By Hiro Mashima
This was a messy mismatched chapter. There are a lot of plot threads running through Fairy Tail right now, and this chapter tries to give them all room to move to varying results. The takeaway moment in the chapter, or at least what gives this chapter it’s name, is Sabertooth’s comeback. You’d expect some of the guild’s members would be suffering some trauma from their ordeal considering they were brutally tortured and crucified after their defeat. Yet, the only one who seems to be seriously frustrated by what happened to them at all is Sting. In theory this would make for compelling drama since, as the guild master, he bears the greatest burden for their defeat. It’s pretty much the lowest point for the guild and Sting, and he needed a push from a friend to regain confidence in himself as a leader and rally his team back into the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the series doesn’t give this idea enough time to really resonate. In fact, it barely gives it enough space. Sting’s whole depression is squeezed into a two page spread, alongside an action panel of Gajeel taking out a bunch of Alvarez soldiers, which takes up the most space on the page. Not only is this an ineffective use of page space, but it leaves little time for the impact on the emotional state of the character sink in. The focus is more on the action panel with Gajeel because it’s the largest and busiest panel on the page, forcing Sting’s sequence to be little more than an afterthought.
Compounding the problem is the fact that none of the other characters seem to take Sting’s pity party seriously. Instead, Frosch and Lector gush over Gajeel’s fighting prowess, and Rogue is more annoyed than sympathetic by Sting’s behavior, which is strange considering they’re supposed to be best friends. If Rogue was the one to slap Sting back into shape, that would’ve been more meaningful, considering how tight their relationship is; instead, it’s Yukino. Sting and Yukino might be members of the same guild, but they really haven’t had much screen time together, nor is their relationship as well defined as that between Sting and Rogue. So, even though she’s got tears in her eyes while slapping him and telling him off, there’s no real emotional catharsis or payoff. The ill-placed reaction panel of the rest of the guild comically staring with wide-eyed, blank faces takes all the dramatic tension out of the scene as well. It’s a flat moment, and doesn’t provide the weight necessary to make the comeback sequence that follows, much less the chapter as the whole, feel particularly meaningful.
The rest of the chapter fares little better: most notably the scene after Sabertooth’s is Cana’s training under Mavis. The connection the series tries to make between Cana and Mavis’ deceased best-friend Zera falls flat. Beyond superficial physical similarities, which seem mostly coincidental than anything, the characters don’t have much in common in terms of their personality or even their respective relationships with Mavis. A fact the series even acknowledges in a throwaway joke. This is the most relevant Cana has been since the Tenrou Island arc over 200 chapters ago, and the series is doing very little to substantiate why she’s supposed to be an important player in the current arc now. Similarly, Mest’s suspicions of Brandish are brushed aside mere panels after being brought up, and considering how lightly the series treats it, it’s very unlikely there will be any surprises in how this plot thread plays out. Both of these plot threads have potential, but the series takes them so lightly and makes so many jokes at their expense that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to invest in them.
Finally, the chapter ends with Gajeel confronting one of the most built-up members of the Spriggan 12 after August and Irene: Bradman, the “God of Death”. This should be an intense moment, but Mashima’s art just doesn’t deliver. The panel where Gajeel crucifies Bradman with iron pillars is supposed to look bad ass, but wonky perspective and confusing art just make it hard to figure out. Presumably, Gajeel is punching Bradman from a distance, which is why his arm is all stretched out, but his body is so far away from Bradman in the panel it’s like his arm has become disjointed and stiff, as if he’s eaten a Gum-Gum fruit or something. Moreover, his arm is filled in with so many lines that they start to blur in with the speed lines, reducing readability further. Bradman remains the focal point, while getting pummeled with iron pillars, and if it was that image alone it would’ve been cool. But look immediately to the left, the way Gajeel’s body is drawn, it becomes goofy, and raises questions about where exactly how these characters exist in perspective, bizarre proportions included, compared to one another.
Probably the most meaningful character moment in the chapter though is Gajeel. He remarks that Alvarez crucifying Sabertooth and Blue Pegasus brings up bad memories of things he regrets from his past, which feels appropriate. Gajeel has come a long way from the sadistic scumbag who once destroyed the Fairy Tail guild and crucified Levi in the Phantom Guild arc. Since joining Fairy Tail, he’s developed an honor code, becoming more heroic and one of the most respected mages in Fiore, even managing to join the ranks of the Magic Council. In Bradman, Gajeel fights a mirror of the man he once was, and a part of his past that he must accept and forgive himself for. Whether Mashima maximizes the potential of this fight in a thoughtful manner remains to be seen, but it’s still a fascinating development, and despite the general messiness of this chapter, it does well to leave me interested in reading the next.