Instead of Ultear,
You know what would’ve been a decent–no, amazing–alternative to Ultear being revealed as the one behind Jellal’s brainwashing instead of Zeref? Brain.
Because unlike Ultear, Brain was not a villain who was going to be redeemed and he did not have a tragic backstory cushion to fall on. He is up there with Hades and Mard Geer when it comes to villainy, and literally has an even more evil personality that wants to blow up the world hiding inside him. Brain was already behind Ultear’s own path down to darkness, so I have no trouble at all believing that he’d happily run a slave tower full of children.
In fact, it would also fix a lot of problems with that slave tower and the Oracion Seis themselves. We know Brain was looking for kids who would grow up to be suitably strong wizards to use as keys for his Six Prayers body link spell to seal Zero with. A while ago, I made a post specifically detailing how badly Jellal fit into the Nirvana Arc. Putting Brain behind the brainwashing of Jellal fixes the following problems:
- Why the slave tower was being run. While initially being used by Zeref cultists to resurrect him, I repeat, we know Brain was looking through the children in that tower to find keys for the body link spell. When Ultear gives the reasons behind the brainwashing, we’re given a vague and undefined “yeah we found a key to revive zeref by doing this” thing that very unsatisfactorily explains why she would waste an entire 10 years running a slave tower for no discernable reason and renting out a chunk of her magic to Jellal. Brain’s explanation is much more clear-cut and really, it’s all he needs.
- The immensely bipolar and insane actions of Jellal while possessed; sometimes he’s cool and calculating and likes playing with his opponents, like Brain, and sometimes he’s a laughing lunatic who will blow up his hard-earned Tower of Heaven just to kill Natsu and Erza, like Zero. Let’s say that Brain was possessing Jellal in order to seal away Zero in another person while he was still looking for keys to do it properly. The calculating, chilling Jellal is Jellal when Brain is in control, and the insane Jellal is Jellal when Zero is in control.
- Why Jellal didn’t blow up Brain when Brain tutored him in Destruction Circles. In-story, Destruction Circles are only used one time, which is for Jellal to blow up Nirvana and then himself, which both fail. They’re also hastily given an explanation in why Brain can undo them: because he’s the one who invented them and personally instructed Jellal in their use. However, this takes a different, retroactive turn when Ultear is revealed as the one in control. We know Brain spent weeks torturing her as a child, creating part of her tragic backstory. You would think that an Ultear-controlled Jellal would immediately recognize Brain and blow him to kingdome come in rage. With Brain being the one in control, this problem is not present.
- How Brain knew where to find Jellal. Why, exactly, does Brain need Jellal to find Nirvana? Answer: he doesn’t. How, exactly, did Brain know where to find Jellal’s assumed-atomized body? Answer: he shouldn’t. With the current story, this just comes off as Mashima determinedly jamming Jellal back into the story at literally the worst time with no logical explanations whatsoever. However, if Brain is the one possessing Jellal, it obviously makes sense that Brain would know where to look to find Jellal’s body.
- Jellal’s amnesia. In-story, this is a very poorly-used and convenient device to absolve Jellal of his wrongdoings by wiping his mental slate clean and reverting him to Good Pure Jellal. It’s got a lot of holes in it that are never explained, such as how Jellal can still use magic that isn’t his, how Jellal can use magic he learned while possessed, and Jellal very conveniently hearing a “voice” in his head that told him “I must find Nirvana”. This becomes better explained with Brain in control: Brain is still actively possessing him in the Nirvana arc.
- Why Cobra couldn’t hear Jellal’s thoughts at first. In the same instance as the amnesia coming into play, Cobra is for some reason unable to hear Jellal’s thoughts in order to (badly) preserve the tension. This doesn’t really make sense, because memories and active thoughts aren’t the same thing. However, we can deduce that Cobra couldn’t hear Brain’s thoughts either, because as detailed here, he was shocked when Brain stabbed him in the back and took it pretty damn hard. If Brain knew how to hide his thoughts from Cobra, it makes sense he’d know how to also hide Jellal’s thoughts from him, too.
- The Oracion Seis being willing to work with Jellal. In canon, the Seis have no clue that Jellal was possessed and only know him as a monstrous lunatic that terrorized their childhoods. Which is why it makes no sense that, when Brain brings them Jellal in a coffin, they seem pleased at the idea of his resurrection and willing to work with him–they should hate him and want Jellal to stay dead to the point of mutiny. If Brain is the one controlling Jellal, then it makes sense that they’d be okay with this–they’re in on the brainwashing plot. It would also make it a decent catharsis when Jellal later pulverizes them in the Tartaros arc and gets confronted with the Zero illusion, instead of Jellal being a horrible tyrant beating down and enslaving the people whose childhoods he ruined to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t really like that one, since I prefer the Oracion Seis as the anti-villains they are, instead of complete monsters like Brain. So instead, you could also have Jellal walk up to Brain’s corpse and be relieved that he’s dead, stating that he owes Cobra and the Seis, explaining that Brain was the one behind his possession and wants to work with them, or something along those lines.
- The source of Jellal’s brainwashing feels genuine, and not just there to give him an out by turning another character into a scapegoat. I’ve already said before that I heavily suspect why Ultear was made the one behind Jellal’s brainwashing last-minute: because fans weren’t on Jellal’s side yet and still didn’t like him, so Mashima turned the blame onto another villain so Jellal could be redeemed–much like he turned Acnologia into the new overarching villain when he decided he wanted Zeref to be a tragic, redeemable villain. However, he should have been more careful with it. He decided in that same arc that he wanted to redeem Ultear Milkovich, and so we have Ultear, with her suitably tragic backstory, being the one behind another character’s entire set of crimes despite being on the heroes’ side now. That slave tower was run for 10 years and many atrocities were committed that stripped hundreds of innocent children of not only their bodily health, but their mental health, and people died. In doing this, Mashima is breaking a basic rule of drama, as established by Aristotle: do not show a bad man (villain) coming to a good end. What I’m saying is that by stacking Jellal’s crimes onto Ultear’s already heavy ones, her sins become completely unforgivable and she looks like a monster, no matter how sad her story is. This would be okay if Ultear were Brain, a remorseless villain who has been shown willing to brainwash, torture, and manipulate people as he pleases and who is a complete monster as is already established. But Ultear became a redeemed villain. The Tower of Heaven is a crime worthy of death–death by execution, not death by self-sacrifice or suicide. This would make it, again, amazing catharsis when Cobra kills Brain–he was the one behind not only Jellal’s suffering, but the Seis’ as well, and he then gets exactly what he deserves. Mashima should have turned the blame onto a villain that wasn’t going to be redeemed so he wouldn’t have to deal with this atonement bullshit, and Brain was there, but instead he chose Ultear.
It also accomplishes this much for Brain himself instead of Jellal:
- It connects him to the overarching plot better. When it comes to Brain’s relevance to the story, all he’s really there to do is be a villain for the Nirvana arc; he isn’t present in the Neo-Oracion Seis for obvious reasons, and is promptly killed when he gets free from prison by the dude he backstabbed. Even the responsibility for Ultear’s childhood torture is anime-only (although I accept it as canon for this exact reason). Putting him in charge of Jellal’s brainwashing connects him to the Tower of Heaven arc, in turn connecting him personally to Jellal, Erza, the Tower of Heaven gang, and everyone else that involved. It also adds another layer to the relationship between him and the rest of the Seis: they were terrorized by Jellal until he saved them, taking them them out of the tower and teaching them their magic. In reality, he’s directly responsible for that horrible experience.
- It gives him more of a connection to Nirvana. Nirvana is, essentially, a brainwashing magic. It forcibly switches the alignments, personalities, and allegiances of anyone it affects, and is probably pretty fucking powerful since we can deduce that its original intended target was Acnologia. Brain is called Brain because of his vast intelligence collection, research, and surveillance abilities, but adding brainwashing to his arsenal would give him even more reason to pursue Nirvana: he likes control and he’s already started figuring out how to achieve it.