And so it begins! With a boom and a rumble. Fairy Tail’s Tartarus arc has begun, and the opening act has already exceeded any expectations I had for it. If THIS is how the story starts, then I can only imagine what comes afterwards. In contrast to the last arc, where every episode had a core moment or an interesting scene that stole the show, this episode featured epic moment after epic moment, Each one topping the preceding one with a flare and excitement that is just… Beyond anything that Fairy Tail’s done before.
Its with this episode, that I actually realized how long we’ve been at a bit of a stand still in terms of actual story progression. With one episode, the series has gotten the ball rolling again, and at a rather scary velocity at that. An interesting thing to note is the episode title itself, which is prefaced by a “Tartarus Arc Prologue” bit before the actual title. This gives me the impression that the story is actually going to be in two or more phases, and the first phase is merely setup for the conflict.
But… You know, something’s being done right when the setup is this engaging. It hardly feels like setup at all. In the past, I’ve often been able to say stuff like “Not bad for a setup episode” or “the story’s still in setup mode”, but My God! Those words would fall flat when trying to describe what we saw here. Beyond just being intensely gripping and exciting, what makes this episode truly special is that it breaks a few trends that are common not only in the series, but in the shounen battle manga genre itself.
The first of those major trends is character death. Death in a series like Fairy Tail is rare, saved for only very special occasions or pivotal moments in the story. And even then, we’ve rarely seen a true, shocking death happen. We saw it a bit with Gray’s sudden death in the Grand Magic Games Arc, but that was quickly reversed. And then Ultear was for all intents and purposes killed off but it was the whole “She grew old and lived out the rest of her days” kind of thing. As I mentioned in the episode where Gray kicked the bucket, death rarely happens peacefully or with any kind of build up. Death is sudden, unexpected and unkind most of the time.
And man! Did Fairy Tail nail the idea of “death” in this episode. In the recent story arcs, while there’s been a sense of danger and high stakes, it always felt like if Fairy Tail failed, there were other entities around to save the day. So how then, do you raise the stakes to dangerous levels in a world where Fairy Tail is but one of the many big guilds? Well… You start by obliterating the governing body of all those guilds, the Magic Council itself!
Talk about starting off the arc with a bang! Or a “Boom!” in this case (XD). In one fell swoop, the dark guild Tartarus has established itself as a real force to be reckoned with. The move? Send just ONE of their members to take out the entire council.
The member in question turns out to be a fellow named Jackal, and he’s the second of the Nine Demon Gates that we’ve seen so far. Calling him exceedingly powerful is an understatement. His power seems to be in explosions, which, given today’s rather realistic fear of terrorism and bombings throughout the world, is a pretty potent device. Mashima-sensei, as a writer and a mangaka, is definitely going places he hasn’t gone before.
I mean, we come back to and see Doranbalt as the sole survivor in the aftermath of the explosion. Most of the council is killed off in the initial explosion, so he pretty much failed in his job to protect them. Then he has to lie helplessly on the floor and watch as Jackal kills the last surviving council member right in front of him. And that’s not even the worst part of the whole ordeal.
Before the explosion, Doranbalt and his friend and colleague Lahar (the rather uptight dude with the glasses) are chatting about things like its any other day. And then… Boom! Suddenly an explosion happens and when Doranbalt wakes up, Lahar is dead. There’s no fanfare, no dying monologue, no last words of a true friend. Lahar’s just dead, and all we even see is his crushed glasses and his lifeless body. THAT Is death, or at least one of the most realistic portrayals of it. Fairy Tail, Mashima-sensei and the anime production staff just nail it here.
It works because we’ve seen Lahar a bunch of times before, we have some form of attachment to the character, and more importantly, we realize how important he is to Doranbalt at least. And then we see this. The death of the Magic Council serves as an important point in the story, one where the entire Guild world loses its operating nexus but… Lahar’s death provides the emotional side to the event, the one that makes it hit close to home. And all of that is well… Just brilliant. If there was a point where I’d save Mashima-sensei has outdone himself and leveled up, well then this scene was definitely it.
And yet, what becomes the increasingly common theme as the episode goes on is that there’s always more. All of this happens before we even hit the halfway point for the episode! Talk about a huge divergence from what we’ve been seeing from the series lately in terms of content and pacing.
Another thing that makes Fairy Tail a sort of trend breaker is how directly things in this arc play off of what happened before. We don’t pickup months or weeks after what happened in the last arc, to the point where the events of said arc are moot. No, its probably a few days afterwards, and things from the last arc are definitely having an impact.
Erza’s report to Makarov about Minerva, for example, is beautiful setup for the big news that Fairy Tail gets a few moments later. The irony of it all! Makarov suggests that they report the whole Minerva thing to the council, all the while news is coming right to him that the council just got annihilated. But forget that, lets talk about how Natsu’s little question about E.N.D comes into play into the larger story.
Now… Understandably, Natsu is more than a little curious about E.N.D because it relates to Igneel. E.N.D is related to Tartarus, and it seems that E.N.D is one of Zeref’s more powerful demons. So it seems pretty plain that Natsu will need to face off against Tartarus to get some answers, as it seems like Tartarus seems to have one of Zeref’s demons at their disposal…
Except, its a lot more than that. When we actually arrive at the whole topic of Tartarus is, things get blown out of the water. Its with Doranbalt and his visit to Cobra, that we get a little nugget of information that has HUGE ramifications. Cobra lets it be known that not just E.N.D but every core member of Tartarus is not human. Every ONE of them is a frigging Demon of Zeref.
Let that sink in for a second… Something on a scale that’s stronger that Deliora, a monster that Gray’s mentor had to give her life to destroy, is just one member of a Dark Guild. There’s at least nine of them, and the strongest one of them, E.N.D, the one that Igneel, a friggin Dragon couldn’t kill, is the Guild Master.
Fairy Tail… Is… So… SCREWED. Raising the stakes? The new threat that Fairy Tail’s on a collision course with is on a level that we haven’t seen before. Mashima-sensei didn’t just raise the stakes, he brought the whole story onto another level entirely. And the brilliance isn’t just in the big, plot moving elements either, its in the little things too.
Why would Tartarus suddenly begin to move? Well, because Zeref told them to. Its with the rise and change in Zeref’s motivations that things are beginning to move towards complete chaos. And How did Zeref stop his whole isolation thing and start aiming to destroy the world? Well, a certain guild went to the Tenroujima Island and rant into him and Arcnologia, while battling a certain Dark Guild who’s Guild Master had ties to them.
Yeah, All of those old, beloved arcs that happened a while ago? They build towards this. I’m not sure if this was always the end game, but it feels like it was intricately planned out. The way all the little plot threads flow into the current arc is so organic, so natural. Its storytelling at its finest, and its storytelling that both surprises and amazes you.
But wait… That isn’t all that happens in the episode either. You’d think that the story’s done enough to hook you, and that the episode’s about to end. But then, we go over to Yahima san’s restraunt “8 Island”. Yajima’s the retired Magic Council member who always had a soft spot for Fairy Tail, and recently opened a restaurant. Said restaurant has been the place of many a filler episode or funny moment. And its here that the next epic thing happens.
It seems that Tartarus isn’t just satisfied with taking out the current Magic Council, its after the previous members as well. So Yajima gets attacked, his entire restaurant demolished in seconds by a tornado. Again, there’s another real world feel taking form in becoming a power for the villains. Tornados, natural disasters, that’s another real world problem that people run into. Hurricanes, Tsunamis, Earth Quakes e.t.c, and one of the members of Tartarus has similar powers at his disposal.
Although the dude says he has no name, I’m assuming he’s the one everyone else at Tartarus calls Tempesta. And yes! Before I forget, we get a quick look at most of the members of Tartarus as well, as if the episode didn’t have enough packed in it already. I don’t really have any opinions on all the Tartarus characters yet, beyond the fact that they have really varied and outlandish character designs that are very anamorphic in nature. I’ll comment on them properly when they take center stage in the coming episodes.
But back to Yajima and Tempesta. So like before, the show takes a two pronged approach to the event. Yajima being attacked is a pretty significant thing in itself; its important to the plot and its actually got an emotional element to it too. But Mashima-sensei isn’t satisfied with just that, and brings it up a notch. The Laxus gang, or the Rajin Tribe as we know them, are actually over at the 8 Island Restaurant when the attack happens.
Again, it establishes just how powerful Tartarus is when Freed, Bickslow and Evergreen can do nothing but get bounced around by Tempesta as they try to defend Yajima. And when it looks like Yajima’s on death’s door? Cue Laxus to jump in with another one of his cool entrances.
That’s Laxus’s thing at this point. You know he’s coming, you know he’s going to make it in the nick of time, but you still love it when it happens. Laxus interrupts Tempesta’s attack, and then burns him a new tan too. And thus, the first battle of the arc begins, without wasting a second.
That’s the final thing, the trend that action and story setup have to be like peaks and valleys in the entertainment graph of a show. Nope, Fairy Tail is handling the setup to the story with an epic battle.
As a fan of the series and franchise, who’s been more than a little disappointed for the majority of this show’s run since it returned, this episode washed away all that bad taste and renewed my genuine excitement for it all. I’m pumped, I’m excited and I don’t think I could’ve expected a better opening episode for an arc. All in all, as you can see at the top, this is an A+ Grade episode, in that it does everything right.
If we get this, week for week, for the foreseeable future, well I’m not sure what will happen. Fairy Tail has long been a personal favorite of mine as a shounen series, but I’m daring to hope that it might as well become a series that is undisputedly in the very top echelon of the shounen genre. With episodes like this, its very possible.
Seems like we’re going to get into the battle between Laxus and Tempesta, and things are already looking tough for the Lightning Dragon Slayer. The next episode is also called “Tartarus Arc (Prologue)”, so it seems like the prologue is going to be a decent chunk of the overall story.
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