Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 2nd 2010
The power-hungry sorcerer Jellal has built a giant tower in hopes of resurrecting Zeref, the most powerful dark wizard the world has known. Only two members the Fairy Tail guild have any hope left of stopping him: Erza, whose fighting ability has been drastically reduced after losing her armor, and fire-user Natsu, who's still wandering the tower trying to reach Jellal. At the same time, the Wizard Council has triggered a doomsday device that will destroy the tower and everyone in it—and Jellal, for some strange reason, seems to be looking forward to it. Now Natsu and Erza must summon their powers and defeat him—but even if they do, they'll still have to neutralize the tower's unstable supply of raw magical energy that could break out and destroy the world.
It's pretty easy to create a villain deserving of one's hatred ... but far rarer is the kind of villain deserving of one's grudging respect. Jellal may be your typical power-crazed madman with too much time on his hands and too many resources at his disposal, but the clever surprises he pulls off in this volume of Fairy Tail are worthy of a momentary "Wow, that was good." If anyone thought this was simply going to be Erza and Natsu beating Jellal's Lights Out until he switches off the evil tower, well, get ready for some wicked twists involving clones, magical theory, and good old psychological manipulation. Then they get to beat Jellal's Lights Out.
Admittedly, anyone familiar with epic battles and maniacal villains can probably figure out Jellal's tricks right before he unveils them—but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. Like a good detective story, outguessing the bad guy is part of the fun, and a straight-up fantasy adventure could always use a few curveballs. By manipulating Erza, the Wizard Council, and the very laws of magic in his scheme, Jellal establishes himself as not just as a cackling evil boss, but also a devious mind worthy of being challenged in battle.
Which is exactly what Natsu does in the middle chapters. After everyone else goes down, he challenges Jellal to a one-on-one showdown, resulting in a spectacular (if formulaic) spell war. It's easy to get caught up in the spirit of Natsu's fierce battle cries, Jellal's dark threats, and the destruction going on all around them, but after a while that fired-up feeling is replaced by a sense of "Haven't we seen all this before?" Indeed we have—the flying fists and brute force, yelling incantations as loudly as possible, using the environment as a weapon ("Breaking things is Fairy Tail's specialty!" Natsu declares), even the obligatory self-sacrifice of a minor character—it's all part of the Fairy Tail style, which is fun while it lasts, but brings nothing particularly fresh or unique to the table.
Even the aftermath and finale—"How do we get out of this exploding tower?!"—is copped straight out of other action-adventure sagas. Erza does a very Brave And Noble thing, a miracle happens, Natsu wakes up a hero, and everyone reaffirms the importance of friendship. Yet none of this actually feels forced; it's simply the natural result of heroes doing what heroes do, and if it happens to match the ending of dozens of other heroic tales then so be it. The spirit of battle is genuine, and so is the spirit of camaraderie and relief that comes afterward. Perhaps that is the true talent of Hiro Mashima: taking the most standard, predictable aspects of the genre and somehow still weaving it into a fun, fist-pumping adventure.
The bold, accessible art style is also a big part of the series' fun factor, and once again Mashima is in his element as he choreographs a bombastic fight sequence in the heart of this volume. With Natsu's intense flamethrowing magic, the debris of Jellal's tower collapsing around him, and the characters' acrobatic moves, everything about the art is dynamic—and, given the number of dramatic poses and showstopping layouts, also cinematic. However, the visuals also cross into overindulgence a number of times, with several stretches of nothing but speedlines and explosions. That's not art so much as it is just showing off. Also lost in the fray is Mashima's flair for backgrounds; it's hard to appreciate his skill with architecture and landscapes when most of it has been blown to bits. At least the distinctive character designs are still there to enjoy, and even in the heat of battle there's no mistaking who's who.
Of course, when people's fists (and spells) are doing the talking, that means the dialogue is reduced to the usual repertoire of taunts and war cries. It's hard to have a deep discussion about one's personal philosophy on life when two guys are trying to blow each other to bits—although that doesn't stop them from trying, with Natsu yelling about the value of friendship while his adversary screams about the importance of power and freedom. In the end, what really matters is that this translation successfully captures the hot-blooded spirit of battle, as well as the more poignant emotions that follow in the closing chapters. Meanwhile, the sound effects (of which there are many) are also thoroughly translated, with English lettering alongside the Japanese characters that embellish each page.
Although it's fashionable to complain about shounen series going on forever and ever and ever, Volume 12 of Fairy Tail proves that there are places where it's possible to get off the train. The finale of the Erza arc coincides with Chapter 100 of the serialization as well as the end of this book, neatly tying things up until Natsu and friends embark upon their next adventure. Like all climactic "boss fights," this one involves a number of twists and revelations until finally the last two combatants are just flinging magic at each other. Yet Hiro Mashima's enthusiastic storytelling, as well as his artistic flair, make this familiar scenario a lot of fun anyway. In a world where all new stories are just old ones re-packaged, what matters is making the package enjoyable—and this one certainly is.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B
+ Neatly ties up Erza's storyline with a hard-fought battle against a worthy foe, all presented in a dynamic visual style.
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