Fairy Tail and Secondary Protagonists
Reading the “Mysteries of Fairy Tail” section in Volume Nine, I am intrigued by the question of who the female lead character is. Is it Lucy Heartphilia or Erza Scarlet? Mashima gives fans of both characters in out by allowing the fans to make their own decision. If reader A likes Lucy, she is the female lead, but if reader B likes Erza, she is the female lead. Having read the first twelve volumes recently and some of the more recent arcs (Edolas and Tenrou), I think that Mashima alternates the secondary protagonist among the cast of characters. In this reading, Erza and Lucy are both the primary female character at alternating times.
There is no question that Natsu Dragneel is the primary protagonist. He is the hero and the character most focused on (as well as the most mysterious). However, Natsu often shares protagonist duties with another character (usually a member of Team Natsu). These temporary secondary protagonists are typically arc-centric.
The first two arcs (Macao and Daybreak) serve as introduction to the series and initial character development as well as the formation of the trio form of Team Natsu. In this case, Lucy is clearly the secondary protagonist.
The third arc (Lullaby) features the inclusion of Erza and Gray into the five person version of Team Natsu. I am tempted to give Lucy the secondary protagonist role. But a better case exists for Erza. Erza is the primary actor in this arc. She forces the formation of the team, she leads the team, and it is her goal of stopping Eisenwald that drives the arc’s plot. So, I am giving this one to Erza.
The fourth arc (Galuna Island) is Gray Fullbuster’s characterization arc. So the secondary protagonist role goes to him with no question. His unresolved issues with Ur and Lyon, his desire to protect Ur’s legacy, and his willingness to sacrifice himself are all on display. And it is he who takes out the main antagonist. So, with this in mind, who is the female lead here? Lucy is a primary actor, but Erza has a more impacting role. Her confrontation with Gray is an amazing moment and starts the process of her opening up more. In this case, maybe Lucy is more important.
The fifth arc (Phantom Lord) is Lucy’s characterization arc. She is at the center of things as the woman of desire. Fairy Tail fights the war, in part, to protect her. Phantom Lord has been hired to take her back home so she can be married off for a business transaction. She is both heroine and damsel, and emerges from the arc a stronger character (her confrontation with her father is excellent).
The sixth arc (Loke) is a departure to the rest of the series (so far). The arc acts as Loke’s characterization arc, but Natsu is not involved in the plot as the lead protagonist. So, is Loke or Lucy the primary protagonist? I say Lucy. She saves Loke from death and forms a much stronger bond with the celestial spirit. This arc, I think, reinforces the idea that Lucy is the primary female protagonist, but following this brief arc is all Erza.
The seventh arc (The Tower of Heaven) is Erza’s characterization arc. To this point, this is the longest and most epic of the arcs. And Erza storms the gates as the secondary protagonist. Her characterization, her growth as a character, is extremely well done. While still a strong warrior woman, Erza becomes much more human as a result of this arc. And if one wanted to play the “who is the female lead” game here, Erza is far ahead of Lucy as Lucy plays a pivotal, but smaller role.
Skipping arcs eight and nine (Fighting Festival and Oracion Seis) because I haven’t read them yet (and I won’t until they are officially released), I’m going to jump to arcs ten and eleven.
Arc ten (Edolas) is Happy’s characterization arc (as well as Mystogan’s). Despite this arc being about Happy and Charle’s backgrounds, I don’t know if you can characterize them truly as being the secondary protagonists here. They do play a key role and grow as characters. But Wendy Marvell can also be seen as being the secondary female protagonist (and definitely the main human female character). Lucy and Erza’s roles are both rather reduced here. But, I will give the secondary protagonist position to Happy because he does grow as a character immensely in this arc.
Finally, arc eleven (Tenrou Island) is a pain to ascribe secondary protagonist status to. It looked to initially be Cana Alberona, but with her being knocked out, I’m not so sure. Maybe this longest, most epic arc (so far) is another departure of the normal structure. Maybe Natsu is the the sole protagonist with everyone else as greater or lesser supporting characters. Then again, this arc isn’t over yet.
To conclude, I think that the female lead character often switches between Lucy and Erza (and recently Wendy). Indeed, this method allows for the fans to decide for themselves who that lead female character is. Given the shifting nature of the secondary protagonist, I do not think a definite answer is possible.