Fairy Tail - Part 8 Review

As it approaches its hundredth episode - the series currently moreover in the process of wrapping up one of its better story arcs - I thought it might be instructive at this stage to step back and try to consider Fairy Tail objectively. My initial impression was that if anyone were to come on-board at this point, they'd probably think that Fairy Tail is a bit mad. There are not many people who would start watching an anime series at episode 85 though, but if you think about where it started and where it is now, it's apparent that the series has covered so much ground and expanded its definition of its own universe so well as to be near unrecognisable from its origins. That mightn't always seem to be the case, and there is - objectively speaking - clearly a repetitive formula in operation here, so how is this long-running series able to keep the viewer on-board and sustain such a high level of entertainment?

One way of considering it is that the series has reached some kind of critical mass. It doesn't matter what you throw at it, what absurdities you introduce, the strong central core of Fairy Tail has been so well-established (and has such proven influential precedents as Dragonball Z and One Piece to lead the way) that it can withstand whatever bolted-on scenario is attached to it without anyone so much as blinking. Looked at objectively, it's total madness at this stage, the series propelled by nothing more than its own unwieldy mass, but if you've been with Fairy Tail since the beginning, it all makes some weird kind of sense. The most telling moment of surrealism that makes you sit back and think 'how on earth did we get to this?' comes in Episode 86, which is titled 'Erza vs Erza'. Either Fairy Tail has reached some level of surreal genius or else it has come around to dementedly turn in on itself.
Even for the otaku, well used to all manner of bizarre anime twists and practically feeling like an anime character themselves, the concept of a battle involving Erza vs Erza is likely to provoke a nosebleed. Particularly as, like Lucy, Fairy Tail's Amazonian warrior's chest continues to pneumatically expand almost to the same exaggerated proportions as the series itself. And that's doubled when you have two Erzas! But hold on, I think I might have become slightly carried away. Calm down, take some pills. We're talking about Fairy Tail here, not the mind-altering time-bending conundrums of Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate or, taking it to extremes, the magnificently insane Penguindrum. Fairy Tail surely isn't in that league, and not all that complicated or unusual for an anime series? So let's step back for a moment...

If there's some confusion at the current stage, we are admittedly half-way through the Edolas storyline, but it's still not too difficult to follow. It transpires that two Exceeds (who shall still remain nameless) have infiltrated 'Earth Land' on a secret mission, resulting in the wizards of the Fairy Tail guild being transported or abducted through into a world in a parallel dimension that is a mirror image of Earth Land. Here wizards are not endowed with personal magic powers, but they can use objects that have magical properties. This magic in Edolas is limited however and running out, so King Faust wants to obtain the potentially limitless power of Earth Land and plans to use it against the Exceeds who live on the floating island of Extalia. A few of the Fairy Tail wizards however have managed to avoid being caught up in the lacrima that holds the others, and are working to free them and return to Earth.

There. That doesn't sound too complicated. In fact, if you've watched Fairy Tail this far, the dilemma of the Edolas storyline sounds quite familiar. You won't be surprised that the wizards of Fairy Tail have to fight battles with powerful enemies in different locations, all working together towards the ultimate goal of eventually defeating an evil villain (the biggest baddest villain they've had to face yet, naturally), who is hell-bent on apocalyptic destruction. Nothing strange there, or at least nothing that will faze the Fairy Tail fan, who will take on-board all the strange singularities and workings that have been established in this world, with animas and lacrimas and take in their stride the introduction of more oddities such as X-Balls and a Monster Academy, and colourful characters such as Sugarboy and Pantherlily. For anyone else... well, looking at it objectively and in perspective, the series has either reached a stage where it will either explode under its own absurdity or has achieved some kind of transcendent sublimity.
I'm getting carried away again. It's just an anime series (keep telling yourself that), and it's clearly a very good one. Fairy Tail knows the strengths of Dragonball Z and One Piece, and it knows how to keep a good story running, refreshing and renewing. The action is therefore well-paced, the characterisation is consistent (even when it creates complete opposite doppelgangers), it retains a good sense of humour, interspersing comedy at all the right points, and the animation is thrilling and dynamically driven on by a propulsive rock soundtrack. It still feels that Fairy Tail also has some magic ingredient that can't be quite so easily pinned down, and whatever it is, I hope they manage to keep it active.

As far as the current Edolas storyline goes, that works out reasonably well, wrapping up the epic battle in Episode 94 {'Bye-Bye Eden'). Inevitably however there are other unforseen consequences to what has happened and these are revealed in the episodes 95 and 96, holding out promise of further developments down the line. One of them - Episode 96's title 'He Who Extinguishes Life' is a clue - promises the introduction of the most dangerous figure yet seen (yes, another one), while the unexpected revival of another character (unexpected that is if you haven't been looking too closely at the opening and closing credits), actually introduces a moment of surprising poignancy that shows just how deeply this series is capable of touching. One hopes that these two characters don't come into contact with each other, otherwise it just might be too much to take...

Fairy Tale - Part 8 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray consisting of 12 episodes (episodes 85-96). The 2-disc Blu-ray set consists of one BD50 disc (eight episodes) and one BD25 disc (four episodes plus extra features). The transfer is 1080/24p with an AVC encode. Only checkdiscs were seen for review, but the set will presumably be region-locked to Region B.

I've only previously seen Part 6 in High Definition on the Blu-ray format and didn't consider it a significant improvement on the already high quality of the DVD Standard Definition release. I haven't gone back to see if there's any difference when viewed side by side, but I was much more impressed when viewing the Blu-ray for Part 8. The image is 16:9 widescreen, colours are bright and well-defined, CG effects are superbly integrated into the animation and the stable transfer flows smoothly along. There are still little niggles with colour banding in one or two places - usually when there is shading and fading to black - but these are infrequent and relatively minor.
On Blu-ray the audio tracks are in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the original Japanese track and in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for the English dub. There were no evident issues with the audio quality on the Japanese track that is my preference for the series. Subtitles I'm pleased to say are white, and as well as being easier to read and more complementary to the colour schemes, it gives the series a much more "professional" look. I also thought the translation here was a little more idiomatic and natural than most literal translations.

There's nothing of major interest in the Extra features. Disc 1 contains a Commentary from the Funimation crew for Episode 89. Disc 2 has a Commentary for Episode 96, as well as the two Textless Opening and Textless Closing themes for this series. A US Trailer and other Trailers are also included.

If it ain't broke don't fix it (by introducing romance for example as was attempted at one stage), and if it works don't over-analyse why. Just enjoy it. Fairy Tail has gathered a momentum of its own as it reaches Part 8 of the collection and approaches its hundredth episode, and has all the right ingredients to keep things going for another while yet.

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