Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Initially bamboozled into teaming up with hot-tempered flame-user Natsu, celestial wizard Lucy is actually looking forward to having a chance to use her feminine wiles to infiltrate the mansion of Duke Everlue. Unfortunately she reckoned without Everlue's awful taste in women, and she is forced to resort to Natsu's tactics: full-frontal assault. The book they were commissioned to destroy, however, turns out to be more than simple reading material, giving Natsu and Lucy a chance to redeem their reward without resorting to book-burning—provided they can escape Everlue's vicious, and spectacularly hideous, bodyguards. And then it's on to yet another job, as Erza—Fairy Tail's strongest and most intolerant wizard—drags an unwilling Natsu and Gray into a mission to stop an unlicensed wizard's guild from wreaking havoc with an unknown magical item. It's three of Fairy Tail's strongest (and one pathetically weak celestial wizard) against an entire guild of assassins armed with possibly-genocidal magic. Let the butt-whupping begin.
One thing that can be said for Fairy Tail's sophomore volume: it exceeds expectations. Given that the first volume smacked expectations down so hard that they could fight dust bunnies on the underside of a La-Z-Boy, that perhaps isn't the most ringing of praise, but it is something.
Hiro Mashima admits to having no idea where his manga is going. The author himself admits to his creation's aimlessness—expectations don't get much lower than that. Unless the author also seems dead-set on creating a facsimile of the work of a more famous contemporary (Eiichiro Oda watch out!), has a penchant for featherweight mission-of-the-week plots, and couldn't evoke a genuine emotion if the fate of the civilized world depended on it. Now we're hobnobbing with the dust bunnies.
This was all readily apparent last volume, and while this volume remedies none of it, it does manage to extend its stories, allowing room for the action to spread out and the stakes to rise. And thus exceed expectations. While far from enthralling, setting Natsu against villains with some actual menace and putting more than pride on the table during a fight creates actual interest, however mild—something unexpected after the jello-brained state that the last volume left one in. The extended fights showcase Mashima's skill with dynamic poses, canted angles and time-extending panels, creating battles that are fun to look at and often exciting despite their narrative flatness. He also has an eye for when to break into a fight with a little off-kilter humor (the fighting style of Lucy's celestial spirit Cancer is a kick and Happy the flying cat makes for an excellent stooge), and proves refreshingly willing to let his female characters defend themselves.
Whenever the pummeling stops, however, the manga is at a loss. Mashima's art loses the punk sensibility that gives it individuality, reverting to strict One Piece imitation, and his abysmal plotting and characterization are given free reign to hang his manga like a Texas horse thief. Watching the story hang limp and lifeless as Mashima tries to bludgeon emotion from the conclusion to the Everlue story will appeal only to sadists and masochists, both of whom probably have better ways of getting their sick kicks. While Natsu is an often frightening force when smashing faces, with no maxillae to pulverize he's little more than a short fuse with a bawdy sense of humor and a motion-sickness quirk. Lucy fares better—while no better developed, at the very least she's sympathetic—but would be a bit easier to appreciate were her cleavage (which survives even SD transformations) not quite so omnipresent.
Clocking in after a surprising amount of behind-the-scenes information and some welcome translator's notes, Del Rey's usual next-volume preview provides a tantalizing glimpse of Erza's elegant, aesthetically pleasing fighting style, which actually raises some expectations for volume three. With any luck they won't prove to be a source of disappointment, seeing as—at this point—all they consist of is a hope that the next volume will have more fighting than storytelling. Drag it out Erza!
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ When Natsu and Lucy are swatting enemies like flies, the manga almost achieves an identity of its own.
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