Review for Fairy Tail The Movie: Phoenix Priestess
You have to wonder what took them so long. Fairy Tail is in many ways a typical shonen anime, one of the long running television series that are aimed at the mainstream anime audiences in Japan and abroad. Shows like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece are the big hitters, and the anime series are just tips of their respective multimedia icebergs. When the series have multi-million audiences, the multiplexes are rarely far behind, and even before those shows get to triple figure episode counts, they’ll probably be on their second or even third feature films. Fairy Tail’s eighth boxset is coming out next month, taking us tantalisingly close to its hundredth episode, and we’re only now getting the first, and to date only feature film spun-off from the series. Actually, you might be served by waiting a little longer before watching this film. This is one of the odd cases where if this is your first exposure to the world of Fairy Tail, you might enjoy this film as a standalone more than someone who’s following the series. The film is set somewhere after episode 123 in the series run, and if you haven’t seen that far, you might be distracted by the presence of a couple of familiar faces in the movie that aren’t there at episode 96.
What should have been a pushover mission to capture the thief Geese turns out to be anything but, and Fairy Tail’s reputation for mayhem and mass-destruction is reaffirmed. The downhearted Lucy, Natsu, Erza, Wendy, and Gray, along with Happy and Charle return dejectedly, expecting a scolding from Makarov, but the head of the Fairy Tail magic guild is at the council, where rumours of ominous magic up North are causing concern. But Lucy already has a new mission. In Magnolia, she runs into the enigmatic Eclair and her mascot friend Momon. Eclair has a mysterious magical stone around her neck, but has very few memories other than a determination to have that magic dispelled, the stone destroyed. She also has an aversion to magic and wizards, but regardless, Lucy and her friends decide to help her.
It means heading North, and searching for Eclair’s past. But in the North lies the small nation of Veronica, led by Duke Cream, a man with big ambitions, and a man who possesses the other half of the magical stone, a Phoenix Stone. He wants to reunite the stones, and resurrect the Phoenix, whose blood will give him eternal life. And he’s hired the dark magical guild Carbuncle to get the other half of the stone at any cost. If the Phoenix is allowed to manifest again, it will mean disaster for the world, but as Lucy learns, preventing its resurrection, and dispelling the stones as Eclair wishes may have a higher, personal cost.
All this time, the Fairy Tail television series that we’ve been watching has been a mostly scaled-up affair on Blu-ray, soft of resolution, and exhibiting the symptoms of being converted from an interlaced format. Apparently that will be rectified in about 36 episodes or so, as the show goes native HD, but we get a heads up on what a full HD Fairy Tail looks like with the feature film. It too is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p, but the image is substantially sharper, more detailed, and defined than the television series. The animation budget is maxed out for the action that a feature film requires and deserves; the world design and backgrounds are significantly richer and complex, while the character designs remain faithfully recognisable to those from the TV series. It’s a general level up from the show, and looks fantastic, even on this single layer Blu-ray, and I didn’t even spot any significant banding this time.
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 Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The volume level is a little low on this disc, easily and obviously rectified. I went with the Japanese audio and quite naturally it matches the quality of the television series, albeit with a little more space for the action sequences, a little more complexity in the sound design. The same is true for what I sampled of the English dub, with the actors maintaining continuity with what they have created for the series. But I have to admit that I’ve been looking forward to what a theatrical feature would allow from Fairy Tail’s composer Yasuharu Takanashi, and he doesn’t disappoint, with a score that reworks some of the classic themes from the series for the grander scope, music that drives the story and prods the emotions in just the right way.
This disc looks like a reworking of the US disc to put in the Manga logo, and strip out the Funimation trailers. Otherwise we get exactly the same thing here, with the animated menu presenting the disc’s contents.
On the disc you’ll find the US Trailer, the Textless Credits, and the original Japanese trailer, all in HD.
The most meaningful extra here is the Fairy Tail The Movie, Prologue “The First Morning” which lasts 12 minutes, is presented in HD and with Japanese stereo only. It’s the OVA that was produced with the film, and tells the story of how Eclair first made friends with Momon.
The Fairy Tail Movie might just be the textbook implementation of a shonen series spin-off. It’s a standalone feature set in the series universe, it’s watchable without prior knowledge of the series, but rewards long-running fans, it has a likeable guest character that motivates the plot, it has villains that are suitably offensive, and provide a tough enough challenge for our heroes to warrant a whole bunch of big budget action set pieces, and most of the show’s familiar characters get their moment in the spotlight. On top of that, the film is short and sweet, running to just under 90 minutes. So Fairy Tail The Movie: Phoenix Priestess ticks all the boxes on the spin-off checklist.
It does more on top, telling a very engaging and interesting story, and it hits all the right emotional beats in its run time. You’ll get the usual Fairy Tail wackiness inducing several chuckles, guffaws and belly laughs, you’ll be suitably thrilled by the action, at the edge of your seat at the drama, you’ll appreciate the quieter character moments, and you’ll get the hay-fever and hockey stick in the throat that in no way means that you’ve been reduced to tears at the wilful unfairness of it all.
It’s a little difficult to add much to that, as going too deeply into the story would invite spoilers, not ideal in a film that follows a tried and trusted path to such a degree that often cynical viewers like me can predict its story with uncanny accuracy, if they choose not to suspend their disbelief. I enjoy the Fairy Tail universe so much, and this story is so well implemented, unsurprising given that it was written by Fairy Tail’s creator, Hiro Mashima, that I very quickly lost myself in its charms. If there are a couple of flaws, one would be that the apparent antagonist Duke Cream really could have done with a little more development to elevate him beyond stock villain. However his cronies, the members of the Carbuncle Guild more than fill that role. The other flaw is a mark of the film’s success, something I saw in the first Bleach movie, Memories of Nobody. That too created in its guest character someone so likeable, so well-dimensioned, and so interesting that you wanted her to escape from the confines of the stand-alone format. I want to see more of Eclair in the Fairy Tail universe, I want to see her join the guild, to have adventures with Lucy, Natsu and the others, and merely one short prequel OVA is not enough.
It goes without saying that if you’re a Fairy Tail fan that you’ll have to own this film. But if you’re looking for some reliable entertainment and haven’t seen Fairy Tail before, then this film is still good to go. While it does help, you don’t need to have seen the series or read the manga to get some enjoyment out of Phoenix Priestess. It’s as accomplished and as polished as a movie spin-off from an anime series can be, putting most of the Naruto movies to shame, and up there with the first Bleach movie. But it also has enough individuality, spark, and originality to make it more than just a ‘by the numbers’ spin-off.