Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
BD+DVD - Part 11
The Fairy Tail gang have driven Grimoire Heart from Tenrou Island but events take a grim turn when something lures Acnologia, the evil dragon that once cost Gildarts an arm and a leg and a couple of internal organs, to the island. Helpless in the face of Acnologia's indestructible power, the guildmates join hands, put their faith in each other, and are obliterated from the face of the earth. Seven years later the guild, minus its strongest members and plus some questionable financial decisions, has become the weakest, poorest, and generally shabbiest magic guild in the land. Which is why the surviving members are overjoyed when evidence surfaces that the Tenrou Island casualties may not be quite so permanently dead. But even if Natsu and the crew return, the guild's going to have to work its way back to prominence with lots of random odd jobs. Some of which may actually be dangerous.
The Tenrou Island arc ends with a series-altering twist, the kind that can easily feel desperate, like Viagra for shows who've lost their mojo. When Hiro Mashima tries it, however, it feels less like panicked casting about for mojo-rejuvenation and more like a freewheeling writer just feeling his oats, trying out something he's seen dozens of times and has always wanted to take a shot at himself.
So the leap forward becomes a chance for Mashima to imagine a new world, where Fairy Tail is pathetically weak and must claw its way back from obscurity; where old characters have new lives and new quirks, with different issues and altered relations and new running jokes to add to their old ones. Humor runs high—characters' physical transformations make for some great sight gags—and emotions spring unheralded from sources both warm and stinging. The seven-years-in-the-future fate of shy romantics Alzack and Bisca is fuzzy-blanket satisfying, while Lucy's visit to her seven-years-in-the-future father cuts in unpredictable ways. The strength of Mashima's writing has always been less its creativity than its fresh-faced enthusiasm: its infectious love of all things shonen and its unbounded willingness to go big and have fun, even in its darkest hours. And by that measure the end of the Tenrou Arc is classic Mashima.
Until, that is, director Shinji Ishihara and his team of TV saboteurs work their reverse alchemy on it. When they're done the lack of creativity remains but the enthusiasm and infectious love are severely curtailed, leaving the episodes in question feeling a lot like one of those mojo-dead series in search of narrative Viagra. There are a lot of issues contributing to that. Substandard animation and loads of mindlessly-deployed shortcuts sabotage the action. Lazy timing and artless intercutting sabotage tension. The animation character design sucks the signature 'tude from Mashima's originals like some kind of evil 'tude-sucking vampire. The buzzsaw drone of Yasuharu Takanashi's electric guitar is slathered uniformly over everything action-ish, blunting Mashima's action punctuation. Sonic treacle is dribbled crudely on the uplifting and the affecting, drowning subtleties of feeling and giving it all a manipulative edge that is most unbecoming. But in the end all those issues are symptomatic rather than causal (or, to be strictly accurate, symptomatic and causal). The root cause is simple: Ishihara and his team just don't respect the show. They see it as yet another lump of shonen junk and animate, score, and even perform it as such. Which turns their judgment into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That's the true agony of the Fairy Tail anime: watching apathy destroy the fruits of Mashima's happy enthusiasm. Which is why you kind of look forward to the inevitable post-Tenrou filler. No matter how dumb and dull it might be, it isn't fashioned from the remains of something better. No vapid filler tale could be as bad as watching Ishihara smother another sprightly, fun-loving narrative. Right? Wrong. Oh so horribly wrong. What filler really means is that the series' audio/visual ineptitude now extends to its writing as well. The writers have zero grasp of what makes Fairy Tail tick, spewing forth a noxious rainbow of mutant failures at character wackiness. There're the "comedic" villains the Butt Jiggle Gang, who come across as a kind of derriere-themed Team Rocket (Team Buttock?). Filler-arc heroine Michelle is a painfully labored attempt to match the original cast quirk for quirk. The invisible-Lucy and ballroom-dancing episodes are a one-two punch of forced, recycled shtick and new characters who are the humor equivalent of a case of hives.
Things don't get truly awful, however, until the main filler arc takes its grim stab at action. The writers make a kind of bastard attempt to replicate Mashima's formula—introducing a team of magical villains, demonstrating their strength, and throwing them into recombinant fights with a rotating roster of guild-members—but without his panache, unpredictability, humor, or fine-honed knowledge of how to make something that shouldn't work work. The villains are excruciatingly annoying—especially the offensively pompadoured American stereotype—leading to fights where you want the bad guys to lose only so that they'll shut the &*%$ up. Which makes the arc's long opening round of inconclusive, power-explicating fights basically intolerable. The cleverness of the villains' identities—they're the Earth versions of Edolas characters who didn't previously have Earth versions—and a couple of good sight gags (not those involving Team Buttock) are the only grace notes of note.
Funimation's dub is a known quantity by now: solid and effective, even superior in some ways, but without any real spark or fire. The cast's good points—Cherami Leigh's Lucy, Lydia Mackay's Ultear—are as much reflections of the Japanese version's weaknesses (miscasting in the case of Lucy, ham acting in the case of Ultear) as absolute strengths. The dub is predictably better when the cast is having fun, as they do with Team Buttock and their incessant gastrointestinal puns, than when they're forcing feelings or pretending to care about fights.
Funimation's release is also a known quantity. Dual DVD and Blu-ray versions, with, really, not a terribly large gap between them video quality-wise. Professional but uninteresting packaging. The usual selection of extras: Two clean OPs and two clean EDs, all of them equally unprepossessing. Commercials and promos. Trailers. Two episode commentaries, both reasonably fun and not stressfully informative, one for episode 126 featuring ADR Director Tyler Walker and the actors for Team Buttock (J Paul Slavens, Jeff Johnson, and Greg Silva); and the other for episode 130 with Walker, Brad Venable (Byro), Felecia Angelle (Coco), and Duncan Brannan (who Elvis-impersonated his way through the role of Sugarboy). The one unique extra is a day-in-the-life video about Todd Haberkorn's visit to Otakon 2013. Haberkorn as Superman is a highlight.
The episode count (11) is unusual and perhaps explains a strange little mistake, in which the episode spread planned for each Blu-ray and the episodes actually on each don't quite match. (They're labeled as having episodes 121-128 on disc one and 129-131 on disc two but the actual split is 121-129 and 130-131). It's nothing important, kind of like the bulk of the episodes on this set, but it is odd.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C+
Animation : C-
Art : C-
Music : C
+ Ends the Tenrou Island arc on an audacious note, opening a new chapter in the lives of its protagonists.
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