Many spiritual successors aren't able to surpass their predecessors, but Edens Zero has bucked that trend completely. Created by Hiro Mashima, known for the hit series Fairy Tail, Edens Zero is somewhat of a departure for the mangaka. He refers to it as a "space fantasy," implying it isn't truly science fiction, yet it still feels different from a standard fantasy title, and definitely not like Fairy Tail.
That said, it's nevertheless created by the same artist and, considering how many characters and designs from Fairy Tail can be found in Edens Zero, it's difficult not to compare the two. Thankfully, the comparisons tend to favor Edens Zero, which underscores Mashima's growth as an artist. While they share a lot in common, Edens Zero has set itself apart in ways that allow it to stand on its own. What's more, Edens Zero may be Mashima's best work to date.
Edens Zero Grapples With the Theme of What It Means to Be Alive
For starters, Edens Zero has a different theme than Fairy Tail. The "Weight of Life," as well as the concept of what being alive truly means, are front and center. By comparison, Fairy Tail's themes primarily center around friendship and emotional connections. Edens Zero's theme has been explored before in such works as Fullmetal Alchemist, but the series' focus on the value of a life is particularly interesting, because it showcases a different kind of life. It's not comparing humans to each other, but instead, a machine to a person.
The universe of Edens Zero is populated by both organic lives, such as humans and aliens, as well as mechanical beings, like androids and robots; the relations between the two as a central plot point. The main characters are obviously altruistic and don't see a difference between the two types of lifeforms, but many of those they meet aren't as open-minded. Many of those characters don't view other organic life as equal or as important as their own, further driving the point home.
Another thing that helps Edens Zero succeed is that it isn't afraid to get dark. To fully capitalize on the core theme of life's value, the series must show the subjectiveness of that concept. People don't simply die in Edens Zero, they're often brutally killed, regardless of whether they were human or machine. There's an instance in the series when an enemy's soldiers are crushed into a bloody paste in front of the heroes by their own boss. They hadn't betrayed them, either; it was merely their boss' way of showing he didn't care about the lives of anyone other than himself.
Edens Zero's Characters Embody the Series' Main Theme
In Fairy Tail, the characters were directly influenced by, and sometimes became representations of, the series' themes; it's the same for the cast of Edens Zero. The core crew members are made of both organic and inorganic life, with some even embodying both identities by being cyborgs. It should be stated that most of the cybernetic characters look almost indistinguishable from humans or other organic life, but the show rarely focuses on the appearances of characters... unless it's for fan service.
Shiki Granbell is also a perfect example of how the characters become representative of the series' core themes, much like how Natsu Dragneel was in Fairy Tail. Shiki was raised by machines; he isn't truly capable of seeing a difference between himself and them, yet he's also aware there is one. In some ways, he even appreciates the dissimilarity, because it proves he can be friends with anyone, regardless of the species. It also helps that the theme he represents isn't as "corny" as friendship, like Natsu was, as it makes him far more likable and instills Shiki with a greater sense of justice.
Shiki's powers are also, in some ways, directly related to Edens Zero's theme. His ability is to control gravity, which, in its most basic form, allows him to increase and decrease the weight of people and objects. In that sense, he can literally control the weight of life around him, which is a concept he employs to strengthen his powers. By using his gravity powers to feel and harness the weight of life, he achieves his strongest attacks, which is a poetic concept, if perhaps a little on-the-nose.
Edens Zero's Villains Can't Be Redeemed
The villains are also just as representative of Edens Zero's themes as Shiki is. Unlike Fairy Tail, which featured antagonists that were redeemed, Edens Zero wants its bad guys to be bad. They're more often than not murderous megalomaniacs with narcissistic tendencies that make them believe their lives are of the highest value. They will casually kill innocents for seemingly no reason, other than they are bored and can. Their willingness and drive to kill directly contrasts with the ideals of Shiki, who, as mentioned, can feel the weight of life. He doesn't just fight for his friends but for life itself, and his anger when it's disrespected is as exciting as it is terrifying.
Edens Zero has already proved to be a worthy successor to Fairy Tail. That might be due to how Mashima had a plan for where he wanted to take the series. But, even on a general level, it has, in many ways, overcome its predecessor. The characters are less stereotypical, and more likable, as a result. The story and themes are also more mature, which helps readers to take the characters and story more seriously.