If my love of The Ancient Magus' Bride didn't give it away, I have a particular fondness for shoujo series that get particularly whimsical with their fantasy settings. That's what drew me to today's selection. It's just a shame that it doesn't quite live up to that premise.
THE EARL AND THE FAIRY (Hakushaku to Yosei), adapted from the light novels by Mizue Tani & art by Ayuko. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2012.
Lynda Carlton knows one thing to be true: that fairies do exist in this world. Only her and her late mother could see them, and thus most people presume that Lynda is a bit mad. Nonetheless, she is determined to carry on her mother's work as a fairy doctor to bring aid to human and fairy alike. A trip to visit her researcher father leads to Lynda getting kidnapped, but it also leads her to cross paths with a man claiming to be Edgar Ashenbert, also known as Lord Ibrazel and a descendent of the mythical Blue Knight Earl. Edgar needs Lynda's help to find his ancestor's mythical sword, and thus Lynda finds herself swiftly swept up in an adventure she could have never imagined.
It's unusual to see a shoujo series based on a light novel. Normally if these sorts of stories aren't original works, they usually based on TV shows or video games of some sort. Sadly, The Earl and The Fairy seems to exhibit a lot of the conventions of both formats as it tells a very word, exposition-heavy story of a slip of a girl getting whisked about by forces (and men) greater than herself.
Lydia isn't a bad character by any means, but she's not terribly unique either. She's a little bit plucky, a little bit stubborn, but also unceasingly kind towards all she meets and not terribly strong or bright beyond her particular field of knowledge. Yep, she sure is a shoujo heroine! It's telling that I was more invested in her sidekick Nico than in Lynda herself. In all fairness, that may have been entirely because Nico appears as a fluffy white housecat that can talk.
Edgar gets a lot more focus as the volume goes on, but even though his backstory and motivations get a lot more detail than Lynda he's no more compelling than her. We certainly hear plenty about him second-hand, about how he's a thief playing at being a gentleman so he can hide in plain sight, how he has this terribly tragic backstory, and how he's so good to his servants. The problem is that he's not written in a way that communicates any sort of personality beyond 'vague smarminess.' That's a real shame because the general premise is one that is not without promise. Globe-trotting adventure in search of a magical treasure! Secret identities! The possibility of romance! So how can you make something like that so devoid of personality and not be in any particular hurry to fix that? It's not good enough that The Earl and The Fairy just goes through the motions and explains everything about its leads instead of showing it.
Ayuko's artwork is appropriately delicate, but she doesn't exactly bring anything new to the table. Compared to the original light novel illustrations, they come off as the sort of generically pretty people that populate most middling shoujo series. She does at least keep things historically accurate for the most part. The costumes and backgrounds are not exquisitely well-drawn, but they are pretty enough to get the job done. It's a shame then that the panels tend to be rather small and plainly put together.
Those hoping for a fanciful historic fantasy series will likely be let down here. There's a certain delicate beauty to it all, but The Earl and The Fairy is kind of rote and far too prone to telling instead of showing who the leads are and what the world is like to properly enchant its readers.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes. All 4 have been published and are currently in print.