By Hiro Mashima
Fairy Tail has always been considerably more fast-paced compared to other battle manga. Fights don’t last for months like they might in say, Bleach, and its story arcs have rarely lasted longer than a year at most, while still packing a lot of story into those chapters. Ideally, this would be welcome, and set the series apart as more focused and efficient than its contemporaries. Unfortunately, the series is so focused on moving from one point to the next that it often just throws in new plot developments and characters into the story and employs deus ex machinas and other plot conveniences to resolve conflicts quickly. This chapter, for instance, is packed with lots of big moments. Ultear’s presence is given an explanation, DiMaria is revealed to be a god, Carla suffers a mortal blow, and the only move that can win the fight will come at a great cost. A lot’s happening here; it’s a desperate, intense battle against the clock – literally! The problem is that none of this was foreshadowed in the slightest. As a consequence, none of these moments have any impact, and completely wash off the experienced shonen reader.
Whereas series like One Piece will establish every important element in its story before it’s needed, and others like Hunter X Hunter are skilled in taking old concepts and infusing new meaning to them retroactively, Fairy Tail just throws stuff out haphazardly, some of it working, but a lot of it not. The problem with employing plot devices like random power-ups or a super special awesome secret move or whatever, is that it feels so easy. A story needs to develop organically; character arcs and relationships should develop in a systematic way over a long period of time, and the world should feel consistent from beginning to end. When you introduce a plot twist or a new plot element, it’s going to be jarring for the reader, and they need time to process and understand how it fits in with what was established before. Stuff like Ultear being able to live in the spaces between time, DiMaria being the God of Time, and “The Third Origin” should have been hinted at or mentioned before. Yet, there was no mention of Ultear’s new abilities the last time we saw her, no hints that DiMaria was something greater than she seemed, and the “forbidden ultimate technique” is introduced exclusively in the last two pages of this chapter. These are intended to be cool revelations, but because there is no coherency with the earlier narrative, it reads as just a bunch of new information, and too much given too quickly for the reader to really process and appreciate.
Still, the failed execution of these twists might have worked if the character development had any resonance. Unfortunately, Ultear is quickly undermined as both a plot device and vehicle for fanservice. The very first panel of the chapter is a low angle shot centered squarely on Ultear’s butt, and that sets the tone for the rest of the chapter. It’s generally cool when Mashima draws a sequence displaying the passage of time, executed almost like an animatic, but it’s far less so when it’s done to highlight Ultear’s breasts and then proceed to zoom in on her crotch area. Which, speaking of, there are quite a few low angle shots of Ultear designed to show off her crotch in this chapter. She’s sexualized to such an extent that it distracts from her presence, and robs her of any sense of power or authority she might have had in this fight. Though, even without the crotch-shots, she wouldn’t have much anyway. While the series spends a couple of pages trying to justify her return, a logical justification isn’t given for how Ultear can simply traverse half the continent because she has the power to “exist between times,” so the explanation is unbelievable. Also, despite having the power to free Wendy and Sherria from the time stop, she apparently can’t physically do anything to DiMaria herself. So ultimately, all Ultear really does in this chapter is stand around, commenting on the battle as she slowly crumbles away, incapable of actually fighting herself. Ostensibly, the only point of including her in this battle at all was to give Wendy and Sherria a convenient out to DiMaria’s time-stopping powers, deliver exposition, and be eye-candy for the series’ teen male readership. Such an insulting treatment of an otherwise decent female character is incredibly infuriating, and is enough to rob the chapter of any good will in and of itself.
The one saving grace the chapter would’ve had was the sacrifice of Carla to protect Wendy from DiMaria’s attack. But, this is Fairy Tail, and as we’ve discussed in the past, there is no such thing as consequences when it comes to this series. Carla can be saved with Wendy’s magic, so she’s not going to die. Not only that, they have a secret weapon in the form of “The Third Origin,” which can defeat DiMaria. While the idea that the technique renders one incapable of ever using magic again is interesting in theory, the concept of an ultimate forbidden technique is such an overused shonen cliché that it comes off as lazy writing. It’s also hard to feel the desperation involved because Wendy won’t be the one having to make a sacrifice. Sherria, as a god slayer, is the only one who can kill a god like DiMaria, so she’s the one who’s going to be using it, which is automatically far less interesting. Wendy and Sherria have a cute friendship, sure, but she is still a tertiary character at best, whereas Wendy is one of the core protagonists. If anything, this plot twist degrades her as a character in the same manner as Ultear by making her a disposable plot device; someone with a role to play, but lacking a fully realized character arc to give it weight.
Maybe all of this could’ve worked if this ultimate technique remained just that – a last resort; one that was established before this fight began, and was used only after a lengthy and genuinely desperate battle with DiMaria. Instead, we breeze by the fact that DiMaria is a literal god pretty fast, and the only sense that’s she’s really all that powerful is that she wounds Carla, who’s unlikely to actually die. The basic plot points in this chapter really aren’t that bad in of themselves. The execution, however, does not lend any tension or weight to the proceedings, establish the situation as desperate, the villain as intimidating, or create any genuine investment and concern for the fate of the protagonists. If there’s one thing that works, the way that Mashima shows Ultear’s body eroding as the chapter progresses, her body increasingly cracking and crumbling in each successive panel she appears in, conveys her temporary and fragile existence in DiMaria’s zone very well. That’s about it, though. As said before, Fairy Tail is fast paced. It can tell a lot of story in a short amount of time, and technically, a lot of stuff happens in this chapter. But, that’s all it really amounts to. Stuff that happens. Nothing more.