Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - Part 16 & 17
As the Grand Magic Games come to their conclusion, the truth behind their existence is revealed – as is why mysterious groups have been targeting Lucy. While the members of Fairy Tail work to save their celestial wizard, the mysterious woman Jellal spotted reveals herself to be a Lucy from the future, and she has disturbing news about what is about to happen. Fairy Tail must team up with all the other guilds in Fiore to put a stop to the menace in these intense episodes that bring two arcs to a climax.
One of the strengths of Fairy Tail, and indeed other similar shounen series, is the way that it can go from goofy to dead serious in a matter of minutes. The most recent story arcs to receive DVD/BD releases from Funimation, the Grand Magic Games and the Eclipse Gate plotlines, have been steadily growing in intensity, moving from silly swimsuit competitions to very real threats to the wizards' lives. These two collections, each with twelve episodes, continue that trend towards seriousness, building the tension with each new reveal so that even if you've already read this far in the manga (which is two arcs ahead in English releases at this point), it's hard not to get caught up in the characters' plights.
Set sixteen marks the start of Fairy Tail 2, technically a sequel to the original anime but pretty indistinguishable in terms of the plot – it simply picks up where the first series left off, with episode 176. The animation and character designs, however, do look a little different, with less fidelity to Hiro Mashima's designs in terms of how bodies are put together (something he's generally decent at) and more shoujo look to the characters. This is most seen in the new ending theme (first of two in these episodes), which looks like it was intended to be for a high school romance but had the characters turned into Lucy and Natsu at the last minute. On the plus side, the blu ray looks sharper in set sixteen than it has in the past, even if seventeen is marred by a little chatter on one of the dragons in the fifth and sixth epsiodes. The women suffer from some serious boob issues throughout, but we've certainly seen worse in other shows.
The story resumes with the fight between the dragons which marks the turning point for the Grand Magic Games arc before taking Natsu and Lucy out of the fight. There is plenty of symbolism and foreshadowing going on here, with scenes of Frosch alone in the stands being particularly effective hints of what's to come, along with giving us the feeling that really the entire Eclipse Gate arc boils down to a story about a boy and his cat. That doesn't make the story any less effective, however, and the plot builds nicely to the breaking point, when the Gate opens. (Although the actual moment of opening is dragged out a little too long.) Even though the story features mostly “X vs Y” style battles it never feels like it's another tournament, doubtless helped by the lack of fight narration, since all of the characters are intensely involved. This also offers the chance to develop characters and relationships, and the story goes back to Erza's past as a slave and the Tower of Heaven debacle as a major factor in the lives of all who were involved, especially Ultear. While it is nice to see more Erza/Jellal moments (it really feels like both can only relax around and depend on each other emotionally), it is really Ultear for whom this storyline is the most important. Her actions towards the end of set seventeen are beyond impressive, and even though we haven't yet seen the results for her, her journey is both important and effective.
It's also one of the key parts in Lucy's story, as it is intricately linked to the appearance of her future self in the past. This future Lucy is one of the saddest parts of the Eclipse Gate storyline, and while the idea of multiple branching futures existing all at once can make your head spin, it also gives the story much of its pathos. Once you figure out the meaning of the second new ending theme, it becomes incredibly bittersweet, and Future Lucy's distress is foreshadowing for two arcs in the future, reminding us of the importance of Fairy Tail in her life. Luckily the story throws in a couple of Classical and literary references to lighten things up, along with the usual Gray/Juvia dynamic in which she consistently misinterprets his words and gestures: during an explosion in the city, we see the wings being blown off of what looks awfully like the Winged Victory of Samothrace and later when a bell rings, Gajeel comments (in the dub), “I hope those aren't tolling for us,” a reference to John Donne's ”For Whom the Bell Tolls.
On the subject of dub and sub, both are very good, bringing it down to a personal preference. Fans of Monica Rial will not want to miss her Mirajane in these sets, as she does a wonderful job, and Ray Gestaut's Zirconia steals most of the scenes he's in. These episodes also mark a change of actor for the narrator following the passing of Bob Magruder. Jim White takes over and is a very close match; if you didn't know, you likely would not notice. A variety of English voice actors join Tyler Walker in the four episode commentaries across the two sets, with Walker sounding increasingly exhausted with each subsequent commentary, and along with the usual textless openers and closers and company trailers, the other extras are guild spotlights on Mermaid Heel and Sabertooth, which is basically just information about each guild and their members.
Fairy Tail's sixteenth and seventeenth sets are some of the most exciting and emotionally fraught of the series so far. While there are a few moments that drag, the rest of the action, both internal and external, more than make up for it, and the race to change the future has a real sense of urgency to it. Set seventeen closes out with a lighter episode (although that depressing ending theme is still there to remind you of the stakes), and the stage is set for the upcoming Tartaros storyline. These aren't always the easiest episodes to watch in terms of content, but they are also hard to look away from as Fairy Tail continues to up its own stakes.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Story increasingly intense, good moments for all of the major characters tempered with a little lightness. Nice diversity of dragon designs. Monica Rial's Mirajane is impressive.
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