Fairy Tail - Part 5 Review

We've had to wait over a year for the follow-up to the stunning conclusion of the second season of Fairy Tail (in Part 4 of the collection), a story that had grown to epic proportions of fantasy action, comedy, adventure and evil-villain created mayhem. Finding a way to follow that was always likely to be a bit of a comedown and indeed, at least initially, Part 5 doesn't start out in a terribly promising fashion. Disappointing isn't too strong a word to describe the new direction the series takes here at the outset, but then again, the first season of Fairy Tail also started off slowly, and indeed by the end of the first twelve episodes collected here there's definitely a sign of a return to form being on the cards.

There was a certain amount of repetition of situations in the first two seasons of Fairy Tail but across the escalating series of battles against rival and evil guilds of magicians, the series thrillingly explored and developed the personalities and abilities of some of the junior members of the little guild of wizards of Fairy Tail in the team of Natsu, Gray, Lucy and Erza. This development underpinned the explosive action and made it meaningful, showing the value of teamwork and friends to help each other get through personal problems and develop their individual potential. Having done that rather well and taken it about as far as it can go, Season Three seems to be looking for a new angle. It comes up with two, one of which has potential, while the other other is not so promising.

I'll take those in reverse order, since the annoying one appears first and falls into the background as the potential of comes more into play as we move through the first 12 episodes. Put simply, in place of friendship and teamwork, Fairy Tail Season 3 starts out proposing romance as the driving force of this new season. Yuck. Episodes 49 and 50 then deal mostly with Lucy's attempts to find a boyfriend (her first). This leads to several embarrassing situations where she continually freaks out over the notion of a "fateful encounter" that she has been told is on the cards. Eventually, the suggestion is that she doesn't need to look too far beyond her immediate circle, as Natsu appears to be mooted as the likely (or unlikely) candidate for her affections. Double yuck.

The animation in the opening two episodes then is filled with floating hearts rather than bolts of power and destruction. It's not exactly the direction one was hoping to see the series move in, but as an opportunity to reacquaint the viewer with the characters, it's just about adequate. On a similar theme you're reminded also that Juvia has the hots for Gray and has acquired a potion to help attract him. Needless to say, this follows the usual "love potion" complications where the effects and the target of one's affection are less than easy to control. On the other hand, the narrator ominously warns us that the simple transaction that takes place between Juvia and the mysterious wizard who has ripped her off will "eventually lead Fairy Tail to the brink of destruction". One can only hope, as it might lead us away from this kind of empty filler...

As it happens, there's little evidence at the moment that Juvia's actions will have such calamitous effects, but fortunately a threat appears elsewhere that might lead to a more promising direction. For some reason not previously disclosed, Master Makarov now warns the wizards of Fairy Tail that the emergence of dark guilds is more widespread than suspected, and that in fact they are really only subsidiaries of a much more threatening organisation known as Oración Seis. Made up of only six members, these individuals are evidently more powerful than any previously encountered, and to combat them a selected team from Fairy Tail (you know who - yes, Natsu, Lucy, Gray and Erza) is to team up in a coalition made up of the most talented representatives from three other guilds - Blue Pegasus, Lamia Scale and Cait Shelter.

As you would expect then, the battle against Oración Seis forms the next major story arch at the beginning of this new season. Under the leadership of Brain, the objective of the six powerful members of this organisation is to attain and awaken something known as Nirvana. What is Nirvana? Well, you can be sure that it won't be anything pleasant, and I wouldn't take any bets against it being something that will be used to cause apocalyptic devastation. With a few other major bad-guy figures from the past being revived here however, in many ways this is just more repetition and left-overs from elements that have already been exhausted in the previous two series. The humour, charm and the action that are such a part of Fairy Tail are all up to speed of course, but we're still far below the level that the story had built up to in the previous two seasons.

In some ways, you suspect that in order to get back to that level, the creators first have to get things back to basics and if not exactly reboot the series from scratch at least built it up again from a new angle. Hence, we have none of the wider and more spectacular technological science-fiction views of the land of Magnolia that had been opened up previously, but rather we're back to the medieval agrarian setting more typical of fantasy series, and we're back to battles between guilds, albeit at a somewhat higher level of powers. The only potential here is in the coalition. There's clearly a need to get beyond the Natsu, Gray, Lucy and Erza team (not forgetting Happy of course), and the series has always been stronger through the introduction of newer characters and villains. The "romance" situation (spare me) isn't going to improve the dynamic, but the addition of strong new characters might.

In this respect, there is one new character, Wendy - the sole representative from Cait Shelter (along with Charle, her Happy-equivalent flying cat) - who seems relatively minor and with limited powers, but you suspect there's a lot more to her that will be developed later. That suspicion is undoubtedly informed by how prominently she features in the opening and closing titles, but whether she alone is enough to transform the direction the series takes remains to be seen. What shouldn't be discounted however is the fact that Fairy Tail has already proved that it can take what at the beginning seems like kiddie adventures and develop it into something truly great. Rather than just doing it all again though, one hopes that they find somewhere new to take the series. The ability to continually renew and reinvent itself is what makes series like Dragonball and One Piece great series, and one hopes that Fairy Tail can do the same. It hasn't let us down so far.

Although not previously released on BD, Fairy Tail - Part 5 is released by Manga Entertainment separately on both DVD and Blu-ray formats. The DVD consists of 12 episodes (episodes 49-60) on two dual-layer discs. The set is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2. As with previous releases in this series, the 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, coming from Funimation, is of the usual excellent quality, properly standards converted. Colours are bright and well-defined, CG effects are superbly integrated into the animation and the stable transfer flows smoothly along, although some interlacing may be evident. There are few minor instances of colour-banding also, but far less than is common in animation transfers. The series continues to look great on these DVD releases.

The available audio tracks are the original Japanese track in Dolby Digital 2.0 and the English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. I've stuck with the Japanese track throughout the series to this point and consequently have a clear definition of the characters based on this, so it would be difficult to comment on how successful the English dub is. As ever, the choice of original Japanese or English dub is down to the individual, but the Funimation crew usually do a good job in trying to match voices with characters. Certainly the actual audio quality on both tracks is excellent. Subtitles are yellow, are generally clear and easy to read, even if they are yellow. They are not dubtitles.

There's nothing of major interest in the Extra features. Disc 1 contains as Commentary from the Funimation crew on Episode 59 and they also provide a Commentary for Episode 58 on Disc 2. Disc 2 also includes Textless Opening and Closings and there's a short English Language trailer.

After the peak that the series reached in the concluding episodes of the last season, there was always the danger that after a year's break a new series of Fairy Tail might prove anti-climatic. It's true the opening episodes aren't particularly promising and that even when the series does get moving it's something of a regression back to basics, but on the other hand, Fairy Tail is back! That alone is enough cause for celebration, but, having seen already what the series is capable of, there's hope still that it can develop in new directions and take the show to new heights.

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