Fairy Tail, Vols. 31 + 32Created by Hiro MashimaKodansha ComicsRating: Teen (13 +)
My first look at the world of Hiro Mashima's Fairy Tail comes courtesy of Fairy Tail, Vols. 31 and 32! This fantasy series is set in a world full of magic and follows the adventures of the sorcerers guild known as Fairy Tail! These volumes pick up after a climatic battle, which resulted in the core members of Fairy Tail being trapped on an island in a mystical stasis for 7 years. Now they're free and have returned to their guild, only to find that the world's moved on and their guild has fallen far behind their rivals in powers and abilities. In an attempt to improve their guild's standing, the Fairy Tail members enter themselves into a massive wizard tournament. Now they must face off against 7 other guilds, while being caught up in the intrigue, dark magic, and other challenges that surround the Grand Magic Games!
You'd think that picking up a series after a time skip, in which the main characters are forced to catch up with the rest of the world might make for a good jumping on point. Sadly that isn't really the case here. For one thing the cast is absolutely massive, with the main group consisting of around twelve characters who all share the spotlight. To make matters even more confusing, this arc features about 36 characters, all with their own rivalries, and several of which are established figures from the series past. If it wasn't for the internet I think I might have been completely lost during these two volumes.
One of the first things that struck me about Fairy Tail was its ensemble cast. Rather than remaining focused on any one main character, the book jumps around with chapters focusing on the fiery, young Natsu, then the armored Erza, etc. giving nearly each of the core members some amount of time in the spotlight. The large cast and the constantly shifting focus made this a bit of an intimidating jumping on point, as the focus tends to shift fairly fast, leaving little time to really get attached to a single character. On the other hand, the quick jumps give the book a brisk pace despite how wordy it is, which is another thing that surprised me. There's tons of dialogue in these two volumes! They're full of exposition and dialogue, and at times given overly detailed explanations for seemingly every little detail of what's going on. At times it verges on over explaining. This is most glaringly obvious with regards to the rules of the first contest in the Grand Magic Games. They take up nearly two full pages on their own initially, and then they're repeated a number of times within a single volume, at that point it just feels like padding and tends kills any momentum the story might have been building.
Hiro Mashima's art is very clean and at the times the character designs remind me of One Piece, with a cartoony feel and tendency to exaggerate certain features. A good example of this is Nullpudding, who's incredibly round and sports exaggerated features like an enormous chin and facial hair that looks like it could be used as a weapon itself. This is contrasted by other characters like Rogue, a new antagonist for the Fairy Tail crew, who's a bit less cartoony and who looks like he's dripping with cool. His proportions are normal and he sports a look that's a mishmash of modern fashion and generic fantasy gear. The cartoony and exaggerated nature of many of the characters means that the goofy, comedic over reactions don't feel as jarring or out of place as they might in other less stylized manga. The few action scenes in these volumes weren't terribly remarkable, with the highlight coming in volume 32 when Lucy Heartfilia of Fairy Tail faces off against Flare Corona of rival guild Raven Tail. The two have very different fighting styles and gives Mashima a chance to really let loose with some interesting visuals, including an axe wielding cowman, prehensile hair and more. It's fast paced, imaginative and pretty fun, but also far too short. Still, it's easily the visual highlight of these two volumes.
Fairy Tail strikes me as a fairly average series. It's competently done, and there are some interesting and cool character designs, but these two volumes felt a little bland. It was a light and enjoyable read, but there wasn't really anything about it that hooked, or grabbed me, or left me wanting more. It's enjoyable enough, but almost feels like the manga equivalent to a TV show you'd put on at 4AM when there's nothing else on and you can't sleep. You might not go out of your way to watch it, but if there's nothing else there it'll suffice, and for me, that's how Fairy Tail feels.
Fairy Tail, Vols. 31 is available now, and Fairy Tail, Vol. 32 will be available on November 19th from Kodansha Comics. Review copies provided by the publisher.