Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Blu-Ray + DVD - Combo Pack Part 2
Natsu is a fire wizard under the Fairy Tail guild, and together with celestial summoner Lucy, ice wizard Gray, and weapons master Erza, they embark on various missions to help others using magic. Their latest quest has taken them to a cursed island, where a dark wizard and his minions are trying to resurrect an ancient demon. Much to Gray's shock, the dark wizard and the demon are important figures from his past, and now they must resolve their differences—or die trying. Meanwhile, the rest of Fairy Tail still has to stop the demon's rampage and lift the island's curse. After that, the guild faces a crisis much closer to home when Fairy Tail's headquarters is leveled by a surprise attack from a rival guild. It seems that Lucy has caught their interest, and they will gladly annihilate all of Fairy Tail just to get her ...
The true spirit of Fairy Tail starts to show itself in this set of episodes, where each adventure is not just about displays of magical firepower, but about uncovering each character's personal secrets. Gray faces his past in dramatic fashion, Lucy's not-so-humble origins are hinted at, and even minor players like macho wizard Elfman and animal mascot Happy have stories to tell. They aren't always told perfectly—pointless comedy interludes and drag-out pacing are still a problem, as is the inconsistent animation—but compared to the first volume, the series is finally getting some substance to go with its happy-go-lucky style.
The first six episodes of Volume 2 dig into the heart of the Galuna Island arc, revealing it to be a series of multiple perils—much like the earlier Eisenwald arc. But where Eisenwald was a linear chain of events that seemed to keep rolling out forever, Galuna Island is more tightly structured, like a set of matryoshka nesting dolls: the conflict between Gray and old rival Lyon is the key to the demon's awakening, which in turn is the cause of the island's strange curse. (A roundabout explanation for the curse's effects also provides at least one more twist at the very end.) A pivotal episode that flashes back into Gray's childhood is one of the series' best so far—a heart-rending tale that not only explains the root of this story arc, but Gray's character as a whole.
Other parts of the Galuna Island mission are less praiseworthy, however: a couple of episodes are wasted on Natsu and Lucy battling Lyon's minions, who will be remembered more for their incompetence than for their sorcery. Various outbursts of "comedy" (i.e., characters basically screaming at everything) further emphasize that these are goofy, throwaway battles meant only to drag the story out. This kind of fluff also shows up immediately after the quest, with a predictable body-switch episode and a look into Happy's origins that, while enlightening, could have been inserted anywhere in the series.
Fortunately, things get back on track with this volume's last four episodes, as the Phantom Lord saga offers a challenge far beyond any bulletin-board quest. For fans of Fairy Tail's action side, this is true magical-combat indulgence: the entire guild comes crashing down on Phantom Lord's headquarters, each member showing off their individual fighting styles. But the personal, character-driven side shines as well: we get a hint about Lucy's past, and her escape from enemy clutches is a nonstop thrill ride. Meanwhile, another tearjerker flashback—this time about supporting character Elfman and his siblings—leads right into an intense, end-of-disc cliffhanger.
Despite these improvements in the story department, though, the animation continues to be a stumbling block for the series. While some sequences are loaded with fluid motion and eye-catching camerawork—Gray and Lyon's fistfight comes to mind, as does Natsu's duel with Phantom Lord wizard Gajeel—the majority of the visuals are less impressive. The melee between Fairy Tail and Phantom Lord is particularly cringe-inducing: most of the no-name characters end up trapped in a repeating punch-and-kick animation cycle, with the same recycled CGI magic circles occasionally popping up. Almost as bad, but also fairly common, are "action scenes" where the character strikes a static pose and floats against the background. At least the art and design aspect is saved by manga-ka Hiro Mashima's creativity: in following Mashima's source material, the anime traverses through settings as varied as frozen mountains, tropical islands, and ancient ruins, while a variety of new villains and monsters show that the supply of character designs is in no danger of running out.
An even bigger letdown than the animation is the background music, which seems to be set at a permanently low volume so nobody notices how banal it is. As usual, every fight is set to a tuneless rock instrumental, unless it's a comedic battle, which calls up some other synthesized mess. The soundtrack does manage to squeeze out some seriousness during flashbacks, but only as an embellishment, rather than a crucial component of those scenes. Meanwhile, catchy and cheerful theme songs balance out the wild ups and downs of each episode, reminding us that these magical adventures should ultimately be fun.
On the English dub, ADR director Tyler Walker once again elicits a full range of emotions from the show's large cast. Whether it's Gray or Natsu declaring their fighting spirit, or Lucy expressing her fear as enemy forces close in on her, the dub is convincingly delivered (if a little screechy during manic comedy moments). Walker also leads a couple of informative audio commentaries with various cast members in this volume: a serious-minded discussion during Gray's flashback in Episode 15, and then the more lighthearted body-switch antics in Episode 19. Other extras in this boxset include the usual textless credits and trailers, but the most important feature is having both DVD and Blu-Ray options—whenever possible, fans should definitely go for Blu-Ray viewing, which really brings out the series' bright colors.
Ultimately, the second volume of Fairy Tail suffers from the same production flaws as before, with cost-cutting animation and bland background music presenting a diluted version of Mashima's adventure series. But a more substantial storyline now makes it easier to overlook these shortcomings: a piercing look into Gray's past, and the emergence of a rival guild as the next great nemesis, adds new layers and shades of darkness to a series that may have seemed too lightweight before. Oh, the lightness is still there—some of it silly and unnecessary—but now there's enough weight to balance it out.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C-
+ Character-driven flashbacks, multi-layered story arcs, and a wide range of enemies and challenges provide constant entertainment.
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