What happens when you take the magical girl formula, replace it with muscly fairy men and throw in some Buddhism for good measure? Fairy Ranmaru almost defies classification but its outer silliness is hiding a much deeper, more thoughtful show.
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.
Hey Jean-Karlo, anime is supposed to be lighthearted fun, but sometimes it also dares to ask the deep philosophical questions everyone's dying to know the answer to. But this sparkling anime wants to know: What is Love?
This week, Nicky and I watched Fairy Ranmaru, which is A Lot™—but it hits the spot so good.
You're telling me. As a known boy-liker, Fairy Ranmaru's... erm—"boldness" was a genuine novel delight. Fairies, Fantasies, and Fan Service?! Oh My! We've covered some magical girls and blushing boys for the column before, but it's pretty rare that we get some "equal opportunity" glittery transformations for our male counterparts. But even so, you need more than a few tricks to stay in the spotlight. Let's discuss what makes this show so dazzling, shall we?
Step 1: male nipples
That's not simply dazzling, that is essential. Ha ha.
So it's like this: there's a Fairy World hidden from the world of humans. Fairies are bound to serve those in need, it seems—not only by law but by necessity, as helping humans creates "attachment," which fairies need for... some reason. So the Fairy Queen collects five fairy men from the five tribes to go to the human world and seek out hearts in need in order to help them and send attachment back home.
The fairies pass themselves off as students-slash...hosts? Kinda? And they live at a local café where they hand business cards to women in need while laying low.
The payment? Your heart!
I mean, if the Heartcatch PreCures can catch your heart, then turnabout is fair play...
The show gives you a lot of lore about the premise upfront but there's always something that feels a little off? The word "attachment" has strong ties to Buddhist theology, and before they break their daily uhh, curry? The fairies end up reciting the 10 Buddhist commandments. Talking about all the things they shouldn't do, like falling in love, feeling unsightly emotions, ignoring others in need, and having sex. Though, their somewhat lax caretaker says that the most important thing is just that nobody finds out that they're fairies.
Also! The mascots are a cute tapir and a cute sloth. Very Important.
Yeah, these commandments start revealing some nasty wrinkles in fairy society and also sound completely unteneble. Like, falling in love and having heterosexual relationships are verboten—and yet, fairies inevitably have heterosexual parents and had to come from somewhere.
Like, we know for sure two of the fairies in the party had parents who banged. So right away, these commandments are fishy.
And we know there are consequences for breaking these laws—-truant fairies are turned human. But it's not like a geass or anything, you have to be actively punished by an executive body, so these are more suggestions than rules.
Still the ties to religion and the emphasis on purity are pretty strong for a show that so proudly shows off its battle scars.
Even the song for their school feels ominous!! There's a few repeating elements like any magical sentai show but this weirdly pure school choir sings more than once with lyrics that include "there's no dark side at all!" Makes me suspicious as heck.
It makes me think of Yuri Kuma Arashi's use of The Invisible Storm as a means of enforcing homogeniety by mutual henpecking, as well as nerd-culture enforcing weird purity standards on characters ("These beautiful boys can't have partners—except me, of course!").
But despite whatever secrets lie in wait that have yet to be revealed, Fairy Ranmaru can also be straightforward and sincere, as well as silly. There's a heart to it, too.
Oh God, is this show sincere. It will wholly unironically force you to sit through stock footage of each handsome boy magically transforming into a scantily-clad man, run towards the camera while singing a unique image song, and enter a magical battle against some magical monster or other.
And then the next four episodes do it all over again for each guy.
I cheered when Ranmaru first transformed and started singing his song about flowers blooming in hell. This is basically Magical Boy Back Arrow, and holy crap do I want these two shows to be in a Saturday morning cartoon block.
The songs slap too! Everything is very extra but I think one thing to remember about Fairy Ranmaru is that it's not trying to be a parody, a deconstruction, or a satire of the "magical" genre despite its more tongue-in-cheek elements. We've been seeing a lot more of those in recent years, especially with boy members so I think it's important to emphasize that.
Oh yes, definitely. This whole affair could have been very wink-wink-nudge-nudge—and frankly, thank God it is wholly unironic in all of this because I am quite frankly DONE with "ironic" crap. Fairy Ranmaru wouldn't have been what it is if it was trying to be any kind of parody or whatever.
I'd argue many parodist series stem from the sheer love for the genre. Studio Comet also previously worked on the later seasons of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, and Fairy Ranmaru's comedic elements and love for brotherly bath scenes definitely takes a page from that show's book.
But what's set Fairy Ranmaru apart from some previous magical boy incarnations is that not only is it truly "extra," the problems these boys face every week are very serious and dramatic interpretations of societies ills. Ranmaru's first challenge is about helping a girl classmate deal with cyber-bullying! it can be pretty intense, even!
It's basically Pretty Cure with an edge to it—instead of other monsters exacerbating the anxieties in children or neighbors, the fairies have to help people being hurt by outright societal ills—all of which are inflicted by people who just want to hurt people. Heck, one case has two people hurting each other.
It's framed in a way that is as suspect as the rest of fairy society; the fairies have to "kiss" a girl and "take" their hearts in order to transform and fight whatever their issue is, which you could interpret as them taking advantage of women on the edge of desperation. But even with their need to reaping Attachment, all the fairies legitimately care about the people they help.
There's also that extra theological edge. Attachment, in religion, is the main opposition to living a fulfilling and virtuous life. It's something that involves complete abandonment of all worldly desires to reach a state of higher being, or Detachment. So by collecting their feelings and solving their problems, these fairies are essentially trying to help these people reach a more heavenly place. Also, they literally yell "GO TO HEAVEN" while stabbing their enemies. The show is anything but subtle.
They also invoke the Holy Mother. Because!
At any rate, the fairies all view the job of helping people quite differently. So let's run these characters down, because there's some fascinating stuff here.
So first up, we have Ranmaru Ai. He's from the Light Tribe, which is quite auspicious. Apparently, the Light Tribe oversees the religious rites for the fairy world. Ranmaru is the least-experienced of the group, and also the least worldly—as can be seen by his constant questioning of what love is.
He's also the most pure and chivalrous so far! It's not just the clientele that has baggage: each of the boys other than Ranmaru feature some big problems. Each episode is appropriately named from their sins. The 2nd episode, titled "Wrath" kicks-off with heir of the Fire Clan, Homura, crying over the wrongful execution of his father.
Poor Homura grew up conflicted; he claims he doesn't care about people, but he's a regular bleeding heart who's just been disillusioned by what his own hero, his father, went through. Fairies can't live with anger in their hearts, but Homura lives with righteous anger in his all the same.
In his episode, he encounters a mangaka getting verbally and physically abused by her editor with no choice but to act like a total doormat. He doesn't even let her draw the story she wants! Eventually, he goes as far as changing her manuscript into something he deemed more marketable even though it only ends up being trash.
I wanna give Fairy Ranmaru the nod for many reasons, but among them is for finally calling moe out for being kinda gross. It's like a decade too late, but still.
Also: a Di Gi Charat reference in 2021! Anyone else remember Di Gi Charat?
It's very refreshing because even in today's world, it's considered very unprofessional for women in particular to express feelings of anger or confidence even when they're clearly being abused by those above them. Women can't even complain about wanting more manga catered to them without being putdown! It's clearly no accident because in the end she ends up getting a cool and better manga editor who is also a lady, while making Homura her story's hero.
The other episodes also feel similarly targeted so I don't think it's an accident. If anything, it just shows how clearly Fairy Ranmaru knows its audience. Beyond GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!!
Our next boy is Uruu, from the Water Tribe. Besides having tension with Homua, because of course, Uruu is a consummate perfectionist who drives himself to absurd ends.
This all stems from a lot of childhood trauma—Uruu's parents drove him to rise above his peers, at all ends. So his workaholism is just self-destruction. Sure enough, when Uruu helps his client, he also purifies her because she had plenty of skeletons in her closet. This being a violation of fairy world policy, Uruu is punished, which he's all too eager to accept.
Uruu is also kinda the most-extra—like, by far.
That whip is also A LOT!! His puritanism also implies an underlying hypocrisy with his most SINFUL display.
Also, we haven't mentioned that besides the transformations, and heroic ballads, once the fairies get called to action they enter a sort of abstract mindscape in order to fight. Similar to Madoka's Labyrinths, these realms often utilize abstract cutout-like art styles for spectacle. From EVIL TWITTER to monstrous moe. But Uruu actually features the style of famous Ukiyo-e artist, Hokusai.
Which of course, also leads to tentacles! But we see lots of other art references after this, like Van Gogh and Picasso, (though not quite as shocking) they're even hinted at in the opening.
Remember when Gatchaman Crowds said "The Internet isn't real, it can't hurt you"? Yeah. I think about that.
The ED also takes the "art appreciation" to serious levels, featuring some heavenly bodies and punished souls (complete with traditional rope bondage). Presenting a devout/sinner complex that all the guys must struggle with.
Also, yeah it's VERY LEWD! It's the most un-cowardly anime I've ever seen.
Up next is Juka. He's from the Arbor Tribe. He's insecure because while the other tribes have important functions, the Arbor Tribe is just the glorified janitors of the fairy world. Also, he desperately wishes he was cool and not just a twink.
He's just upset that he comes from a long family of healer mains. But I believe he can evolve into a green DPS! Also, this Starry-Night shot of him in the opening is stellar.
And finally, we have Takara. He's the caretaker of the group and hails from the Metallum Tribe. His brand of being a bleeding heart comes from his experiences living poor; he is the proper heir to his tribe, but his mother was the Metallum leader's mistress. She perished, leaving him to live in poverty and do whatever he can to survive.
Sure enough, he has the loosest morals in the group—he regularly smokes, drinks, and has sex with women. Which, of course, fairies aren't supposed to do. And his bosses know he does it, but let it slide because in spite of it all, Takara gets the job done.
Takara is the only real "adult" of the group, and also their caretaker, one of the ongoing jokes is that he keeps feeding them curry for every meal because he's too cheap and lazy to cook anything else just like when your mom decided you only get to eat Kraft macaroni (though imo I'd take the curry).
Takara isn't really as bad as he seems though. I honestly didn't think I was gonna like him at first due his somewhat cold, secretive, and lax attitude, but he ended up taking my heart just as much as the rest of them. The show emphasizes how much he sleeps around early on but it's implied that it has less to do with being lecherous and more to do with the nature of his family and work.
It feels to me like the show implies that Takara might have engaged in prostitution in his past just to stay alive. He might even depend on it at the moment to keep his bar afloat. Regardless, he's walking evidence of the evils that the morals of the fairy world.
His client's story is also part of what makes his good qualities shine through. He finds a young girl who's been starving after her father took a bad loan from a predatory loan shark and he helps her out with the interest without ever taking advantage of her, even when she asks!
One of the fairy commandments is to never turn your back on someone in need—and in Takara's case, he just can't bear to see someone hungry. I like him for that reason. You don't mess with food.
He purports himself as more of a realist compared to the other fairies, telling Ranmaru such. But he seems like just as much of a sexy hero of justice as any of them. Even when he claims that his personal feelings play no part in it all.
And then there's this enigmatic figure. Hanging in the backgrounds of the fairies' many battles, he has a lot of choice words about the morality of the fairy world. And as mentioned above, he has a lot of points about the hypocrisy of the ten commandments.
He also seems to have pretty low opinions of the hearts of humanity. Unlike our heroes who see human attachment as a means of living. But, we haven't seen enough of our main antagonist to dive into him deeply yet. I'm satisfied that these stand alone introductions have been so strong.
And how! Even if you take out the showstopping transformations and insert songs, the character studies go places—even if they're just introducing us to characters. Their inner worlds are fascinating places, and the way these character interact is more than just "Look at the pretty boys be pretty with each other."
It's still too early to know where this show is going, but it has such a great platform.
I didn't expect the beefcake show of the season to have so much meat on its bones! There's more than just eye-candy here, there's genuinely a lot for everyone to chew on, metaphorically speaking...It's also just generally really fun to watch with how unshameful it is and I ended up really liking some of the boys even when they're not having a personal soap-hour.
There are probably going to be a lot of other anime fans who look at Fairy Ranmaru and run off to...I dunno, No Game, No Life? (Is that what the kids like these days? I'm still hung up on To Heart 2.) And, look: you're missing out on a hell of a show if you're scared off by a little beefcake. The visual artistry alone makes Fairy Ranmaru a must-watch for this season. Add in the kickass insert songs, and you have a show that's full-on wallpaper fodder. I'm not kidding: this show is the perfect companion to Back Arrow, and I freaking love Back Arrow (you should watch Back Arrow).
Even if others turn away, I'm certain there's another group that's happy to embrace these beautiful boys and all their naked glory. It's very rare that audience gets stuff dedicated to them and I'd rather they'd not let this gem get buried with the rest of the seasonal chafe. Maybe it doesn't have enough staying power and too many gimmicks to muscle it out in the long run, but I think Fairy Ranmaru is a level of "out there" that all other anime should strive for.
"Psychosexual magical boys set to classical art, also Buddhism" is such a weird mix and frankly this crap is why I watch anime. I'm totally here for it. Definitely check it out, because you just don't see a creature like this very often.