Fairy Tail - Part 2 Review

When I reviewed the Fairy Tail Part 1 earlier this year, covering the initial 12 episodes of the first series, it was with a cautious recommendation. There didn’t appear to be anything particularly new in the fantasy setting of magicians with super powers battling bad guys and slaying dragons in a medieval-like kingdom and, targeted at a younger audience with a strong emphasis on youthful characters and humorous situations, it felt like the series was aiming quite safely within a Dragonball Z or One Piece style, rather than take a darker line into something a little bit more edgy and gory like Claymore. On the other hand, the variety of characters and the unlimited potential for renewal and reinvention that exists within such a series, combined with attractive designs and some fine animation - and the fact that it comes from the ever-reliable A1-Pictures animation studio - suggested that it was well-worth sticking around for what the series might come up with next.

Happily then, if it doesn’t expand greatly beyond this initial premise, the second half of the first series of Fairy Tail surpasses expectations by fully exploiting all the potential within it and by playing up to those strengths suggested in the first half, all the while suggesting that there’s still scope for further thrilling developments. The first half of the series introduced us to the main characters, all young inexperienced wizards belonging to the highly respected Fairy Tail guild in the land of Fiore. Among the wide variety of colourful and somewhat deranged characters that belong to the guild, a little team seems to have developed between Natsu, with his dragon-like fire-controlling powers, Lucy, who can summon celestial spirits and Gray, who has special powers that can form, use and control ice. With Natsu’s flying blue- cat sidekick Happy in there also, there’s plenty of dynamic even within this small unit, but they are often joined by the fearsome warrior Titania Erza, and, in extreme cases when things go wrong, they sometimes have to call on the services of Mr Makarov, the Fairy Tail master.

The opening six episodes of the second half of the series (Episodes 13 - 18) carry on the Galuna Island storyline, where the natives are afflicted by a terrible curse where the rays of the moon transforms them into demons. It’s an S-class mission that is considered beyond the abilities of young trainees like Natsu, Gray and Lucy, but they’ve undertaken the task without permission, hoping to extend their abilities and enhance their reputation among the wizards of the guild, as well as earn a great deal of money. There is a lot more to the mission however than they initially thought, Gray encountering Lyon, also known as the Cold Emperor, a fellow student of his Master Ur, who seeks to show that he has surpassed his Master’s training by reviving the demon Deliora that was the downfall of Ur, now encased in ice on the island.

While one might have reasonably expected the series to continue for a while with a few one or two-episode missions, the extended Galuna Island storyline instead shows great deal more ambition and it pays off. It’s not just the characters who have their abilities stretched and come out of the experience stronger, but it also demonstrates the imagination and inventiveness of the animation team to push characters and a storyline to its limits, while always keeping it varied and entertaining. There’s a terrific balance here between all-out action sequences and battles, plenty of humorous diversions - usually with Lucy’s unpredictable celestial spirits - and even a touch of poignancy in Gray’s backstory, combined with humour and drama, that even proves that Gray and his curious habit of stripping down to his pants is more than just the one-note character that I considered him in the first half. It soon becomes evident that there is also more to the other characters than initially meets the eye.

Apart from admiring just how well balanced all the various elements are in these episodes, what is even more impressive is how well it’s animated. The designs, stylisations and characters are all strong and very attractive, surpassing the superficial likenesses with DBZ, Naruto and One Piece, and there’s a sense of the character of the series really coming into its own in these episodes. It looks fantastic, with really dynamic storyboarding in the actions sequences and a good sense of visual humour in the exaggerated reaction shots also, the styles blended together seamlessly. Occasional freeze-frames are still used for launching into battles, but they are also beautifully framed and illustrated and explode into life with plenty of movement and fluidity in the animation. I didn’t mention the cracking Celtic-rock soundtrack from Takamashi Yasuharu in the last review, but it’s worth giving credit to it here, the music working dynamically with the tone and pace of the impressive animation, with folkish reels, mystic airs, energetic jigs and thunderous power-metal chords.

The ability of the animators to expand and develop the series is evident also in the episodes that follow the Galuna Island mission. There are a couple of standalone adventures (Episodes 19 - 20) involving body-swapping and the origin of Happy before we move onto the next progressive multi-part storyline, but even in those episodes there are elements introduced, characters developed and a few loose ends left around to be followed up on at a later stage. This isn’t filler material by any means, but a sign of good series planning in terms of pacing and development. Battle mayhem is back on the cards however with the next storyline, which pitches all the characters of the Fairy Tail guild against the Phantom Lord guild. Inevitably, there’s more to the conflict that just guild rivalry, and with wizards like Black Steel Gajeel and the enigmatic Element 4 group among their number, this is a series that is never going to be short of variety or ideas. Combined with a step-up in the animation stakes also, that’s something that will make continued viewing essential and another series of Fairy Tail highly anticipated.

Fairy Tail: Part 2 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, collecting the second 12 episodes of the 24 episode First Series on a 2-DVD set. Both discs are dual-layered, each containing 6 episodes. The set is Region 2 encoded and is in PAL format. The anamorphic widescreen 16:9 transfer, coming from Funimation, is of the usual excellent quality, properly standards converted. As per the comments on the last review, there are no noticeable issues with colour-banding or interlacing, the image is perfectly stable, brightly coloured and pleasing to the eye. It looks great.

Sounds great too. The available audio tracks are the original Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track and the English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. Whether you choose to watch the series with the original Japanese track or with the English dub won’t matter as both are very well done. Funimation do a great job with the translation, making the subtitles option very readable and entertaining, and the Japanese track comes across very well. The Japanese track was my preferred option here, but the English dub is also exceptionally good, and, in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the listener might find the sound a little more dynamic. The English track can also be of benefit since the frames are often busy with fast moving characters, comic effects, speech bubbles, captions and written sound effects.

Subtitles are yellow, which is never a good thing as it often clashes with on-screen colour schemes, but the subtitles are perfectly clear and easy to read, even when there is a lot going on on the screen. They are not dubtitles, but have a better idiomatic balance than the usual strictly literal translations. Both the English translation and the English dub however strike an appropriate tone that is well-suited to the material.

Extra features on Disc 2 consists only of a Commentary from the US voice-actors for Episode 15. Disc 2 has another Commentary for Episode 19 and Textless Opening and Closings. Not a lot here really.

Fairy Tail: Part 2 might not seem to extend much further beyond the premise of Part 1 and the limitations of its fantasy setting, with demons, curses, and battles between rival guilds of wizards, but there’s definitely a sense of the series finding its own feet. In terms of characterisation, action, humour, adventure and entertainment the series is well-balanced and dynamically paced, but it’s the animation from the ever impressive A1-Pictures studio that really impresses here, pushing the series to another level entirely. Suitable for all ages, there’s consequently something for everyone here, and hopefully, another series to come.

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