By Hiro Mashima
With all the excitement and chaos of the last few chapters, it was about time for the series to take a breather. Hence, we have a slower, more transitional chapter this week, one that allows the characters to take time to reflect while pragmatically giving them time to move from point A to point B. A chapter like this also allows for some comedy that doesn’t get in the way of the story. While there isn’t a whole lot of it, surprisingly, the small bits we do get from primarily Juvia and Erza are successfully amusing, particularly the image of the two of them sharing a sleeping bag to Juvia’s dismay.
The meat of the chapter rests between two character interactions addressing a character’s personal concerns. The first, and possibly the most immediately consequential, is Laxus’ heart problems. It comes out of nowhere, but that’s forgivable considering it’s something that he’s been keeping a secret from the guild. Though, he hasn’t hidden it very well. Not only did Gray notice, but the idea is first touched upon early in the chapter in understated dialogue and reflection shots from Fried and Ichiya. It’s been a year since Laxus started having these problems, more than enough time for the two to notice, and be concerned of the consequences it would have on Laxus if he were to overexert himself in battle. It’s a rare, but effective bit of subtlety from the series, that also has the effect of adding another layer to Fried’s determination to defeat Wahl Icht on his own without Laxus’ aid earlier in the arc.
The condition in of itself isn’t as important insomuch as how it relates to Laxus’ character arc. At the beginning of the series, Laxus didn’t care one bit for the guild or his friends. He pretty much was willing to murder everyone in his plan to take it over during the Battle of Fairy Tail arc. Since that arc, Laxus has stopped taking his friendships for granted and has come to value his place in the guild. With this renewed sense of pride and loyalty, Laxus has become a valuable and reliable pillar of support for the guild, easily one of it’s major powerhouses.
While characters in shōnen battle manga swear to protect their friends all the time, Laxus’ vow that he’ll protect the guild even if it costs him his life has a lot weight to it. It’s a reflection of just how much he’s changed, from a villain who wouldn’t hesitate to toss aside anyone else to serve his own ends, to a hero who sticks up for his friends and family no matter the cost to himself. Laxus’ story of redemption and atoning for past mistakes has always had a strong foundation, albeit undermined mostly by how easily the other Fairy Tail members forgave him in the end. Still, the chapter effectively shows that Laxus is fundamentally a different person than he was at the beginning of the series, and provides renewed reason to see him avenge his crew in his upcoming fight.
The same can be said for Gajeel. He shows a remarkable and deft sensitivity to Levi’s self-doubts. The way he comforts her sticks true to the gruff nature of his character, but still makes for a cute, albeit cheesy moment between the couple. Gajeel and Levi’s relationship had a rocky start that wasn’t entirely believable, but over the course of the series it has evolved into possibly the most believable romantic pairing between any of the characters in the series. Like Laxus, seeing a sensitive side to Gajeel’s character is also a nice contrast to his violent, malicious behavior during his first appearances, and a testament to how much he’s changed since he horrifically crucified Levi and her friends over 400 chapters ago.
With the battle for Magnolia won for the moment with the defeat of Ajeel and the heel turn of Brandish, Fairy Tail now has the opportunity to move the focus of the fighting elsewhere. We’ve seen flashes of how the other guilds’ battle for Hargeon has been going before, and now it’s time to see the fights taken to completion. It would have been nice to have let the focus stay on the non-Fairy Tail characters, and let them have these victories. While it’s good that the focus is staying consistent with the main characters, it’s rare that characters outside of the titular guild get fights of their own and win, Sting and Rogue being the only notable exceptions, so it’s a little disappointing.
That said, the pairings are fitting. Wendy coming to Sherria’s aid, Erza to Kagura’s, Gray and Juvia to Lyon’s, etc. These characters have built long and believable friendships through the course of the series, and these fights will hopefully prove to be a team effort that shows their chemistry and pays off on their histories well. The only one who doesn’t come to an aid of a previously established character is Laxus, who is engaging Wahl Icht mano a mano. Which, again, is fitting. Wahl Icht did a number on the Thunder God Tribe, and Laxus is determined to get even. But while he’s downplaying the seriousness of it, it’s likely that his heart problems are going to interfere in a battle he otherwise might have had no problem in winning.
While this is all a solid setup for a fight, Fairy Tail rarely has any lasting consequences for it’s characters. Considering we had a whole cancer subplot for Natsu resolved in a matter for pages only two chapters ago, it’s hard to believe that Laxus’ condition will lead to his defeat, much less death. But, if the series were to go that direction, this is the right time to do it. There is enough foreshadowing in this chapter to make it believable, and by sacrificing himself for his friends and guild, Laxus’ character arc will have come full circle from the beginning of the series. Whether or not that will happen, Laxus tends to be a part of some of the series’ most exciting fights in the series, and with the backing of Laxus’ series long character development behind it, it should hopefully prove to be one of the arc’s most engaging fights yet.
All in all, this was a pretty enjoyable chapter, with a nice balance of humor, plot development, and payoffs on longstanding character arcs and relationships. The series has not been successful in making character moments feel believable in recent times, but this chapter succeeded in just about everything it attempted, leaving plenty for fans to look forward to as the battle for Fiore enters it’s second day.