Volume 1 of Fullmetal Alchemist was not quite what I expected it to be. It frequently tripped me up with some extremely dark moments which belied its teen action exterior, and the same is true this time too.
This volume continues to explain how brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric became licensed alchemists, starting with their journey to the capital and subsequent study and alchemists exam. Things are further complicated for the pair by hijackers, a psychotic mass-murderer and a particularly horrific turn of events that have an extreme impact on Ed in particular.
Fullmetal Alchemist is extremely hard to pin down. Just when it seems to be a normal action series it can really shock you with horror and serious drama, and volume two is no exception. Things are pretty much highly enjoyable 'boys own' style action for the first episode as Ed and Al have to contend with some train hijackers, and after another fun but extremely cheesy episode in which the brothers study for, and take, their exams things take a particularly dark turn. The first two episodes on the disc are very enjoyable, with plenty of action and humour, but all this cheerfulness doesn't last - a briefly mentioned murderer who enjoys hacking up his victims comes to the forefront in episode eight, but it's episode seven which is the darkest of the series so far. I won't give away what happens, but it is one of those things you can see coming but is still a shock when it does, I didn't find it easy to watch this episode to be honest but on the other hand Fullmetal Alchemist is just too good to turn off.
This volume continues to delve into Ed and Al's characters and highlights their naivety as they begin to become involved in the adult world of the military, it also explains why many of the horrific events that have occurred seem to have no emotional impact on Al, the younger of the brothers. Mysteries and subplots are building already, and it is a true testament to Fullmetal Alchemist that you can't really be sure of how they will pan out, or how the series will end. In fact the only real problem with it is that it seems to be unsure of its audience, entertaining action and comedy sit occasionally uncomfortably next to disturbing horror which is a bit strong for the audience it appears to be aiming for.
Despite this Fullmetal Alchemist continues to be a great series, and this volume builds on a strong foundation laid by the first one. The series is challenging, highly entertaining and intriguingly unpredictable, it's not afraid to shock or show the darker sides of the characters which keeps it interesting, and it has succeeded in balancing the horror and fun so far. I am really looking forward to the next volume, despite the cheesy moments that punctuated the first couple of episodes on the disc I couldn't tear myself away from it, Fullmetal Alchemist is superb and deserves to be in your collection.
Once again we have textless opening and closing sequences, but this time we also get trailers, and three galleries. Usually long series have less and less extras with each subsequent volume, but at the moment this is pretty good stuff.