Fairy Tail 12

By Hiro Mashima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.

I hadn’t reviewed Volume 11 of this series, mostly as it consisted of one giant fight, and I always find those harder to review. This wraps up the Tower of Heaven arc, though, and gives Erza a lot more emotional kicks to the teeth, something that was the purpose of this arc.

I am rather glad I read it in Volume format. One thing I’ve noticed about shonen series with long strings of fights, be it this series, One Piece, or Bleach is that they read a lot better 11 chapters in a row than they do waiting from week to week for the next punch to be thrown. Certain fandoms have arcs they dislike more than others – Skypeia in One Piece, Hueco Mundo in Bleach – and a large part of why they may be disliked is this is when the online fandom ‘caught up’ and started to read it week to week… and realized that, yes, 40-50 chapter fights over the course of an entire year CAN feel like they drag out.

The majority of this book features Erza finally battling her old friend and now mind-controlled enemy Jellal. How mind-controlled Jellal actually is is left up in the air, and things aren’t helped by the arrival of Council Member Siegrain, which is an incredibly obvious and poorly handled revelation even though the author didn’t intend for it to be a secret. It’s possible I’m missing the subtle parodying going on here – this is a shout out to Mashima’s previous work, Rave Master, which I haven’t read – but in general if villains are going to stand around being smug jerks, they need to be better than this.

The ending, featuring Erza sacrificing herself to destroy the Tower and save her friends, works much better. I will have to go back and look at previous volumes to see if we only saw her crying from one eye before, but it’s a cool backstory bit that gives a nice emotional punch to the final page of the volume. Likewise, Erza ‘seeing’ her own funeral is heartbreaking, and is a great answer to all those shonen sacrifices who are ‘dying so that others might live’. It’s in the characters and their love and affection for each other, rather than the fighting and posturing, which is where Fairy Tail really shines.

Of course, that’s still just one chapter, and it has to be said that while this book read very fast, in the end I was slightly disappointed. There’s really no way that Mashima’s going to avoid his series being compared to One Piece, not as long as Natsu and Lucy are the hero and heroine. The problem with that is that if he wants to get attention here, he really needs to step up his game. It’s hard not to compare this to the Arlong arc from One Piece, and in most respects it simply pales by comparison.

Fairy Tail continues in Japan, of course, and is about 14 volumes ahead of North America right now. That will only increase, as we may not see a new volume for a year or more with Kodansha’s titles in Limboland. That’s a dangerous state, one that can easily kill off a series that depends on people knowing there’s a new volume every 3 months, and with the ending this volume has, I wonder how many casual readers might think the series finished? Still, if you want to read Kodansha’s answer to One Piece, I’d get it at the library, and just read Chapters 99-100. They’re really good chapters.

Fairy Tail 10

By Hiro Mashima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.

As Fairy Tail volumes go, this one is pretty good. There’s lots of action and people hitting things, and some fun humor, at least in the first chapter. The series still feels too much like One Piece, but there’s really little we can do about that at this point. I do wish that Mashima would learn something from Oda’s sense of pace – the stuff that happens here would have taken half a volume of your typical One Piece.

Speaking of typical One Piece, Fairy Tai;’s resident kickass swordswoman, Erza Scarlet, gets an arc devoted to her here (and in the next 2 volumes), and you know what that means. Flashbacks to traumatic childhood ahoy! Admittedly, the flashbacks are pretty darn brutal, emphasizing the horror that building the Tower was and Erza’s crappy life of childhood slavery. It’s nice to see the terrified, meek little girl pick up a sword and start to become the Erza we all know. And I’m sure that the relationship between her and Jellal is not going to be pretty.

Also in regards to Erza, there’s one big reason to pick up this volume, which is the chapter where Erza’s old-friends-now-enemies turn up at the casino to retrieve her. Erza started as an Ice Queen type, and even though she’s now a lot milder she still tends to be rather stoic, with rage and anger the emotions we’ve associated with her losing it. Therefore, seeing her trembling in fear and confusion on seeing Sho is very startling, and it works incredibly well. This is followed up on later in the volume where, after the usual shonen “We’re your friends, we will stand by you!” from the other Fairy Tail members, Erza turns to them and is crying and biting her lip. Even Gray is startled by the sudden change.

There’s also a silly omake chapter where Mirajane convinces Lucy that Natsu is about to declare his love for her. Since Fairy Tail does ship a little bit more than One Piece does, it’s theoretically possible, I suppose, but in the end it all turns out to be a misunderstanding. Also, Mirajane is evil.

Fairy Tail continues to be decent, solid shonen manga, and this Tower of Heaven arc starts off pretty well, so I’ll definitely keep reading.

Fairy Tail Volume 9

By Hiro Mashima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.

I enjoy Fairy Tail. It has fun characters, good action sequences, and an intriguing backstory. This volume wraps up the Guild War arc we’ve had for a few books, and shows Lucy rejecting her father and siding with the Guild. This is probably the strongest scene in the volume, and gives Lucy a nice chance to shine.

In fact, the whole volume is Lucy-dominated, as she also is a big part of the other plot, dealing with fellow Guild Member Loke and why he’s been avoiding Lucy. The answer to that is not quite a surprise, per se, but it’s handled well, and gives us a good idea of what Lucy’s keys are like with the wrong person wielding them.

I’m also fond of the goofy humor in the series. Natsu is, of course, always there for some silliness. But it’s nice to see Erza, a badass warrior maiden who should be a stoic sort, getting involved in pillow fights of destruction and trying to make it on the stage (despite her acting sucking rocks.) It gives us a more human side to her.

In the end, though, Fairy Tail has a couple of big flaws. It’s getting better at avoiding this, but it’s hard to read this manga without the spectre of One Piece over its head. To be fair, this is because they’re both shonen manga with similar tropes, and almost all shonen manga have groups of friends banding together to battle enemies, befriending those enemies, and getting stronger. But there’s still a sense that this is Kodansha’s attempt to get a One Piece of its own. Originality is not part of the draw here. (To be fair, judging by popularity in Japan and the recent anime, Kodansha may have succeeded in getting its own One Piece.)

Another problem I have is with simple memorability. I enjoy Fairy Tail while I read it, but it doesn’t stick with me as much as a One Piece or Negima does. We’re only 9 volumes in, and the character sheet is already unwieldy. Even Negima, with its class of 31 girls, rolled them out a bit more slowly. It can be hard to keep track of everything, and I find myself having to reread the previous volume when a new one comes out to jog my memory.

Still, in the end this is a fun, action-filled manga with lots of humor and fighting, and of course The Power Of Friendship. If you want a typical shonen manga, and not in a derogatory way, Fairy Tail is an excellent purchase.