Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Fairy Tail Part 24
The Alvarez Empire has well and truly begun its assault on Ishgar in general and Fairy Tail specifically, all in pursuit of the death Zeref desires. When Natsu runs away from the guild to confront him, he learns that there's more to their relationship than he ever realized and that Zeref's demise may bring unintended consequences. Meanwhile various members of Fairy Tail face off against the deadly Spriggan 12, and quickly learn that more than any other battle the wizards have fought, this one may not be a fight that they can win with just their determination and regular arsenal.
As the saying goes, things almost always have to be at their absolute worst before they can start to get better. That means that whatever we've seen of Zeref before, whatever dangerous foes Fairy Tail has gone up against, and whatever tragedies lurk in their pasts – none of them are going to hold a candle to what the Alvarez Empire has in store for them. While that was certainly part of what we saw in the previous collection of Fairy Tail's final season episodes, events in this set make a quick downward plunge, like being on the world's worst runaway roller coaster.
This is almost entirely due to the advent of the Spriggan 12, Zeref's top wizards. According to series creator Hiro Mashima, they are the absolute most powerful characters in the story, which means that even Fairy Tail's S-class wizards are going to have a difficult time going up against them. To make things worse, the guild is divided, so the wizards are forced to fight different members of the Spriggan 12 in small, separate groups rather than everyone taking on each one together. One of the strengths of the earlier episodes on these discs is that things look disarmingly optimistic at first; from Lucy and Brandish having a bath time battle (poor Lucy has zero privacy) to what looks like an early victory driving back the general forces, the first few episodes give us a false sense of hope that Fairy Tail will just come out grinning like they always do.
Part of why things take such a drastic turn for the worse is because virtually nothing is taboo for the Spriggan 12. They're not just powerful, they also have basically no morals to hold them back, and all of their tactics are planned for maximum cruel efficiency. While Brandish and Jacob can be worked around with relative ease (Jacob's weakness is a particularly good one for the ladies), others are far less exploitable. Neinhart is perhaps the best example of this. His power is called Historia of the Dead, and it allows him to mine someone's past and bring back (alarmingly solid) ghosts. Needless to say, he doesn't pick cheery ones, or even Dickensian phantoms – he sorts through memories to call upon the most upsetting ghosts he possibly can. Thus Erza, Kagura, and Jellal find themselves faced with Simon, a friend and brother whom none of them want to fight. Neinhart's method is to throw his opponents off-balance emotionally before summoning up the ghosts of the villains they almost couldn't defeat one-on-one and throwing them at his victims. His tactics show a level of casual cruelty that far exceeds what anyone else does – Dimaria is awful but also fairly straight-forward, for example – because he's undermining his opponents' emotional stability and not just hurting them physically. It can't be coincidental that his name could be read as “no heart.”
Even if we were to ignore the fact that “hart” means “hard” rather than “heart” in German, Neinhart stands out as worse than his compatriots, in part because he doesn't present himself as someone vicious in the same way that Wall or Dimaria do. Dimaria is the closest to Neinhart in this set of episodes because of the glee she takes in murdering the three teenage girls who take her on: Wendy, Carla, and Shelia. She honestly seems to really enjoy discussing who she'll slaughter first and why. Even the fact that she's mad that her friend (?) Brandish has been captured doesn't excuse her joy, and of all of the Spriggan 12 she comes off as the most unhinged, although Bloodman comes pretty close, as does Irene. What's interesting is that at this point they don't even seem to be acting out of a conviction that they're in the right, even in a “might makes right” sense – they're just strong and enjoy hurting people, which is perhaps the worst motivation of all.
That's also the gap in their armor, however. Fairy Tail's strength as a guild has always been their love for each other and their willingness to work together, even with other guilds. That's why Sabertooth, Blue Pegasus, Lamia Scale, Mermaid Heel, and Crime Sorcière all come to their aid rather than each taking individual stands, and that's what keeps all of the wizards going. While the strength that Erza gained from having been to hell and back again several times allows her to take out her ghosts, and Lucy's relationship with her Celestial Spirits allows she and Natsu to survive Jacob's attack and fight back, this phenomenon is best seen in Wendy and Shelia's fight with Dimaria and Gajeel and Levy's against Bloodman. The latter is much simpler – Levy and Gajeel are both willing to sacrifice themselves to help the other, but while this is, and always has been, second nature to Levy as a Fairy Tail wizard, Gajeel is a much more recent addition to the guild. He's never actually had someone to lose previous to falling for Levy, and that makes the stakes feel higher for him in the battle. For Gajeel it's not just about beating the bad guy, it's about proving that he deserves Levy's love and to be happy, and if he allows her to die, he's not the man he wants to be. The fight against Bloodman is his moment of truth.
Wendy and Shelia, on the other hand, share a bond of friendship that's much closer to sisterhood. When it becomes apparent that Dimaria's power controls time, that puts the girls in a place where they can receive some unexpected help from someone forced to exist only in the cracks between seconds. This person offers them a chance to defeat Dimaria, but with a heavy price: all of the magic the user would ever have in life. Since both girls are young, this does mean a significant amount of magic power would be at their disposal; but at the same time, that's a long time to live without the very trait that makes them wizards. That this doesn't turn into a competition for who can be the most selfless is another major point in the plot's favor – both Wendy and Shelia have complete confidence in each other and know that they can win, and, more importantly, they love each other enough to want to be the sacrifice while the other girl shines.
This takes on a much more tragic note when we think back to set twenty-three's reveal of Zeref and Mavis' past. Even the best of intentions can bring about the worst of tragedies, and with Cana working to free Mavis' real body from its lacrima prison, we may soon get to see that play out again. It's going to be dark before we get to see the dawn for Fairy Tail. We'll just have to hope that they can hold out until daybreak.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Increasingly high stakes for each fight, good character development, especially for Gajeel and Wendy. Dub does a great job with Jacob's Jason Statham origins.
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