Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Natsu Dragneel is a fire wizard affiliated with the powerful Fairy Tail guild. Currently, Natsu and his allies are on a mission to stop the dark guild Oración Seis from unleashing the power of a mystical city named Nirvana. However, the city's giant mechanical legs are already on the move, setting it on a collision course for the nearby guild of Cait Shelter! Natsu and friends are locked in heavy battle with Oración Seis at the moment, but it'll take more than pure firepower to shut down Nirvana and save the people of Cait Shelter. Later on, Natsu hears of a lady named Daphne who has recently encountered a dragon. Could it be Natsu's long-lost master, the fire dragon Igneel? Unfortunately, a sudden act of betrayal leaves Natsu at Daphne's mercy—and for once, it'll be the rest of the guild that needs to save him!
The sixth season set of Fairy Tail is another textbook example of shonen action-adventure: fight off the low-level villains, take on the big boss, reveal the secret power that will guarantee your victory, and save the world from destruction. The only things that really change are the characters and situations, so the challenge is to shake up the formula in enough ways to keep it from going stale. Unexpected twists and hidden pockets of back-story manage to do the job here—but the final results, where the forces of good triumph over evil, will surprise no one.
The Oración Seis arc, which carries over from the previous batch of episodes, is a prime example of sudden plot twists lurking in wait. Getting to that point, however, requires sitting through some typical battle-grinding episodes: Natsu screams his enemy into submission, guild ally Jura gets into a magic-on-magic slugfest, and weapons master Erza picks apart her opponent's weaknesses. Only after that does the storyline take some sharp turns. The big bad boss gives way to a bigger, badder boss, the final step to victory requires a near-telepathic level of trust and teamwork, and the mysterious connection between Cait Shelter and Nirvana runs far deeper than imagined. Even after evil is vanquished, the surprises don't stop there: a villain-turned-hero gets a shocking "reward," and the final revelation about the Cait Shelter guild is one of the most powerful emotional gut-punches the series has ever delivered.
After a tale of that magnitude, it's only right to wind things down with some merry-making—and so comes the customary episode where everyone simply hangs out for fun at guild headquarters. But the story soon revs up again for the next arc, the less ambitious but still heavily plotted confrontation with "dragon lady" Daphne. Once again, the standard fighting formula takes some unexpected detours, with head-spinning twists (is ice wizard Gray a friend or foe?), and flashbacks to Natsu's childhood that fill out important plot details. The final, rage-driven battle with Daphne is also especially inspiring—even though it ends too abruptly.
Aside from all the hidden wrinkles in the plot, Fairy Tail also benefits from well-scripted battles: they're tactically complex, requiring combatants to figure out how to counter a certain style of magic with their own. At the same time, humor also comes into play, with some folks spouting goofy puns and others summoning comic-relief characters for support. Yet in the end, the grand finale is always the same dogpile of genre clichés: Natsu wins the day by overpowering everyone with sheer will, the strength of friendship defeats selfishness and greed, and justice is served with the villains being the agents of their own destruction. Different paths, but the same finish line every time.
Despite the grand scale of these battles and the characters' myriad powers, the animation fails to do justice to the Fairy Tail universe. Sure, the character designs look great—outlandish clothing schemes among both heroes and villains suit their personalities well—but any attempt to put these bodies in motion results in cheap technical shortcuts. Characters float across the screen with heavy speedlines in the background; cheesy CGI effects serve as magical blasts; some of the most dramatic moments are nothing more than still frames; and certain battle scenes conveniently take place in mid-air because that solves the problem of having to draw the character in contact with the ground. Truly great visuals, like Natsu popping off a series of acrobatic moves or Erza switching into multiple suits of armor, appear maybe once every several episodes. So even with all the elaborately designed backgrounds and intense battle poses (some of which are referenced from the manga), the animation fails to do the job of bringing this vision to life.
The background music throughout these episodes is also a mixed bag: it only works well during poignant or introspective moments, where the characters' emotions are echoed by a full-orchestra sound. Elsewhere, the majority of the storyline still involves magical combat, and that means cueing up all the banal, sound-alike rock instrumentals that the series has been using since the beginning. The soundtrack doesn't add much excitement to the fight scenes; instead, the characters' attitudes provide that energy. An uptempo, percussive opening song sets the right mood for each episode, but the crooning R&B ending is somewhat out of character for a series that's usually more lively.
Indeed, when it comes to liveliness, there's no beating the English dub—the entire cast sounds completely confident in their roles, even newly arrived allies and villains. Certain characters use campy accents to stand out, but they don't distract from what's going on in the story, and even goofy speech patterns ("Oh yeah!") fit neatly into the script. The English adaptation does stray away from the exact translation at times, but the re-phrased lines help to capture the spirit of what the characters are saying, rather than trying to match every word. Two of the episodes also come with commentary tracks from ADR director Tyler Walker and selected cast members; one commentary serves well as a guide to the Fairy Tail storyline as a whole, while the other is a more general discussion about voice acting experiences. Trailers and clean credit sequences also fill out this fairly standard Blu-Ray/DVD package.
The biggest problem with this part of Fairy Tail is that everyone can already guess how each quest will end: Natsu faces the big boss, and then his immense willpower and bonds of friendship pave the path to victory. If the only goal is to entertain viewers, though, this is actually not a bad problem to have. Most folks enjoy flashy battles and feel-good endings, and the unexpected wrinkles in the story—secret bad-guy motives, magical traps, personal flashbacks—keep the action from getting too stale. However, the subpar animation is a drag on the show's visual quality; the fantastical settings and fierce magical attacks almost feel like they're going to waste. These Fairy Tail adventures are fun enough, but there are ways in which they could have been better.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : D
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Surprise twists and connections to the past will keep fans intrigued, and the tactics behind the magical battles are well thought out.
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