In the manner in which you would expect any anime series that has ambitions to be considered in the same league as Dragonball Z or One Piece in terms of its ability to consistently deliver imaginative and entertaining adventures for a younger audience, Fairy Tail continues to present ever greater challenges to its characters in Part 3 of the series through episodes 25 to 36. It's all part of the package for this kind of series, the consistent setting of challenges and the surpassing of them helping to show the characters growth and further define their personalities, while at the same time keeping the series and the animation fresh and exciting. At some stage - and it's usually around this time in a series of any length - you'll find there's a need to draw back with some "filler" episodes to vary the pace and tone, but while this appears to be the case here in these episodes of Fairy Tail, the filler episodes are well integrated into overall development of the series.
But first, there's a MAJOR battle to be gotten out of the way. The end of Part 2 of Fairy Tail saw Natsu, Gray and the others face their toughest challenge yet (until the next one!), up against the particularly ruthless Phantom Guild. The guild's target is, surprisingly, Lucy Heartfilia - who one would hardly think the most important person in the guild (although characters backgrounds often reveal unexpected histories here) - with the secondary objective of wiping out the Fairy Tail guild itself. With master Makarov indisposed, and wizards with incredible powers like Black Steel Gajeel, Master Jose and the enigmatic Element 4 to avail of - as well as other dark elements - the Phantom Guild present a formidable challenge to our heroes. If the outcome however is never seriously in doubt, it's not without a great deal of dynamically animated action battle sequences and some further revelations about the characters as they continue to grow and awaken to the true strength of their powers.
What's great about Fairy Tail in this respect, is that it's not a one-wizard show. Yes, Natsu is the star attraction and certainly the image-friendly teen-hero focus, but ultimately he really isn't any more important than the rest of the team and couldn't manage alone without them. It's called Fairy Tail and the series is careful to make the most of a wide range of characters that the concept offers, each of them with interesting backgrounds and individual powers to spread the interest and keep the series fresh with new stories and revelations. More than just a formulaic plot-scheme however, there is genuinely a philosophy behind this concept aimed at a younger audience that shows the benefits of building friendships, of the fact that everyone has their own strengths and personalities, but that working together can be for the greater good. As Makarov observes when faced with the destruction of FairyTail here - "A guild is not its physical form. It's the harmony of its people". It's a simple lesson, but the storyline lives up to it and the series is stronger for having this underlying theme. Now if only they can harness all that power without completely destroying places in the process...
That's good enough as far as it goes, particularly when the action sequences are as well animated as they are here, but the series still needs to go somewhere else other than binding a team together to demonstrate their strength on tasks or in defeating other guilds. At the moment, up to this point in Fairy Tail, that's the formula that has been established, and we're not quite getting beyond it just yet. After the continued battle with the Phantom Guild (episodes 25 to 28), there are some character loose ends to fill-in, relating to Lucy's background (episode 29) and Marakov's decisions about where Fairy Tail goes from here (episode 30), as Natsu, Grey, Lucy, Happy and Erza are finally officially recognised as a team, only to find their first official task is an acting gig. There's a little downtime then before the next major battle - one even more MAJOR than the last one - as the characters then have some hothouse fun at a spa town (episode 31 and 32) and at a seaside holiday resort (episode 33). As a younger audience-oriented show, these episodes aren't the usual excuses to have the characters strip down to skimpy beachwear (well, not just that...), but they also lead into the next extended storyline.
The overall planning of the series then is well considered - any good anime also has a director to plan the structure of the series - and the overall tone that this part of the series takes is established in the new end-titles. The end credits of an anime series traditionally have a more reflective or melancholic tone (oh yes, even this is all part of the concept - nothing random here in Japanese anime). The series has been gradually working though the background history of most of its characters, showing them to be more than the one-dimension figures that they originally appeared to be. Lucy and Loke are the subject of some good development here in these episodes, and there is great entertainment to be gained from Juvia (one of the Element 4 baddies) developing a crush on Grey, but principally it's clear from the end sequence titles in Part 3 that the emphasis is on the difficult childhood of Erza. The final episodes of this section head into some darker fantasy territory then, with hints of apocalyptic destruction (it's Japanese anime, what else do you expect?), as the team encounter another most dangerous group of wizards (Jellal's Death's Head assassin guild) and the possibility that not everything might turn out for the best for the Fairy Tail team this time around...
Fairy Tail - Part 3 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD only, consisting of 12 episodes 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: enhanced widescreen transfer, coming from Funimation, is of the usual excellent quality, properly standards converted. There are no noticeable issues with colour-banding or interlacing, the image is perfectly stable, brightly coloured and pleasing to the eye, the animation flowing smoothly.
The available audio tracks are the original Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track (an upgrade from previous Fairy Tail releases?) and the English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. Preferring the Japanese track throughout the series to this point, I didn't really explore the English dub on this release, but the audio quality on both seems to meet requirements. Subtitles are yellow, are generally clear and easy to read, but they're ...well ...yellow. They are not dubtitles.
Extra features are of the usual type for this series, with nothing of particularly great interest. There are Commentaries from the US voice-actors and production crew for Episode 26 and 32, and Textless Opening and Closings for each of the two different themes.
Part 3 of the Fairy Tail series (episodes 25-36) doesn't go in any particularly new direction, or rise to any new heights in the way that the previous set of episodes did, but the standard remains high here. There are plenty of action battles between wizards, the animation is superbly realised, and there is some interesting development of the characters even through the downtime between fighting, with some truly fantastic and delightfully surreal villains introduced to keep things exciting. Like any good series of this type however, while it adheres to a well-managed and carefully paced story arc, it manages to hint that the outcome is never certain and that there could be unpredictable developments on the way, so you'd better hang in there for what happens next, and with Fairy Tail you can feel fairly confident that it will deliver on that promise...