Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 4th 2012
Blu-Ray + DVD - Part 4
The dark wizard Jellal has finished building his Tower of Heaven, a structure designed to summon an all-powerful demon. Only the wizards of the Fairy Tail guild can stop him—and no one is better equipped than weapons specialist Erza, who has known Jellal since childhood. But will their ties to the past become Erza's weakness? After that mission, more troubles await the guild back home. Powerful lightning wizard Laxus feels that Fairy Tail has become soft, and so he turns against guild leader (and his grandfather) Makarov! Using various enchantments, Laxus pits fellow magic-users against each other in the "Battle of Fairy Tail" to see who is the strongest. Fire wizard Natsu and his allies step into the fray, hoping to stop the rebellion before anyone else gets hurt ... and also hoping to teach Laxus a lesson about the true meaning of being in a guild.
The world of Fairy Tail is a world of limitless possibilities: dozens of characters, layers upon layers of back-story, and magical powers that can be used for good or for evil in any number of combinations. So why, then, does the series insist on using the same formula over and over? Viewers who have watched every episode of Fairy Tail so far can easily guess how the Tower of Heaven arc will turn out: Natsu, Erza and company must first finish off Jellal's lieutenants, followed by a one-on-one showdown with the big boss himself, and then someone inevitably makes a dramatic self-sacrifice. As an added bonus cliché, this one even throws in an "exploding building" escape scenario, because fantasy villains are too dumb to build safety features into their maniacal plans.
The "Battle of Fairy Tail" storyline, which takes up seven of the twelve episodes in this set, fares no better when it comes to predictability. It may have the unique twist of Fairy Tail's wizards turning against each other, but the overall structure holds no surprises at all. First the no-name grunts take each other out, then the first- and second-tier characters battle against Laxus's higher-ranked goons, then comes the final confrontation between Natsu and Laxus. No wonder, then, that wild plot twists keep popping up in a desperate attempt to add excitement: One of Fairy Tail's newly-joined members may be a traitor! Here's the shocking source of Laxus's powers! Oh, and he knows a spell that could kill everyone! But these "twists" really do nothing to change the course of the story: they're just road bumps along the heroes' inevitable path to victory.
Which isn't to say that these episodes lack entertainment value. The fights, predictable as they may be, are still fun to watch while they're happening. Erza reveals some never-before-seen suits of armor; astrological summoner Lucy brings back some sorely missed celestial warriors; and every now and then the spirit of friendship wins a battle rather than brute force. What's more, fans who like rooting for underdogs will find even the most obscure characters getting a chance to shine here. The series also continues to fill out back-stories so that each character has a sense of purpose: Laxus, for example, has some serious family issues to go along with the sneering bad-guy attitude. However, such flashbacks only last for a couple of a minutes before jumping right back into battle mode. Other times, there are tantalizing hints of future story arcs to come ... but these promising moments remain exactly that, just moments. So instead of capitalizing on its great storytelling potential, Fairy Tail takes the safe route with its endless escalator of good-versus-evil battle.
The animation in this show is another case of wasted potential, as Hiro Mashima's dynamic manga art gets watered down by cheap production values. While some of the individual poses are quite effective—most likely because they were referenced straight from the comic panels—trying to put them into motion just doesn't work. What passes for "movement" in this series is often characters floating across the background, or even a choppy transition from regular animation to more detailed still frames. Only during top-tier battles, like Natsu vs. Jellal, does the visual quality really step up. Despite these technical shortcomings, however, the series' fantastical sense of design still shines through: wild outfits and neon-bright colors, elaborately designed locales (more so with the Tower of Heaven than the guild's generic town setting), and a cast of wizardly foes ranging from a hair-metal rock guitarist to a visor-clad puppet master. With such striking differences in design, at least none of the fights look the same—even if the outcomes are highly predictable.
The theme music, on the other hand, shows far less creativity, with a typical rock opener and ballad closer rounding out each episode. The soundtrack adds emotional heft to flashbacks and dramatic scenes with full-orchestra scoring, but as soon as it's time for battle, the same old shredding guitars kick in again, just like in every other episode. If the fight scenes feel like a tired old routine repeating over and over, maybe it's because of the constantly recycled music.
Even with the storyline stuck in a formulaic pattern, the voice actors on the English dub are clearly still having fun working on the show. This recording comes with lots of enthusiasm, touches of humor in the right places, and not a single weak performance (which is to be expected after 40-plus episodes of practice). A couple of episodes also feature English-speaking commentary with the director and cast—this time focused more on discussing the series itself, rather than the details of the recording process. Other extras in this multi-disc set include the usual clean opening and ending clips, plus a cardboard slipcase and reversible cover featuring Erza.
In the heat of battle, it's easy to believe that Fairy Tail is a top-notch show—after all, what's not to like about flamboyant wizards, mix-and-match magical powers, and fighting for the sake of friendship? But after stepping back and looking at the big picture, it's clear that the series fails to live up to its potential. The story arcs in this set contain subplots that never get fully explored, while the standard ladder format of fighting one's way to the boss villain leaves no room for surprises. It also doesn't help that the fights are often presented in barely-adequate animation quality. These episodes of Fairy Tail are fun for what they are, but there'll always be that feeling of what could have been.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : B
Music : C
+ Energetic fight scenes, sympathetic characters, and hints of what lies ahead provide plenty of reasons to keep on following this adventure.
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