The previous volume of Fairy Tail raised suspicions that the spell was broken on me: more David Blaine then Dynamo. Luckily Volume 4 proves that the wizards have still got it.
Continuing on our heroes are making their way through the Tower of Heaven, an evil structure constructed by Erza’s former friend Jellal. The story picks up steam again by returning focus to Erza as opposed to the various other involved characters.
With most of her backstory delivered in the previous volume, it’s now time to see how she reconciles that with the present. Jellal himself makes this situation murkier: What do you when the person you love is possessed by evil and tries to ruin your life as a result?
The writing for Jellal is such that you’re intentionally never quite sure if he’s a grand puppetmaster or a hard-wired vessel carrying out his programming. The basic premise of his conflict with Erza has become pretty clichéd stuff, so it’s great to see the story shake it up and play with audience expectations.
One thing that doesn’t work so well is the reveal of just how he got away with building the Tower. We learned last time that he supposedly had a twin brother in the council who was working to stop him, but the truth is not only obvious but overly complex, reminding me of the likewise pointless doppelganger plot twist in Martial Hearts. How is Erza the only one who has questioned it when ‘The evil guy building a reincarnation tower is, uh, my twin brother!’ is even his public cover story?
Erza’s side of things is quite empowering. Her backstory last time ended on the depressing note that her escape from the Tower was really another form of imprisonment, so it’s welcome to see she’d actually been opposing that fate all along. He armour-equipping magic even becomes suitable symbolism for how she’s kept a front to block out others and protect herself, an admittance of which comes as a natural conclusion to the thawing she’s undergone across the previous arcs. Although said previous arcs have all provided character development for the focus character, Erza’s is the only one thus far that has felt foreshadowed and essential to the character moving forward.
The next arc sees guild master Makarov’s grandson Laxus finally make his move. Laxus has had brief appearances in each arc thus far, establishing him as a powerful S-Class Fairy Tail wizard who nonetheless seems to loathe his own guild and its members. His solution is to engineer the ‘Battle of Fairy Tail’, a city-wide contest where the members of the guild are forced to fight one another by the rules of magical barriers. A tournament arc is usually an inevitability in a shonen, show but this is quite a fresh take on the concept. It also provides a break from the staging of previous arcs where the cast were always running around some enemy fortress.
One very awkward component of this arc is the addition of Gajeel to Fairy Tail’s ranks. After serving as a second-in-command villain in the Phantom Lord arc and doing some very despicable things in that role, it’s quite difficult to see him join up and then be portrayed as a good-hearted guy. The worst of this is his interactions with Levy, the female wizard he beat up and publicly crucified to issue Phantom Lord’s challenge to Fairy Tail. Seeing her whimper that she doesn’t want anyone in the guild to give him a hard time over it is one of those awkward times when shonen seems to forget that actions have consequences. A series like Dragon Ball Z is already sufficiently over the top enough that things like the once feared Vegeta becoming Goku’s best friend can pass. Accepting Gajeel when he physically abused two prominent members of the female cast just for fun is much more difficult to accept and Levy’s response to it only makes it worse, and is not helped by the hints this is the start of a romance.
Laxus himself is equally mixed though he edges generally closer to positive. There have been various hints that he adored his grandfather as a child, so the question of what brutally changed that is quite pertinent. Obviously his whole scheme to cleanse the guild means he’s the exact opposite of the perfect leader he believes himself to be, but the show thankfully doesn’t keep banging on about that fact and allows it instead to be communicated by his actions. Also the roots of his hubris are explored in a way that are actually sympathetic.
Unfortunately the reveal of where his power comes from feels at odds with the established mythology thus far, and the resolution to his actions feels lacking, even though it does explore the divide between family and duty.
We also learn that a subtle piece of common Fairy Tail etiquette is tied to him, and the reveal is quite emotional, even if it does seem to rip off an iconic moment from One Piece. This moment, if not the arc as a whole, really highlights that the theme of the show thus far has been about the growth from child to adult and the hardships that must be faced along the way.
The pair of dub cast commentaries continue to be great extras, offering more insight into the reality of bringing the show to Western audiences. It’s genuinely impressive to hear just how much work goes into translating the show, including attempting to avoid the pitfall of altering something that will become a key plot point much later. Unlike some of their other releases, FUNimation have done a great job assembling a team who want to localise the title whilst still retaining its unique identity. There’s of course also clean versions of the current opening and ending animation.
After a rough patch last time, Fairy Tail proves its appeal wasn’t mere illusion. This volume manages to provide strong character drama and the cliché bucks that had previously impressed. Whilst the last episode on the set could serve as a suitable conclusion for an adaptation, there’s thankfully more to come.
Fairy Tail 4 (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.