Fairy Tail #1 Episodes 1-12
“In a land far, far away…”
Lucy Heartfilia is a young, pretty, and independent-minded Celestial Wizard who wants to join a guild so that she can earn her living by practising her magic. Her first encounter with Natsu Dragneel, a fire-wielding Salamander (wizard) is not the most auspicious (Natsu suffers badly from motion sickness and ‘Bleeurgh!’ appears frequently on the screen) although she takes a liking to his companion, the talking blue cat Happy (who can fly) even if he does have an annoying habit of saying ‘Aye!’ to everything. Having saved Lucy from peril (and a lecherous wizard) Natsu invites her – to her joy – to join his guild: the notorious Fairy Tail. There she meets a motley crew of equally eccentric wizards and sets out with Natsu on their first job: to find a fellow guild member who has gone missing.
As a Celestial Wizard, Lucy wields a number of magical keys that let her summon magical creatures to her aid. Unfortunately – and this is one of the more amusing aspects of the series – most of the Zodiac Spirits that she has a contract with are not as helpful as she might wish. Taurus, for example, although powerfully muscular and half-bull, half-man, punctuates all his sentences with ‘Moo’ and ogles Lucy shamelessly. Lucy’s newest addition turns out to be none other than Plue (whom readers of Rave Master will remember well) who looks a little like a snowman with a carrot nose but is usually referred to as a dog. CLAMP are not the only mangaka who are shamelessly self-referential!
The first episodes of Fairy Tail whizz past the astonished viewer in a series of fast-paced magical encounters which are, in spite of Natsu’s astonishing fire-breathing feats, are closer to farce than fantasy adventure, filled with pratfalls and mishaps. It’s not until Episode 5 that a darker element appears, as the ill-matched trio find themselves pitted against Erigor the Reaper. Erigor and the members of Eisenwald, a Dark Guild, are determined to destroy the Magic Council by playing a demon flute, Lullaby, whose music brings death to anyone who hears it. Lucy and Natsu are joined on this dangerous mission by Gray, an ice-wielding wizard who – to Lucy’s dismay – has a habit of shedding his clothes and the formidable Erza. Erza, much feared in the guild, is a striking red-haired warrior-wizard, who possesses a dazzling array of magical battle outfits and weapons.
Fairy Tail starts out as a light-hearted fantasy adventure, played mostly for laughs. But it’s not before long that it begins to show its true shounen heart, as Natsu makes his mission statement that friendship is all that matters to him – and he’ll do anything to defend his friends. And as the episodes roll by and the main characters confront darker forces and reveal more about themselves, the series starts to become less frivolous and more involving. Early days, yet…
The ‘fairy tale’ atmosphere is enhanced in episodes 1-11 with a narrator drawing us into the story in time-honoured fashion with the same scene-setting introduction to the world of Fairy Tail (and which wears a little thin by about Episode 5, thank heavens for the ‘skip’ button.)
In bringing Hiro Mashima’s best-selling manga to the screen in animated form, director Shinji Ishihira and his creative team have preserved much of its original comic-book origins: sound effects (translated and in kanji/romanji) spatter the screen; inner thoughts appear over characters’ heads, and the screen is often slashed in two (or three or more) to show us close-up individual reactions. The action is fast – no, frenetic – and non-stop. At times, it’s frankly exhausting. At other times, it faithfully captures Mashima’s characters’ zest for life (one of the positive qualities that shines through in the manga.) Part of the problem lies within the fact that by plunging Lucy straight into the Fairy Tail Guild, both Mashima and the anime overwhelm us with the sheer number of characters. ‘One Piece’ starts out with Luffy, and introduces the other main players in true picaresque quest style, gradually along the way, so that we get the chance to get to know them.
The celtic-flavoured score for Fairy Tail works well, having just the right touch of ‘different’ to complement the crazy antics of the guild members. So why did composer Yasuhara Takanashi (Gantz; Naruto Shippuden) have to resort to pillaging well-known classical pieces? Offenbach’s Can-Can appears at inopportune moments, as do quotes from Bizet’s Carmen (Habanera, anyone?) Was this supposed to be a wacky and witty choice? Or did he just run out of time to get the original score finished? If it’s a musical joke, then it doesn’t work, it’s just distracting. The first Opening “Snowfairy” by SUNKIST (1-11) is a pleasant ballad, set to images that riff on the Fairy in Fairy Tail – and the J-poppy first Closing “S.O.W. Sense of Wonder” by girl group Idoling suits the picture-book child-like chibi images well with an up-tempo, catchy and brightly-coloured song. New Openings and Endings accompany Episode 12, but more on those in the next review, maybe…
Subs v. Dubs?
Lucy (Aya Hirano/Cherami Leigh), Natsu (Tetsuya Kakihara/Todd Haberkorn), Erza (Sayaka Ohara/Colleen Clinkenbeard), Happy (Rie Kugimiya /Tia Ballard) & Gray (Yuichi Nakimura/Newton Pittman.) That just about sums up the main players so far, who all attack their roles with enthusiasm and comedic brio. FUNimation offer a proper sub track so that you can either enjoy the skills of the original Japanese actors – or appreciate the reversioned US script. (Actually, my favourite is R. Bruce Elliott dryly voicing the diminutive Makorov, Guild Master of Fairy Tail.)
One of the usual gripes about mangaka Mishima’s work (Rave Master, Monster Hunter Orage) is that his graphic style often reminds readers of Oda’s (One Piece) which isn’t so surprising as he was once Oda’s assistant. In creating the character design for Fairy Tail (the anime TV series) character designer Aoi Yamamoto has managed to smooth away more of the similarities by making the character outlines more rounded (but also more generic and a tad less distinctive, it has to be said.) For an action-filled series, the animation is surprisingly static, with much reliance on stills and freeze-frames, even in the middle of a battle.
It’s early days still for Fairy Tail. We leave the main protagonists just as they’ve got themselves into real danger on Galuna Island – and it’s by no means certain that everyone will get out unscathed. This high-octane, good-hearted series will appeal to fans of One Piece, and even MÄR, but – for me, at any rate, it works best when taken in small doses.