Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - Part 20
With everything all squared away, Fairy Tail is ready to go off on a new adventure! Unfortunately, their latest mission wants both Natsu and Gray, which is not a great combination. The request comes from Warrod, one of the Wizard Saints, and he needs the gang to check out a village of giants whose eternal flame has gone cold. This journey to the Sun Village has far darker implications than even Warrod realized – a new dark guild is on the rise, and they're more deadly than any foes Fairy Tail has fought before. The Tartaros Arc is about to begin!
The Tartaros Arc of Fairy Tail is one of the darkest thus far – and that's toning it down quite a bit from the manga. While this show usually takes what I think of as the Soul Calibur Approach to death – “So and so has fallen, but their soul still burns” – this time people actually die, and they aren't going to show up later in a bed wrapped in bandages. While on some levels this is shocking, very few characters we actually know from multiple past story arcs are among the casualties, making this a friendlier kind of grim than other violent fare. Things are still largely bloodless, and the only objects critically wounded in Fairy Tail itself are Lucy's clothes. That said, this is still fairly brutal, and things are clearly only going to get worse from here.
It does take a while to get going, however. The first seven episodes on this set are the Sun Village mini-arc, which sets the stage for Tartaros, but it's also more concerned with its two villains: one whose magic makes adults regress to childhood and the Hunters Guild, Sylph Labyrinth. In terms of world building, Sylph Labyrinth offers some interesting insight into the non-magical residents of Fiore. We've been so narrowly focused on the wizards that it's nice to get a glimpse of what else goes on, and it makes a lot of sense that there would be other groups of adventurers besides explorers and wizards when you think about it. As characters, the hunters aren't terribly different from the wizards Fairy Tail has faced off against before, which actually makes them good foils to the other bad guys of the arc, Minerva and a couple of mysterious magic users. One of them can cast the aforementioned regression spell, which is used for both comedy and as an excuse to strip the characters, mainly Erza and Lucy.
This brings us to one of the biggest differences between the anime and the manga in this storyline: all of the full male nudity (and much of the full female nudity) has been removed. In the case of the Sun Village, this just leaves us with unbalanced fanservice (where Mashima is usually very good about making sure there's something for everyone to look at), but once the Tartaros Arc begins, it's more of an issue. When Tartaros takes someone captive, they are stripped of their garments before being locked up. It's made very clear that this is to dehumanize their captives, adding humiliation to their other list of tortures. In the case of Erza and Kiyoka's scene, the nudity could have been construed as sexual, but for the most part that isn't the case, so taking it out removes some of Tartaros's devotion to cruelty.
The Nine Demon Gates of Tartaros, as the new villains call themselves, are tantalizingly familiar in some respects but with powers far stronger and crueler than the norm. They attribute this to using “curses” rather than “spells,” which is a real semantic issue if you think about it too hard, given that a spell is anything you cast using magic, whether good or bad. Fortunately, it is easy to ignore this when you watch the wholesale destruction Tartaros gleefully causes—and when you get a glimpse of their ice user.
All of that really makes up for some of the other issues that plague this set, like the ludicrously long recaps at the start of each episode. While some recapping is necessary when you consider that these episodes aired a week apart, there are roughly 5-7 minutes of recap for the whole of the Sun Village mini-arc and the start of Tartaros. The characters look pudgier than usual as well, particularly in episode 234, with Laxus looking particularly beefy. The whole Sun Village section has a lot of off-model shots, plus Lucy needs some real shorts rather than the denim underwear she seems to be sporting. Perhaps the strangest issue is Kiyoka – she looks like a low-rent Hawkgirl, something that wasn't quite as obvious in the manga. While I cannot point to anything specific, her entire design simply feels off.
However, this is a great set for Happy. The little flying blue cat may not get to read the episode titles anymore, but he gets arguably the most badass line in episode 237, and he's pretty heroic in general once the Tartaros Arc gets going. Given that Fairy Tail's best can't quite stand up to Tartaros, it's nice to see the villains underestimate Happy so severely, giving him the opportunity to save the day twice over. For a character who usually plays the comic relief, this is a good change and a nice way to make him more relevant as a character than just being Natsu's transportation. I wish we'd gotten to hear Tia Ballard's commentary on this change, but the two commentary tracks this time are with the three men who play Sylph Labyrinth and Ricco Fajardo, the voice of Jackal, one of the 9 Gates of Tartaros. Both commentaries (also featuring the usual exhausted-sounding Tyler Walker) are interesting, particularly the history of the Sylph Labyrinth actors. Other extras are a Fairy Tail guild pride, trailers, and clean versions of all the ending themes, several of which have unique end cards drawn by original series creator Hiro Mashima. The Wendy one is still a little uncomfortable, but nowhere near the level of the non-Mashima images.
The Tartaros Arc is setting up to be one of the darkest in Fairy Tail's storyline, both anime and manga versions. While it has taken out most of the nudity and toned down the torture a fair amount, it's still much grimmer than anything we've seen in the series thus far. It has only begun to show its hand in the episodes here, so hold your breath – the worst is yet to come.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B
+ Happy gets to be a hero, Natsu knows not to let the villains monologue. Explosion in episode 234 is well done. Watch for Creepy Doranbolt in episode 229.
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