Fairy Tail Part 9 (Episodes 97-108) (Cert PG)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 293 minutes approx.
You may not be aware of this but it has been a whopping six months since Fairy Tail Part 8 was released, an extraordinary gap between releases for a long running show such as this. This is partly due to a shake up at Manga Entertainment and a subsequent change in their operations. But the main thing is that the rambunctious wizards of the Fairy Tail guild are back and it is time to rejoin the mayhem as they embark on another fun packed, hi-energy, and no doubt dangerous adventure, with an important life lesson learned by the end.
Without pausing for breath we dive headlong into the fray with an internal challenge for the wizards, in the form of the annual Fairy Tail S-Class Promotion Exam – in which eight wizards and a partner of their choosing will compete against each other in a series of contests to gain that all important S-Class status within the guild. This means the pick of the prime jobs that arrive in the guild, which means more money and seniority over the other wizards.
Naturally our nominal hero Natsu has qualified and has his eye on the prize, choosing Happy as his partner. Friendly rival Gray is also in the running, teaming up with Loke, while water maiden Juvia joins forces with Lisanna. Fan favourite Lucy is not in the running but she does offer to help long time guild member Cana in her quest to win the contest, one she has failed at every year hence her depressive state at the start of this volume. Team Fan Service and the other pairings are then taken to Tenrou Island, a sacred land for the guild, where they do battle against current S-Class ranked wizards before facing off against each other in a battle royale.
After numerous story arcs involving our heroes entering into combat against rival guilds, resurrected mythological deities and even dangerous doppelgangers in an alternate universe, this new yarn brings with it the opportunity to further develop the characters, specifically the lesser utilised ones, like Cana , of whom I have very little memory. And by facing off against each other, we get to see buried personal rivalries resurface and learn more about how far each of the combatants is willing to go in order to achieve this much coveted prize.
That’s the idea but this is a shonen fantasy anime and as we have learned by now, they never stray too far from their core concepts. Barely four episodes into the S-Class exam and doubts are laid bout one the participants, Mest, a former disciple of the last antagonist Mystogan who nobody seems to recall how he joined the guild. Mest has been paired up with Wendy which sends alarm bells ringing her cat partner Charle, who arrives at the island to check Mest out.
It would seem that Charle’s instincts about Mest being an wrong ‘un were right but this is just the start, as the exams are temporarily suspended when the island is soon invaded by members of a dark guild called Grimoire Heart who seek to wipe of the Fairy Tail guild; but they are not alone as the Seven Kin of Purgatory are en route to the island to destroy our heroes and create a world only wizards may inhabit.
By now you are probably experiencing the sensation of déjà vu since this latest development is pretty much a combination of the Phantom Lord and Nirvana arcs. While we shouldn’t be too hard on creator Hiro Mashima for succumbing to this age old problem of having to keep the faithful happy by continually producing regular material, we should instead bemoan the fact that the manga’s success demands Mashima churn out anything, no matter how derivative or repetitious it may be, and not allow him the chance to pace himself and create new stories with less haste.
However don’t read this is as an outright dismissal of the material here as, even with the familiar concepts and conceits, this colourful and vibrant entertainment value Fairy Tail hasn’t been entirely diminished. The latest antagonists are a curious bunch to say the least, each with powers that mirror those of our heroes; for instance Natsu faces off against Zancrow of the Seven Kin, who creates black fire which Natsu can’t eat!
It seems that Mashima has not only been a little self-referential with the designs for the Grimoire Heart and Seven Kin members, he’s also looked to other shonen favourites for inspiration. For this writer, some of the newcomers wouldn’t look out of place in Bleach while others look like they might pop up in Naruto. They are a colourful bunch to be sure, be it their hair, clothes or other accoutrements, while some are anthropomorphic beings, such as Caprico the goat man, and also represents one of the celestial keys that Lucy currently doesn’t have, which opens up some future storyline possibilities.
Alas the story ideas are not the victims here with noticeable drops in quality, not limited to the increasing reliance on still shots and similar rudimentary techniques, although these are relegated largely to transitional shots. The action scenes are left mostly untouched but they are some literal smoke and mirrors employed with the overuse of bright flashes and magical sparks to disguise any shortcomings while maintaining the visual flair and energy of these battles.
A small technical point to advise you of – Manga’s random chapter marking flaw has resurfaced, meaning if you choose to skip the opening credits the disc will jump to five minutes into the episode. Please sort this out Manga!
Even with the repetition of storyline ideas and the odd production shortcut, it is good to have the Fairy Tail guys and gals back and the faithful who waited so patiently for this newest release should feel suitably rewarded. Let’s hope this is just a temporary blip in what has been a consistently fun show.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 97 Commentary
Episode 99 Video Commentary
Episode 107 Commentary
Textless Opening Song – Don’t Think, Feel!!!
Textless Opening Song – The Rock City Boy
Textless Closing Song – Kono Te Nobashite
Textless Opening Song – Towa no Kizuna
Ratings – *** ½
Man In Black