Fairy Tail: Uniqueness in the Cliched

Watching this show came down to one factor–one that tends to be the driving force behind most of my anime watching: sheer, utter boredom. This boredom was especially bad considering the fact that I was home alone all summer while someone was busy having adventures in Japan :p. Can you tell I’m a bit jealous?

However, in spite of my envy I powered through the dullness and am finally back at school. The hallelujah chorus is still ringing in my ears (pardon my cliche). Anyway so the ‘Tail end (no pun intended) of my summer turned into a blur of baking, reading baking blogs, playing LoL, and yes, watching Fairy Tail. Did I mention I like baking? I actually had a bakery going in my kitchen for a while – it’s a pity I couldn’t share any with you guys, but oh well.

But anyway: yes, I watched hours and hours of Fairy Tail. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know I was suckered in to this particular magical world when I have turned my nose up at so many others, but that’s what I’m going to try and puzzle out in this post, so please bear with me!

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First off, as always, here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of Wikipedia:

Lucy Heartfilia is a 17-year-old celestial wizard who runs away from home to join Fairy Tail, a rambunctious wizards’ guild whose members are famous for their overly destructive antics. Along the way, she meets Natsu Dragneel, a boy who is traveling the land of Fiore together with his partner Happy, a blue flying cat, in search of his foster parent, a dragon named Igneel who had disappeared seven years earlier. Lucy is soon abducted by a renegade wizard posing as the famous Salamander of Fairy Tail. Natsu rescues Lucy, revealing himself to be the real Salamander and a Dragon Slayer, a wizard with the abilities of a dragon. After defeating the imposter, Natsu invites Lucy to join Fairy Tail. Lucy forms a team with Natsu and Happy, where they take on various missions. They are joined by ice wizard Gray Fullbuster and armored female wizard Erza Scarlet, who investigate the actions of an illegal “dark” guild Eisenwald.

I’m sure anyone who’s seen even a bit of anime can tell you, the medium is chock full of magic and magical worlds. I’d imagine many people cut their teeth on shows like Inuyasha, Bleach, or Yu-Gi-Oh! all of which are magically/supernaturally grounded. I have a lot of friends who don’t watch anime and they use things like “weird people doing magical things” as key phrases to describe the things I watch. So then why do some magical worlds work where others don’t? Obviously the world isn’t the only element of a show, but for me it’s of key importance. The world of a show can make or break the experience for me. That’s a good part of the reason why I didn’t like Seirei no Moribito–the world was dry and drab, and there was nothing vibrant or unique about it (yes I know many people have told me that it was actually a very good show, but I doubt they could argue for the vibrancy of the world).

Fairy Tail takes place in a magical world. It is actually one of the few shows I’ve seen where magic is so completely integrated into the universe that it’s actually an anomaly if it isn’t an element of someone’s life be it directly or indirectly. This is actually more rare than one might think. I was actually going through my MAL the other day and noticed that for most magical worlds, the magic tends to be hidden. Witches and wizards are either underground – and hereditarily or randomly gifted with magic – or they are the ruling class, the evildoers, or the elite. In other words, magically gifted people tend to be the exception, not the rule, and this aberration tends to come with either power or fear. Or more simply put, the world in Fairy Tail isn’t anything so complex–it’s a fundamentally basic idea: world where people have different sorts of magical powers based on factors x, y, and/or z.

So then why hasn’t anyone done it before? Maybe they have, and I just haven’t gotten around to watching those shows, or maybe it comes down to the genre itself. This is shounen and, since I’m much more used to watching shoujo, I don’t know enough about the genre to really make that judgment call. It could be that the genre is more cut and dry, or it could be this specific show. However, what I do know about shounen is that it’s generally geared toward 13-17 year old boys (or something like that), which makes a lot of sense. I could probably tell that much just by looking at the show’s artwork.

On that note, let me just rant for a bit: boobs do not work like that. I repeat: BOOBS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT! (End rant.)

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Will someone please tell me where all that cleavage came from?! I see no push-up bras in the vicinity.

That being said, simplistic or not, it kept me watching. It wasn’t even that the characters were so deep or that I connected with them (although I must admit, I related to Lucy Heartfilia a lot more than I feel comfortable admitting. Mainly I’m just insanely jealous that she can command members of the Zodiac and other mythological characters. My inner mythology geek is emerald green right about now.) This is probably one of the coolest powers I’ve ever seen in a show, aside from the paradigm of awesomeness that is Iskandar.

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So much envy. SO MUCH.

That being said, it leads me to wonder why nothing like this has been done before (or is done now as a copycat show). It isn’t like there is something so remarkably creative about the premise: wizards go on different quests and get paid to do so. The one element I do give props for is the fact that it must have taken a lot of effort to come up with all the different abilities showcased in Fairy Tail. It was refreshing to have powers be unique with everyone having a different and fitting ability, as opposed to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender where there are different sects of people all with the same powers just with varying degrees of skill.

I’m not sure what else it is about this show that makes it unique, maybe because it did take such a basic concept and make a attention grabbing show out of it. I’m not saying that Fairy Tail is anything so fantastic. It’s not an artsy show. There really seems to be no deep meaning to it. It is just a show about the fundamental struggle between good and evil. Pure entertainment. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I think it’s exactly this kind of show that I’ve been looking for to give me a break from all the anime that tries to be so profound and melodramatic. (Especially after Toradora!–I hated that show so much I couldn’t even bring myself to finish my post on it.) Fairy Tail knows that at it’s heart it is a silly show. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither should we.

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Clearly this is such a serious show.

Additionally, while the characters are pretty much two-dimensional, they are designed to be lovable. I think this was done successfully, since I enjoy how the show takes time to give them proper backstories. We know where these people come from and that they have struggled a good amount to get to where they are and to properly develop their powers. Yes, more often than not, the backstories are used as plot devices to propel the characters into a new story arc; however, I still appreciate their presence. Even if they don’t present the characters as particularly fleshed out or multi-dimensional based solely on their personalities, at least they are interesting and have legitimate pasts.

So I must admit that I am somewhat in love with this show. It makes me laugh and I do enjoy seeing the new powers and abilities that each new character presents. There is a definite freshness to the abilities and while some of them build on old tropes, there are ones that I have never seen before so props for creativity. In the end, I think what I like most about this show is that even though a lot of familiar elements are present, it still manages to do something new with these elements.

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Sorry guys, I can never resist the chibi ;).

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8 responses to “Fairy Tail: Uniqueness in the Cliched

  1. Fairy Tail is one of the anime I plan to watch but never know when i’ll actually get around to it. I actually only just managed to get my hands on all of the episodes; with 175 of them to watch it’s going to take me a while.
    I’m glad to hear that you enjoy it though. I’m not sure i’d ever start watching if I saw a negative review (and didn’t have my denial apparatus turned on).

    • I think it’s definitely worth checking out the first few episodes at least. Obviously taste in anime is highly subjective, but I thoroughly enjoy the show :).

  2. Great post, glad to see some love for Fairy Tail. It’s the only really really shounen anime that I’ve watched that I’ve really enjoyed. I would say the main reason I like it so much is the humour – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you always expect to have a few laughs. That said, there are still the power-of-friendship speeches that you come to expect in the genre, but I find I don’t really care. I mean, you know the baddy is gonna end up in some super-undignified position with smoke coming out of his ears or something.

    And the jokes, I would say a lot of the humour is reused but I can still laugh at Gray/Natsu/whoever’s antics after 150+ episodes :-)

    • The humor is definitely a plus. Of course it’s very slapstick, but nothing wrong with that! I also picked up on the power-of-friendship speeches, but since I’m so new to the genre I didn’t recognize that as a common trope. And there is always satisfaction in watching the villain get his/her butt totally annihilated.

  3. About Fairy Tail’s magic system… I’d say it’s pretty similar to video games, especially the ones that are really customisable and don’t use a class system. FT is a series that takes a lot of cues from role-playing games in general. I admit it didn’t strike me as particularly unique when I watched it, but it’s pretty creative and flexible.

    Anywho, glad to hear you like FT so far. I like it a lot too – scratches my shonen itch. Love your title: “Uniqueness in the Cliched”. Sums up the whole show nicely.

    • Thanks for the comment Froggykun! I don’t really play video games so I guess I wouldn’t know that the magic systems are similar, but it’s good to know–maybe I will start playing now!

  4. I burst out laughing when you mentioned your dislike for Toradora. It’s a love-or-hate thing. I’m a fellow hater, though it may again be that our reasons diverge. Will you be posting your thoughts on it?

    Your post makes one of the most straightforward cases that can be made: viewers need to understand the frame of silliness, that there really is a conceptual freshness to the magic-guild show. After all, shounen is that all about aesthetic. The coolness of the concept was what got me wanting to watch back when it first aired (2009), and even to ep 48 half a year ago. Fairy Tail succeeds specifically because of that very concept is defamiliarizing for anime viewers.

    I don’t want to generalize by saying “a good shounen series sells one thing very well.” It’s true that a story isn’t merely the sum of its parts—that’s a fallacy. That said, I am hard-pressed to tell you what unique feel Fairy Tell has to communicate, even at a superficial level. I was going to say, “A broadened conception of family, or of mercenary work, etc.” Except…no. Wrong mimetic frame (too stupid/silly), and too lecturing. It wants verisimilitude of some sort, but manipulates it via the power of friendship and sermon. Which doesn’t make me rage these days, just shrug.

    “What’s great about FT” comes down to what patterns you recognize in the shows, your sense of humor and how much you care. The jokes strike me as obvious (boke-tsukkomi ones where you obviously see what’s happening, but points it out with a face fault and shock), and I just don’t care/have the rationalizing energy for that particular brand at my age and with my current disposition.

    Cleavage? Pick a series, any series. Cool fights? Mashima outright admitted that he borrowed his stuff from DBZ, which was known for taking fights to 11 with plain ridiculousness. Plus, there’s Rave Master, his earlier work—lot of similar stuff. Magic? I’d care, except it’s not cool enough to me; it’s the half-crazy stuff classmates and I literally came up with excitedly as kids at the lunch table (we came up with much crazier) but would probably be embarrassed about now. It’s like how NisiOisin came up with his dumbass swords for Katanagatari, and made it seem like they were so formally and thematically deep. Except they actually come off as stupid, impractical swords that a twelve-year old fanfic writer would come up with.

    I do find it fairly unusual how blatantly fanservicey the show is. Not in terms of demographic, but in terms of how hard the artist tries to sell it. Doesn’t he know that we could just come up with our own doujin hentai? Why give us skimpy/embarrassing outfits, and upskirt sequences…and then *not* give us the panchira? All these mixed signals! I think Mashima secretly wanted an ecchi series, if not a hentai.

    Beyond that, you already mentioned the blandness of the story/backstory; it gets the job done, you seem to be saying. I agree; cheap or forced, often, but why hate on a single show for that? I admit, it wouldn’t make sense to do so.

    • Yep, I should be posting my thoughts on Toradora relatively soon. Glad to know I’m not the only one who dislikes it. Also, thanks for the commentary on Fairy Tail!

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