by Rebecca Silverman,

Fairy Tail

GN 53

Fairy Tail GN 53
Fairy Tail's greatest secret is about to be revealed in light of Zeref's impending invasion in his guise as Emperor Spriggan of the Alvarez Empire: the truth behind First Master Mavis. Her story intertwines with Zeref's one hundred years in the past, but will it be enough to help the guild fend off the invasion of Zeref's most powerful wizards?

Spoiler Warning for Fairy Tail Zero

True Love: for thousands of years of folklore, it has been upheld as the ultimate power, and even in today's fiction it occupies a mythic place in terms of what is Right and Good. True Love's Kiss is the greatest weapon against the forces of darkness and even death, an idea hammered home by Disney's saturation of pop culture's fairy tales. But what if it didn't fix everything? What if what was True Love's Kiss to one half of the couple wasn't for the other? It may seem like an odd question to bring up in connection with Hiro Mashima's shounen action series Fairy Tail, but nevertheless it plays a major role in the start of the Alvarez Arc and in the story of Fairy Tail's origins.

This fifty-third volume of the series is where it “crosses over” with Fairy Tail Zero, and Mashima provides a two chapter overview of the prequel series' salient points. As you can guess from the cover, that has to do with the relationship between Zeref and Mavis, and in it Mashima delves more into the idea of fairy tales themselves as the story takes on curses and their cures. At the heart of the Alvarez Arc, which is already shaping up to be much more intense than any previous, is the romance between Fairy Tail's first master and their current nemesis, which has themes linking it to romantic folklore and the fabled power of love. Zeref's goal in conquering the eastern continent is only nominally to gain more power – what he's really after is the secret in Fairy Tail's basement, the lacrima containing Mavis' preserved body, known as Fairy Heart. This name is symbolic of Zeref's and Mavis' relationship in the past, as Mavis' heart is something Zeref yearned for but never really had. It is here that we see Mashima's interesting take on the power of True Love's Kiss as the ultimate spell-breaker: in the past, he “cured” Mavis of the curse of immortality when he confessed his love for her and kissed her. The cure, of course, was her death, and when we look at it as part of a folkloric spell, the implication is that while Zeref may have loved Mavis with all of his heart, part of hers was occupied with her guild, and therefore her kiss did not have the same effect on his curse. Thus Mavis was freed while Zeref was forced to live on, his love for Mavis turning to ash in his mouth if not his heart. We don't know why Zeref so desperately wants her “Heart,” but his claims that it is strictly for the lacrima's power ring a little false when we consider the past.

The idea of love and romantic relationships is actually fairly prevalent throughout this volume. Gray promises Juvia an answer after the battle (although that could just be in part to get her to stop bothering him; his exact phrase is “So let me focus”), Natsu is drawn falling suggestively on Lucy much more frequently, and, if you look closely, when the Empire lands in Magnolia, Levy and Gajeel are very clearly in the same bed, just drawn in different panels. (Look at the blanket for your hint.) All of this also points to Zeref's (former?) love for Mavis being a major motivating factor and introduces the idea of romance into the story in a way we really haven't seen before, Bisca and Alzack aside, although Erza and Jellal have had their moments. What this will do in terms of driving the fight against the grossly overpowered Alvarez Empire is as yet unclear, but I will be surprised if it doesn't have some effect.

The majority of this volume is used to set up the start of the battle, going only so far as to pair off opponents before the book ends while proving that yes, anyone can apparently get into Lucy's apartment. The flashback to what will be expanded into Fairy Tail Zero only lasts for two and a half chapters, but they are some of the strongest, providing answers and setting up future issues in a bittersweet style. The first chapter completes the escape storyline from the previous volume, and if you're a Laxus fan, this is a great chapter. Even if he isn't your favorite character, Mashima does a good job of building tension only to blow it away with one fell swoop, and the release from the tension is palpable. The rest of the volume is the set up, and while it isn't particularly exciting, it does provide a fair amount of character development, including Wendy's and Erza's relationship, which hasn't really been explored before. While Mashima does get carried away in terms of the women's figures, for the most part his art remains appealing with clear, clean lines and a little more variation in terms of character and clothing designs. Backgrounds can feel a little sparse with new villain Ajeel's desert powers, but when he's not present, things are as nicely detailed as always.

Every series has to go through its dark hours, and Fairy Tail appears to have hit them. Mashima's decision to imbue them with the specter of fairy tale love and its mythic powers along with the more prosaic shounen forces of “really strong evil” gives this volume at least an edge, and I hope to see him continue to play with it. This may be the final chance to take down Zeref, and to do so they will have to truly understand all of the reasons he wants Mavis' lacrima. This may be that rare moment that Natsu can't just punch and burn his way out of the situation – let's see how well Fairy Tail's bonds can carry the day.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ Backstory adds depth to Zeref as a character and plays with the idea of “true love” and its kiss as curse-breaking powerhouses. New characters show a bit more variety in their designs, mix of character development and action.
Art drops in quality every so often, especially during Ajeel scenes. Do we really now have both “Ajeel” and “Gajeel” as characters? More set up than action, which won't work for all readers.

Story & Art: Hiro Mashima

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