This story is set primarily in Victorian England. Lydia Carlton is a fairy doctor, someone who acts as sort of a mediator between humans and fairies. She's spent her life being ridiculed and mocked for her belief in fairies, because no one can see them but her. That, combined with her belief that she isn't particularly pretty (she says her hair is the color of rust and she doesn't think her green eyes are very pretty), makes it hard for her to believe that someone like Edgar could really be interested in her.
And, at first, he isn't, not really. Edgar needs a fairy doctor in order to find the Sword of Merrow - if he can claim that, he can become the Blue Knight Earl. Having been branded a slave after the death of his parents, gaining a respectable title and a place of his own is very important to him. Lydia isn't so sure it's wise to help him, but she's too kind to leave him behind. In the end, Edgar gets the sword, and Lydia assumes things are done between them. However, Edgar has become more and more attracted to her. Plus, without Lydia by his side, he could never hope to communicate with all the fairies that sort of pop up as part of the "Blue Knight Earl" package. Edgar makes Lydia exclusively his fairy doctor, without actually consulting her about it first.
Lydia does end up staying with Edgar and being his fairy doctor, but she can't quite bring herself to believe that he really loves her. For one thing, he's such an outrageous flirt that it's a little hard to believe him (according to him, her hair is caramel-colored, her eyes periodot). Although he asks her to dance only with him at a ball, he still feels free to dance with other women. For another, Lydia believes he may still have feelings for Ermine, the sister of Raven, Edgar's servant (Raven, by the way, has a sprite within him and is lethal to all if not controlled by a master like Edgar).
Supposedly, Ermine is dead, but she apparently died at sea or something and has now become a selkie. She and some freaky spectral black dogs work for the Prince, who murdered Edgar's parents. After the "finding the sword" storyline is finished, Lydia and Edgar must worry about attempts on their lives. A group that opposes the Prince thinks Edgar might be working for him and therefore wants to kill him. However, even after they are persuaded otherwise, Edgar still has the Prince's minions after him. Ulysses, a young blond man from the Prince's court, believes he is the true Blue Knight Earl and is determined not to let Edgar get in his way. Like Lydia, Ulysses can see fairies, but Ulysses chooses to use his knowledge of fairies to control them and force them to do his bidding. Ermine and the spectral dogs are under his control.
My incredibly unorganized summary has left a few things out. For instance, there's Kelpie, an UnSeelie fairy who has been trying to secure Lydia's hand in marriage for a while now. There's Nico, the fairy cat who hangs around Lydia and can take her to and from the fairy world. There's Paul, a painter whose works Edgar likes - at first he appears to be another rival for Lydia's affections, but that turns out not to be the case. If he were to have ended up with anybody, it probably would've been Banshee, a banshee who used to serve the Blue Knight Countess, the Lady Gladys.
I can't believe how much is crammed into only 12 episodes. When I first started watching the show, I figured all 12 episodes would be about Edgar searching for and finally finding the sword, but that part of the series is over pretty quickly. The rest of the series, with Edgar and Lydia dealing with Ulysses and his minions, is interesting, but there's not enough time for everything to get covered as thoroughly as I would have liked. Ermine and Raven are two characters who I felt were the most shortchanged. It's never revealed how Ermine died or what her relationship with Edgar was (were they lovers, as Lydia believes, or were they just close?), and, as for Raven, I just would've liked more about him. I thought the whole bit about the sprite inside him was pretty interesting, and I wanted to get to know him as more than just a quiet, expressionless servant.
As I watched the show, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of the story. When I did a bit more searching online, I discovered that my feeling wasn't so far off the mark - apparently, the story started off as a series of light novels and has since spawned a manga version, drama CDs, and a visual novel (see Wikipedia's page for more info). It's a little depressing, because, if a second season of the anime is never released, I don't stand much of a chance of finding out all the things I want to know (Edgar and Lydia's relationship is still up in the air by the end of the anime, Ulysses isn't completely vanquished, and we haven't even seen the Prince yet). I could probably hunt down some scanlations of the manga, but I've never run across fan translations of light novels before.
Even with what story there was in just the anime, however, I was pathetically hooked. I may have already made this clear in the beginning of this post, but one of the things that hooked me was Edgar. He's a charming and horrible flirt who can't seem to fathom what his behavior must look like to Lydia - he just acts all wounded when she tells him she can't believe his compliments and protestations of love. All of that may sound a little bad, but he's really not made to look like a slimy character. Very little happens to back up Lydia's feeling that Edgar is being insincere - he dances with a few ladies during the one bit with the ball (which only bothered me because he told Lydia not to dance with anyone but him - ok then, but shouldn't it work both ways?), which is the worst of it until, while drunk, he says Ermine name during an almost-kiss (and potentially more, if he hadn't screwed it up?) scene with Lydia. When he sobers up, he doesn't remember what he said, and Lydia refuses to give him the details.
Which leads me to another thing I liked about this show - the humor. While it drove me crazy that Edgar wasn't able to figure out whose name he said before the anime ended (if he had figured it out, he could've explained himself, and the romance between him and Lydia might've gotten a decent resolution, rather than the "to be continued" feeling it actually had), I loved the semi-ongoing joke it inspired. At one point, Edgar asks Raven if he can think of a woman in his life whose name he might have said while drunk. Raven pauses and then asks Edgar if he'd like him to recite their names in alphabetical order. The first time the joke comes up, it makes Edgar seem horribly promiscuous, but, when the joke comes up again later on, the names Edgar explains to Lydia are all of random females in his life, such as a dog he once had. It helps that Raven gets the funniest line, since he's so deadpan about it. There's lots of other funny moments in the show - quite a few of my other favorites feature Kelpie, whose non-human nature didn't always gel well with human-thinking and the human world.
On a very surface level, another thing I enjoyed about this show was the artwork. I can't help it - whether I like the artwork or not tends to play a big part in how much I initially like or don't like a show. Great artwork won't necessarily keep me around if the story and characters aren't very good, but it can get my attention and occasionally smooth over a few rough spots. It's similar to the way well-done special effects can help encourage me to like a movie that isn't necessarily all that good. Both things are a bit embarrassing to admit, but they're true - looks do matter. Earl and Fairy's artwork and character designs (except for, at times, Lydia's hair, which would probably look stringy if someone tried to reproduce it in real life) appealed to me. I love pretty eyes, and this show had them in spades. The animators loved doing close-ups of people's eyes, especially Edgar and Lydia's, but also sometimes Raven's (and Kelpie's, but his eyes were just strange). Edgar and Lydia's eyes are considered so important, in fact, that their eye colors are actually named in the anime - Edgar's eyes are ash mauve and Lydia's (according to Edgar) are periodot.
Speaking of shallow reasons for liking the show... I loved the opening. I wasn't sure about it at first, because the opening music seemed like a rather odd choice for a show set in Victorian England, but the energy of it all really matched the energy of the show, quick and upbeat. The animators managed to cram nearly every character into only a minute and a half of animation, so it gives viewers an idea of what they're in for without actually giving anything away (which can't be said of all anime openings - there are some that should really come with spoiler warnings). Oh, and to round out the shallowness, I'll end this paragraph by saying that my favorite bit in the opening is at the beginning, when Nico is chasing the sparklies - so cute!
Overall, I really enjoyed this anime, but that's probably because I didn't expect anything more than for it to entertain me, which it did quite nicely. There's plenty to get a romantic soul all stirred up, although nothing actually happens - besides all the flirting, Edgar and Lydia almost kiss, but never do (unless you count Lydia's hand), and there's a bit where drunken Edgar manages to get Lydia onto his bed, but then he ruins things by saying Ermine's name and passing out. Also, there's adventure of the sort that makes me want to use the word "swashbuckling" - it's great fun of the "popcorn for your brain" sort. The only "bad" thing that happens is the death of a fairly minor character - although momentarily sad, this part is handled so gently that it almost feels like the character didn't die, but rather just went to live in a different plain of existence. It seemed a bit odd that the other characters weren't more emotionally affected by that character's death, but I suppose the writers didn't want to darken the mood too much so close to the show's ending.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite school for the rich, is forced to become a host in the Ouran High School Host Club after breaking an expensive vase. Unfortunately, Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to stay in the host club and pay off her debt, Haruhi must make sure that no one outside the host club finds out that she's not a guy. Edgar's flirty behavior reminded me (and quite a few other YouTube viewers) of Tamaki, the president of the host club. The overall light tone should appeal to fans of Earl and Fairy, as should the romance in the show (which, due to Haruhi's denseness, can be even more frustrating than the romance in Earl and Fairy).
- Howl's Moving Castle (anime movie) - A young woman named Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who turns her into an old woman. The only person Sophie can think of that might help her is the wizard Howl, who has a bad reputation for seducing pretty young women. Sophie makes herself part of Howl's little family by getting a job as his housekeeper. She gradually learns more about Howl and his friends, and several curses and contracts are dealt with before the movie ends. This movie was based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones, but the two are so different that I have not listed the book here. Those who'd like another story that mixes adventure with a bit of romance (not focused on as much as in Earl and Fairy) might want to try this. The characters even share some similarities - Howl, like Edgar, is a charming and flirty guy when Sophie first meets him, and Sophie, like Lydia, doesn't think she's particularly pretty.
- You Slay Me (book) by Katie MacAlister - This is the first book in MacAlister's Aisling Grey series. All Aisling wants to do is deliver an old, gold dragon statue to her uncle's client in Paris. Instead, she comes across a dead woman and a mysterious and sexy man. The man (who is also a dragon), named Drake, disappears, along with the statue. Aisling has to prove she didn't kill the woman and recover the statue, all while dealing with the revelation that she is a Guardian (basically, the Keeper of the Gates to Hell). Like Lydia, Aisling is mixed up in the world of the supernatural and has a guy interested in her who she feels she can't quite trust. This series features humor, romance, and adventure. Those who liked the "gentleness" (lots of tension, but nothing actually happening) of the romance in Earl and Fairy may want to stick with my first two suggestions and avoid this one, as this series actually has sex in it.
- Black Bird (manga) by Kanoko Sakurakoji - (added Dec. 9, 2009) Misao has always been able to see spirits and demons and things, but, because no one else can see them, her special ability has tended to be more of a curse than a gift. When she was a little girl, she met her first love, a boy who could see the same things she did and who protected her. On the day she turns 16, Misao is attacked by a demon who tells her that the entire demon world is after her because of the benefits her blood, flesh, or hand in marriage can give them. She's saved by the young man who was her first love - who turns out to be a demon. Does he really love her, or does he just want to marry her because it will cause his clan to prosper? Those who'd like another series with danger, romance, and supernatural aspects might want to try this. Like Lydia, Misao can see things others can't and doesn't trust that the guy who says he loves her really does.