Within a barren desert, the secretive town of Wisteria thrives. Hidden from most, the rumors call it a paradise of wealth and splendor—a refuge for those after the horrors of war. Under orders (and some coercion) from his superior officer Col. Mustang, Edward and his brother Alphonse find themselves on an observation mission to this mysterious town in the South to see how true the rumors are, and whether all is what it seems.
Lost and looking for a town that doesn’t seem to exist, the brother’s Elric run into a scuffle going down between a group of bandits and a teenage girl—and never one to ignore someone in need, Al jumps in to help immediately, with his older brother reluctantly joining behind. To their surprise, there’s little they can contribute as they watch her fight off multiple armed attackers single-handedly.
The girl, Ruby, takes a liking to Alphonse immediately, and in exchange for their (minimal) help, she offers to take them to Wisteria—revealing the hidden town at the bottom of a gorge. Ruled by the same laws of equivalent exchange that alchemy follows, Edward and Alphonse explore this seemingly perfect community in Fullmetal Alchemist: The Valley of White Petals
Once again we join Edward and Alphonse on one of their many journeys across the country—this time not as they search for the Philosopher’s Stone, but as covert observers working in Mustang’s stead. The Southern region has impressed Central Command, with elevated arrests of wanted criminals, and increased production from the region’s manufacturing. Amidst this, rumors are circulating about a town called Wisteria and their prosperity, so Mustang sends Edward to find the truth and report back.
In this volume, author Inoue takes the opportunity to focus on the sometimes-overlooked younger brother of our main pair, Alphonse. Throughout this book, the themes of accepting your current self is paramount—which runs opposite to the Elric’s goals of restoring their bodies. Wisteria is introduced as a town for those with nowhere else to go; welcoming criminals and orphans alike, it gives new opportunity for residents to build an new life. Wisteria runs on equivalent exchange—that the hard work you put in reaps rewards in return. For a town rich with mining and smelting, this works for people to give back and provide for the town—cleaning and collecting the precious gemstones dredged up by the river en mass, to build the town’s wealth. But it’s this wealth that brews trouble, and the town is constantly under attack from opportunistic bandits.
We’re introduced to most of these things via Ruby, the main addition in this novel. A handful of years older than the Elric’s, she acts as a guard to the town—physically strong and loyally protective of her new home and it’s leader. Although she bickers and butts heads with Edward at every opportunity, her attitude towards Alphonse is welcoming and encouraging—hoping he’ll join the town and become happy about how he is now.
For Alphonse, who has lived for years as a soul within an armor shell with no ability to touch or smell or taste or feel, the idea that his huge, painless, powerful body could be one that he and other’s can fully accept is a foreign concept. Fundamentally, the entire plot of Fullmetal Alchemist, and the motivations of Edward’s character, is of restoring Al to the boy he is, with the flesh-and-blood body he has lost. The rest—Ed’s arm and leg, the Philosopher’s Stone, the homunculi and the government corruption—is superfluous. And Alphonse’s struggle with who he is, and how he exists, throughout the series is key to his character—which is why it’s easy to see why he takes such solace in the welcoming townspeople, who don’t ask questions and accept him as one of their own so quickly.
The plot itself is a standard for this series, and once again fits easy into the expanded canon of the franchise. At this point, I don’t expect surprises from these sorts of ‘filler’ stories in shounen—whether they’re films, light novels or anime episodes—they tick the boxes of the formula, rinse and repeat. Compared to the previous novel, this one is definitely stronger, plot-wise, but it’s Alphonse’s character arc that really makes this one worth reading. For those familiar with the franchise, this is yet again another fun addition to the world and characters if you’re dying for more Fullmetal, but the books and their translation definitely reflect their age compared to newer light novels. Simple language choice and straight-forward plot definitely skews this book, like the rest, towards a younger audience. Again, these books seem perfect for middle school fans of anime, who want something familiar and unchallenging.
Gee’s Rating: Maybe recommended, especially for pre-existing fans.