Fairy Tail Vol. 1-2 (Del Rey)

ft-header.jpgA young sorceress joins the leagues of an elite wizards’ guild in this new action/adventure series from the creator of Rave Master.

 

 

202 pgs. ea. B&W; $10.95 ea.

(W / A: Hiro Mashima)

If the sales juggernaut that is Shonen Jump and its various progeny (Naruto and Bleach, to name two) are any indication, North American manga readers just can’t get enough of shonen (boys’) action/adventure series. Del Rey was certainly eager when they jumped on the shonen gravy train with Fairy Tail, blitzing store shelves with a simultaneous release of the series’ first two volumes. It’s easy to understand why, given the track record of its creator, Hiro Mashima: his previous series, the 35-volume behemoth Rave Master, has proved a hit for Tokyopop (their English version of the 28th volume is due in May), and its animated incarnation grabbed a slot on Cartoon Network’s hot "Toonami" block. But the American manga landscape is already littered with repetitive, long-running action series with a fantasy setting, meaning any new member of the club has to be something special to set itself apart from the crowd. Fortunately for Del Rey, Fairy Tail appears to be such a series.

The cover to Fairy Tail vol. 1 by Hiro Mashima. Click for a larger image.The titular Fairy Tail is a super-exclusive guild of powerful wizards, a group that’s as infamous for the collateral damage they leave in their wake as for the magical powers they possess. Seventeen-year-old Lucy blows into town hoping to join Fairy Tail, only to inadvertently fall into the clutches of a loutish wizard and his band of pirates. Enter Natsu, a spiky-haired lad with fire-based powers who frees the distressed damsel. Lucy, fortunately, is no slouch in the magic department either, thanks to her celestial powers and a series of keys that allow her to conjure forth powerful beings that only she can control. The pair, along with Natsu’s winged cat Happy, makes short work of the pirates, and in the process, Natsu reveals that he is a member of Fairy Tail and invites Lucy to join his merry band.

Del Rey made a wise decision in doubling up on these early releases. Though the first volume is an action-packed thrill ride, it’s also very dense with introductory material that explains the machinations of the guilds and the surrounding magical world. Though the action picks up toward the end of the first volume, when Lucy accompanies Natsu on a mission to rescue a missing fellow wizard, it’s not until the second volume that things really get cooking. The trio is sent to retrieve a book from the mansion of the Duke Everlue, a Humpty Dumpty-esque villain complete with spindly arms, an almost tragic combover, and a long moustache (perfect for curling menacingly).

The cover to Fairy Tail vol. 2 by Hiro Mashima. Click for a larger image.It’s during this adventure that the book starts to gel. Initially, Natsu is a sea of shonen stereotypes, right down to his spiky haircut, but his interactions with Lucy make him an interesting and sympathetic lead. It also helps that he’s not on some "quest to be the best" that defines so many similar series—he’s simply a man with a job and he’s determined to do it. It is Lucy, however, who forms the heart of the series, with a mixture of sweetness, exasperation, and conviction toward helping others that makes her easy to root for. The strong personalities of the characters come through crystal clear in William Flanagan’s breezy, conversational adaptation, and his expansive translation notes help explain some of the harder-to-translate puns in Mashima’s script.

It’s those jokier moments that are one of the book’s weaker points, not due to Flanagan’s translation so much as Mashima’s art. Mashima has an exaggerated, loose-limbed style similar to his contemporaries Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) and Tsubasa Fukuchi (Law of Ueki) that would seem well-suited for comedy, but the parts that are meant to be funny often fall flat, typically due to odd panel transitions that ruin the comic timing. Mashima also relies heavily on the same stock bug-eyed, jaw-dropping facial expressions, which you’ll either find hilarious or irritating. By contrast, Mashima is a master with action sequences, clearly illustrating fantastical battles that buzz and hum with magical power. The action sequences—which, to be fair, are the books main selling point—go on for page upon page, but they’re executed so skillfully that you almost wish for more.

For being a tale of wizards created in a post-Harry Potter world, it’s nice that Fairy Tail avoids following in J.K. Rowling’s footsteps, instead sticking with the type of tried-and-true action/adventure story that shonen manga does so well. Series like this always run the risk of overstaying their welcome as they drag on and on for volume after repetitive volume. With these first two volumes of Fairy Tail, Mashima seems to have tapped into something a little different. Let’s hope he can keep it up. | Jason Green

 

Click here to see the official trailer for Fairy Tail!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply