New York Comic Con 2017’s biggest manga and anime guest was, without a doubt, Mashima Hiro. Mashima came to NYCC after concluding his most famous series, the hit shounen manga Fairy Tail, and he sat down for a couple of panels. While I only have a passing knowledge of Fairy Tail, I attended his Saturday retrospective panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom. An hour later, I came away with the sense that Mashima Hiro might be closest to the mindset of anime and manga fandom than other creators.
Because NYCC had another major shounen manga guest last year in Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi, and because Mashima himself mentioned during the panel that he considered Kishimoto his “rival,” I can’t help but compare the two. Listening to both of them explain their motivations painted two very different pictures. Kishimoto talked about how, at some point, Naruto became a story of redemption, while his becoming a father during the course of his manga’s serialization also influenced the messages he wanted to leave behind. Mashima, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the simple yet effective premise of “what would be cool?” Fairy Tail was apparently powered by questions such as “Who would win in a fight?” and “What kind of magic would be awesome to see?”
Combined with the greater amounts of fanservice in Fairy Tail—it seems as if, after a certain point, every panel in the series of a girl is pinup quality—it just seems like a series that didn’t have especially lofty goals, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a certain kind of purity, and has in its basis much of what makes shounen manga so popular in the first place. It’s part power fantasy, part adventure. The kinds of ideas floating around in Mashima’s head seem to be cut from the same cloth as much of the fandom, especially when taking into account Western fans. Fairy Tail in Japan is no match for One Piece, but I always get the impression that they’re much closer in popularity at least in the US. I feel like this fan space, where crossover dream battles are practically the potatoes of online discussion (the meat is “who do you ship?”), is one where Mashima’s mindset can thrive.