Jew Unit’s Kosher Kuts: Fairy Tail

Guest Post

It has been said that every basic story possible has already been told. Derivation in Japanese manga in this day and age is nearly unavoidable and ends up being encouraged to attract readers who may not know art, but who know what they like. Eventually, though, mangakas must separate themselves from the pack somehow. With stories that have been told many times over – whether inspired by Genji, Journey to the West, or video games – the distinguishing attributes of the media are in the “how” and “why.”

An old plot can shine like new if it is presented in an interesting perspective or given significantly more depth than the reader had thought possible. The creation of an enjoyable world that the reader longs to explore certainly doesn’t hurt either. Even if the plot breaks down, good characters can carry a manga on their shoulders rather effectively. Quirkiness, character progression and the all-important empathy factor can all breathe fresh life into an otherwise mundane story. Successful manga tend to do one or the other fairly well. When the manga cannot, you get something like Fairy Tail.

This series is Hiro Mashima’s first ongoing manga after his commercially successful Rave Master. Similarities can definitely be drawn between his previous work and Fairy Tail. The Plue character, a sort of Pokemon-style mascot, is omnipresent, and two characters, Siegfeld and Sieghart, look nearly identical. The problem with the series is not in the way it borrows from itself, though, but in the way it downright Xeroxes the ideas of manga before it.

Fairy Tail is the name of a guild of rambunctious mages that accept missions from the populace to protect the various countries of the world. Although the story does not focus on any one person, Lucy the spirit mage (i.e., summoner) and Natsu the dragon slayer (i.e., fire mage) tend to take the spotlight most. Lucy has always dreamed of joining Fairy Tail and, upon meeting Natsu, gets her opportunity. Natsu is the hard-headed heroic type who inevitably gets into trouble (but always manages to dig himself and others out of it). The whole story teems with potential as the various characters of Fairy Tail are shown and the scope of the story is expounded.

After a short while, though, the potential peters. The characters in particular seemed obnoxious to me. Many of these characters have personalities similar to the ones in Rave Master, but I honestly couldn’t find much to like about them. The mangaka mixes his signals on what he wants the manga to be and it makes for difficult reading. Although they talk about how great their guild is, the members of Fairy Tail never stop being incredible jerks to one another. Any semblance of perversion shown by a character is scolded, but there are a ridiculous number of cheesecake outfits for the decidedly underage Lucy and her other female comrades.

If these complaints seem too vague, I can delve into some of the characters’ more annoying traits. The chief offender for me was Natsu. He quickly establishes himself as “Mr. Saves-The-Day” in the same vein as Luffy of One Piece and Goku of Dragonball. However, Natsu manages to distill himself down to the worst parts of both characters. He comes across as both arrogant and crass, without any redeeming sense of purity or real love for his guild. Natsu does fling the “nakama” term around on occasion, but he fights with so many people in his guild that it fails to have much meaning. His sidekick, Lucky, is a flying blue cat. Beyond the feline’s annoying behavior quirks, I automatically think of Puar whenever I look at him. There could have been so much more to this character, but the little bugger feels like a sad attempt to lure in younger readers. Lucky is not alone. Every potentially interesting character that has been introduced has been reduced to a one-note personality that lacks any punch. For example, the ice mage takes his clothes off often and at inexplicable times. There is very little set-up for his escapades and it makes the gag feel forced every time. Lucy has an established, ditsy personality, which is perfectly fine, but her spirits have far more personality than she does. I almost wish the story could focus on the spirits and their adventures when they are not brought into battle.

As it stands, the story fails to be compelling. None of the villains are given the kind of depth that might make the inevitable brawls meaningful. These fights tend to be choreographed well enough to momentarily add some drama to the proceedings; however, the mangaka is far more wrapped up in getting to these battles than in the creation of a worthwhile story in which to stick his characters. Villains are rarely motivated beyond their inherent evil tendencies. Each story in Fairy Tail feels very paint-by-numbers and the attempts to throw curveballs into the mix only emphasis the manga’s blandness. Regardless, they still stand out far more than the heroes. It is one thing if the villains are so cool that you don’t want them to lose; it is another thing entirely to want them to win because you don’t want to deal with the heroes anymore.

In an age of copycat action manga, Fairy Tail stands atop the garbage heap. There is plenty of potential, but it has all been squandered by the mangaka in favor of eye-catching battles. Threadbare characters and insipid storylines undermine attempts to maintain reader interest. Add an unshakeable feeling of “been there, done that” to the mix and you have the recipe for a deeply flawed manga. Don’t bother to grab this fairy by the tail until it produces some real magic.

The Final Kut

Mazel Tov!

  • Cool battle scenes
  • World provides a lot of potential

Oy Vey!

  • The whole presentation feels derivative
  • The mangaka seems aimless in his direction of the series