By Hiro Mashima
The beginnings of this chapter have all the makings of a classic shonen comeback. In fact, the circumstances are comparable to Goku’s defeat of the Saiyans in Dragon Ball. The hero has returned from a loss that incapacitated him, and now seeks to avenge his fallen comrades, turning the tide of the battle at its most desperate hour. The panels of Lucy, Happy, and Mavis watching Natsu charge at Lessio with confident smiles sets this mood well, dissolving the bleak tone, and reassuring the reader that Natsu will once again save the day.
This would be cool, if this entire premise wasn’t build on such a weak foundation. Natsu’s heroic comeback lacks any dramatic weight because Lessio’s fight with the guild also only began in the last chapter, not allowing enough time for the desperation to really sink in, and make the battle’s turnaround satisfying. In addition, Natsu’s return doesn’t really feel like a big moment because he hasn’t really broken through any adversity. His cancer may have knocked him out for a couple chapters, but it was so quickly introduced, and hastily cured, it was never in doubt whether Natsu would recover.
That might have been forgivable if this fight built upon the small bit of character development he had after losing his chance to beat Zeref, but that goes completely unaddressed. So while this chapter tries to build this fight as a big moment, a turning point in the battle against Zeref’s forces, it just brings attention to how contrived circumstances are. It feels like Natsu was taken out of commission as an excuse for him to fight Lessio in this moment, and the rest of the guild and Mavis were beaten just to build up Lessio as a threat at the expense of their characters. Despite Lessio’s strong introduction in the previous chapter, the means through which Mashima arranges for his fight with Natsu disperses any tension or stakes the fight could hold.
So, the fight doesn’t have any thematic weight backing it, but it could’ve been fun if Mashima played with Lessio’s powers in a creative way. Unfortunately, not only is the fight more or less repetitive in the broad strokes of its action, but Lessio uses his powers in such ridiculous and inefficient ways that by the end of the chapter you can’t take him seriously anymore. It turns out Lessio can make things invisible and see things that are invisible, which is why he can see and hut Mavis. Immediately, that calls into question why he doesn’t simply turn himself invisible and knock off the heroes without them ever knowing. Especially since he can use invisible weapons as well, which the heroes are shown to be unable to predict and guard against. Instead, he fights them directly, primarily through hand to hand combat. It’s one thing if he has a sadistic streak and lies to play with his prey, but it’s a whole other matter when he doesn’t use the skills he has in an efficient or productive manner. With his ability he should’ve won this battle before anyone could fight back.
Instead, he hoists himself by his own petard, and in the most infuriating and idiotic of ways. Lessio’s plan to torture Natsu, with the sight of Lucy’s half-naked body, is baffling on so many levels. First off, why is she only half-naked? If you really want to embarrass your enemy, wouldn’t having someone see their teammate be completely naked be the most effective means of making them uncomfortable? Second, even if Natsu minds seeing Lucy half-naked, he could simply close his eyes since Lessio isn’t doing anything to keep them open. Third, he’s only incapacitating Natsu, so if Lucy wasn’t embarrassed she could’ve just attacked him and freed Natsu from his hold.
But the most baffling aspect of this plan is Lessio himself is a shy prude, and can’t bear to look at Lucy’s body himself. So much so that he closes his eyes shut, meaning he can’t see anything that’s going on, leaving him defenseless against any surprise attacks. So naturally, Natsu and Lucy take advantage of this, exploiting his prudish behavior by flirting so salaciously he has to release his power, allowing them to land a critical blow. But because that blow comes from the villain’s stupidity, and not the heroes’ ingenuity, it doesn’t feel earned. There was no reason, and no sense, for Lessio to use his ability in a way that limits his own capability to fight. Especially since the prospect of seeing a half-naked woman is so daunting to him that he’s in mental anguish just by the thought of it. It’s such an irritating, dumb sequence that’s obviously trying to be funny, but instead comes off as a poor excuse for Mashima to draw some Lucy fan service, as well as a cheap means to let the characters land a blow on Lessio. Consequently, what once seemed like a promising dramatic fight devolves a total farce. No matter how many times Mashima keeps drawing his face covered in shadows to make him seem dangerous and intimidating, Lessio simply loses all credibility as a legitimate threat. He’s barely more than a gag villain at this point.
This is easily the arc’s worst fight yet. While the Spriggan 12 have been consistently underwhelming antagonists, none have fallen so quickly and ineptly as Lessio has. At least the other villains so far were beaten because of the heroes’ own strength, and not because the villain shot themselves in the foot. While the fight isn’t over just yet, it’s hard to see it lasting much longer, especially since it’s seemingly done it’s purpose by giving Mavis an epiphany on how to beat Zeref. I’m curious to see exactly what about Lucy and Natsu’s sexy talk shenanigans inspired her, but I’m not exactly confident that it’ll make sense.