I have an odd place in my heart for Fairy Tail. It was among one of the first anime series that I had ever seen, so it has a massive spot of nostalgia for me. But as the years went on, and the second season of the show came to an end, I fell off the series. Then I finally discovered how the rest of the world felt about the series.
Fairy Tail is one of the most divisive Shounen series on the planet. Many people hate it, calling it a Taiwanese knock-off of One Piece. Others find it highly original and really fun. Both sides of this conflict have been at war since the series aired.
Today, I aim to break down the primary issue with Fairy Tail. No, it’s not the art style or character designs. The biggest issue with this series is entirely within the storytelling.
But this is an Honest Critique. So before we get into that, let’s talk about what Fairy Tail does well. Because there is plenty here to like!
For one, the music. Good god the music in this series is so good! If you share any of these tracks with someone and they don’t like it, beware! They may not have a soul. Seriously, this soundtrack is among the best in any anime I’ve ever seen!
Next, the world and magic system is pretty cool! It’s incredibly open, filled to the brim with basically any kind of magic you can imagine! This system makes the world feel very open and rife to explore.
I also really like the art style. Yes, it and many of it’s character designs are copy-pasted from One Piece. But they’re still charming, and each character has a unique design that makes it easy to remember everyone. Even if the cast is so huge that their names start to slip through the cracks.
And finally, the action. When the animation team decides that they actually need to animate a fight, they range from ‘meh’ to ‘holy shit that was awesome’ levels of hype. They’re far from the best anime fights of all time, but they’re fun nonetheless.
Alright. With all the positives out of the way, let’s discuss the single greatest issue with Fairy Tail. The problem that killed the series for me upon my return to it for the sake of this post. That problem being the narrative structure.
Fairy Tail suffers greatly from what I like to simply call “And-Then Storytelling”. What does this mean? you may be asking.
“And-Then Storytelling” is a term I like to apply to stories that don’t flow together. In a story that falls under this category, none of the events connect to one-another, making the whole plot feel segmented and forced. No major point in the story leads directly into the next, all while building up to the finale.
Allow me to give you an example of what a story should look like. In Dragon Ball Z, we start off with the Saiyan Saga. In this saga, Piccolo is slain, therefor Kami is also killed, and the Dragon Balls vanish. The antagonist, Vegeta, mentions how the Namekian home world may have Dragon Balls of their own, so it’s not a problem. When the battle with the Saiyan Prince behind them, our heroes wonder what they can do to bring their friends back. That’s when Krillin remembers what he said, and they set their course: Planet Namek. Thus, the story flows directly into the next arc.
A proper story is not a series of dotted lines. It’s more of a flowing river. Each event should seamlessly flow into the next. This makes a tale engaging to the audience. They ask the question: “How is this going to change things?”
Fairy Tail doesn’t have this kind of story telling. Each arc is completely segmented from one another. First, our heroes stop an evil mage from attacking the guild masters. Then they go to an island to deal with a devil monster and Gray’s backstory. Then the guild is attacked by their rival guild, and Lucy is kidnapped in order to be returned to her rich father. Then Erza’s past catches up with her and our heroes must face off against her evil former friend/potential lover. So on and so forth.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if the story were written carefully. If seeds were planted in earlier arcs, giving the audience hints as to the backstories of these characters that lead into their respective arcs, then it would feel a little more natural. But unfortunately, the series doesn’t do this. Instead, these backstories are revealed during the arc, coming completely out of nowhere.
This problem plagues practically every arc. Characters are given extra depth out of completely nowhere not for the sake of building the character. Rather, they’re given these stories, and sometimes even abilities, for the convenience of the plot. It feels like the author keeps pushing himself into corners, so he pulls random ideas out of his ass to keep things moving.
A lot of shows these days suffer from this problem. For example, Dragon Ball Super had this same exact problem with it’s arc structure. But it’s simply not engaging. It can feel rushed, give the audience whiplash, or simply alienate them.
This out-of-nowhere “And-Then” style of storytelling is not how a story should be told. Each event should push the characters, flesh them out, and lead into the next event smoothly. An audience doesn’t want to jump from platform to platform to experience your tale. They just want to sit back in the boat and flow down the stream.
Even if that stream is filled with stones that send the boat flying.
Still, I do think that the series gets more hate than it deserves. It’s not the worst anime series ever made. You won’t be wasting your time completely if you give it a watch. But it’s far from the best story in the history of Shounen. But hey! Credit where it’s due!
At least it doesn’t repeat the same story arc over and over again like Bleach did.