Silly action time! Mashima Hiro has been at this game for a while. Although only 32, he's had 2 long-running titles and a handful of short stories, including Monster Hunter Orage and Monster Soul. Rave ended at 35 volumes, and Fairy Tail is on-going at 13. Both longer titles are being carried in the U.S. by Del Rey. So far as I can tell, Hiro pretty much recycles his character designs, so while there may be some tweaks or an occasional new design, for the most part each title looks the same as the others. This may be a bad thing if you dislike recycling, but good if you like consistency in your reading. The character designs are generally cartoony, kind of along the lines of One Piece, but not quite as bad. The artwork is very clean, though, with thin smooth lines and highly detailed backgrounds. Even though there is a lot of drama, with people getting slaughtered all over the place, there's a heavy dose of slap stick running through every chapter as well.
(Image from wikipedia, used for reference only)
Groove Adventure Rave, by Mashima Hiro, Grade: B+
Released in the U.S. as "Rave Master", Groove Master Rave is yet again one of those many titles that I ignored when I first read it in Shonen Magazine. Since I wasn't trying to understand the Japanese, and I only caught one issue out of 10, I had no idea what was going on, and the artwork looked kind of childish to me so I didn't put any effort into following it. Later, I started reading the Del Rey books from the beginning and got hooked. There are a lot of similarities to One Piece, so if you like OP, you'll like Rave.
Haru Glory is a young teenager living on an island with his older sister. He quickly gets swept up in a battle with members of an evil organization that uses the Dark Bring - powerful stones that corrupt the user - and their ongoing attempts to rule the world. Haru uses one of the mysterious "rave" stones he finds and discovers that he has the ability to unlock it's great powers, thus learning that he is the Second Rave Master (the first, Shiba, acts as Haru's first teacher). From here, Haru leaves the island on a journey to collect all of the rave stones and to defeat the ultimate leader of the bad guys. Along the way, he meets people on both sides, some who join him and others that don't. He also finds that the world is a *big* place and that there's always somewhere else to go that holds new mysteries.
Rave is good, goofball fun in the vein of the really early Dragonball series. Friends spend a lot of time ganging up against each other and breaking into arguments in the middle of the battle. But, there's a lot of action as well, and the artwork is good enough to make the fight scenes exciting. The characters don't get into the "hey I have a new attack that no one's heard of before" rut that is so common in manga, but you know that there's always going to be another power up just around the corner. A lot of the story revolves around the "quest for the next item", in this case, to find the other rave stones. But, it's still a fun read, and the entire series has been released by Del Rey (One Manga is still trying to catch up, and isn't at vol. 30 yet, or thereabouts. The fan groups had abandoned Rave for over a year and just recently took it back up again.) So, you can read this non-stop and see how it all ends without having to wait months for the next book to come out.
Summary: Rave is a goofball quest adventure along the lines of early Dragonball, with Haru trying to find all of the rave stones in order to beat the bad guys. Recommended if you like fighting and silly mind candy.
(Image from wikipedia, used for reference only)
Fairy Tail, by Mashima Hiro, Grade: B-
According to the wiki entry, Fairy Tail started out as an experimental short story, then was combined with the concepts from some of Hiro's other shorts to become his second full-length series. It's kind of a disappointing follow-up to Rave, in that I think Rave is the better title. Largely this is due to the characters getting overly boisterous and arrogant. We keep getting people coming in and telling us how great and powerful they are, only to have their butts handed to them after a few chapters. It's the same one pattern repeated endlessly with small variants. And, when a character goes down in a battle, they get back up and keep fighting some more shortly afterwards. There's no such thing as "game over" here. So, you know that the good guy's going to win, the question is just "how long is it going to take and how are they going to pull it off?"
Initially, the series starts with Lucy Heartphilia, a young female magic user who has left home to join the Fairy Tail adventurer's guild. Lucy uses "keys" that lets her summon powerful symbols of the zodiac. She encounters Natsu, a fire magician, possible offspring of a dragon, and one of the members of Fairy Tail. She is soon allowed into the guild, and gets wrapped up in some nasty guild versus guild squabbling that's going on. From here, the story starts following almost everyone else BUT Lucy. There's a huge battle around volume 10 or so, where the series could have ended. But, Hiro threw in some hints saying that there's more going on than we know of, and the story continued almost as if nothing had changed. This is one of the things that I dislike about Fairy Talil - the greatest villian uses the greatest powers to almost destroy the world and is just barely stopped, and then we're told that there's something 100 times worse that hasn't come out yet. This ruins the suspense, since we don't know if Hiro's going to do the same thing again after the new disaster is averted. And this is where we get into the rut of a mindless "battle of the week" series that loses its focus.
Summary: To be fair, Hiro's artwork is as good as ever, and his fight scenes are exciting. It's just that all the bragging everyone does before the fights has gotten old. But, Fairy Tail's slapstick is still funny at times and the fights are good. The story starts with Lucy's attempts to get into the Fairy Tail guild, then turns to Natsu's ongoing interest in being the best fighter on the planet, while also learning whether he's the last "dragon" remaining. Recommended if you still need a "Rave Master" fix.