Tricks and traps are the name of the game in Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 9, as the evil homunculus try to frame Second Lieutenant Maria Ross for murder of Maes Hughes, to throw Roy Mustang off their scent. It seems our heroes are going to lose their chance at uncovering the sinister plot as they fall for their plans, while Ed and Al fall into despair over Maes death. Which side will come out stronger in the battle of wits?
Volume 9 deals with the aftermath of Hughes death. It happened a few volumes ago, but because of Greed barging into the story we haven’t had time to deal with the characters emotions and reactions. Ed, Al and Winry haven’t a clue, While Mustang is researching up on what Hughes may have found which led to his death. With the Elric Brothers and Winry set to return to Central and greet Hughes, the crushing revelation unfolds as they blame themselves and look for a way to move on.
Unfortunately this death is the least of their worries, as Maria Ross is framed for the murder and ends up on a prison break with the mass murdered Barry The Chopper, now bizarrely on the heroes side. The storyline for volume 9 takes a while to break into the action, but the build up is excellent, leading to the exciting prison climax then starting up the next stage of the plan which brings forth an intense volume climax, finishing on a heart racing cliffhanger. And then your heart stops and falls off the cliff, because you have to go out and buy the next volume to carry on.
The art continues being clean and unspectacular, but the little details in background character interaction and smooth flowing panel structure bring the world and cast to life, with the story moving forwards with no hitches. There is a neat balance of casual and dramatic, something missed in many comics I’ve come across. Seeing Ed continue to get touchy over his small size is hilarious and Prince Ling’s entrances always raise a smile. It’s a shame the anime adaptation skips the funnier moments, instead focussing on all the drama. And you need some smiles in between the constant barrage of grief. The manga gets it right and it always ends on a bright note thanks to the silly bonus comics at the end. Al with a giant cat inside his armour? Only in the back pages. Though it should be in the main story, it would make things a bit weirder than they already are. Imagine a giant muscled cat bursting out into the streets as Barry The Chopper confronts his rotting human body? Actually… it’s weird enough as it is.