Magical Mondays: Wands and Other Tools

One of the great things about fantasy worlds is the multitude of ways in which magic is presented. As with any power, however, it’s only interesting as far as it is limited. Ned from Pushing Daisies can revive the dead with a touch, but only for sixty seconds; otherwise there are dire consequences. Fullmetal Alchemist’s alchemy centers on equivalent exchange, the idea that you must give something of equal value to obtain what you want. And in many universes, magic is only accessible through the use of physical magical tools.

20110723003641!FinnMagicWand Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Lucy Heartfilia

Fairy Tail is set in the imaginary kingdom of Fiore, and because of this, you can’t necessarily make assumptions about their ideas of sexuality—that is, they may differ from the way sexuality is perceived in the real world.

However, a hundred and thirty episodes and 200+ episodes in, the only character who is obviously written gay in the stereotypical flirtatious effeminate anime style is Bob, the leader of the Blue Pegasus guild. And honestly, I’m a little tired of this being practically the only way queer characters are portrayed in anime. You get the predatory girlish gay guys, and the predatory tomboyish lesbian girls, and that’s about it. So today I’m going to look at Lucy Heartfilia, one of Fairy Tail’s main characters, and speculate that she’s not entirely straight, and think wishfully about the future of the anime and manga world.

Before we go any farther and I start any shipping wars, let me lay something on the table. Lucy is going to end up with Natsu. This is a shounen anime to the hilt, and looking at the way shounen heroes get paired off with shounen heroines, I can tell you: Lucy is going to end up with Natsu. In the same way Supernatural‘s writers will never have the balls to actually put Dean and Cas in a relationship (EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE GAWD), Mashima Hiro is never gonna pair off his leading lady with anyone but his hero, just because that’s the way anime/manga work in this day and age.

THAT SAID: I think there’s a fair case to be made for Lucy’s bisexuality.

In the very first episode we see her fangirling over a magazine’s feature on Fairy Tail (the guild)—but she is particularly squee-filled about the centerfold of FT’s at-that-time-spokesmodel, Mirajane. I don’t know many straight girls who get excited about how hot a booby chick in a bikini looks, so that’s what started me wondering.

Her fangirl crush on Mira continues well into the following episodes, that is, after she joins the guild. She is also often in awe of Erza—although that may in fairness be because Erza is objectively awesome, not necessarily because Lucy is crushing. In one of the OVAs, though, (which lol are toooootally canon >.>), the Fairy Tail girls’ dorm does decide in a poll that the Lucy’s best love-match is Erza.

Although it’s sort of baby steps, and although I think that Mashima Hiro is probably not sitting around in his studio wondering what kind of strides he can make in portraying queer characters today as he draws next week’s Fairy Tail chapter, it is nice that, however unintentionally, Lucy is a girl in a well-known anime who can appear to like other girls without being portrayed like, well, this:

Thanks for being a beacon of stereotypically pervy assault-y queerness to the masses, Chizuru from Bleach, it’s totally appreciated.

All the Single …Folks: An Anime Top Ten

So. It’s apparently Valentine’s Day or something. The lead up to this manufactured pink holiday has the unfortunate cultural side effect of shaming all the people who lack a significant other into feeling alone and miserable. Well, being single ain’t all bad. Here are ten of the most kick-ass folks in anime who don’t need no romantic interest to be awesome.

1. Mirajane Strauss Mirajane is the most badass single lady in Fairy Tail.  She’s too concerned with keeping her family together and kicking ass in the name of the guild (either with or without her magical abilities) to worry about the long line of dudes (and ladies) that want to get with her.

2. Nathan Seymour a.k.a. Fire Emblem Fire Emblem is easily the most flirtatious of the Heroes of Sternbild’s Hero TV.  But that doesn’t mean he’s pinned down.  And don’t let his looks and playful personality fool you – he’s also the CEO of his own company and a powerful NEXT in his own right.

3. Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing Integra has a lot on her hands. Stopping the invasion of London by thousands upon thousands of neo-Nazi vampires is one of those things. Keeping a leash on her bff/trump card/vampire servant Alucard is another, and keeping track of the silly human girl he turned is yet another. Add in the superviolent secret Iscariot branch of the Catholic Church trying to take out her organization under the guise of stopping the invasion, and really, she does not have time to deal with suitors.

4. Kurosaki Ichigo You would think that with all the girls Ichigo’s always rushing to save (no one’s saying Bleach is a paragon of feminist awesomeness) that he’d end up with one of them. But he seems to have other things on his mind (defeating Aizen, gaining, losing, and regaining powers left and right, etc.), so he remains happily single.

5. Olivier Armstrong Olivier (pronounced Olivia) Armstrong is more awesome than you can ever hope to be. She is a General, so she outranks you. She has kept the invading forces of Drachma at bay for how many years now in that brutally cold fortress in the bitter north? And if she can simply adapt and win when the world is literally breaking into its component parts around her, I’m pretty sure a little thing like being single on Valentine’s Day is none of her concern.

6. Heiwajima Shizuo Shizuo is a sweet guy with a bit of an anger problem.  He definitely has his heart in the right place – he’s a great friend, a loyal brother, and a fierce defender of his turf.  He’s just too busy throwing vending machines at Izaya to worry about hooking up.

7. Fujioka Haruhi Our first Haruhi could care less about gender labels, let alone societally-imposed celebrations of heteronormativity.  She spends the entirety of her free time being surrounded (and often courted) by the most attractive boys at Ouran Academy, but all she really wants to do is get through high school so she can become a lawyer like her mom.

8. Hatake Kakashi He’s powerful and mysterious. He’s a sweet and loyal guy with a metric shitton of baggage.  He was even Hokage for all of ten minutes (once, I think). And right now (at least manga-wise) he’s fighting the biggest baddie of the Narutoverse head-on.  So maybe his singleness is a symptom of his inability to open up to others since Obito’s death. I think he may just have bigger concerns.

9. Suzumiya Haruhi  This Haruhi is only interested in non-normal things. And we’re not talking like underwater basket-weaving or hot sauce on ice cream – she wants to meet and befriend aliens, telepaths, and time travelers. No normal people need apply.  And when you’re basically God in the body of a wacky high-school girl, you don’t bother wasting time with significant others who can’t keep up with you.

10. Byakuran  Depending on where you are in the series, Byakuran can be awfully loyal to Yuni, but she has no hold over his actual heart – he’s free for the taking (ladies and gentlefolks, wink wink).  Just make sure to provide lots of candy. He loooves him some candy. But don’t be sad if he turns you down. Byakuran is the man who was almost king – of a thousand parallel dimensions.  He arguably has standards higher that Haruhi Suzumiya’s.

I hope you enjoyed this walk through the awesome single folks of anime, and it’s helped you feel a little less forever alone on this day celebrating relationships.  Happy Singles Awareness to all my fellow readers without a special somepony. ^_~

Manga Mondays: Fairy Tail by Mashima Hiro

Fairy Tail is a relatively young manga as weekly shounen titles go (only 251 chapters in print so far) but it is certainly growing in momentum and gaining fans.  (I’ve even done a cosplay group from it!)The first time someone recommended Fairy Tail to me, she described it as ‘mages and guilds and fighting and stuff, it’s awesome’.  I (who spends too much time on the internet) took this to mean it was set in an MMORPG like the .hack// franchise, and, having no desire to read ‘WOW – The Manga’, I looked at the first few pages and dismissed it out of hand.

Well, after continuing to hear only good things about it from my friend, I finally decided to give it a second chance.  And I am truly glad I did, as it was and continues to be an excellent read.  Fairy Tail is in fact completely unrelated to the internet or massively multiplayer online roleplaying games, as I found out.  It follows the adventures of young mage Lucy Heartfilia (a Mary Sue name for a character who is actually quite likeable) and her adventures with the friends she makes after joining the mages’ guild Fairy Tail. Mages in this manga’s world are somewhat like independent contractors who take jobs or commissions based on their own magical skills. There are several mages’ guilds in the country of Fiore, and joining a guild is sort of like joining a trade union – you have a group at your back if you get in trouble, and having a respected name brings in loads of contracts that are unavailable to independent mages. Unlike other guilds, Fairy Tail’s reputation is a bit of a mixed bag – its mages are some of the best in the world, but they are also famous for causing large-scale property destruction in the middle of completing a job. Lucy, a mage who can summon spirits via magic keys, has dreamed of joining Fairy Tail since she was a child, so when she meets the guild’s famous Natsu Dragneel by chance, she seizes the opportunity.  Natsu is a Dragon Slayer mage, which, confusingly enough, doesn’t mean he kills dragons; in fact, he was raised and trained by one, which gave him the ability to summon and fight with fire as well as to consume flames to re-energize.

Various hijinks and drama later, the two join up with Natsu’s rival and friend Gray Fullbuster (an ice-summoning mage with an undressing problem) and the famous/notorious Erza Scarlet (who can magically switch between dozens of suits of armor with different strengths and weaknesses) to form what is dubbed by the rest of the guild as “Fairy Tail’s Strongest Team”.

Pros of Fairy Tail: Fairy Tail has a consistently strong plot, although it should definitely be filed under both humor and action since it often breaks the flow of fights or conversations to further a joke or gag.  There have been several story arcs so far (spanning the shounen plot mainstays from “Everyone Fights the Source of the Pale Dark-Haired Best Friend’s Angst” to “Bad Guys Bring the Fight to Good Guys’ Turf (And Fuck It Up)” to “The Let’s Go Up A Rank Examination”) and I’ve found all of them engaging even if the basic ideas can seem a bit recycled.

The characters in Fairy Tail are generally well-developed and likeable (or love-to-hate-able).  Lucy gets top billing as a main character rather than being the hero’s whimpering sidekick, and, although she is modest about her powers, has been known to independently kick some ass. Gray does display some of the typical shounen rival (think Sasuke, Ishida, Kanda, Touya, L, etc.) angst-bucket tendencies, but in general is much more extroverted and less generally dark and vengeful than what the typical shounen consumer is used to from a guy with his looks.  And Erza is so enormously kick-ass that even Natsu, who sees her as a sort of older sister/rival combo, and whose ludicrous power-ups are about to be my main complaint, has never been able to scratch her in battle.The supporting cast is equally interesting, and the author uses them to deal with some intriguing issues.  Mirajane, for example, was once just as powerful as Erza, but after witnessing her little sister’s death during a battle, she developed a psychological block on her magic, and now serves as an administrator/bartender for the club. There’s always the implication that there’s more to Mira than her cheery facade would suggest.

(Also, I hate to apply slasher logic in reference to lighthearted manga (just kidding, I love to do that), but Lucy is totally bi.  She has been known on several occasions to appreciate the female form, and in the anime’s first OVA someone suggests that Lucy’s true love is Erza.  Which makes it totes canon. /slashergoggles)

The cons of Fairy Tail: Where most of the main characters have great depth and background that is explored in the various plot arcs (Erza’s past relationships and time as a child slave, Lucy’s rejection of her privileged background, the death of Gray’s teacher), Natsu doesn’t really have that much character depth.  His primary motivation is to find the dragon who raised him, as Igneel disappeared when Natsu was still young.  But outside of that, he doesn’t have much of a backstory or any sort of character conflict that helps him develop as a person.  Only in the most recent story arc did he come up against an adversary he couldn’t defeat, so he almost never experiences the sensation of failure or the need to train or develop a new technique.  Since these are tried-and-true opportunities for a character to grow and develop, you would think they’d happen all the time. But usually when Natsu needs to defeat the biggest bad guy at the end of the arc, it goes something like “AAAAARGH I HAVE NO POWER LEFT BUT I SHALL PULL A NEW COMBO FROM NOWHERE AND  PWN YOU ANYWAY”, aka a total ass-pull.

I’d really like to see Natsu grow a little as a person, even if he keeps his mischievous and cocky ways.

The other annoyance about FT is the fanservice (“Oh look, Lucy’s shirt ripped open mid-battle…again…”); I mean, seriously, look at the bust-waist ratio on Lucy and Erza. It does subscribe to equal-opportunity objectification, however, as there are plenty of lookers amongst the men who spend a lot of time shirtless (or practically naked).  Also, it’s harder to bitch about the occasional bikini spread or the impracticability of fighting in a miniskirt when the women wearing those clothes are strong, empowered, independent characters rather than frail tear-prone eye-candy.

As someone whose shounen bread and butter when coming into the anime/manga world were titles like Bleach and Naruto, Fairy Tail is a refreshing new take on the boy-centered genre, and I definitely recommend it to readers looking for a lighthearted, fast-paced, funny, and often touching story that is also filled with ass-kickery.