Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 8th 2010
Among the wizards of the Fairy Tail guild, few are as skilled in battle as Erza, whose armor and weaponry are her trademark. But how will she defend herself when she comes face to face with her past? As a child, Erza escaped a slave colony and fought for freedom, but her friends became corrupted by the ways of their captors. In the years since, they've built a device of forbidden magic: the Tower of Heaven, which has the power to raise the dead. Now Erza's old buddies have come back to take her captive and make her pay for leaving them. Not surprisingly, her payment will come in the form of ... her life! Can Natsu, Lucy, and the rest of the Fairy Tail gang save Erza in time?
Give Hiro Mashima credit for one thing: he hides his storytelling weaknesses very well behind a layer of visual polish and action-adventure flash. Which is a fancy way of saying, Fairy Tail Volume 10 is totally predictable, but still a lot of fun. After all, any fool can throw together a heroic saga full of desperate battles, age-old grudges, noble sacrifices, and traumatic childhood experiences. But this series dresses it up with just enough special effects and wizardry, just enough urgency at every turn, just enough emotional conflict to drive each character forward. The result, of course, is something that's just enough to be entertaining—but stops well short of being a dramatic game-changer.
Still, one cannot deny that this story arc carries all the signs of being a game-changer: Fairy Tail's best fighter gets captured! We learn more about her past than has ever been revealed before! A dark-magic sect threatens the very balance of human life on the planet! Yet the way it's lined up is far too formulaic: Erza's kidnapping happens at the exact moment the guild has let down its guard, the reason for her abduction (ancient childhood grudge) is a familiar old plot device, and surely no one is surprised to find that her role in the Tower of Heaven controversy can only be explained by an extended flashback. It's as if Mashima planned out these major plot developments, then insisted on putting up a sign saying "WARNING: MAJOR PLOT DEVELOPMENTS AHEAD." Great idea for hazardous roadways. Lousy idea for adventure stories.
However, that doesn't mean this volume is entirely devoid of excitement. The thrill of the mission is still there, it's just that everyone can tell where things are headed. We all know that Erza is going to fight back against her captors and go on a rampage through the Tower of Heaven, but that knowledge doesn't stop us from cheering her on when she does so, beating up tower guards left and right. Similarly, we can all predict that Erza's childhood flashback is going to have that defining, dramatic moment that sets her on the path to becoming a wizard—but it's still an impressive sight when it actually happens. And of course, throughout all this is Natsu and company's race against time to catch up with Erza—nobody doubts for a moment that they're going to meet up, but the sheer level of butt-kicing going on (plus well-placed fanservice) is still a delight. For readers who are simply looking for a good time, the only real complaint is having to wait until Volume 11 for the climactic battle of this story arc.
As usual, the one thing that saves Fairy Tail from being Yet Another Typical Fantasy Manga is Mashima's raw artistic talent. Like all the other volumes in the series, this one is practically a travelogue of exotic locales: a coastal resort and casino (where the guild gets some R&R in between story arcs), the stark dungeons and quarries of Erza's childhood, and of course, the fearsome Tower of Heaven itself—all drawn in the fine-lined, perspective-bending style that is Mashima's trademark. But it's not just the backgrounds that get special treatment; there's plenty of eye candy in the foreground as well, from the magic- and combat-loaded action scenes to the creatively designed characters (even if the child versions of Erza and her pals seem more like Doraemon rejects). Clear page layouts and judicious spacing—if a certain scene is important, it's going to take up at least a full page—also keep the story moving at a brisk but balanced pace.
A straightforward script also helps to keep the adventure from getting bogged down in details: these characters usually say exactly what they mean, with few ambiguities or sentence fragments in the dialogue. Even moments that could have resulted in extreme verbal indulgence—like the flashbacks of Erza's childhood—carefully avoid the temptation by letting the action speak for itself. Because the dialogue is so direct, and because it's set in a fantasy world, the idea of having a glossary in this volume seems like a pointless embellishment, but there it is anyway, mostly to explain certain quirks of the Japanese language that sneak into the writing. This translation also leaves the sound effects in their original Japanese format, with small English translations alongside them that don't intrude too much on the artwork.
The good news about this volume of Fairy Tail is that it continues to deliver what the series is best known for: flashy, fast-paced battles, myriad displays of magic, and a pure spirit of heroism where good triumphs over evil (or, in the case of low-level opponents, where good triumphs over incompetent). Unfortunately, those aspects also happen to be the bad news about Fairy Tail: it adheres too slavishly to the rules of the genre, it practically telegraphs each of the major plot developments as Erza is taken away and her friends come racing to save her, and every battle or turning point is exactly where you would expect it to be. For all its fancy wizardry, idiosyncratic characters, and far-off adventuring, this series still carries a heavy whiff of the tried-and-true, the overdone, the familiar. But you know what? Everyone's going to stick around to see how Erza's final battle will turn out anyway. Just watch.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ A soaring sense of adventure, lush background art, and flashy magical battles make the latest story arc an entertaining one.
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