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The second volume of Full Metal Alchemist continues the adventures of Edward and Al, two brothers who are searching for a way to restore their bodies, which were damaged after a failed attempt to bring their mother back from the dead. During the botched attempt at human transmutation Edward lost an arm and a leg, which have since been replaced by cybernetic prosthetics, whilst Al has had to substitute his missing body with a hollow suit of armor. Leading on from the opening volume that focused mainly on the Elric brothers, using their alchemic talents to help the downtrodden, this second book begins to expand the story and introduce the series' colorful supporting cast.
Volume two kicks things off with Edward visiting Shou Tucker, a fellow state alchemist who specializes in creating chimeras by splicing two animals together. Shou rose to prominence after using alchemy to produce a chimera that could understand human speech. Unfortunately for him the creature passed away and he has since been unable to recreate the experiment. This opening chapter to book two sees Ed delve into Shou's research notes, hoping to find a way of adapting Tucker's bio-alchemy to repair his missing limbs. Meanwhile Al spends his free time playing with Shou's adorable daughter and pet dog, totally oblivious to Tucker's fragile state of mind.
State alchemists are expected to present an annual report to their superiors detailing the progress of their research. With the report deadline looming Shou is no closer to replicating the process that produced a talking chimera, leaving him in real danger that his research funding will be cut. It's a harrowing prospect for a single parent who could well find himself out on the street penniless. What subsequently transpires is one of the most tragic things I have ever read in a manga, although it must be said that I found the anime adaptation to be more distressing as we get to spend more time with the characters affected by the story's events.
The next two chapters signal the entrance of an Ishbalan named Scar (who gets his name from the cross shaped markings on his face.) State Alchemists decimated the Ishbalan people in an earlier war so Scar has taken it upon himself to go on a one-man crusade of vengeance. Using a bastardized form of alchemy, Scar is able to destroy anything he gets his hands on. He has been using this technique to murder a series of alchemists and poor Edward is next on his hit list. When the two clash Edward only manages to get away with his life thanks to the timely intervention of Major Armstrong - a comedic beefcake who likes to tear off his uniform, when in combat, to showoff rippling musculature that would put Arnie to shame.
Edward doesn't escape from the scrap with Scar unscathed however and literally needs a hand to patch up his injuries. His auto mail arm was wrecked in the battle so he is forced to head back to his hometown, where his mechanic is based, for repairs. Along the way he encounters Dr Marko, a former state alchemist who deserted the army out of disgust at the atrocities he was ordered to commit during the Ishbalan conflict. Dr Marko may well hold the secrets to developing a Philosopher's Stone, which could help the Elrics reclaim their lost bodies, but the question is can Edward convince the doctor that he won't use the stone for less noble endeavors once he creates it?
This second installment of the Full Metal Alchemist manga proves to be even better than the first book. The story is getting into full swing with some solid world building that gives the reader a good sense of how things operate in the FMA universe. Although the first chapter concludes with an emotional gut punch things never get overly grim thanks to the comedic banter between the cast. The Scar segments are packed with exciting action and although things slow down in the final chapter, the writer kept my interest with more tidbits of information concerning the trio of black clad antagonists that briefly appeared in the last book. What are they scheming and where does the triad's female get her elongated nails, that rival Freddie Krueger's claws, pedicured? I guess we'll have to wait until volume three to find out.