Fairy Tail The Movie – The Phoenix Priestess (Cert 12)
1 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 82 minutes approx.
Having quickly risen up the ranks of the shonen fantasy milieu Fairy Tail becomes the latest series to see its franchise expand to the big screen with The Phoenix Priestess. In the past this step has seen mixed results even for the biggest shows (Naruto I’m looking at you) but with Fairy Tail’s creator Hiro Mashima providing the main story as well as handling the character designs the hopes are high that this spin-off doesn’t suffer the same fate as its peers.
The story centres around a young girl named Éclair and her stuff bird Momon who has been tasked with keeping hold of half of the powerful Phoenix Stone for fear of it landing in the hands of the vain Duke Cream of Veronica. Unfortunately Éclair is suffering from amnesia and can’t remember why she has the stone or why it is so dangerous. It is whilst on a journey to learn about the Phoenix Stone that Éclair and Momon arrive in Magnolia, discovered by Lucy Heartfilia when Éclair collapses from exhaustion.
At this point I should advise you to seek out the extras on this release and watch the twelve minute prologue The First Morning which explains more about Éclair, how Momon came to be and her quest for knowledge about the Phoenix Stone. It didn’t feature in the film as it was originally in manga form only but A-1 Pictures decided to animate it as a bonus anyway, which serves as a welcome look into the backstory of our newcomers.
Back to the main plot and Éclair’s intense hatred of mages and magic doesn’t help ingratiate her with the Fairy Tail gang, but Lucy being Lucy decides to help Éclair out anyway, with the others naturally following suit – not in the least because they had just returned from a failed mission in which they, as usual, destroyed everything in sight! From a hologram of Éclair’s late father they learn that a magic spell has been created to stop whatever will happen when the two halves of the stone are reconnected. Meanwhile Cream has sent rival guild Carbuncle to kidnap Éclair and destroy the Fairy Tail guild home. Having accomplished both tasks, this makes Natsu and co mad – very mad!
There is a chance that the above summary might suggest to some of you that this film doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from other shonen adventure spin-offs, bearing a plot which is hardly original. But don’t be fooled by this because Mashima and screenwriter Masashi Sogo have in fact strived to go deeper to explore the emotional resonance of the characters. Certain trademarks may be present which are frankly inescapable due to the nature of the genre but by no means is the story beholden to them which makes for a refreshing change.
As mentioned before the prologue does plenty to explain the personalities of Éclair and Momon so her initial truculence turning to eventual trust and friendship is less of a cliché than you might imagine – the later plot developments see to that. In what is possibly the only weakness little is shared about our main antagonist, the oddly monikered Duke Cream. Aside from being a narcissistic pretty boy with a craving for power he is a rather flimsy token villain, which is just as well that he has the wizards of Carbuncle to pick up the mantle and provide the true opposition to the Fairy Tail wizards, which they do in devastating fashion.
Carbuncle leader Dist is a ruthless and relentless powerhouse and a tough nut to crack; even if our heroes combine their efforts against him, he seems largely impenetrable. His subordinates are made of similarly tough stock pushing the likes of Gray, Wendy, Gajeel, Juvia and even the mighty Erza to their limits. With a wide cast of wizards doing battle you can expect plenty of action from this film and boy do they deliver. With just 82 minutes however, it means that the fights are somewhat perfunctory with so many occurring at once but are none the less exciting.
While the jump to the big screen sees a noticeable upgrade in the visuals with some lush backgrounds and detailed set pieces, especially for the big sacrificial ceremony in the third act leading to the spectacular climactic battle, there are some bold animation techniques and presentations adopted here too. The opening exposition scene to introduce us to Éclair is a dialogue free piece (for a reason as we later find out) playing out like a silent film; then later on when Éclair begins to regain flickers of her memories the depiction is a sepia pencil drawing, like an animatic, creating a uniquely surreal but evocative effect.
The 12 rating may be the same as the TV show but there are some obvious signs of more explicit violence and bloodshed while Lucy fans will be pleased to see that she goes beyond her usual tame fan service requirement with a shower scene and a chase scene wearing just a towel! I realise that isn’t really an important factor to sell this film to you but it is an indicator of how much of the theatrical liberties have been taken with this production.
Above all else, the main thing that sticks with the viewer is the emotional content of this film, providing many a tear jerking moment with good cause than for the sake of it; even Natsu and Gray are largely subdued here, fighting for the greater good than for exercise. Lucy is giving the spotlight here but this, as ever, is a team effort with many a forgotten face dragged out of the woodwork to take part in the final battle.
In closing, it is fair to say that The Phoenix Priestess exceeds expectations and defies the curse of the spin-off movie. Ladies and gentlemen, Fairy Tail is now officially one of the big boys!
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 5.1
Fairy Tail The Movie Prologue: The First Morning
Rating – ****
Man In Black