It’s difficult for me to bid Fairy Tail a fond goodbye, given how much it has offended my sensibilities as it wore on, and how much I’ve crapped on it as a result of my annoyance at the series. But it has entertained me in its earlier arcs, and I’ve based my best fanfiction on its world.
So I’ll try to be more objective and push aside my grievances a little as I ramble on about the series that had sort of taken the place of Naruto as one of the big three manga for me.
Fairy Tail is, without an iota of doubt, a shonen manga. It has a simple formula: the hero will fight the villain, be battered, but rise again with the power of friendship and defeat the enemy. And the series has never deviated from that formula since its inception.
So, all we have is increasingly powerful protagonists fighting increasingly powerful villains, but with such a simple formula, things start to get repetitive fast. And while there are always hints of the final boss they have to defeat, Acnologia never seems to be much of a threat in any arc. Instead it’s Zeref whose influence looms larger, and even then it’s not a direct impact.
So, without a greater goal for the protagonists to pursue, without a supervillain threat constantly looming over the heroes shoulders, you’re going to need some really entertaining individual arcs to compensate. And that’s where Fairy Tail fell really short for me.
If every arc followed the same formula, and you knew consciously that none of the protagonists were going to die, then all battles lose any suspense. With a battle-centric manga, you need to be able to ratchet up the tension and the pressure. There needs to be tangible stakes involved. But when the stakes are often framed as ‘my friends’ instead of ‘the world’, then you lose any grandiosity. Plus, you know those people are going to survive. And if they are going to survive, that means they are going to win their fights, and save the world in the process.
I know that these manga are targeted at a younger demographic than myself. It’s really aimed at kids that were my age when I first started my foray into manga. It’s probably really ‘cool’ for these young teens to watch their heroes kick ass and take names.
But as someone who has dabbled in writing (well, just fanfiction really…), it’s really disappointing. Here is a world ripe with potential. Zeref is the sort of insidious, self-righteous villain that can really define a series. The limitations of each mage and their skillset makes their battles far more interesting to write, as characters (and writer) need to think outside the box to defeat the next enemy with tactics and strategy.
But instead, Zeref ended up being a run-of-the-mill villain rather than a grand orchestrator. Acnologia was the final boss that I didn’t care about, because the dragon and dragon slayer story failed to take off as an overarching plot point and was shoehorned into the final arcs like an unwanted stepchild. Every battle won by the main characters was just with a stronger version of their previously demonstrated powers, boosted by a greater level of friendship.
And man, beyond their lack of creativity, there’s also a startling lack of depth. Almost every single character is defined by singular traits. I can understand that for the side characters, but to do that for your protagonists is criminal. Erza is probably the best developed main protagonist, but beyond her, almost everyone else is a mess.
Lucy’s development was horrid and forced, having some stake in every arc without ever appearing to be integral to the series. Natsu and Gray, two of the most important male characters, have barely changed and grown from the start of the series. Neither of them have grown and matured, only getting stronger.
But this is a problem that has also afflicted both Naruto and Bleach, with both of them having main characters that seemed to refuse to grow much. So I guess Fairy Tail is not the only shonen manga that has completely wasted their main characters (to be fair, Naruto did have a substantial amount of character growth, just not enough for me).
So without the suspense you gain from having actual stakes, without memorable villains, without interesting, multi-dimensional characters who can innovate beyond punching the enemy in the face hard…it’s no surprise the series got really stale for me really quickly. And that’s not even accounting for all the plot holes.
As the arcs had to grow in complexity in an ill-fated attempt to seem more interesting, they also grew in the number of inconsistencies. The ridiculously convoluted contortions the plot made were just mind-boggling. Nothing was explained adequately, and I’m saying this as a guy who dislikes lengthy exposition.
The Edolas arc didn’t make sense, the entire idea of the dragons hiding in their kids and sending them 400 years forward in time didn’t make sense, the idea that Zeref needed an empire to defeat Acnologia didn’t make sense, the idea that Zeref couldn’t just waltz into Fairy Tail and get Fairy Heart didn’t make sense, the love story of Zeref and Mavis was utterly stupid and demeaning for Mavis, the idea that Natsu is Zeref’s brother is dumb, pointless and was revealed in the most infuriatingly casual manner…and so on.
Every other chapter for the last four arcs just got me hopping mad. I knew the world had potential, because I was writing a story in the Fairy Tail universe and trying to extract that potential. To see it wasted all the time was just unforgivable. At least Bleach didn’t hide its inadequacies in the end, focusing on just having incredible battles with seriously cool powers. At least Naruto had a global conflict that escalated with real stakes.
Fairy Tail could have been something good, even great. But when I don’t care for any of your characters bar Erza (and pissed me off when you ruined her character with that ‘fight’ against whoever performed that reviving the dead spell), when I don’t remember most of your later villains…
In the end, it seems I couldn’t hold back my frustrations regarding Fairy Tail. At least it’s finally over.