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Fairy Tail #470

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By Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail can be a frustrating series, and that’s especially true as of late. For every genuinely strong moment of dramatic writing, particularly the confrontation between Natsu and Zeref a couple of chapters back, there seem to be two or three moments or writing decisions that spit in the face of narrative coherency. One of the biggest weaknesses in the current arc has been in the handling of the main antagonists, the Spriggan 12. They were introduced as the most powerful mages in the world, all of them being on the same level as the strongest mage in Ishgal, and leagues beyond any enemies Fairy Tail had faced before. Their early appearances showed them to be not just formidable, but nigh insurmountable. They were built up as opponents Fairy Tail and all their allies would need to band together as a team to fight, and even then struggle to defeat even one.

While the current war isn’t exactly going easy for the alliance, the Spriggan 12 have hardly been impressive, individually. Ajeel didn’t seem to take that much effort for Erza to defeat, especially considering how intense her battles have gotten in previous arcs. Wahl Icht’s proxy was a bit more threatening, but Freed and Ichiya of all people were able to defeat him pretty swiftly once Freed was able to let his barrier down. The most disappointing by far has to be Brandish, whose introduction saw her shrink an entire island into virtually nothing, but ended up being defeated by one chop to the neck by Cana and was reformed, naturally, by the power of friendship.

Things have been going way too easy for Fairy Tail, and the villains have become increasingly harder to buy as the threat they were built up to be. It’s annoying because the Spriggan 12 as a villain group had a lot of potential. Brandish in particular had a really interesting grudge with Lucy that could have been developed into a meaningful and emotionally powerful fight and arc for her. Instead, the subplot was resolved through a deus ex machina where Aquarius inexplicably materialized just in time to explain the truth about her past, and essentially absolved Lucy of any consequences to her family’s actions. When you take a villain like Brandish, establish her as a character that the heroes are afraid of and daunted by in her first appearance, and proceed to reduce her to a joke of a character that is defeated by a light chop to the back of her neck, easily restrained and detained in a cell with no security, almost choked to death by her weird psychotic subordinate, humiliated by another character treating her like a dog, and having her become friends with a woman she tried to kill before even getting to do anything significant in the story, much less have an actual fight….well, can you honestly call this character and storyline anything but wasted?

The lack of believable and satisfying villains has basically nullified any tension to the proceedings. Take the cliffhanger from two weeks back where Natsu was shown dying from some inexplicable illness. That could have been a serious, worrisome thing that put pressure on the characters to find a way to heal him while still continuing the fight. Instead, Brandish cures him without much fanfare and offscreen and the whole conflict was resolved in like five pages.  If the series isn’t going to have consequences for the confrontations with the villains or any dire personal circumstances hang over the heroes’ heads for more than a chapter, then the reader’s sense of the stakes are greatly reduced. So when last week’s ended with a cliffhanger that God Serena was about to kill Warod, it was hard to genuinely be worried about him. Not just because he is a barely characterized and uninteresting character in his own right, but because there have been no real consequences or losses so far in the arc. The lack of a strong and credible threat has led there to be no emotional desperation, and consequently, a very tenuous if nonexistent emotional investment in the story.

Chapter #470 certainly does not make matters better. Arguably, it’s made things even worse. God Serena was built up as the most powerful mage in all of Ishgal, far above anyone else even in the council. The end of last week’s chapter showed that he had taken down all of his former councilmates singlehandedly and without a sweat. This chapter shows the Wizard Saints pull out all the stops and try one last ditch effort to defeat him, and they fail, miserably. What’s more, he’s revealed to have not one, but eight types of dragon slayer magic. Considering that dragon slayers tend to only be able to use one, that’s a big deal. That instantly describes him as a bigger, more powerful menace than just about anyone else in the series shy of Zeref and Acnologia. By showing him defeat the council so easily as he does, the series has established that he’s an opponent no one can beat by themselves, and would likely take all the other 7 dragon slayers working together to surmount. He would have made for a legitimate, imposing threat, and one that would breathe new life and re-invigorated tension into the arc.

Alas, this is not to be because literally five pages after God Serena has beaten up the council, he is one-shotted by Acnologia, who is there because… Mashima wanted to show how strong he was, maybe. In-story, the reason is that Acnologia is hunting the dragon slayers and was supposedly attracted by Serena’s magic, but there was no reason for him to fight him now, was there? Mashima probably intended this chapter to characterize how dangerous Acnologia is, using God Serena as a means of scaling his power. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t so superfluous. We’ve seen Acnologia blow up an entire island. He killed Natsu’s adoptive fire-breathing dragon father. Those events were perfectly effective in showing just how big a deal he is. Instead, having God Serena beat the council like jokes, and then have him be beaten so casually by Acnologia, nullifies the weight of Acnologia’s demonstration of power should have, because it makes the characters feel superfluous and unimportant. Instead of developing the story in a constructive way, this chapter only serves to rob us of a potentially interesting villain and subplot. Especially when considering the detail that God Serena had been honing his powers to go after Acnologia himself, which could have been explored through an interesting character arc and added some depth and shades of grey to him.

Fairy Tail keeps shooting itself in the foot with how it’s been handling its villains and the quick and unsatisfying resolution of it’s plot developments. It’s unfortunate that these reviews have to begin on such a sour note, but this chapter is emblematic of everything the series has been doing wrong as of late. This is Fairy Tail’s final arc; this is where it should be pulling out all the stops, with it’s most gripping fights, strongest character development, and heart-wrenching and blood-pumping moments. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how undermining a character like God Serena is in any way constructive to that effort, and it’s among the most egregious of a string of baffling writing choices Mashima’s made that makes it hard to understand where he’s trying to go with the series, and why the reader should care.

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