Fairy Tail #472
By Hiro Mashima
If the title of the chapter didn’t tip you off, the fight between Laxus and Wahl is currently underway, and so far it’s a little underwhelming. Mashima is generally capable of showing off some impressive, impactful scenes in his action sequences, but this chapter doesn’t show off his chops. This mostly has to do with his choice of staging and composition in panels here. First, most of the panels depicting the fight are small while depicting a big chunk of the space the characters are occupying. Characters are depicted either very close to the front of the space or very far back in it. When characters are in the foreground, they tend to be confined to the bottom corners of the panel, their backs turned, and since they aren’t throwing stuff behind their backs, this means they block out parts of the attacks. When they are far into the mid-ground or background, the detailing on them is extremely simple and weakly defined. Consequently, all the visual information in the panel starts to clump together. The characters and action lines start to blend into the background, reducing readability and one’s immediate comprehension of the action on the page. By spacing the characters so far apart and so far away from the foreground, Mashima counter-productively weakens the sense of scale and the impact of the action in the fight. It feels too far and too flat, whereas the most intense fights always feel almost claustrophobic and dynamic.
The second big issue is some uncharacteristically poor draftsmanship. This is evident from the first panel, where Laxus’ arm is jutting out way too close to his face, and seems so long to the point that it seems detached from his shoulder joint. The fact that Laxus’ back is turned prevents it from being too jarring, but when you consider how Laxus’ pose would look front a front-on point of view, his arm would be crossing half of his face. Yet, we can clearly see that his arm is swung downwards in a subsequent close-up of his face. Anatomical incongruities like this break the readers’ understanding of how the characters can move and are moving. If the reader can recognize that something wouldn’t look right from another angle, it breaks immersion and the emotional investment in what’s being depicted.
Misplaced and misdirected movement is problematic throughout this chapter. The most obtrusive example is when Wahl begins his counterattack and punches Laxus’ face. His arm looks incredibly stiff, as if he didn’t wind up his arms and just jutted it out in a swinging motion. Even more bothersome is that there is no real sense of impact on Laxus’ face. This is partly because the detailing of the impact on Laxus’ face is limited to a flat covering of his right eye, and any body language he’d exhibit in this situation has been obscured by his coat. But the real issue comes from how Laxus seems to be moving straight back from the blow, despite the direction of the punch moving left to right. If Laxus was really hit by the punch, he would be pushed to the right or back in that direction. Here, the point of contact and flow of motion don’t connect, and it makes for a very confusing and disorienting action. There are more moments that could be singled out and criticized, but these details are the most prominent examples of the weak body language and flow of action that gets in the way of effectively conveying the action in this fight.
It’s a shame, since a lot of the stuff being depicted has the makings of coolness, what with misses, lightning, crashing into buildings, explosions and the like. Unfortunately, when your big action moment, a massive explosion detonating in the sky that takes up one big panel covering half of a two-page spread, takes a minute to process because it’s rendered completely white, the bottom line of the explosion touching the panel border and the negative space is shaded with thin tightly-spaced lines, it’s not really that impressive. It doesn’t do an adequate job of characterizing how dangerous and powerful Wahl is like I’m sure Mashima intended it to. One positive I will say about the fight scene is that there are nice time-lapses showing characters moving from one position to another. The most effective sequence in the chapter is when Laxus just stands in one place as Wahl’s missiles get close and closer to him in a series of panels, with him retaliating by releasing a blast of lightning at the very last second in the very last panel. Now that was electrifying (hey, at least it’s a better pun than Grey’s!).
But while the fight could have been drawn a lot better, there also really should have been more of it. Because, for a chapter literally called “Laxus vs. Wahl,” only half of the chapter was actually dedicated for it. The rest was all set-up; Erza and Kagura are going after Bradman, Wendy and Sherria are beginning their fight with Dimaria, etc. Otherwise, the characters just comment on what’s happening in Laxus’ fight, when they really should be focused on their own. This really all could and should have been done in one page, if even that. Instead, we get another “Wendy has small boobs” joke, which is never going to be funny, because she’s a twelve year old girl, and Mashima constantly insists on sexualizing her, and making objectifying jokes at her expense. It’s gross. This chapter really would have been much better off without all of this stuff, as would any fight-based chapter in this series, honestly.
There are interesting aspects concerning Laxus’ condition and Wahl’s mechanics, however. We see that the amount of anti-magic particles in Laxus’ body is not only massive, but circulating throughout his body. As Wahl states, he should have died because of this long ago, much less be able to move and fight as well as he can. That really speaks to Laxus’ strength of will, and it also gives a lot of dramatic tension to the return of his heart complications at the end of the chapter, creating stakes based in time and his personal survival, adding a bit of gravitas to the fight. What is really intriguing, though, is Wahl himself. We know that he’s a Machias, a mechanical being that can use magic (somehow), but we get more details in this chapter that seem to indicate that his way of thinking is not only mechanical, but that he can change his own personality and switch between different “modes.” A transforming robot is one thing, but a robot that can change the very way he thinks willingly is something pretty new and a concept I’d liked to see expanded upon. There’s a chance that the current Wahl isn’t even his true body and just another proxy like the one fought by the Thunder God Tribe before, so even if Laxus beats this current incarnation, he might not be out of the picture for long.
It’s hard to say this chapter shows Fairy Tail at it’s worst, but it’s definitely not it at it’s best either. Plagued by weak art and shockingly bland action, it’s a disappointing beginning to a well built up fight. With a sense of desperation being infused into the ordeal with the return of Laxus’ heart problems and Wahl’s transformation, hopefully next week’s installment will improve upon this week’s shortcomings.