Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Oct 17th 2012
With the destruction of Nirvana, things should be getting back to normal for the allied guilds who joined up to take it down. But memory loss or not, Jellal is still a wanted man and Wendy's unusual guild holds some more sad surprises. Then back in Magnolia, Carla has some revelations about herself and Happy that will have a huge bearing on what lies in store for the entire town.
The problem with long-running series is that sometimes it takes a few more chapters than one might like to get from one plot arc to the next. Fairy Tail, Hiro Mashima's fantasy extravaganza, has had its fair share of these moments, and volume twenty does a good job of transitioning from the end of one plotline to the beginning of the next without too much padding. The first couple of chapters detail the end of the battle against Oracion Seis, and mostly feature Natsu doing some serious damage. It's a pretty typical shounen manga fight, with increasingly ludicrous powers being unleashed, which also means that it's very high energy and a lot of fun to read. It is, however, a welcome change of pace when our heroes get to just flop down on the ground at the battle's end and relax...for a moment.
The end of chapter 162 through 164 tread some much more serious ground, and Mashima handles it with just the right amount of sweet sadness that never turns into melodrama. Readers may have had mixed feelings about Jellal's return earlier in this arc, but the bond between he and Erza has been underlying their scenes for most of their page time together. Unfortunately for the romantics in the audience, Jellal is still a criminal, and the government wants him. And so they come for him. It is hard to deny that this is a heartwrenching few chapters, and Erza fans and detractors will find it deepens her character a little while still finding it sad. (The splash page for chapter 164 only compounds this.) Add to the chapters some flashback scenes of when Erza and Jellal were children and you have a very melancholy coda to a triumphant battle. Only Lucy really seems to understand what Erza is going through, and the narration the closes out the arc is effective.
This emotional hurdle cleared, Mashima takes us on another couple of mood swing roller coasters with the rest of the volume, possibly making this the most bipolar book in the series to date. When the group goes to return Wendy and Carla to their guild, they encounter still more unexpected tragedy, and by the time everyone returns to Magnolia and the guild house, we're ready for a little light-hearted fun. And Mashima does provide some – the other members of Fairy Tail are in full form for roughly one chapter before the return of Gildarts, an older guildmate who has been off on a so-called “Century Quest” for the past three years. Almost immediately the specter of Lisanna, Mirajane and Elfman's little sister, is raised (not literally) and we are plunged back into tragedy. By the end of the volume (to say nothing of the preview for twenty-one), we are back to having that vague sense of melancholy, this time spiced with a bit of danger, as Carla and Wendy encounter another powerful wizard who has some very important information.
All in all, Fairy Tail is clearly gearing up for a new and exciting arc, and it looks like some answers about the disappearance of the dragons and Happy's true origins are about to be revealed. That this transition doesn't fail to hold our interest, or even to feel like a poorly built bridge spanning plot arcs, makes it one of the better transitional books in the series, certainly a far cry from the Miss Fairy Tail contest a few books back. And for all of the veil of sadness laid over the story, Mashima still manages to get some action and laughs in as well, including one especially funny subplot involving Gajeel. Wendy takes over from Lucy as the primary female of the series for most of this volume, and how you feel about that will probably depend upon which character you prefer.
The biggest problem with both this and some other contemporary Kodansha USA releases is a real problem with the editing. Spelling errors occur multiple times – for example, “brother” is written as “bother” - and in at least one case a line is very garbled due to missing or extraneous words. This is not the level of professionalism one expects from a commercial translation, and while it will annoy grammar fiends more than other readers, it should not even be an issue.
All in all, Fairy Tail's twentieth volume offers a mix of emotional content, humor, and a bit of action, as well as a chance for Mashima to show off his landscape skills and to defy gravity with a couple of Lucy's shirts. While it is far sadder than we have seen so far, it also is clearly headed off in an exciting new direction with a lot of potential, and it also manages to segue smoothly between its several different storylines. Editing aside, this is an enjoyable, albeit melancholy, read that tells us to keep reading, because things are about to get interesting.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Emotion is handled without melodrama, some very nice humorous moments. Good set up for what is to come and some neat new landscapes.
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