I first encountered Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima a few years ago by way of a blog called Hot Fictional Guys. One day, the blog had a post featuring a ad for the anime. I was struck by Gray Fullbuster and his penchant to be shirtless more often than not. A few more posts on the seires followed, I think, each one increasing my interest in the series.
So, one day while I was in Barnes and Noble, I happened to be perusing the manga shelves when I saw Fairy Tail volumes available. Curious about it, I picked up the first volume(along with some Naruto).
And damn, but I was impressed. I have to say that, aside from One Piece, Inu Yasha, and Pluto this is the first volume of a work that I’ve really liked. Usually, I really dislike first volumes of manga (like Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist).
From that first volume, I was hooked. Though I only possess four of the nineteen released volumes (1, 7, 13 and 14), I am incredibly lucky that my local library has a standing order on the series. I have read the entire series (as its been officially released in English) twice so far. And I’m looking forward to rereading the series again when either 20 or 21 is released.
So, what has me so passionate about the series, even as I’m falling out with most of the manga I’ve read? I think it is because Fairy Tail has been consistently excellent from its beginning. And the series is getting better with each new arc.
Mind you, there is a fair bit of formula in Fairy Tail, but it is a winning formula, if you ask me. Each chapter, each volume leaves me excited and satisfied. And that, I think, is a sign of a good series.
Are there deeper meanings, too? Yes. The role of friendship in making characters stronger. And there is much to the argument that Fairy Tail Guild acts as an alternative family. There are also questions of redemption and motivation. Can Jellal be redeemed? Why does Laxus act the way he does? And Master Jose?
Outside of these deeper themes, the series is also highly imaginative in its presentation of magic. Magic is rather like a learned mutant or metahuman power. Personally, I like this usage of magic. Perhaps, some look into this series as an example of dungeon punk is in order.
Moving on to the characters, I enjoy so many of them that it is hard to pick a favorite. Even the villains and minor characters are extremely well done. The interplay with the characters, how they complement and bounce off each other is, oftentimes, very well done. Hell, who really is the primary protagonist? The secondary protagonist? And, what exactly is Lucy’s role? I’ve blogged before about the difficulty of figuring out Lucy’s role. As the story progresses, it gets even harder. Is she “just” the effective narrator? Or does she have a larger role to play?
Now, a lot of these questions will be answered when the series finally reaches a conclusion. As it stands, it is likely to go beyond Mashima’s first series, Rave Master. But how much longer is the question. Could this series extend into the forty or even fifty volume range?
Whatever the answer is, I look forward to the journey. I first came to this series because of images of Grey Fullbuster shirtless. In the years that followed, I have come to love this series for the great story telling and art. So, maybe the lesson should be, you never know what will lead to gems. It could be anything. Even a hot shirtless character.
As I write this, DC Universe is in the process of going free to play. In the time that I’m anxiously waiting for it to go live, I’m going to pontificate on my thoughts concerning comic books and manga.
For those familiar with the blog, I’m clearly more into manga than I am comic books. When I was younger, I didn’t know about manga or anime, but I knew comic books. During late elementary school and on into my mid teen years, I was a huge comic book nerd. But like the comic book market, I fell out of it as prices went up and dedicated comic book shops closed down. This was before American tankobons became the rage, of course. Now, I can easily go and buy or check out collected issues with less hassle.
I will be the first to admit that my reading is, for me at least, woefully incomplete. There are so many series, especially manga, that I haven’t read that I know I want to check out (like Beserk, One Piece, Toriko, etc.) This also expands to comic books as I’m desperately wanting to check out Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and some of the non-superhero comics out there.
The thing is, my reading is almost exclusively limited to shonen manga (with only limited seinen and shojo examples) and superhero comics (with Sin City being the rather lone exception in comic books). So, any readers out there with recommendations, let me have it!
Anyway, when I think of manga and comic books, I can’t help but to compare the two forms. Is it really so easy to say that this is stereotypical of comic books and that is stereotypical of manga? No. Each artist and writer has their own style unique to their work. But I think there are some commonalities.
Personally, I much prefer the story telling possibilities within manga (not to say that comic books don’t have that potential- look at The Walking Dead as an example). But I prefer a single author/artist’s vision of a series rather than the jumbled mess that is Marvel and DC’s continuities. How many continuity reboots and revisions has DC had? Four? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what Grant Morrison has done with Batman and Robin, but I have to give manga the edge here.
The art is a little trickier. I would say that I prefer American comic art, but Hiro Mashima and Tite Kubo are fantastic artists. So maybe this should be a toss up.
Thinking about this makes me realize that the potential of literature is not just limited to short stories and novels. Excellent and amazing things are happening in manga, comic books, movies, video games, etc. To not see the potential for great things is, I think, the height of snobbery.
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.
I’ve been meaning to put this up for several weeks.
Fairy Tail is being streamed by Funimation. Two episodes a week. I’m salivating at the moment. I can’t wait for the official dub release. Also, I’m going to be going on a Fairy Tail manga binge this weekend. So you can expect a few thoughts on it next week or something.