The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fairy gone ?
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How was the first episode?
Call me crazy, but one of the first things that came to mind as I watched Fairy Gone's first episode was the Underworld franchise. For those of you who might not remember, Underworld was a series of mid-2000s Matrix-wannabe flicks that took a gang war romance and gussied it up with werewolves, vampires, and a tidal wave of leather jumpsuits and dark blue camera filters that's fair to assess as criminal. When I was a kid, I harbored an embarrassing amount of love for those movies, though they remain little more than bargain-bin action music videos (with some decent monster makeup thrown in for good measure).
Fairy Gone has almost nothing to do with Underworld thematically, but it also calls to mind a time for me that feels like an eternity ago, back when all I needed to be entertained by an anime was decent action, a nifty period setting, and a leading lady (or two) who knew how to stab things real good. P.A Works clearly isn't aiming for the rafters with this one; there's nothing about this introduction to Marlya Noel and her world of Fairy Soldiers and shady secret agencies that we haven't seen a hundred times before. The turn of the century aesthetic is pleasing but underutilized. The CGI fairies that the characters battle with are designed well but clunky in motion; the blending of 2D and 3D animation is fairly spotty. I'm of two-minds about the soundtrack as well – it's mostly over-produced butt-rock, but it fits oddly well with Fairy Gone's sophomoric genre appeal.
Much of this premiere is devoted to table-setting and flashing back to Marlya's tragic connection to Veronica, the enemy Fairy Soldier who battles with Marlya and her partner, Free. There is potential here to tell a story about war, revenge, and broken friendships that's actually mature and appropriately grim, instead of just being performatively edgy, but it;s still too early to say. For now, this felt like the paint-by-numbers exposition that I've seen many an anime get lost in to its detriment. If Fairy gone can keep track of its characters and themes without getting lost in world-building and plot, it might have a shot at developing into something more substantial. I did not come to care about either Maryla, Veronica, or the agency known as Dorothea by the end of this episode, but I was interested to see what might happen next. So, while I'm not prepared to call Fairy gone a good show just yet, I suspect it might provide some pleasant low-effort entertainment, just like the cheesy action movies of my youth.
I'll confess, Fairy gone's marketing had me pretty skeptical coming into this first episode. Nearly every season has one or two “grim equals mature” action shows, and I tend to bounce off them harder than anything else in a season's roster. But though Fairy gone boasts a pretty grim premise and even a nu-metal soundtrack, it actually feels like a pretty sturdy action vehicle so far. Premise aside, Fairy gone seems far more Garo or Rage of Bahamut than Akame ga Kill.
The episode starts off slow, spinning its wheels as it relays too much exposition regarding the “War of Unification” and Fairy Soldiers. Fairy Soldiers are just soldiers who can summon some kind of fairy avatar, i.e. Stands, and over the course of this episode, we're introduced to three main fairy-bearing warriors. Free, a former soldier who now monitors fairies for the government, Veronica, a vengeance-minded girl who crashes the auction he's guarding, and Marlya, who only wants to reunite with her childhood friend Veronica. Most of this episode is taken up by a rolling battle-slash-argument between the three of them, laced with flashbacks to Veronica and Marlya's tragic childhood.
Once the exposition is covered, this episode actually moves quite efficiently through its initial setup, letting the course of the battle naturally introduce most of the show's main variables. The story being told is a familiar one, but the show manages to create a pretty convincing rapport between Marlya and Free, in spite of them only sharing a handful of conversations. I'm also a fan of a great deal of this show's art design - the character designs echo the show's Rage of Bahamut-esque storytelling, and there were a fair number of richly detailed backgrounds as well.
It's not all good aesthetically, unfortunately. While I liked many of this show's individual designs, the overarching art direction and ultimate composite was abysmal; nearly every scene was obscured through either a grey filter or natural shadows, squandering the show's visual strengths. The show's color palette essentially ranges from “dark, muted red” to “dark, muted brown,” so my greatest hope going forward is that a greater diversity of environments allows the show to actually embrace its own strengths. Additionally, while the show did a commendable job of attempting to integrate its CG fairies with its traditional animation, they still felt like a big distraction during its fight scenes.
On the whole, while Fairy gone has a variety of issues that prevent me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation, this felt like a fine starting point for a fantasy-action adventure. If you're looking for an action show and want something more reminiscent of explosive blockbusters than shonen manga, I'd definitely give it a try.
Fairy Gone comes from the pen of the author of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, so there's a good chance that this will be a dark story with more questions than answers. Like Ao Jyumonji's other work, there's clear inspiration drawn from elements of western fantasy – in this case, folklore specifically. I was fully willing to believe that my fairy tale studies were making me think that the title of this first episode (Ash-Covered Girl) was a Cinderella reference, but then the preview for episode two referenced both wolves and swans, both very prevalent in folklore, so I think there actually may be something going on there. Add in what appears to be some slightly jumbled Celtic folklore and the mythological base of the story may be an interesting element.
Of course, that's assuming that the rest of the busy plot and world-building don't get in the way. That's my largest concern at this moment – there's just too much going on. Between the recently ended war, the destruction of Veronica and Marlya's hometown, Free's confused standing as a fairy soldier, and an apparent silent battle between the mafia and the government over control of the fey, it's easy to feel like you might need a plot chart for this series. While that may simply be a case of an over-ambitious first episode trying to throw all of its plot elements out at once in the hopes of snagging viewers, it's still overwhelming. At least Marlya's and Veronica's motives are clear enough – Marlya wants her best friend back and Veronica wants revenge. How Free fits into this is anyone's guess, but given that Marlya appears to have at least a little affinity for the fey, he could either prove a good ally or try to use her for his own (or the government's) purposes.
While I'm not completely sold on this story yet – and the relatively random use of folklore does need to serve a purpose beyond “battle fairies” for me to be able to get behind it – it does seem to have potential. I'm not loving the dark color palette, but the animation is lovely (if not as good as other P.A. Works shows) and it is intriguing. I might give it a couple of episodes to solidify its storytelling quality before writing this one off.
Sirius the Jaeger round two: FIGHT. This is P.A. Works' second supernatural action show in as many years. Fairy gone immediately has the same feel as its vampiric predecessor, but this time it takes place in not-Europe and the world building is even more convoluted. A smattering of Western European countries are home to fairies of unusual size that can integrate with humans to become weapons. It might help if you think of them as folklore-based Stands. Or if you were one of the few people that played the PlayStation 3 game Folklore, it's basically that concept.
That premise is totally my bag. I like nothing more than nerding out over obscure magical monsters. I just wish they didn't look like extras from Ajin. All the battle fairies that appear in this premiere are rendered entirely in CG with an ugly color palette to boot. PA Works had the 3DCG effort split between in-house work and IKIF+. While CGI isn't new territory for PA Works, this is one of the few times they've used it this heavily in an action series. The only comparable occasion would be Kuromukuro's mecha fights. I can't speak to Kuromukuro's aesthetics, but Fairy gone's first episode didn't look great. The idea of watching ugly monsters wobble at each other for weeks puts a damper on some of my excitement.
The world building is also pretty heavy. I certainly hope viewers aren't expected to keep track of the internal political workings of all the not-European countries on top of how fairies work, an underground mafia black market, and our leads' two backstories. The creative team went to town fleshing this whole world out, but they got too excited stuffing the opener with most of it. There's a lot of moving parts pushing the narrative along, but revealing too much sets things off at an overwhelmingly messy pace. Did we need all the exposition about the war when the same information can be garnered from the flashback and maybe a short interchange of dialogue?
I'm still interested in Fairy gone despite its lackluster elements, but I recommend it with some trepidation. It wouldn't take much to set the whole thing toppling in on itself.
Animation studio P.A. Works probably does original productions more often than any other Japanese studio these days, but they haven't traditionally been known for venturing into darker, action-oriented fare. That changed with last year's original production Sirius the Jaeger, and this new effort is another title in that same vein. Only this time, instead of vampires, fairies are the power source.
In some respects this debut has a similar vibe to Sirius the Jaeger despite a substantially different premise. Although the setting is a purely alternate world, it very much has the feel of an early 20th century Europe period piece, especially in its clothing and architectural styles, though (just like Jaeger) one female character is dressed in incongruously sexy fashion. Its “dark” aspect is also as much literal as figurative, as the only scene in it which even approaches being bright artistically is the scene at dawn just prior to the credits. The flow of the story is a little smoother here, and character designs are less anime-typical, so perhaps P.A. Works learned some lessons from its efforts on Jaeger.
The premise of the story looks like it is set up to explore what happened to Fairy Soldiers after the War of Unification, though the first episode actually more emphasizes the fall-out on two girls who were too young to be Fairy Soldiers at the time of the war but have since become them. Veronica, the elder blond one, seems to have become embittered and vengeful, while Marlya looks like she may have been spared that because she was younger when their village was destroyed. How this will affect the manifestation of her fairy should be interesting to see, given that she has clearly less violent urges then either Veronica or Free, though the confrontation in the later part of the episode shows that he fairy is going to be quite potent. The Next Episode preview suggests that her bonding with a “primordial” fairy isn't common at all, which has its own potential for intrigue.
The highlight and make-or-break point for the series is, of course, the fairies themselves. These are giant, monstrous spiritual entities which look borne of the darkest imaginings of what fairies can be; they are probably most closely comparable to the Ajin in the series of the same name or the Guardians in Kokkoku. Though CG creations, they are less distinctly artificial-looking than the entities in either of the aforementioned series and each have their own nasty abilities. (One can zoom into wounds to destroy a target from the inside out, one has a fearsome howl, and one has a super-heated touch.) I don't think they can so much be called “cool” as “interesting.”
The animation effort isn't as sharp as I would like to see, with some still shots interfering with the smoothness of the episode's presentation, and I have yet to see any indication that the plot or character development is going to be excitingly different. Still, as a supernatural action tale, this one does show some promise.
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