There was one question in my mind when I first saw Fairy Tail: How can Eiichiro Oda (artist and author of the One Piece manga) possibly work on two manga series at once?
I was being incredibly dense, of course. Fairy Tail has nothing to do with One Piece whatsoever, and they don’t even share the same manga-ka. In my defense, they did look very similar on the Forbidden Planet manga shelf. But no, Fairy Tail is the creation of one Hiro Mashima, and is very distinct indeed from Oda’s work. Mashima is the author of Groove Adventure Rave (known over here, courtesy of 4Kids, as Rave Master), and fans of his will enjoy the various references to his own work throughout the series. Being a fan of the manga already, I was really excited to see that Fairy Tail was finally getting a UK release. Like any adaptation, though, I was going to approach with caution.
Likewise, it’s been a long time since we saw a major release of a new long-run shounen series over in the UK. Everybody knows the score with Bleach and Naruto, so how does this fresh blood fare against the stalwart showcases of erratically-dressed, fighty teenagers? Very well, actually. And this time, it’s wizards!
Fairy Tail is fairly unusual in that it doesn’t have one central character a la many other shounen series, but a band of principle players. Set in the land of Fiore, home to many different wizard guilds, it tells the story of Lucy Heartfilia, a 17 year-old girl with the power to summon sacred spirits from a collection of celestial keys. She has an ambition to join one of Fiore’s most prestigious and powerful guilds, the eponymous Fairy Tail, and by chance meets with Natsu Dragneel, a boy with ancient fire magic raised by a dragon, and his flying cat Happy. Along with other Fairy Tail members Gray Fullbuster, an ice wizard, and Erza Scarlet, a summoner of various powerful waepons and armour, they take on powerful quests in order to save those in need and, supposeduly, make some money in the process.
From the onset, it’s clear that comedy is a large element of Fairy Tail’s character. The players all have some fairly weird and ultimately very funny quirks, such as Natsu’s debilitating motion sickness and Gray’s ability to strip off his clothes without even realising. The characters are almost more interesting than the story, which by itself is actually fairly well constructed. From the very first episodes you get a great sense that the Fairy Tail world is huge and diverse, and it only makes you want to see it all the more. But the fact that the characters themselves are so strong serves to propel the series along its journey at a really great pace. And, unusually for a shounen manga, the series doesn’t confuse longevity for quality, and so far we’ve been devoid of the five-episode-long fights that dog comparable series. That’s a major bugbear for me in any series, and probably the main reason that I’ve not dared watch Naruto Shippuden or Bleach in a very long time. Having said that, at the moment the series is really making a point of focusing on attack and special power sequences, repeating the full animation and attack names every time they pop up, which even by the third episode is a little tiresome.
It’s not all about the comedy though, as the series is also quick to establish certain darknesses in Fiore and poignant moments on our heroes’ quests. We haven’t reached any major revelations by this point but that’s not to say it won’t build to something huge in future, much like One Piece did, and I greatly look forward to seeing it all laced in glorious, fast-paced colour action anime flavour.
For the anime itself, the animation quality for the most part is really good. I was actually taken aback a few times looking at how rich some of the scenes looked, especially the character work (Happy and Lucy particularly). The backgrounds and landscapes have some nice showcase moments too. It’s the crowd scenes that tend to suffer the most, but ironically a number of the fight sequences are inflicted with poorer quality drawing too; despite that, it’s not often that Fairy Tail falls down. It’s not Brotherhood, but it’s higher quality than some of the more adult series I’ve watched recently, and it’s really easy to watch as a result. The end credits are a bit disappointing, but if you’re like me and tend to watch animes on a DVD binge-by-binge basis, you only ever watch those the first time and skip the rest anyway, so it’s not that important (unless you like the song).
The overall production quality is pretty decent, I have to say. Fans of Yasuharu Takanashi, composer of the music from Naruto Shippuden, Hellgirl and ‘The Duel’ short from Halo Legends, fares incredibly well here, showing how diverse he is in utilising his strong, energetic music in all sorts of atmospheres (but especially when fighting stuff is going down). The English dub is a bone of contention for me, as while the acting is on the whole very good (although Todd Haberkorn’s Natsu doesn’t always fit the character), a lot of the really charming humour in the original manga and the Japanese version is lost. It’s a difficult one to be completely annoyed about though, as a good amount of Fairy Tail’s humour is based on Japanese wordplay or just has a very Japanese structure to it, which in translating to English is somewhat lost, and some of the charm is diminished as a result. But if you’re watching in Japanese then it’s just as funny as it should be, and most of the humour is harder to detract from anyway. I’d plug for the Japanese version if you’re fan of the manga already, but you certainly won’t miss out if you prefer English dubs.
The extras are fairly standard anime DVD fare- two commentaries and clean opening and closing sequences. The main show here is the anime itself, and I think it would be fit for purpose even without the mandatory additional features.
I give Fairy Tail a very hearty recommendation, and I would certainly make no hesitation in beginning a new collection with it. With Naruto and Bleach perhaps running a little stale right now, there’s plenty of room in the shounen market for Fairy Tail to take its place as a heavy-hitting contender, swelling with humour, action, great design, and heart.
Fairy Tail is released by Manga Entertainment on Monday 5th March, 2012. Order at Amazon UK HERE.