By Hiro Mashima
Despite supposedly being the strongest mages in the world, the Spriggan 12 have been less than impressive as antagonists. They’ve been defeated with about as much effort as most previous Fairy Tail foes, if not even easier, especially in the case of Brandish who made a heel-turn without even fighting first. With nearly half of them defeated at this point, the Fairy Tail guild has every right to be in good spirits. But because it’s been so easy for them, it’s such a relief to finally see their optimism and arrogance be swiftly crushed when faced with a foe possessing a genuinely threatening presence.
Make no mistake, Jacob Lessio is unlikely to fare better than his peers in the long haul, but he makes a darn great first impression here. Jacob is an assassin, and while he doesn’t specialize in stealth, he still takes the guild by surprise with his entrance. Because no one is aware of what he can do, and was prepared for a fight, he’s able to use the tension around him and the element of surprise to take virtually every member of the guild out at once, with few exceptions. While characters like Marakov, Mest, and Cana have long been unbelievable as capable fighters and their defeats aren’t impressive in of itself, the contrast between the guild’s confidence in their victory to swift defeat that sells the moment as shocking and Lessio and gives Lessio credibility as an antagonist that characters like Brandish and DiMaria simply never possessed.
Re-emphasizing his potency is how he’s able to target and defeat Mavis, a character who is not only powerful, but also a ghost that no one outside the Fairy Tail guild should be able to see. This adds another layer of tension over the events and makes the emotional and moral struggle Mavis faces as she ways her decision to turn over Fairy Heart to save her friends actually feel desperate, a mood Fairy Tail hasn’t been able to create much as of late. In general, the chapter has an ominous and intense vibe enhanced by the artwork. Lessio is introduced with a wide-shot of him opening the doors of the guild, sunlight opening behind him, but himself shrouded in darkness. The guild is a home for these characters, a safe space, so this image has the subtext of an intruder violating that safety, opening the doors for risk and danger to penetrate their sanctuary. From the onset, the protagonists’ sense of security is questioned, and the chapter exploits the reader’s expectations by playing its cards when and in ways they least expect it to.
The way Lessio himself is depicted enhances his menacing aura. As he is introduced, panels highlight various parts of his body, from his face to his hands to his feet. This segmentation dehumanizes Lessio and makes him feel alien to his surroundings, while also puts the reader at unease, uncertain when he’ll make his move, immersing one into the scene and really making one feel the same dread and anticipation felt by the characters in this moment. The chapter also puts Lessio in the shadows very often, and this emphasizes his intimidating and frightening stature to the protagonists, as well as highlights the coldness of his features from his unflinching facial expression to his cold, pitiless stare. But the art is also effective in how restrained it is. Lessio’s cruelty and violence isn’t depicted graphically or over the top, but expressed mostly through sound effects. The most effective of which are the jagged word bubbles and front for when Mavis screams under Lessio’s assault, and every sound made during the scene effectively conveys the violence without needing to show it. In both writing and art, this chapter effectively presents a mood that for the first time in this arc actually makes a situation genuinely feel dire, uncertain, and threatening, and characterizes the antagonist as a truly fearsome and insurmountable opponent.
At least, the first half of the chapter does. The tone is undermined considerably when Lucy and Happy show up and diffuse the tension with gags and fanservice. The most irritating part is not that they show no fear of Lessio, but that they only avoided his previous attack because Horologium just suddenly showed up because he “felt a warp in the dimension” somehow. No explanation is given as to how and why he could sense this, nor how he could manifest on his own without Lucy summoning him first, so it comes across as another convenient deus ex machina to justify the characters’ presence in the battle. Which would be fine, if they were actually going to fight Lessio, but he doesn’t even get to counterattack them before Natsu reawakens from that coma he was in for like six chapters. Lessio is automatically reduced as a threat by how none of the remaining protagonists have any fear or trepidations about him, and by how the series has went out of it’s way to engineer the situation to create these circumstances. It becomes clear that the other guild members weren’t removed for the sake of establishing tone, but as an easy means of building up Lessio and quickly removing everyone who isn’t a main character from the battle. It’s frustrating, because Mavis’ struggle against Lessio could’ve made for an interesting psychological battle, but Natsu’s return all but ensures a traditional power battle with predictable results.
It doesn’t help that Crunchyroll undermines the effectiveness of Natsu’s reintroduction by once again splitting up the two-page spread. Again, it breaks immersion when you can’t take in the image all at once, and Crunchyroll really needs pay more attention to how they lay these chapters out. The chapter has a lot of good things going for it at the start, but it just misses the mark half-way through and devolves into something more predictable yet less logical. There are mysteries to be explored, like the nature of Lessio’s abilities, and how he can attack and harm Mavis, among other things, and these should add some flavor to the coming battle. Unfortunately, given the series’ track record with the Spriggan 12 and the execution of this chapter itself, one probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.