There’s an ongoing joke online that if you’re a woman and your romantic partner asks you to play a video game with him, it’s because he needs a healer.
The joke still annoys me to this day, but it’s not exactly a mystery why girls are usually relegated to healing or support, non-physical positions. We see it in video game storylines, in manga and their anime adaptations. It’s there in novels and movies and shows. When wielding magic of some sort, most girls and women are usually given beautiful but ultimately weak magical prowess whose purpose is to offer assistance to the real warriors. Anyone who’s taken part in an MMORPG party quest will tell you the support member is perhaps the most integral part of the party, but that doesn’t erase the fact that it’s irksome that it’s usually expected for a woman to fill that role.
This situation is easy to recognize in older manga and anime, where female representation was not exactly a priority, never mind strong female representation. But since the mid 2000s, the inclusion of women as strong contributors to the main storyline has changed the way most of them are characterized, and that includes the shape their magic or powers take. It’s not uncommon now to see different types of female characters wielding powerful, aggressive and physical magic, the type that had usually been reserved for men or sometimes given exclusively to tough, taciturn, and tomboyish females. Fairy Tail, a fantasy manga series created by Hiro Mashima about a world full of magic where wizards join guilds and go on quests, is one of the best examples of that.
What’s interesting about Fairy Tail is that it’s always been classified as ecchi, which means there will be enormous breasts, accidental ripping of clothes, and probably a scene or two of someone accidentally touching the aforementioned enormous breasts or falling into very compromising positions with the girl after a series of wacky events. And yet I feel the series has done more for female representation in the medium than other, cleaner series.
Fairy Tail has some of the most powerful women in shounen manga, not to mention some of the best representations of magic-wielding females. These women are not only magically powerful and recognized as such by their peers, they’re active participants in the action and storylines, and they’re multi-layered women whose weaknesses and vulnerabilities don’t stop them from fighting and protecting those around them. Most of them use their magic in very physical combat and are hardly ever support for anyone.
Erza Scarlet is strongest female wizard in the Fairy Tail guild, the youngest wizard to earn the top S Class classification — of which there are only four in the guild — right hand of the Fairy Tail guild master Makarov, the unofficial disciplinary of the guild, and the leader of the team the story follows. Known as “Titania, the Fairy Queen,” Erza specializes in re-equip magic, which allows her to change at will weapons and armors of different qualities and styles..
Despite her very difficult childhood, Erza is optimistic, compassionate and protective of those around her. She carries the weight of her trauma, but she has never allowed it to hinder her progress in any way or cloud her judgment. She makes tough decisions and sticks to them, and has probably sacrificed more than anyone in the entire guild. Moreover, she consistently defeats singlehandedly some of the strongest adversaries in the series. She magnificently displayed her magical superiority during the Grand Magic Games, where she challenged all 100 monsters of increasing level and magical power – some with a level of magic matching the strongest wizards in the world – and defeated them all alone, leaving every other competitor empty handed and without points for that round, taking Fairy Tail from the bottom to the top spot and giving them the boost in moral that ultimately made them win the tournament.
Erza’s strongest adversary for her position is childhood friend Mirajane Strauss, another S-Class wizard who gave up questing and magic after the disappearance of her little sister Lisanna, though she came back into the fold and recovered her powers a couple of years later when the guild was being attacked from the inside. Known as “Demon Woman,” Mira’s “Take Over” magic allows her to transform into a demon of superior speed and strength to overpower her enemies physically. She’s sweet, cheerful, kind and absentminded, but more than capable of shedding that away when it’s time to fight. Lisanna has a similar type of magic and fighting style at a much weaker scale, though she turns into different creatures rather than into a single form.
Juvia Lockser was a former enemy of Fairy Tail who joined the guild shortly after recognizing the evil nature of her former guild – where she had ranked as an S-Class — showing remorse for her actions and proving her loyalty to the members of Fairy Tail, who welcomed her sad and lonely soul with open arms. The “Rain Woman” uses water magic, which allows her to manipulate water and to liquefy her own body. Her magic is very physical, and her deep connection with water makes her attacks an extension of her own body. Shy, quirky and obsessed with fellow guild member Gray, Juvia is a usual fixture in the series and a very strong and loyal ally when it comes to a fight.
There are plenty of other strong female members in Fairy Tail. Strangely enough, female guild members in the series are featured more consistently and given more of a presence in the story than most of the secondary male members. Though that may have something to do with the occasional ecchi-ness of the series, the truth is that they are, by far, more often seen strong and resilient in the face of danger and while wielding their magic than accidentally providing fan service.
Even the de facto support character on the main magic team in the series still stands powerfully as a magic wielder. Not only is Wendy Marvell – the youngest member of Fairy Tail – in possession of Dragon Slayer magic, she’s also the best healer in the entire guild. She was created by Mashima as a way to prove the female strength of even the youngest girls to an associate who said little girls had no place in a manga like Fairy Tail.
The series is full of strong female magic users, in both skills and personality: Lucy Heartfilia, a highly intelligent wielder of Celestial Magic and owner of most of the strongest summoning keys for Celestial beings; Cana Alberona, the guild’s resident drinking champion, the member with the most nominations for the S-Class exam, and wielder of Card Magic; Evergreen, user of Stone Eyes magic; and the brilliant Levy McGarden, user of Solid Script, and the leader of her own team, Shadow Gear. Even female enemies are given strong magic, bravery, recognition, and power, like Kagura Mikazuchi, Ultear Milkovich – the sole wielder of one of the strongest types of magic in the world, Lost Magic Arc of Time – and Minerva Orlando.
Fairy Tail’s contribution to female representation in manga is nothing short of outstanding. Not only has the series broken away from the stereotypes and staples of the genre, it has given fans, female and male alike, great representations of women in positions of power and with amazing magical abilities that are respected and admired. More important still, Mashima has given his female wizards difficult battles, both external and internal, and has made them more than capable of defeating whatever demon haunts them and coming out all the stronger. In the world we’re living right now, and specially in a genre so prejudiced and male dominated, what Mashima has done with the women of Fairy Tail is actually kind of magical.
Lorraine Acevedo Franqui writes for Girl in Capes from Puerto Rico and holds degrees in English Literature and Psychology. Her main interests are young adult lit, anything related to The Legend of Zelda and Kingdom Hearts, assorted shounen mangas and cats.
She’s also written about the women of Naruto, another popular shounen manga and anime series.
Who’s your favorite female character in Fairy Tail? Tell us in your comments below.