Happy New Year!
Dear God, please let it be a happy year. I don’t think any of us can take another round of 2016.
Hmm? Trump is still going to be President?
Well, 2017 is gonna suck, too. Better luck next year!
Okay, so I know what you’re wondering. Have I gone mainstream by writing about a lamestream shonen series like Fairy Tail? Have I given up on focusing on quality for the sake of popularity? Have I lost my edge as an anime purist and become a filthy casual viewer that thinks mass media appeal is good?
Uh… okay, so maybe you aren’t wondering that. Still, at the very least, you probably are curious why I decided to kick the new year off with a show like Fairy Tail.
The answer to that is two fold. First, today is my birthday. I am officially 44 years old. And I do what I want.
Yes, the Loki defense. Bold move, I know.
The second reason is because, in case you’ve missed it, I am a huge fan of Fairy Tail. I’ve seen every episode at least three times, read all the manga, and am seriously thinking of getting the guild emblem as a tattoo, which would be the first tattoo I’ve ever had.
In other words, I’m Fairy Tail trash. Yup. Sad, but true. I, the great and renowned blogger and author, Cain S. Latrani, am Fairy Tail trash, and I wear it like a badge of honor, proudly displaying my adoration before the unfeeling elitists! MEN!!! *sparkle*
Okay, so I get kinda carried away when it comes to Fairy Tail. There’s reasons for that, but I’ll get into them shortly. For now, let’s do the usual, and introduce this weeks Monday Anime to the uninitiated. Or as I like to call them, future Fairy Tail fans.
Fairy Tail began as a manga, written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima, and began appearing weekly in the highly popular Weekly Shonen Magazine in 2006. Mashima was coming off his highly acclaimed and popular series Rave Master, which was also his first outing as a manga creator. Yes, Fairy Tail is only his second manga, and has already proven more popular than Rave Master was.
In 2009, A-1 Pictures teamed with Satelight and Dentsu Inc to adapt the wildly popular series into an anime, which also proved highly successful. Because everything Mashima touches apparently turns into cold hard cash.
Fairy Tail follows the adventures of a group of wizards who operate out of a notorious guild called Fairy Tail. Known for their raucous behavior, we are introduced to the world setting, Guild, and characters, by the mostly normal Lucy Heartfillia, a young summoning wizard who wants to be part of Fairy Tail more than anything. After a chance encounter with the Guild’s resident Dragon Slayer, Natsu Dragneel, Lucy is swept into their world, and their insanity.
From the unintentional nudist ice wizard Grey Fullbuster, to the hard as steel warrior wizard Erza Scarlet, to the devil may care Guild Master Makarov Dreyar, everyone at Fairy Tail is a little nuts. Before she knows it, Lucy is part of a team, and finds the fate of the world resting on her under-prepared shoulders.
Nor would it be the only time. While the Magic Council, the body that governs the wizarding world, dithers and debates, Fairy Tail takes action, fighting back against the evils of the world. Be it Dark Guilds, remnants of the ancient Black Wizard Zeref’s demon summoning, or corruption in the wizarding world itself, Fairy Tail stands ready to defend the innocent, and protect all that is good in the world.
So, basically, it’s like Harry Potter if he was a Marvel Universe superhero. Which is probably the best way there is to describe Fairy Tail, when you get down to it. Wizard superheroes.
Part of the appeal Fairy Tail holds is in the characters, starting with Natsu Dragneel. While he’s a hot tempered idiot, he also has a good heart. He loves nothing more than a good fight, but cares deeply about the well being of the people around him. He’s something of a dichotomy in terms of a character, as he has two sides that don’t always seem to mesh up with each other. However, a lot of this goes back to the fact that he really isn’t very bright. While it’s a character flaw, it’s also a strength, allowing him to see the world in simple terms. Bad people get punched, good people don’t. There’s a universal appeal to a character who has such a simplistic view, cares about others, and puts their needs ahead of his own as a matter of principle.
Lucy offers an opposing view. Easily one of the smartest people in the room, Lucy is frequently the one to figure out the solution to a problem, even if that just means telling Natsu who to punch. While initially somewhat shy, Lucy is easily motivated to act in order to defend people who might not be able to defend themselves. Where Natsu acts on instinct for the most part, Lucy is the cooler head, thinking through strategy and possibilities, which makes the two of them a good team.
Grey is the traditional bad boy on the surface, all cool and tsundere. Until he realizes he’s taken his clothes off again without knowing it. Like Natsu, he tends to act rashly, but does try to think things through, and has a powerful creative streak, allowing him to find other options besides hitting things to solve problems. As an ice wizard, his cool demeanor is just part of who he is, though when he gets angry, he can be as dangerous as Natsu.
Then, there’s Erza. I’ve talked a lot about Erza before, and those posts contain a lot of spoilers, so read them only if you don’t care. Erza is the ultimate stoic personality. An armored wizard able to summon different types of weapons and even armor in an instant, she acts as the team leader, directing the others with a calculating efficiency.
Together, they are a very diverse group of people, but that’s sort of the whole point. Every one is different, but what they bring to the table can allow a much greater whole than any of them could manage individually. This cuts to the heart of what Fairy Tail is all about.
A common theme that runs through the whole of the series is that no one person can do everything alone. It’s why wizards gather into Guilds in the first place. A good team is one with wildly different personality types and skills, giving them greater flexibility. In the case of Fairy Tail’s top team, they frequently find themselves on the front lines of battles for the fate of the world, their resourcefulness and team work the very thing that allows them to emerge from whatever they face with success.
Under all the flashy fights, shonen themes, and silly moments, is a story about the importance of accepting others differences, and learning how to work with them to become a more capable person yourself.
This is an idea Mashima brings from his own real life. His father was an artist trying to go pro, when he passed away suddenly at a young age. Raised by his mother and grandparents, Mashima lived in the mountains, and displayed a real talent for art. Money was tight, however, so his grandfather would bring him manga people had thrown away. Using them, Mashima taught himself how to draw, and eventually was accepted into a prominent school for artist. There, he discovered something that set the course for the rest of his life.
They had nothing to teach him. Outside of refining his grasp of the basics of art, he was already way ahead of his fellow students and some of his teachers. Mashima dropped out and soon after, submitted his idea for Rave Master to an editor. They encouraged him to submit to a competition, which he won, and he’s been on track since then to being one of the great manga creators of all time.
None of which would have been possible had others not believed in him, supported him, and found ways for him to learn and grow.
The common refrain in shonen anime is the power of friendship, which gets mocked relentlessly by Western audiences. Especially in the case of Fairy Tail. Yet, Mashima’s own life experience is a testament to the fact the simple act of believing in others can lift one person from obscurity to greatness. No matter how often he got knocked down, his family was there to help him get back up, inspire him, and support him. His friends did the same.
Mashima doesn’t approach the idea of friendship is magic as a trite concept, but as the cornerstone of his own philosophy in life. It is, he has said before, why he is where he is today. Because others believed in him.
Naturally, this leads us to ask why the idea of friendship being a powerful thing is so relentlessly mocked. In the case of Western audiences, at least, it is due to the Cowboy Syndrome. The idea that we are all just nameless wandering drifters, able to remake the world in our image with nothing but our own two hands. You can see this expressed in countless fiction outlets. The lone hero saving the day with nothing but his own cleverness, skill, talent, and ability.
Except the world doesn’t really work that way. Nobody can accomplish much of anything on their own. Everyone needs help, often frequently.
Still the Cowboy Syndrome persists among Western audiences, who want to see themselves in that lone hero role. The idea of teamwork, friendship being a powerful force, and diversity creating strength is lost on anyone with that sort of mentality. They can’t grasp it, because they can’t let go of a truly fictional concept.
All that said, Fairy Tail has gone on to be a global success, with fans all over the world. Much of that can be attributed to Mashima’s unique writing style, focus on character development and depth, and always remembering to keep the themes of diversity being strength, and friendship being a driving force as the center piece of his work. These ideas speak to many, and in them, they find hope. This is not a thing to be casually dismissed.
As an anime, Fairy Tail has had two runs. The first, running from 2009 to 2013, consisted of 175 episodes. The second, running from 2014 to 2016, had 101 episodes. That’s 276 episodes total, which is definitely a sign of a show that’s a total failure, of course. Yeah.
The reason for the break was to allow Mashima time to get ahead, as the anime was catching up to the manga in the middle of a story arc, and rather than do an original ending, it was decided to take a year off, then come back and continue from where the first run had ended. In 2016, they took a second such hiatus, and the series is expected to continue sometime in 2017 or 2018.
The animation for the first run featured a bright color palette. The backgrounds were done with an almost airbrushed quality, making them detailed, but dreamlike and fantastical. The quality was high overall, with moments of greatness, but few dips into mediocre, much less bad.
For the second series, the color palette was darkened considerably. The backgrounds became much more crisp and detailed, but lost much of the fantastical quality they had originally. The movement and action, while still good, rarely had moments of greatness, and featured more dips into mediocre, or just straight up poor quality. It also featured less CG, which ended up losing one of the first runs more unique features, the magic circles that would often appear around wizards as they cast spells. In general, the second run lost some of the magic the first run had, and became a bit less enjoyable to watch.
The music for both runs was handled by Yasuharu Takanashi, who has worked on shows like Gantz, Hell Girl, Naruto, and Log Horizon. For the first run, he frequently used heavy Celtic influences, giving Fairy Tail a unique sound. I’ve discussed before how he wove the central theme through many of the character themes, adding depth to the ideas and message behind the series. For the second series, however, much to all of the original music was replaced. Why, I’ve no idea. The new music feels more generic, and doesn’t quite have the same magic to it that the original had, with some themes being overused in places.
Both series were directed by Shinji Ishihara, known for his work on shows like Tokyo Majin, and Log Horizon. For the first run, Ishihara uses dynamic camera angels and lighting to incredible effect. The entire run is filled with great moments and brilliant work. The second series, less so. Somewhere along the way, the episodes began to get padded out, overuse of stationary reaction shots began filtering in, and the pacing became disjointed. It’s hard to say why, as his work on the first series is excellent at pretty much every turn.
The writing was handled predominately by Masashi Sogo, who handled series composition and script writing for Bleach, Gantz, Rocket Girls, and Tokyo Mew Mew. Sogo was dedicated to adapting Mashima’s story as faithfully as possible, and succeeds at this in both series. Few elements are changed between the manga and anime, and those that are were largely due to the differences between print and television. Overall, Sogo’s script work is excellent, with strong dialogue at every turn for every character that captures their essence in just their manner of speech. This is actually a lot harder than it sounds, but Sogo manages to make it look surprisingly easy.
Which isn’t to say that there weren’t filler arcs. Any long running anime adapted from a manga is going to have them. In the case of Fairy Tail, they were particularly bad. Much of that is due to the sharp writing of Mashima being difficult to copy, but some of it just due to cost cutting measures by the studio, forcing the filler arcs to rely more heavily on sight gags and recycled animation. The rest is because Fairy Tail has a strange blend of drama, humor, action, and heart that probably nobody but Mashima can really get right.
Ultimately, Fairy Tail comes down as a strong plus for the value and quality of shonen anime. Filled with interesting and unique characters, complex plots, sympathetic antagonists, and strong plot arcs that continue to build on each other, it makes a powerful case for the value of diversity, the lasting impact of strong friendships, and the importance of remembering what matters to you most.
While some will say that Fairy Tail is just recycled ideas put together in a crappy format, I say it’s a unique experience that offers a lot of thought provoking and memorable moments, and quality writing coupled with excellent character work.
But then again, I’m not an elitist. I’m Fairy Tail trash.