Yesterday, I spent a rather extraordinary amount of time discussing the significance of the “Tower Of Heaven” arc from Fairy Tail, and why is was so significant to not just Erza’s character arc, but to me as someone who lived with suicidal desires in the past.
In the aftermath of it, Erza committed herself to putting those thoughts behind her, and in fact, we do see a significant change in her character. Previously aloof and overly serious, she becomes more open when they return home. She smiles more, shares her feelings more freely, and in general, seems a happier person than she use to be. Because you will, once you begin to walk away from the dark place that drives you to have the kinds of thoughts she has.
In the following story arc, “Fighting Festival”, Makarov’s grandson, Laxus, attempts to seize control of the Guild away from his grandfather by force, aided by his closest allies, Fried, Evergreen, and Bickslow. As the fight for control of Fairy Tail starts to get away from Laxus, he implements what he calls the Thunder Palace, a spell that places hundreds of lightening crystals in the sky over the town of Magnolia, all set to go off at once, destroying much of the city and killing many. He intends it as a bluff, but after Makarov suffers a heart attack, finds he can’t back down.
Erza starts to fight Laxus, but eventually let’s Natus take over the battle as she goes to try and stop the Thunder Palace from activating. As she leaves, Natsu reminds her of her promise and Erza swears that she will not throw away the life he fought so hard to save.
True to her word, though she destroys half the lightening crystals herself, suffering the lash back, she in no way attempts to give her life, instead focusing on finding a way to stop the Thunder Palace that will allow her to survive. It’s important because, while it’s still early in her journey away from her suicidal tendencies, she is committed to it.
Later on, in the “Oracion Seis” story arc, one the three most powerful Dark Guilds in existence attempts to gain control over an ancient magic called Nirvana, that would allow them to forcibly change a person’s nature from good to evil, and vice versa. During the battle to stop the Oracieon Seis, Erza at one point is poisoned, and nearly dies. In her commitment to live, she asks Grey to cut off the infected arm to keep the poison from spreading, something he flat refuses to do. While she is saved by Wendy Marvel’s healing magic, she learns that Natsu encountered Jellal, who apparently survived the destruction of the Tower, sending Erza to confront him.
When she does, he claims to have lost his memory, unable to even recall his own name. The only thing he does remember is the name Erza. Angered by this, Erza lists his many crimes, vowing that if he has truly forgotten them, she’ll carve them into his heart. Shocked to learn what he has done with his life, for he has truly lost all his memories, Jellal collapses into tears, deciding that such a miserable, worthless life shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
Sounds familiar, don’t it? In fact, Jellal has located Nirvana and is attempting to destroy it using a magic circle of self destruction. To prevent anyone from getting the shut down code, he has placed another on himself, ready to sacrifice his own life to make up for his past deeds. He’s stopped by the leader of the Oracion Seis, and they gain control of Nirvana.
As Jellal bemoans his failure, Erza slaps him with the same truths she learned not so long ago. Living with your mistakes, with your failures, is true strength. It’s easy to die, and in so doing, escape. But to live, with both the good and the bad, that takes courage, and character. If he threw his life away, without ever trying to make right the wrongs he’d done, without ever even making an effort to atone, then he was never truly sorry for his actions.
Jellal takes this to heart, so much so, that after the defeat of the Oracion Seis and Nirvana, he willingly surrenders himself to the Magic Council for punishment. As he departs, a single memory returns to him. They day he met Erza, a girl with no last name. It was Jellal who named her Scarlet, for the color of her hair, that he might never forget her.
Later, alone, Erza mourns that again, she was so close to saving him, and failed. Unlike previously, when Jellal rejected her attempts to reach out to him, this time, it was Erza who let go, allowing the Magic Council to take him into custody. Regardless of it being his own desire, so he might atone for his crimes, she can’t help but feel she betrayed him, which ends up being a set back in her struggle.
This is most apparent in the aftermath, as Wendy, who had joined them from the Caitshelter Guild, learned that her entire Guild was not real. Her Guildmaster was the lingering spirit of the creator of Nirvana, and after a boy who looked exactly like Jellal left a young Wendy with him, him created an entire village of people to be her friends. Now that she has real friends, she doesn’t need imaginary ones anymore, and they vanish.
Wendy, devastated, is left crying, as her new friends can only watch, unsure what to do. Erza, however, knows. She has been here, lived so many years here. Kneeling behind Wendy, she rests a hand on her shoulder, comforting her, and invites her to return to Fairy Tail with them.
To come home.
In this moment, Erza is accepting that set back, and as much as she is offering comfort to Wendy, she is seeking comfort as well, not from her friends, but from another who hurts as she does. Together, they can move forward.
In the next story arc, “Edolas”, Fairy Tail finds themselves under attack from an alternate universe, as the city of Magnolia and almost the entire Guild is transported to the other world of Edolas, leaving Natsu, Wendy, Lucy and Gajeel to save the day. After traveling to the other world, Gajeel frees Grey and Erza, which is good, as there is an alternate Erza in Edolas known as the Fairy Hunter, a fierce warrior who has killed more members of the Edolas Fairy Tail than anyone.
Naturally, she and our Erza clash violently. More importantly, this calls back to what Erza said to Natsu as she sacrificed herself to the crystal back in Tower of Heaven. She didn’t know where he would be without Fairy Tail, and in Edolas, she gets a glimpse of the road she might have walked.
Much as Jellal gave himself up to the spirit of Zeref, Erza too could have surrendered herself to anger and hate. Instead, she clung to her better nature, while in Edolas, that Erza went the other way, becoming selfish and cruel. For both Erza’s, the battles they wage are about more than the stakes of the story arc, but a personal war to see which nature will win out, the dark or the light.
Ultimately, as the two exhaust the last of the magic at their disposal, reduced to punching each other, they both come to see that neither side can win out, for they are both Erza, and darkness with out light is nothing. The symbology of this is, of course, Erza coming to terms with the darkness that lives inside her, and instead of continuing to fight against it, making peace with it.
The reason I point this out is because it was also how I overcame my own suicidal tendencies. Eventually, for the good of both myself and the people I loved, I faced my own inner demons and rather than try to beat them, I accepted that they exist, and always will. Much as Erza acknowledges that she cannot beat the Edolas Erza, for they are both the true Erza, I too silenced the dark thoughts in my own head, by accepting that they were a part of me, something I can never defeat, but must accept and acknowledge, then let be silent.
I know it all sounds like a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo, and in truth, there really isn’t a good way to explain it, I guess. By acknowledging that those thoughts were real, were a part of me, they finally began to really fade away. I didn’t overcome them so much as I accepted them, made them part of who I am, and in doing so, denied them any power over me. Of course, I’m trying to explain that without getting into the source of it all, which I hope you’ll understand is something that even now, I am not eager to discuss.
What’s important here is that it is a major step in healing, and in her battle with the Edolas Erza, we see our Erza make that step.
It isn’t the final step in her healing process, though. That comes in the next story arc, Tenrou Island.
Tenrou Island is holy ground for Fairy Tail, because that’s where the Guild founder’s grave is located. Once a year, they travel there for the S Class Wizard Exam. Though several will be allowed to participate, only one can pass, and advance to take on more difficult jobs. Because she passed the S-Class exam years ago, Erza is there as an instructor.
Another of the three most powerful Dark Guilds, Grimoire Heart, has other plans, because as it turns out, Zeref didn’t die 500 years ago. He’s actually cursed with immortality, and in an attempt to remove himself from the world, he has been hiding out, most recently, on Tenrou.
Yeah. That stuff with Jellal? That was a member of Grimoire Heart screwing with his head. He takes learning that about as well as you’d think.
Anyway, Grimoire Heart attacks, lead by Master Hades, the Fairy Tail Guildmaster before Makarov. During the battles that follow, the giant tree at the heart of the island, with roots that reach down into the founders grave, is toppled by Azuma, one of the elites of Grimoire Heart. By destroying the tree, he has taken control of not just the magic of Tenrou, but the magic of everyone in Fairy Tail, and is slowly killing them.
Except Erza, who he wishes to fight one on one, to see if he is strong enough to defeat her. Mostly because Erza has a reputation for being absurdly powerful, but also because he respects her, and feels that she shouldn’t be killed without at least a chance to fight for her life. Basically, Azuma is a weird guy for a villain.
The fight is long, and at least once, he thinks he’s beaten her by unleashing his most powerful spell. Erza gets up from it, though, thinking of Jellal, and her Fairy Tail family. Determined to protect them, no matter what, she fights on, until Azuma unleashes his big spell a second time, finally overwhelming her.
Floating in the midst of it, Erza accepts defeat, and with it, death. Despite all the ground she has gained, for a moment, she slips backwards. This is to be expected, as the journey out of the dark place of suicidal thought is not easy, and often, comes with many regressions. I know I’ve had my share.
This is not the kind of death she sought, though. For her, dying to protect others was always the goal, believing that in doing so, she would prove her life to have worth. Dying here, it means everyone she loves will die with her. This is not acceptable, and to her surprise, she hears Nasu calling out to her to not give up.
It isn’t actually Natsu, but rather the magic energy that Azuma has taken control of. It’s Fairy Tail magic, and as such, flows through each one of them. It senses her suffering, and offers her a way out of the darkness gathering around her thoughts.
What it symbolizes, of course, is the friendship and love she has come to feel, and accept. Even as she slips back into her old thoughts, that love, that acceptance she has gained, is what gives her the strength to push it away, and go on living. This is the final step in overcoming her suicidal tendencies, as she is now not only accepting they are a part of her, but she is taking control of them, for her own well being, and the good of those around her.
She does this by accepting that her desires were always wrong in the first place. The idea of dying to protect others, to prove her love, to have worth, was always the wrong way of looking at things. Because she is only human, and she can not protect anyone. Rather, it was always everyone around her, her friends and family, that were protecting her, from her own darkness, from her own suicidal desires, and from circumstances that would allow her to carry through on those desires. They were protecting her by loving her, and making her hesitate at the critical moment.
Those of us who live with suicidal desires know, deep down, that we are loved. The battle is between that voice that tells us so, and the one that tells us it’s a lie. Inside our own heads, the lie is the stronger voice, often drowning out the other, driving us to acts of self harm. The goal, when trying to overcome those desires, is to learn how to listen to the voice of love, instead of the one that lies.
It takes time. For Erza, it has taken a lot of time. She’s had set backs along the way. She had doubts, and fears. But she kept to the promise she made to Natsu, that she wouldn’t throw her life away. Because she opened up, and admitted her problem, she has had someone there helping her, every step of the way. The voice, so quiet before, that assured her that her life had merit, that she was worthy to live, and be loved, became Natsu’s voice, and because she associated it with him, became louder than the lie.
Because she trusts him, above all others, to tell her not what he thinks she wants to hear, but what she needs to hear. Within the story, that is why the magic of Tenrou speaks to her in Natsu’s voice, because that is the one voice she cannot ignore. It is the once voice she trusts.
Once she accepts that voice, she finds herself surrounded by her Fairy Tail family, her loved ones, and finds the strength to live. To fight back. Crashing out of Azuma’s spell, with the full might of Fairy Tail’s magic at her back, she defeats him.
In this, Azuma is the literal representation of Erza’s desire to die. He is stronger, louder, and more powerful than her, and no matter how hard she fights, she can’t overcome him. It is only with the help of those who love her, that she manages to win out in the end, finally vanquishing her own suicidal desires. Finally being free.
I could go on about her story arc from this point, but much of it revolves around Erza trying to help others who have fallen into the same darkness she has. Which is what those of us who have come out the other side of that terrible place most often do. We know the signs, we can hear the cries, and we do all we can to reach out to others, and show them the way out of the dark.
When I was dealing with my own suicidal tendencies, I had no one to show me the way through. Somehow, I managed to limp through life until I met my girlfriend, Storm, who helped me begin the healing process, which much like Erza, started with me admitting that the problem existed. Every step of the journey I took, I see reflected in Erza’s story arc.
I think this is important to talk about, to show people, because when I was going through it, there was nothing like this out there. Nothing that showed it from the perspective of the one who was struggling with it. There were plenty of special episodes of this or that that dealt with the aftermath for those left behind, but nothing that tackled it from the perspective of the one trying to find a reason to live.
Fairy Tail, as a series, often gets overlooked by even those in the anime community, as being slightly better than the average shonen series. It goes so far beyond that, though, and I know, many of those folks have never struggled with suicide, or they would see the deeper metaphors within the show. It’s a pity to me, because this is something that could help many, if only more were willing to help it reach those people who need to see it.
We need not suffer alone, in silence. We need not end our lives, think ourselves worthless, or cover up our cries for help so no one will hear them. We do have a champion who knows our struggle, and will hold our hand through the long journey out of that terrible dark place, and into the light.
We have Erza Scarlet.
That’s why she’s a character that I think should be held up more, talked about more, and lauded more. Because she matters, in a very real way.