Review for Fairy Tail: Part 1
I always get a sinking feeling when an anime distributor announces a long series for release. There are plenty of them to be had, mainstays of the Japanese broadcast schedules in the way that The Simpsons has managed it in the West. The problem is that in the UK at least, only two such series have managed to find the legs to carry on, only Naruto and Bleach have managed the success to keep them as ongoing and successful properties for Manga Entertainment. I guess the fanbase isn't there to support too many titles, certainly not in the same way as Japan. But the problem here hasn't always been the UK fanbase, although it was enough to scupper shows like Yu Yu Hakusho, Sailor Moon, and Inuyasha in the past. The problem for Manga Entertainment when they try and release a longer show has been the US fans. In the past, they've set about releasing shows like MAR, and Blue Dragon, only for US sales to be so disappointing that the US licensors cancelled the release. No US release, means no dub, which means no one in Australia will sub-licence it and create PAL masters, which means no one in the UK will ever get to see the end of it, hence my sinking feeling at the advent of another long show.
Perhaps Manga just has bad luck with the shows that it chooses to license, as Dragonball Z is Funimation's biggest success, but is yet to be released here (it's been so long that we've probably missed the boat on that one), and the US also gets One Piece and Case Closed, two shows that ought to approach and even exceed Naruto and Bleach in popularity. With their latest acquisition, they hope to do just that, as they bring Fairy Tail to the UK. Once again, it's 'heart in the throat, fingers crossed' time, as while the series has reached 120 episodes and more in Japan, Funimation in the US have only licensed and dubbed the first 48 episodes. The last time they did that was with D. Gray-Man, which Manga also released here. Half the series was licensed and dubbed, but when it came to the second half, Funimation chose not to acquire it and another show was left in limbo. So... not only do we have to hope that the UK Fairy Tail discs sell well, we have to hope the same for the Australian releases for the sake of the PAL masters, and the US discs for the sake of the dub. First things first, we have to hope that the show is good in the first place. On the bright side, it does seem to fill a niche that is conspicuously vacant in the UK anime scene, comedy...
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.
Manga Entertainment release the first twelve episodes of Fairy Tail across two discs. Over the episodes, Lucy will finally achieve her dream of joining Fairy Tail, only to find that it isn't exactly what she expected. She'll take on her first job for the guild of finding and destroying a certain book in a rich pervert's mansion, then team up with Fairy Tail's strongest wizard Erza, and Natsu's sworn rival Gray, to investigate the Eisenwald Dark Guild and the mysterious Lullaby magic. Finally, breaking all the rules of the guild, Natsu and Lucy take on an S-Class mission to rid an island of a horrifying curse.
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
Fairy Tail gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, which courtesy of Australia's Madman Entertainment is a native PAL conversion, with the 4% speedup that implies. The image is clear and sharp throughout, free of any obvious compression signs, 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. As each of the spells has a special move, and the characters calling out the name of each one, you can expect a fair bit of repetition of the expensive, CG enhanced spell, summoning, and transformation sequences, but it hasn't yet gotten tiresome in these twelve episodes.
You have the choice between DD 5.1 Surround English, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I sampled the English dub, and found it to be a typical anime comedy dub, high pitched female voices, and loudness and manic intensity substituting for humour. My preference as always was for the Japanese audio track with the subtitles. It too is adequate, although one slight point of annoyance for some may be the lead character of Lucy played by Aya Hirano, who simply supplies another variation of her stock Haruhi Suzumiya tsundere voice. Otherwise it's a fairly run of the mill audio track, playing the show for laughs, with little yet to stretch the characters. 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.
The discs get static menus with the show's music playing in the background.
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 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.
Of late there has been a lot of noise about Dragonball Z, and the expectations are rife that it is coming to the UK, the biggest anime phenomenon of the nineties, a shonen action series compared to which Naruto is a drop in the ocean. Fans are excited, media watchers are poised, and there is an anticipation for the show which is incalculable. It's an anticipation which is wholly misplaced in my opinion. Dragonball Z is 20 years old; it was made for a wholly different audience, with different sensibilities and pop culture values. Its release will be a nostalgia-fest for certain, but anime has to look forward to stay relevant. In comparison to the Dragonball rumour mill, the more definite release of Fairy Tail has been completely understated; it's come out practically under the radar. Yet in every possible way, Fairy Tail is a much more important release for the UK anime scene, and indeed Manga Entertainment.
Naruto and Bleach may be Manga mainstays, but they are getting long in the tooth now, they've found their audiences, and have settled into a groove. Fairy Tail is the new shonen action property on the block, it's fresh, it's exciting, it's original, and it's just the thing to attract new fans to the medium. Anime has yet another new gateway drug, potentially the show that fans will be looking back to in a few years as that which got them hooked on anime. Unlike the last next big thing, D. Gray-Man, which turned out to be a damp squib even before it went on indefinite hiatus, Fairy Tail is pretty good. In fact, I'd say it's downright promising.
What makes it different from the other such properties released in the UK so far is its emphasis on comedy. The balance in other shows usually tends more to action and drama, with comedy piled on as an afterthought. In Fairy Tail, the laughs are almost central to the show, especially in these first twelve episodes. That's a particular aspect of the long-running shonen genre which has never really been tried in the UK before, although Soul Eater is a shorter example that has worked. In my opinion, there is a gap in the UK market for something like Urusei Yatsura or Gintama, and on first impressions, Fairy Tail will fit just like a glove. The advantage it has is that it's brand new, it's an ongoing property, and the style, pop culture references, and writing will appeal to new fans and old alike.
These first twelve episodes are all about setting the scene, introducing the characters, and establishing some of the ground rules of the universe, so things do get a little haphazard and fast paced at this stage. Even still, the stories are entertaining, and the show quickly draws you in, even if it is hard at this juncture to keep up with the information, and indeed character overload. The heroine of the piece is Lucy Heartfilia, and in this world of magic and wizardry, she's talented in celestial summoning. With the aid of her collection of Gatekeys, she can open the door to another dimension and call forth celestial beings to do her bidding. The more keys she collects, the more powers she will have, and it's her ambition to be in the most famous magic guild of them all, Fairy Tail. So instantly with one character, we get a whole host of others comprising her celestial contractees, including the perverted bull Taurus, a walking grandfather clock she shelters in when she's too tired to walk, the lethal hair dresser Cancer (whose catchphrase is 'shrimp'), and a limp white useless mascot animal named Ploo, among others.
Then there are all the wizards of Fairy Tail, of which there are many, beginning with the hero of the show, Natsu Dragneel. He's a fire wizard, hot of temperament, and undisciplined and uncontrollable when it comes to his magic. He was raised by the dragon Igneel, and he has been searching for his foster father. His Achilles heel is that any form of transportation gives him motion sickness. His constant companion is the talking cat Happy.
Natsu's arch rival is the ice wizard Gray Fullbuster with whom he often comes to blows. Gray has an odd habit of losing his clothes at the drop of a hat, stripping down to his shorts in the most inappropriate situations. The only wizard among Fairy Tail who can keep Gray and Natsu in line is the Armour wizard Erza Scarlet, perhaps the strongest female wizard in the guild, and whose potential rages send shivers of fear through the other guild members. As the series progresses, we get to meet the other members of the guild, including diminutive leader Makarov, guild pinup Mirajane, and the tough Laxus and many more. It's pretty hard to keep track of as in most shonen shows, but fortunately Fairy Tail quickly narrows its focus to Lucy, Natsu, Gray, Erza and Happy and lets the story develop naturally.
At this point in the show, it's all about setting up the characters, which means light, frivolous, and short storylines, running to one or two episodes at most. The first episode is a classic cross-purposed comedy, with Lucy looking to join Fairy Tail, and Natsu looking for Igneel, and both mistaking the same wrong wizard as the one that they need. Then it's an introduction to the guild in the second episode, and a quick idea as to what the guild is about when Natsu and Lucy take on a mission to find one of their missing members. Two episodes are devoted to finding and destroying an infamous book, before we get an introduction to Erza and the first semi-serious arc in the story. We learn of the dark guilds and that one such guild of wizard outcasts, Eisenwald, wants to take revenge on the rest of the wizards. Their plot and the way that Natsu, Gray, Lucy and Erza deal with it takes up the next four episodes, and it's here, during the more intense moments, that the comedy dials back a bit and things become serious. Not too serious though, and there's always an unexpected pratfall or gag waiting close by.
It's close to the end of this run of episodes that we begin to see some sort of overall arc emerging, especially around episode 10, when we meet the Magic Council, which has decided to 'punish' Erza for acting precipitously during the Eisenwald incident. One of the council members is a tattooed man named Siegrain who has a distinct history with Erza, and a whole lot of foreboding with his pronouncements. The final episodes in this collection start the Cursed Island arc, and do so in typical comic vein, but as the story unfolds, things once again get more serious, this time as we learn of Gray's past, and the decisions and mistakes he made as a trainee come back to haunt him.
I really enjoy Fairy Tail's fast pace, and its combination of wacky characters, sight gags, wisecracks, off the wall comedy and general silliness has been quite deficient in UK anime of late. Fairy Tail remedies that need. As for the story, it's early days as yet. With these first twelve episodes, we're still getting to know the characters and setting the scene. If it continues in this vein, Fairy Tail could turn out to be very special indeed. It may just be the next Naruto. That will take equal parts investment and hope. You'll have to buy the discs, and hope that the series excels in the UK market, and excels in the Australian market, and excels in the US market... Then hopefully Funimation will licence the next batch of 48 episodes and more, and dub them. It would all be much easier of Fairy Tail could get on TV, which is where such a general audience pleaser, so rich in comedy really belongs. Until that fanciful day, you'll have to make do with Youtube to try before you buy, which is where Funimation have put the subtitled streams.