Review for Fairy Tail: Collection 1
A couple of years ago, Fairy Tail was the hottest shonen anime ticket around, the genre aimed at the mainstream, young demographic, the primetime 'toon, where a large cast of characters have adventures, get into scrapes, and succeed through superior willpower and levelling up of abilities. Think Naruto, Bleach and Dragon Ball, although Fairy Tail’s particular background was wizardry and magic. Also, its blend of action and comedy tended towards the wackiness of One Piece, rather than the po-faced intensity of Bleach. Funimation snapped up the first 48 episodes of wackiness and so did Manga Entertainment, releasing it in the UK on DVD. Then came the long wait, as Funimation did the math, worked out their sales figures and figured out whether it was worth licensing and dubbing the rest. A year later and the answer came back as positive, although for Manga Entertainment that was a delay long enough such that when Part 5 was released here last December, it was now also available on Blu-ray. You know collectors? They hate a lack of uniformity in their collections. Which is why Manga Entertainment are also going back and re-releasing those first four DVD parts on Blu-ray, although this time in two Collections rather than four Parts. You know collectors? They hate a lack of uniformity in their collections. I’ve already seen some fans choosing not to get Parts 5 and 6 on Blu-ray and instead wait for a Collection 3...
It’s good timing for me when it comes to revisiting the start of Fairy Tail, as ever since Part 5 was released, I’ve had a niggling feeling that the show just isn’t as impressive as it was when I first saw it. It could be the actual quality of the show, or it could be the new car scent has faded somewhat. I’ve been scratching my head trying to remember just why I was so enthusiastic about Parts 1-4 on DVD. This is the convenient way to answer that question.
The Kingdom of Fiore is a rather special place, a nation of some 17 million where magic exists, is commonplace, and is a commodity to be bought and sold. Those who become proficient in magic are the wizards, and together they form guilds to serve the community, or serve themselves. The most famous, and indeed the most infamous guild of them all is Fairy Tail. 17-year-old Lucy Heartfilia is a wizard, or rather she wants to be a wizard. She’s already skilled in a Celestial magic, able to summon spirits to do her bidding using Gatekeys. Her dream is to be in the most famous guild of them all, Fairy Tail, and in the port city of Hargeon, when she runs into the wizard known as Salamander, she looks as if she has found her chance. At the same time, a travelsick young wizard named Natsu, and his talking cat companion Happy come into town also looking for Salamander. It seems like destiny has brought them together.
Since I’ve already reviewed this Collection in the form of Part 1 and Part 2 on DVD, I’ll point you at those reviews for a more in depth look at the content. This review is more about whether it’s worth double-dipping. In this first collection, you get 24 episodes of Fairy Tail across 4 Blu-ray discs, two dual layer and two single as follows.
1. The Fairy Tail.
2. Fire Dragon, Monkey and Bull
3. Infiltrate the Everlue Mansion
4. Dear Kaby
5. The Wizard in Armor
6. Fairies in the Wind
7. Flame and Wind
8. The Strongest Team
9. Natsu Devours a Village
10. Natsu vs. Erza
11. The Cursed Island
12. Moon Drip
13. Natsu vs. Yuka The Wave User
14. Just Do Whatever!!
15. Eternal Magic
16. The Final Showdown on Galuna Island
18. Reach The Sky Above
20. Natsu and the Dragon Egg
21. The Phantom Lord
22. Lucy Heartfilia
23. 15 Minutes
24. To Keep From Seeing Those Tears
Blu-ray should mean sharp, crystal clear, high definition animation. Not so much with Fairy Tail though, as while the show does get a 1080p widescreen presentation at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, it’s clear that the show was animated at a lower resolution and scaled up. It looks little different from the DVD presentation, soft and with somewhat muted colours. I also get the feeling, given the odd bit of judder in pans and scrolls, particularly during the credit sequences, that it’s been converted to a progressive format from an interlaced source. What the HD presentation does offer is clarity and smoothness of character artwork, with no aliasing to speak of, and compression artefacts completely absent. And you do get a 24 fps progressive presentation, without any of the PAL speed-up or pitch correction that you would get with a PAL DVD. That alone is reason enough to opt for the Blu-ray.
The image is clear and generally very pleasant too watch. It’s a bright, lively anime, and given that it’s a long running series, the character designs are understandably simplistic, the world design not overly complex. It’s full of primary colours, and the animation itself is energetic, especially through the various spell sequences.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, and Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. You do get the added clarity and range of a lossless presentation, but it’s still pretty similar to the DVD, although I must once again reiterate that it’s at the native frame rate and without any speed-up or pitch correction.
Watching a set of episodes again for review, this time on Blu-ray, I decided to opt for the English dub, and try and make my way through to the end. I made it as far as episode 6 before I switched back to the Japanese. Fairy Tail does get a strong dub, with the actors suitably cast for the characters, and giving enthusiastic performances, adequately pitched for the material. It’s just that it’s so perky! I cannot emphasise enough how perky this is. The female actors must be all dressed in gingham, or plaid shirts with dungarees and all have twin pigtails, while the male actors must have stepped off the set of Pleasantville, with smart clothes, immaculate hair, and wholesome attitudes. And all of them must have grins plastered to their faces as they record this dub, all so assuredly happy that they must be on painkillers for the resultant face-ache. We’re talking the Stepford voice actors here! So it’s back to the equally predictable but only 1% of the perky, Japanese audio. More impressive is the show’s music, which with a pop Celtic theme supplements the show’s magical themes very well, although it is boosted by a wholesale plundering of the classical music archives. The subtitles are clear, well timed, and free of error throughout although for these earlier discs from Funimation, the subtitle font is a little thin and easily overwhelmed by noisy backgrounds.
The discs get animated menus with the show’s music playing in the background.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Yu Yu Hakusho Season 4 on Blu-ray.
On disc 1 you’ll find an audio commentary to go with the first episode. Tyler Walker (ADR Director) joins voice actors Todd Haberkorn (Natsu), Tia Ballard (Happy), and Cherami Leigh (Lucy Heartfilia) for a fairly standard Funimation yak track. Mutual back slapping, giggles and matters of lesser consequence abound.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Soul Eater Collection 2 on Blu-ray (now here’s a title worth going back for Blu-ray, Manga). You’ll also find trailers for the Hetalia movie, One Piece, Bamboo Blade, and Birdy the Mighty Decode in SD, and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Chaos;Head, and Fairy Tail Part 2 in HD. This disc also has the first two textless opening themes, and the first two textless closings.
You’ll also find the audio commentary accompanying episode 9. Tyler Walker, Todd Haberkorn, Tia Ballard, and Cherami Leigh return, and this time they are joined by Colleen Clinkenbeard (Erza). There’s a fair bit of interest in this track, as they go into the special difficulties of casting for, and dubbing a long running series, a show for which the importance of some characters may not be revealed for 50 or 60 episodes. There’s a bit of pot luck involved in getting the casting right. It does degenerate closer to the end, with the speakers talking over each other, and the inevitable giggles, but the first fifteen minutes is definitely worth listening to.
After autoplaying a trailer for Dragon Ball Z, the 2nd Level Set (the only place you’ll actually get to see that show in decent, unmarred HD, as Funimation cancelled that restoration and opted for the plastic DNR wasteland of a widescreen version instead), the third disc gets an audio commentary to accompany episode 15. In it, ADR Director Tyler Walker and voice of Gray Fullbuster, Newton Pitman get together to chat about the show, and the character and plot development. I think this is the first audio commentary I have ever heard that features a live music performance as well.
Disc 3 also has an audio commentary that accompanies episode 19, and Monica Rial (writer and voice of Mirajane), Tia Ballard (Happy), and Colleen Clinkenbeard (Erza), join Tyler Walker to talk about the bodyswap episode, and the fun, and difficulty in assuming each other’s characters for the duration.
Disc 4 has the textless credits, and trailers for Hetalia World Series, Birdy the Mighty Decode, Gun X Sword, Kaze no Stigma, Nabari no Ou in SD, and Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings and Fairy Tail Part 3 in HD. Incidentally, the disc autoplays with a trailer for Yu Yu Hakusho Season 4 again.
It turns out that it isn’t just me. There is a distinct drop off in quality in the more recent episodes of Fairy Tail. I hope that it can get back to the standards of these episodes, and the episodes yet to come in Collection 2. My second time watching them, I find quite understandably that little has changed in my opinion, with the show starting off in a fairly mundane manner like any other long running shonen saga, and once again the first major arc in the show, the Eisenwald story fails to impress with its slow pace, uninteresting foes, and lack of emotional resonance. But everything after that in terms of story is a joy, well-written, character-focused, and finding the ideal balance between action, drama, comedy, and heart. At this point, especially with the Phantom Lord arc and the Galuna Island arc, the show is just pitch perfect.
This second time around, I also realise that with Parts 5 and 6 which have been most recently released in the UK, Fairy Tail has lost some of its heart, the writing isn’t as tight, and the comedy most certainly isn’t as sharp. The number of times I was moved to laughter in these first 24 episodes, even watching for the second time, wholly overshadows where the series is now. I also noticed that these early episodes had a far greater prevalence of classical music mixed up with contemporary themes, a quirk that made the show feel quite individual, and again that’s something that has been lost in the more recent episodes to come to the UK. These opening 24 episodes of Fairy Tail are really strong entertainment, and so are the next 24 episodes, which will be re-released here on Blu-ray in due course, and in that respect they are recommended.
But should you double dip? If it was just a case of visuals alone, I’d say no, as this is a show that was obviously up-scaled from a lower resolution source, probably around 540 lines of animation. That’s an improvement over the NTSC’s 480 lines, but you’re not going to see a lot of difference, except maybe in compression over PAL’s 576 lines. It’s not the greatest of transfers either, lacking the smoothness of 24fps sourced material. The subtitles too are on the thin and occasionally obscured side, something remedied in the more recent releases. But, you do get the show at the correct frame rate, and if music and audio is a bugbear for you, then you will appreciate hearing the audio without pitch alteration or correction due to PAL speed-up. Of course if you’ve started buying Fairy Tail on Blu-ray with Part 5, you’ll want your spines and your collection to match. Fans and collectors can be a little obsessive. The decision is yours of course. Fairy Tail kicks off (again) on a strong note, and if shonen anime is your genre of choice, then this is a show that you don’t want to miss.