by Hiro Mashima; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Fairy Tail is the name for a guild of bounty-hunting wizards. The guild headquarters has two stories to correspond with the guild’s two tiers. Only the most powerful wizards have access to the second floor and the bounties posted there. Natsu wants to prove he’s ready to move up to the second floor. He has his friend Happy, a talking cat who is also a wizard, sneak in and take one of the bounty sheets. It’s a call for help from the inhabitants of Galuna Island to remove the demon curse placed on them. Natsu then convinces/cons another first-floor wizard, Lucy, to join him and Happy to rescue the islanders.
Gray, another first-floor wizard, discovers their plans and goes to stop them. It turns out that taking a bounty from the second floor will get Natsu and company expelled. Gray is bushwhacked into going on the bounty with them.
Once on Galuna Island, things turn out to be more complicated than a simple curse. They discover an old associate of Gray’s, Lyon, is responsible for the islanders’ condition. He is trying to prove himself greater than Ur, the wizard that trained him and Gray. Of course, Lyon isn’t alone; he has his own band of wizards assisting him. Thus begins the battle to rescue the islanders and stop Lyon’s deluded scheme. Hopefully, without getting themselves expelled from the Fairy Tail guild.
Okay, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room first. Mashima’s art and writing style are nearly identical to Eiichiro Oda’s, the creator of One Piece. In fact, comparisons to One Piece abound on the internet. My own initial reaction was that these were the work of the same author and either one, or both, of the names is a pseudonym. Alternately, they are identical twins working in the same room. There has been so much speculation about the relationship of these two men that Del Rey talked to Mashima’s publisher to quell the various rumors. Turns out that Mashima and Oda have never worked together, so the mystery of the similarities remains.
I haven’t read the first three books of the series, but it turns out that it’s not necessary to read these three volumes. The first chapter of volume four ties up a loose end from the previous story arc. The second chapter begins a new adventure that doesn’t appear to be tied to the previous books. However, you will need to read volumes four through six in sequence to follow the Galuna Island story arc. The last two chapters of volume six begin the next story.
Fairy Tail has a likable cast of characters. It’s obvious that Natsu is the central character and emotional core of the book. Initially, he comes across as all passion and no brains. However, in battle he proves to be cunning and an excellent strategist. Like all good shonen heroes, everyone underestimates his power, his intelligence, and his determination. He’s rash, but his heart is in the right place. This makes it easy to forgive his other flaws.
At first, Gray comes across as the silent, too cool guy in the corner. During the course of these books, we learn about his childhood and training as an ice wizard. Having to confront Lyon brings out Gray’s hidden emotional depths and scars. This adventure helps him come to better grips with his past. This inside look at Gray’s life makes him a much more sympathetic character by the end of book six.
Lucy and Happy tend to fall into the background during this story arc. Lucy is young and serious about being a strong wizard. She has real drive, but she needs more experience to better focus her ambition. Happy is really just comic relief. You forget about him until they need his ability to fly or until a joke is needed to break the tension.
Fairy Tail is quick-paced. Mashima knows how to ration out the surprises to keep you interested in what will happen next. The flashbacks to Gray’s past are kept short and spaced out well in the narrative. The fight scenes show creative use of magic by each wizard in his/her specialty. Mashima is able to create real tension throughout the story as you wonder how the outcome of a battle will be determined. You’re not always sure the good guy is going to win. Also, the resolution to the story contains a great twist. I was as astonished as the characters at the final turn of events.
I was pleasantly surprised by the artwork. Mashima has a nice clean art style. The fight scenes are especially well-done. He doesn’t use all the speed and motion lines you usually see in shonen books. His economy of line makes the action easy to follow. Mind you this is still shonen, so the fights are big, energetic, and chaotic. Fanboys and fangirls will enjoy the character designs. Apparently, few of the men own shirts that can be buttoned closed, and most of the women wear impossibly short skirts and halter tops with lots of cleavage.
Fairy Tail is above-average shonen fare. With summer around the corner, these books would make for great beach reading. I enjoyed these books while I was reading them, but I can’t say they gripped me enough to make me follow the series. If you’re looking for a short break from your standard reading list, these books would fill that need. (Complimentary copies of volumes 4 and 5 were provided by the publisher.)