Let's Talk About: Fairy Tail

This month marks the anniversary of one of the most popular manga series today. On 23rd August 2006, manga artist Hiro Mashima published the first chapter of Fairy Tail, a fantasy adventure inspired by the works of Akira Toriyama and J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s come a long way since then, having printed 260 million copies and spawned an anime series currently in its seventh season. But sadly, all good things must come to an end; the manga’s last chapter arrived last month, and the anime is set to follow with a final season airing next year. So, for those of you who just got on the bandwagon - and those who are considering it - allow me to fill you in on the weird and wonderful world Mashima-san has created. Spoiler warning: you’re in for a wild ride.

Fairy Tail is set in the fictional kingdom of Fiore, and follows the hijinks of two young wizards: Lucy Heartfilia and Natsu Dragneel. After running away from home, Lucy decides to join Fairy Tail, a famous guild where wizards take jobs including (but not limited to) hunting monsters, mooks, and malevolent mages. She’s saved from one such enemy by Natsu - a hot-headed dragon slayer who wields fire - and his flying cat Happy, who take an immediate liking to Lucy and invite her to join the guild. However, it isn’t quite as she hoped it to be. Despite its heroic deeds, Fairy Tail is the wildest guild in Fiore - its members fight, bicker, and flirt with each other to insane degrees. And worse, they tend to cause more damage than the threats they’re paid to deal with. It seems like the worst possible crowd for Lucy to fall in with… but she soon discovers that Fairy Tail’s wizards are the most loyal, loving, and hard-working folk she could ever meet. Despite their differences, they can’t imagine life without each other. In short, they’re one big, punch-happy family. Over several jobs, Lucy bonds with Natsu’s other friends - ice wizard Gray Fullbuster and swordswoman Erza Scarlet - and forms a team with them. Together, they make the strongest team in the Fairy Tail guild. And that’s just the beginning.

I didn’t start getting into Fairy Tail until four years ago, and it was a long process. The sheer number of volumes and episodes didn’t help, nor the sexy artwork (both official and fanmade) I found on the Internet. I almost bailed out, but stayed with it at the recommendation of a friend at university… and I’m pleased to inform you there’s much more to the series than fanservice (although there’s plenty of it for both sexes). Friends, family, and adventure are series’ main themes, and they’re brought to the forefront by a huge cast. The number of characters in the guild alone is so large, it makes the roster of Dragon Ball Z look tiny. The miracle is that no matter how crowded it gets, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight - from Mirajane and Elfman Strauss, two siblings coping with the loss of their sister; to Cana Alberona, a sorceress who’s fallen on tough times and become the guild’s heaviest drinker. Every character has a tale to tell, slowly revealed through the course of the series. And just when you think you have someone figured out, something new is revealed that puts them in a new light. You may dislike a character one day, then warm up to them the next. This is because Hiro Mashima drew inspiration from real people when making his characters; and like real people, they have good and bad traits that will surprise, shock, and move you. They just tend to be overshadowed by the guild’s crazier habits. You’ll see when you follow Natsu, Happy, and Lucy into Fairy Tail’s hall for the first time.

As good as its main characters are, Fairy Tail wouldn’t have last long if its villains weren’t up to the same standard. Fiore is teeming with dark wizards who strike fear in the hearts of its citizens, from small-time thugs who attack Team Natsu to illegal guilds out to unleash horrors upon the world. Some are even official, rival groups who pick fights with Fairy Tail to see who’s stronger (and make some quick money on the side). However, the most interesting baddies of all aren’t the thugs, the rogues, or rivals - but wizards with bad histories with Natsu and company. In the manga’s first sixteen volumes (or the anime’s first forty-eight episodes), Fairy Tail is pitted against Lyon, an ice wizard who blames Gray for the death of their teacher; the blue-haired Jellal, a childhood friend of Erza’s who plans to wake a demon; and Laxus, an electric dragon slayer trying to take over the guild from his grandfather. These are only three of the enemies the guild faces, and the further you go in the series, the stronger they get. It sounds a lot like Dragon Ball, but what sets Fairy Tail apart - besides magic - is that no matter how serious it gets, it always gets plenty of laughs in both at the heroes’ expense and the villains’. This, together with their variety, will help keep you interested well into the series’ later chapters. And if you think you can’t keep up, don’t worry; Mashima-san’s got you covered.

Like all ongoing series, Fairy Tail’s biggest and most intimidating quality is its length. The manga ended last month at five hundred and forty-five chapters, and the anime currently stands at two hundred and sixty-five episodes (minus nine OVAs, a prequel, and two films). It’s a lot to take in, so if you’re checking out the series for the first time, you’d be forgiven for getting cold feet now; I almost gave up at the third volume before switching to the anime. However, it doesn’t drag on as much as you’d think. The first storylines, or arcs, run for two to ten episodes, and as they grow they continue to move forward at a fast pace. Even the filler arcs, which are more frequent in the anime, breeze by. Best of all, both the manga and anime are structured so you can drop in and out after each arc; good news whether you’re a newcomer or a fan returning after a long break. The anime also tries to keep you hooked by hinting at future plot threads in each arc, something Mashima-san had less time to do with the manga. Beside the obvious - like Fairy Tail’s conflict with the dark guilds - there are other, subtle clues spread across the series that lead to arcs for other characters. For example, a certain guild member might freak out at the sight of Lucy, while another gets down in the dumps when a senior member comes back. You probably won’t notice until they come into focus, but thankfully, there’s no pressure to see them through to the end. When a main arc ends, you’re free to keep going or tune out. Where and when is up to you - and like the occasional guild member who leaves, you’re welcome to come back any time you like. Just don’t expect the madness to stop while you're gone.

Whether you’re a new recruit, or an old fan returning to mark its anniversary, now is as good a time as any to get into Fairy Tail. Let us know if you’re reading the manga or following the anime - and if you have a friend who got you into it, show them some love! (This feature is dedicated to Amy, my best friend at uni, who helped me into the series one episode at a time. Thank you!)

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