal he cared for but then this lesson is applied the next time his class raises a litter of piglets. This is only one of the adventures Hatchiken has at school. He encounters an after school club that shows off the school’s prettiest cows at shows (they have a funny introduction in the anime), volunteers as a stablehand for the equestrian competition club, and learns to make cheese because one of his teachers is a connoisseur and enslaves several students for a semester to make cheese for extra credit. I recommend Silver Spoon. The amazing characters and setting, as well as Hatchiken’s own development, make the show.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan is about the crown prince of Pars, a kingdom that is invaded by a rival kingdom within the first few chapters. After a battle takes an unexpected turn, resulting in the death of Arslan’s father and the destruction of most of the Pars army, Prince Arslan and a loyal knight find themselves fugitives in their own country. Prince Arslan must gather an army from the remains of the kingdom to win back his crown and restore peace.
This is not the first adaption of The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Originally released as a novel in 1986 by Yoshiki Tanaka, the novels have fourteen volumes and a short story, en counting. An anime with an original ending aired from 1991 to 1996. The story was rebooted again as a manga, rewritten and illustrated by Arakawa, in 2013. An anime based on Arakawa’s adaption was released earlier this year.
I started watching the anime when it first aired solely because Arakawa’s name was attached to it, and set it aside for later viewing. I prefer to consume my media in large chunks. I liked what I saw, though the slow pace paired with the one-episode-per-week format was a major turn off. In the meantime, Barnes and Noble has the manga available on the Nook for a couple dollars cheaper than the paperback version, so I will be trying that out before returning to the anime. My thinking is, as long as I have access to the manga, I want to read that before watching the anime adaption.
These are not the only works Arakawa has created. Below is a list of her titles I want to read but am currently unable to: because none of them are licensed for a North American release
- Stray Dog – her first one-shot originally published in 1999, about a half-human/half-dog military experiment. I hear some of the material is repurposed in Fullmetal Alchemist.
- Raiden 18 – about a scientist who creates a monster a la Frankenstein for her own ends. I saw a panel featuring a maniac female scientist and knew then and there I wanted to read this one.
- Noble Farmer – an autobiographical story about Arakawa’s farming experiences during high school and afterward. Is probably really similar to Silver Spoon, but I am intrigued by the autobiographical nature of it.
Have you read Hiromu Arakawa? Which story is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!