For the first time in years, I was nearly on my feet cheering a sports team.
Previously my team had been at the top of their game (or so I was told). Then after a stunning defeat, they had taken a seven-year hiatus. Now they were back in the tournament to prove they were the best in all the land. I’d followed their journey through match after match.
Then came the climax. Two players of my team were matched with two players from the toughest, strongest team. Finally the player on my team got in touch with his Dragon Force powers. Then at long last, quite handily, Natsu Dragneel defeated his two opponents, Sting and Rogue, to win the Grand Magic Games and prove Fairy Tail is the strongest guild.
Well, I actually do know a little how the sports fans feel, thanks to anime, and in particular thanks to Fairy Tail, the titular guild of the anime, based on the manga by Hiro Mashima.
Last week I summarized the story and world of Fairy Tail, at least as of the first 48 episodes (which does not include the Grand Magic Games arc). Now I’ll explore more about Fairy Tail, which includes positive moments throughout the rest of the anime series so far. Later I’ll explore the story’s negatives, and all of these in light of the gospel.1
The good, true, and beautiful of Fairy Tail
As I mentioned last time, the Fairy Tail magic guild’s nakama are an outrageous and lovable lot. Overall our heroes—Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Erza, Happy, Wendy, Carla, Gajeel, Juvia, and all the rest—respect one another, help one another grow stronger, fight, and make up. (Unlike the “manufactured conflict” between characters in other stories, there’s little of that here.)
When Fairy Tail mages go on prolonged, often episodes-long quests, the drama is twofold.
First, heroes fight villains who want to abuse others, unlock some evil power, or both. Here there are little gray areas or relativism. We see real good versus evil here. Second, we often see heroes versus their own often-tragic pasts, which are frequently shown in flashback form. This helps us connect further with the characters as people, and I was surprised to find my affection growing for not only fictional people, but hand-drawn fictional people.2
Fairy Tail’s ‘church’ of heroes
In fact, Fairy Tail as an organization acts like a solid biblical local church ought to act. It has:
- Members who love and care for one another in a common cause and identity;
- Members who are official, versus appreciated guests who are not (but could be);
- A physical location to fellowship, train, learn, share meals, and help your town;
- Missions to go on (though in this case not just to help people, but in order to earn money), and even a cork board with bulletins and mission notices pinned up on it.
Members also bicker and have dysfunctions, yet try to partner with other guilds while having enemies and political entanglements. The “church” of Fairy Tail is also very flawed!
And finally, the “church” of Fairy Tail also practices the overlooked biblical requirement of church discipline for members who defy guild rules and shame its name. In the last arc of episodes 1-48, the guild must put down at least one insurrection from within, led by Master Makarov’s vengeful grandson, Laxus. In one anguishing scene, Makarov disciplines Laxus and disfellowships him from Fairy Tail—even as Makarov’s eyes fill with tears. Later, as a properly chastised Laxus heads out into the world, he sees his grandfather and other guild members raising their fingers into the air behind him, promising to support and welcome his return when the time is right. They have not enabled his evil choices out of simplistic “love.” In fact, it has been out of love they Makarov disciplines Laxus, just as God out of love disciplines his children, and just as parents or a biblical local church must do (1 Cor. 5).
This shows another theme I found refreshing: Fairy Tail’s heroes naturally respect their senior authorities in Japanese fashion—that is, the parents, guild masters, and mages with greater maturity. But it’s clear this elder-respect only goes so far and is subject to greater considerations, such as compassion and mercy. For example, crazy yet wise guild Master Makarov has a pervy side, especially against Lucy (though the series actually removes this aspect later on). Lucy’s rich father abuses his parental privilege and must be condemned. And one senior student, Lyon, abuses others to achieve his goals of getting stronger, forcing junior student Gray to oppose and defeat him; that particular inversion that reminded me of Scripture’s frequent emphasis on the actions of the weak often shaming the “wise.”
Fairy Tail’s meaningful enemies
Villains in this magical world often want to do the usual evil deeds in both Western and Eastern stories: resurrect a dark lord, blow things up, and take over the world. Yet unlike other clichéd plots, “Fairy Tail” often explores how these villains want to achieve world domination—by abusing their power to oppress, hurt, enslave, and betray other people.
For example, during the Grand Magic Games arc, Fairy Tail’s chief rival is the magic guild Sabertooth. Its master Jiemma rules through a kind of Darwinian tyranny, rewarding the strong members and punishing weak members who fail battles. So when guild member Yukino fails in a game match, Jiemma humiliates her, forces her to strip off her clothing,3, and casts her out of the guild. When Fairy Tail member Natsu learns of her situation, even in a rival guild, he burns with anger. Natsu even storms into Sabertooth and beats the Yomi out of its members. For the members of Fairy Tail, and especially Natsu, enemies may be terrible, yet respectable if they respect their own nakama. But if you ever betray a comrade for the sake of your evil power and ambition, this is an unpardonable sin.
Fairy Tail’s villains can become heroes
Guild members also show a wonderful grasp of something like repentance and forgiveness.
Early in the series, the wicked guild Phantom Lord attacks Fairy Tail. Phantom Lord is led by a group of powerful mages, including metal-dragon slayer Gajeel and water-woman wizard Juvia. After Fairy Tail defeats their enemies, both Juvia and Gajeel join Fairy Tail, drawn by the power and kindness among its wizards. Juvia develops a ridiculous crush on Fairy Tail wizard Gray, but also shows sincere loyalty for him and their friends.4 And Gajeel—who once abused one of Fairy Tail’s weakest members and destroyed its headquarters—slowly turns toward his own kind of repentance. For example, he subjects himself to similar humiliation and pain he once inflicted on others, and makes Fairy Tail’s enemies his enemies.
Like most anime arcs, this series is going longer than I expected. Next time I’ll explore the bad, false, and ugly of Fairy Tail, before wrapping up this multi-part review with Gospel responses.
- I’m following the five-question “popologetics” format suggested by Ted Turnau in his book Popologetics. ↩
- Perhaps a lot of this is due to the voice acting. It turns out that anime fans will argue about “dub versus sub”—English voice cast or original cast with subtitles? For Fairy Tail, anyway, I must go with “sub.” Whereas before, all the voices sounded the same (and in that foreign language, Japanese!), you start picking out returning actors, unique dialects, or common words to adopt into fun daily use, especially insults. My favorite is baka, for fool or idiot. ↩
- Contrary to the usual fanservice (which I will explore later), Fairy Tail’s characters may have their clothing removed to demonstrate a more biblical theme: public nakedness can be a shame. I do not recall this scene being played as anything other than a mostly tasteful portrayal of shame. When I watched this, my reaction was not shock, but absolute pity for Yukino as a victim. ↩
- The story wants to have it both ways in a lot of ways, including this one—Juvia is both an insane stalker type and potential true-love material, all in the same person. I’ll explore this under the “bad, false, and ugly of Fairy Tail” section. ↩