Review for Fairy Tail: Part 10
Sometimes distributors make odd decisions, choices that get me scratching my head. This release of Fairy Tail is a case in point. Sure, the shonen action show has its fans, and in a world of Soul Reapers, super-powered ninja, and rubber-limbed pirates, Fairy Tail’s magical adventures have carved a unique and appealing identity. But it’s been almost two years since the last Fairy Tail release, and let’s face it, Manga Entertainment didn’t just put Fairy Tail on ice when they stopped releasing it, they shot it in the head and buried the twitching corpse. They may have started releasing it on DVD, but they switched to Blu-ray halfway through, and we got eight stellar volumes of Fairy Tail, plus the feature film spin-off, all in HD. Part 9 was DVD only, and it was apparent that Manga’s heart wasn’t in it anymore at that point, for reasons I’ll point out in a minute. We’re in the middle of the Tenrou Island arc, and after a 2 year gap, Funimation are trying to resurrect the franchise, only it’s not a full on biblical resurrection, it’s a half-baked Frankenstein resurrection only. They’re releasing part 10 as DVD only for one thing.
But the real problem is that they aren’t addressing the Part 9 problem. Due to parent company issues, Manga had to release Part 9 in PAL format, and they screwed it up big time. The UK release of Fairy Tail Part 9 is a defective release. Forget the usual chaptering issues that Manga had with self-authored discs, the video transfer is hideous to the point of being unwatchable, and more importantly both the subtitle and signs tracks drift in and out of sync all through the discs. If Funimation want Fairy Tail to succeed, then that is a problem that needs fixing. They should have re-released Part 9, indeed taken the opportunity to release it on Blu-ray as well, which would have ‘enabled’ them to make this release Blu too. You might say that if anyone wants a fixed Part 9, they should just import, but if anyone did that, it is very likely they would have kept on importing. The Australian Region B Blu-rays are up to Part 21 after all... Still, after 2 years, I get to review another Fairy Tail release, and as you might guess, I have no idea what’s happening in the show at this point. I can’t even remember who half of the characters are. I should get caught up with the series, but it will be a cold day in hell before I re-watch Manga’s Part 9 release!
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 Fairy Tail, and when she meets a travelsick young wizard named Natsu, and his talking cat companion Happy, it seems like destiny has brought them together. Now Lucy has joined the Fairy Tail Guild, and with its unique roster of wizards, including Natsu, the ice wizard Gray Fullbuster, and the armour wizard Erza Scarlet, and the flying cat Happy, they undertake the toughest, the most challenging, and the weirdest of missions.
Funimation release the next twelve episodes of Fairy Tail across two discs, and we’re still in the Tenrou Island arc. It’s that time of year again for the Fairy Tail Guild members. The S-Class Wizard test is at hand, which sees eight candidates selected from the best performing wizards that year to compete for the one S-Class Wizard place on Tenrou Island, a magical place sacred to the Fairy Tail Guild. For Cana Alberona, it’s her fifth and final chance to become an S-Class wizard like Erza, Mirajane and Gildarts, but this year she’s up against the likes of Natsu, Gray, Elfman, and Juvia. Fortunately, they don’t have to face the challenge alone, and can choose one lesser wizard to be their partner. When Lucy hears Cana’s story, she volunteers to help her, but there’s a dark outside force with ominous plans in store for this year’s S-Class test.
109. Lucy Fire
110. Dead-End of Despair
111. Tears of Love and Vitality
112. The One Thing I Couldn’t Say
113. Tenrou Tree
114. Erza vs. Azuma
115. Freezing Fighting Spirit
116. Power of Life
117. Rolling Thunder
118. The Man Without an Emblem
119. Realm of the Abyss
120. Daybreak on Tenrou Island
Fairy Tail gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, progressively coded NTSC on these Funimation discs. 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. Given the number of characters, and the broader nature of the story, the repetitive nature of those spell sequences from the early episodes is a long and distant memory now. It all looks like original animation from beginning to end.
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 present their content with static menus and jacket pictures.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Karneval, and the only extra is a commentary on episode 109, featuring ADR Director Tyler Walker, Cherami Leigh (Lucy), and Bryan Massey (Kain Hikaru). It’s the typical rambunctious Funimation commentary.
On disc 2 (which autoplays with a trailer for Dragon Ball Z), there is a similar commentary for episode 119, featuring Tyler Walker, Tia Ballard (Happy), Jad Saxton (Charle), and Rick Keeling (Pantherlily).
We also get a featurette which lasts 19:12, which look at the Funimation Graphic Designer, Brand Manager, and Trailer Editor, and how their roles apply to Fairy Tail in particular.
You get the US trailer for this volume, and further trailers for Attack on Titan, Date A Live, Red Data Girl, Serial Experiments Lain, Spice and Wolf, Eureka Seven, and the Anime Classics label.
Finally there are the textless credits, two openings, and two closings, and remember to turn the subtitles off to render them truly textless.
I had forgotten just how good Fairy Tail actually is. No doubt the sour taste left by those disastrously authored Part 9 DVDs worked to put me off the whole thing, but now Part 10 is upon us, and I’m brutally reminded of why I fell in love with this show in the first place. This was yet another volume that had me gripped from beginning to end; Fairy Tail at its finest. I’ve said it before, but given that was over two years ago, it bears repeating now. Naruto might have the best story, One Piece might have the most striking characters, and delivers the most in the way of pure fun, but no long running shonen action show can grab you by the feelings the way that Fairy Tail can.
There’s one moment in Erza vs. Azuma, where the two are in the middle of a fight, with Erza feeling the responsibility for protecting her guildmates, their survival depending on her success in the battle. The usual back and forth one-upmanship ensues, and it looks like Azuma has the finishing move, unleashing a powerful and explosive spell. Erza responds, surfing a wave of magic, unleashing her own attack, and realising that it’s her guildmates who support and protect her, and you can see their faces in the surge of magic that’s behind her. Yasuharu Takanashi’s main theme swells in the background, and you swear that this is the best thing that you have ever seen.
Fairy Tail’s animation isn’t spectacular, but the animators can work wonders with the budget, time and skills that they do have to really sell an action sequence. There’s another moment where Natsu, Gray, Erza, Lucy and Wendy face off against Hades of Grimoire Heart. It’s the end boss battle that you normally get at the end of these arcs, and their first move combines all of their strengths, teamwork at its finest, an unrelenting barrage of magic that lights up the screen, shakes it to its foundations. Once again the music swells, and the fight choreography is perfectly arranged. You watch this and your heart is lifted, and you’re certain that they have laid a brutal smackdown on their foe, despite the fact that you know full well that it’s just the first move in a battle, and Hades won’t have a scratch on him.
The secret to Fairy Tail is in the writing. Shonen action shows can all do action, and some of them do emotion as well. I mean recently I was not crying, definitely not crying at the demise of a ship in One Piece, and my eyes weren’t moist in the slightest when Nami first asked Luffy for help in the Arlong Park arc. One Piece has one or two of these moments a season, Fairy Tail can manage a couple of them an episode. Hiro Mashima who writes Fairy Tail has the skill to make the action sequences emotionally relevant, and that’s where he puts the character growth as well. So more than in any other show, you’re invested in the outcome of a battle. As an aside, it doesn’t hurt that Fairy Tail’s arcs are comparatively short and sweet. By the time Bleach’s arcs had ended, I had long forgotten how they’d started.
Having said that, I don’t exactly recall much of the first half of this arc; a two year gap will defeat anyone, but where I’m vague is really on what Zeref’s role in all this is. The Tenrou Island arc began with Fairy Tail’s S-Class tests, the chance to achieve higher rank in the guild by defeating various challenges. The emotional weight was immediately introduced when it became clear that Cana thought that this was her last chance to succeed, or else she would quit the guild, and there is added weight when it’s revealed that her success at becoming an S-Class wizard means reconcilement with her estranged father. In this collection we learn who that father is, and that comes as quite a surprise.
In the middle of the test, however, the Grimoire Heart dark guild shows up. They are after Fairy Tail secrets, and Zeref, both on the island, and all to achieve their guild master Hades’ vision of a Grand Magical World. The Fairy Tail wizards are in the way, and the test falls by the wayside as they have to fight against the Grimoire Heart wizards to protect their sacred guild island. And to make things more complicated, Hades used to be the Fairy Tail guild master before Makarov; indeed was Makarov’s mentor, and in his pursuit of power, it seems he’s forgotten those very same Fairy Tail values of freedom that he himself once espoused.
More emotional weight comes from Ultear, who we learn is a member of Grimoire Heart, but who actually wants Zeref for her own purposes. Ultear encounters Gray in this collection, and the resemblance between Ultear and Gray’s mentor Ur is unmistakeable. There’s a reason for that, and you think that there’s a chance for a reconciliation. But Ultear has just one thing on her mind, and that’s revenge, all tied into Gray’s tragic past with Ur. But given Ultear’s connection to Ur, it turns into a battle for redemption rather than just another action sequence, and it’s a character arc that pays off dividends at the close of this story arc.
The final battle between the Fairy Tail guild and Hades takes up the last four episodes on this collection, but it feels like just a few heartbeats, so well paced, and so perfectly balanced it is, and it too delivers on emotional weight and character growth, particularly for Natsu, but also thanks to the return of an unexpected face when they least expect, but most need help.
With all this action and emotional weight, Fairy Tail also remembers the balance, and always injects some much needed levity, and it’s not just Exceeds that supply this (the flying cats Happy, Charle, and Pantherlily), although seeing Pantherlily reveal a deep-seated fear of thunder at the most inappropriate time is a hoot. Many of the Grimoire Heart wizards offer much humour, and Juvia’s always good value for money. Seeing her crawl like a love demented Sadako after Meldy and Zeref is hilarious. Kain Hikaru is the typical comedy villain that Fairy Tail puts in, whose fighting prowess may only be equalled by his ability to creep out his female opponents.
Fairy Tail is back in the UK, and it’s long overdue. The rest of the world is well ahead of us now in terms of releases, which is pretty much normal service when it comes to anime in the UK. Part 10 is the best Fairy Tail yet, even better than the Edolas arc, and hopefully fans will be quick to pick up this show again. The downer is that it isn’t on Blu-ray. Hopefully that can be addressed sooner rather than later, but one thing Funimation must do is go back and release a fixed Part 9. That defective Manga Entertainment release is a significant stumbling block to anyone collecting Fairy Tail in the UK.