Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Dec 4th 2011
Laxus' war on the guild is in full swing, and many guild members have been struck down by forced friendly fire. The magic barrier has kept Natsu and Gajeel out of the action while Evergreen's stone spell has some of the most powerful ladies paralyzed. But when Natsu's outside the box plan unfreezes one of them, the women are able to go out and turn the tide of the war. Will it be enough to defeat Laxus? And will Natsu EVER get to fight?
After volume 13's lackluster arc transition, volume 14 makes a rip-roaring comeback into everything that makes Hiro Mashima's magical extravaganza so much fun. We jump right in to find that Laxus' minions are making short work of most of the Fairy Tail members, even if at least one of them is conflicted about it. Laxus wants his grandfather to hand control of the guild over to him and is not above using vicious tactics to get what he wants. Unfortunately for Laxus, Natsu is able to free Erza, who in turn liberates the other women. This is where the action really picks up. In some ways this volume is all about the ladies – we've seen Lucy, Juvia, and Erza strut their stuff before, but Cana, Levy, and Mirajane now get their chances to show us what they can do.
One of the benefits of allowing rarely seen players to take center stage is that Mashima gets the chance to develop some of his many named characters. He has clearly devoted a lot of time into building the world of Fairy Tail, and while his personal store of knowledge can make some things confusing for readers, when he gets the chance to elaborate, he shines. Levy and Mirajane in particular become more fleshed-out characters, with distinct abilities and personalities beyond the cut-outs we've seen. Previous volumes have hinted at Mirajane's true power; now is our chance to see it. Perhaps more importantly we also see how and why she uses it. That says more about Mirajane's character than any number of exciting fight scenes and adds an emotional element to the work.
Speaking of emotions, Lucy's showdown with one of Laxus' underlings is both breathtaking and full of fan fodder. A character we haven't seen for a while makes an appearance that should set romantically minded readers' hearts aflutter. Naturally Mashima doesn't turn this into a romance, but he knows that any good action story needs its softer elements to humanize the proceedings. This particular fight has a combination of emotion, intellect, and good old fashioned brawling to maximize the reader's involvement in the story. While the other major fights in the book are also captivating, none of them quite achieve the same assemblage of elements that make this one a stand out.
Fight scenes are one of Mashima's visual strong suits, and this volume does not disappoint. The characters really move, with dynamic poses and minimal speed lines to distract from the art. The fanservice elements present in other volumes are still there, with lots of under-boob, up-skirts, and down-shirts to show off Mashima's ability to draw butts and breasts. There are a few shirtless men running around as well, but it is clear that the eye candy is here for the guys. And that's just fine – Mashima may not have a perfect grasp of anatomy, but there is nothing jarring about his female forms, no matter how underclothed they may get. Some female readers will be uncomfortable with the more obvious cheesecake shots or ridiculous costume choices, but nothing is blatantly offensive.
Another highlight of Mashima's art are his detailed backgrounds. While streets may all look a bit alike, there is still the sense that the city of Magnolia could really exist somewhere. His larger overhead shot of the town shows outlying homes and estates, a nice detail that speaks of real thought put into the make up of the story's world. Buildings are excellently detailed, in particular Laxus' hideout, which has an impressive number of fiddly bits, all carefully drawn.
Unfortunately, Mashima is still busy introducing periphery characters on splash pages. Yes, in this volume we do get to see some lesser known guild members in action, but one of the author's jobs is to make sure that as readers we can keep track of all of the important players. Giving names and backstories to all of the minor characters is good for Mashima to know, but unnecessary and distracting for us. Kodansha also isn't quite holding their end of the bargain with this volume, as there are a few typographical errors and some longer passages are awkwardly phrased. Neither of these issues can fully take away from the overall excitement that permeates the pages, however.
There is no cessation of action in this installment, and character motivations are high. The emotional turmoil of Mirajane, Juvia, and Freed are easily felt by the readers and both Lucy and Erza kick impressive amounts of bad guy butt. With Natsu finally getting into the game at the end, there's a good chance that volume fifteen won't drop the ball that fourteen has set in motion.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Great action, good emotional motivations for the characters, art that really moves.
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