Review: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Ties That Bind (Vol 5)

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After discovering a banned book on the science of the human body may be found in a nearby bookstore, Ed and Al make their way from their Teacher’s home to look for it. Whilst there they meet Kip, a young Ishbalan boy who is being raised by the store owner and her husband, who is travelling to find their foster son’s birth parents. Meanwhile, vicious chimera have been attacking people across the country, and Mustang’s been put in charge of stopping them! It’s time for another alchemic adventure in Fullmetal Alchemist: The Ties That Bind.

This fifth book is the final Fullmetal Alchemist light novel ever published in English, although not the last of the series that was written in Japan. Written by Makoto Inoue and translated for Viz by Alexander O. Smith, the book features Hiromu Arakawa’s signature artwork from the hit manga series. This volume is probably also the most well-known of the Fullmetal Alchemist light novels (and likely the only one with a second print run), as it is included in Viz’s manga boxset as a bonus item and is still readily available.

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As all good FMA stories do, the book starts with the boys getting in trouble—this time being scolded by their alchemy teacher and surrogate guardian, Izumi Curtis, for breaking the taboo of human transmutation. The woman knows all too well the dangers of the taboo and hates how her young students have repeated her mistakes. She’s a powerful alchemist but emphasises the value of not relying on alchemy for everyday life. After trying to fix a radio, Edward finds a photo that has a banned book, The Evolution of the Body by Balerea Dell, in the store window; asking where the photo was taken, the two brothers decide to sneak off and find it in hopes it might have a clue to restoring their bodies, against Izumi’s wishes. They don’t quite get away scot-free—especially after a chimera almost attacks them in the wan hours of pre-dawn—but with Izumi’s disgruntled acceptance, they take the train to the town in question.

Once there, the two brothers search for Egger’s Books—of which the previous owner collected all sorts of odd and specialised books—in hope Dell’s book is still available. On the way they meet a young, friendly Ishbalan boy who is carrying his own box of books. He introduces himself as Kip and offers to show them the way after helping him with his box of picture books. He is, it turns out, the foster son of the current bookstore owners. Separated from his parents during the Ishbalan War, he was taken in by his parent’s friends, with the promise that they would be reunited. His foster father, Luon Egger himself, now travels across the country buying and trading new books, and looking for Kip’s parents, whilst his wife Shelley and Kip look after the store. The two welcome the Elrics into their home easily when they hear that they’re searching for a particular book, letting them peruse the shelves at leisure. Doing so, the brothers discover a letter to Egger from Dell, meaning they might be even closer to finding the man himself.

At the same time in Eastern Command, Mustang has been ordered by Central to resolve the chimera attacks with help from Southern. The monstrous beasts have attacked a dozen people in horrible ways, and although no one has died yet, it seems like only a matter of time. With a bit of deduction from the Flame Alchemist, he seems to have a good idea on the next likely target to be attacked. —a military higher-up with a bad attitude and general hatred for Roy.

The book, like the previous, is easy to follow and fairly straightforward—but in true Fullmetal fashion, the themes run deeper than the typical shonen fare. Discussing the cost and futility of war, as well as the ever-present themes of PTSD from our characters involved with the Ishbal rebellion (closer to eradication), FMA never hides or excuses the atrocities of the military—refreshing, considering how often the military is used as a setting or premise in light novels as a positive. This is no SDF fantasy born from military otaku wet dreams, and Arakawa’s hard work capturing the mental and physical impact of warfare is maintained perfectly here—these characters still fight with the ever-constant demons of the past, the survivor’s guilt and the sheer hopelessness for themselves. We also have Kip’s struggle with his identity: his cultural and ethnic heritage, part of a discriminated people who were indiscriminately slaughtered by Amestrian soldiers and their unnatural alchemy; counter-balanced with his love for his foster parents, the only family he has ever known. At only six years old, it’s an impossible thing to expect him to fully comprehend all the implications, and the relationship Kip has with Luon provides an interesting comparison with the Elrics and their own absent father.

These Fullmetal Alchemist books are truly representative of a light read—a quick, simple story that lends itself to the franchise, without being necessary to read. As with all the previous, this book is better suited to long-time super fans of FMA and it’s many media iterations, or young manga and anime fans who want something familiar that won’t be over-sexualised or over-violent. This was the final of the FMA light novels Viz ever translated for the English market, but I do think it was a high point to leave it—it makes sense as to why this book was chosen as the extra for the manga boxset, and it’s a little “meatier” on the themes the manga so often employs. By the same token, it’s obvious as to why there has never been a huge push to license and release the rest—the current standards and expectations for light novels are far different now then back in 2007, and this series isn’t quite up-to-snuff with what we’re used to today. As a stand-alone, the book is an OK addition for any FMA fan, but don’t expect too much more from it.

Gee's Rating: Maybe recommended for pre-existing fans.

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