Fairy Tail returned late last year after a bit of a hiatus and, judging it by the first half of the new season seen in the twelve episodes of Part 5, it seemed to have lost something of its charm and drive in the intervening period. There's no doubt that the series had taken its team of wizards about as far as it could go in the preceding 48 episodes, and as such there was clearly a need to reinvent or reboot the series in the manner that took Dragonball to the darker ground of Dragonball Z. The problem is that Fairy Tail has already been there and the first twelve episodes of the third season didn't seem to have anything new to offer other than more battles with even bigger villains. In place of the teamwork that helped each member of the little guilt overcome personal childhood traumas, all the new series seemed to have to offer was the possibility of romance blooming. Could the unthinkable have happened? Could the series actually have already peaked?
That's a common mistake to make in an anime or a manga series like FairyTail (or Dragonball Z, or One Piece). Just when you think the characters couldn't possibly get any more powerful, along comes another bigger, badder villain and the hero has to find new reserves of unexpected power. As predictable as that seems, it's a method that usually works and keeps viewers and readers hooked to see just how far it can go in continually raising the stakes. That seems to be the case with the current 'Nirvana' plot-line that takes up the majority of the 24-episode third season. Nirvana has been activated by six powerful dark guild demons known as Oración Seis - truly the baddest of the bad. Forming a coalition with several other guilds, the Fairy Tail wizards have to defeat each of the demons and their leader Brain before Nirvana reaches Cait Shelter.
Sounds like pretty standard plotting, in other words. And it is. Taking on each demon, battles will be almost lost before eventually being won around, and then stretched out to a couple of extra episodes apiece when the villains inevitably won't stay down. If all you expect of Fairy Tail then is for it to maintain the pace of the earlier series by sticking to the established DBZ/One Piece template, albeit with vastly more impressive state-of-the-art fantasy action-animation sequences, then the latter half of the series is well up to the mark. It looks spectacular, the characters remain entertaining, and the ever-developing dramatic situations are explosive and imaginative in terms of layouts and plotting. The fact remains however that it's all been done before, not least in the previous two seasons of Fairy Tail.
The conclusion to the 'Nirvana' storyline is worthwhile when it gets there - a nice little sequence of freeze-frames shows the teamwork of the Fairy Tail coalition simultaneously destroying the lacrimae that power Nirvana (giving nothing away here - you didn't think they'd fail the task, did you?) - but it's very slow in getting there. The 'Nirvana' storyline takes up a full 18 episodes of the 24 episodes included across Part 5 and Part 6 of the series. It's perhaps not quite accurate to say that anything happens slowly in a series as pacy and action-packed as Fairy Tail, but it is repetitive and it has nothing new or significant to add to how the characters and battles developed in the previous series; it just draws it out longer. There's very much a sense that Fairy Tail is likewise drawing itself out beyond its natural lifespan.
Aside from the predictable developments of the 'Nirvana' storyline, the remaining six episodes don't have much to recommend either. Enough has been said about the romantic situations in first two episodes of the season in the review of Part 5, and while romance doesn't really raise its head again, there is some follow-though in how Gray and Juvia's compatibility helps resolve the final story arc. That story arc (episodes 69-72), with an evil scientist called Daphne who attempts to destroy Magnolia with a Dragonoid, is however rather weak and predictably resolved, but it does at least bring the question of the disappearance of dragons back into the series. It also settles the matter that it's Anger and not Love that works best for Natsu. No surprises there either, but good at least to have that point made clear.
Fairy Tale - Part 6 is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray, consisting of 12 episodes (episodes 61-72). The 2-disc Blu-ray set consists of one BD50 disc (eight episodes) and one BD25 disc (four episodes plus extra features). The transfer is 1080/24p with an AVC encode. Only checkdiscs were seen for review, but the set will presumably be region-locked to BD Region B.
Having reviewed the previous five Fairy Tail sets on DVD, this is my first opportunity to see the series in High Definition on a Blu-ray release. (Previous sets are now being collected into Blu-ray sets also). In the event, while there is certainly something to be gained from the HD presentation in terms of clarity and general fluidity, there's not a major improvement over the already high quality of the image on the Standard Definition DVD releases. The image is 16:9 widescreen, colours are bright and well-defined, CG effects are superbly integrated into the animation and the stable transfer flows smoothly along. There's not really any difference either however in terms of how colour banding issues are handled. They are noticeable not just when screens fade to black, but there's gradation evident occasionally in variably shaded blocks of colour such as skies. It's not particularly pronounced, but it is as noticeable here as it was on the DVD releases.
On Blu-ray the audio tracks are in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the original Japanese track and in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for the English dub. I've stuck with the Japanese track throughout the series to this point and consequently have a clear definition of the characters based on this, so it would be difficult to comment on how successful the English dub is. As ever, the choice of original Japanese or English dub is down to the individual, but the FUNimation crew usually do a good job in trying to match voices with characters. There were no evident issues with the audio quality on the Japanese track I listened to. Subtitles which were yellow on previous DVD releases are now, I'm pleased to say, white on the Blu-ray release. This is much more easy-on-the-eye and complementary to the colour schemes.
As usual there's nothing of major interest in the Extra features. Disc 1 contains as Commentary from the FUNimation crew on Episode 64 and they also provide a Commentary for Episode 70 on Disc 2. Disc 2 also includes a Textless Opening, a Textless Closing and a US Trailer. Trailers for other FUNimation releases are also included here.
I don't think it's necessarily the case that there's been any drop in the quality of Fairy Tail. The series remains cute and funny, with great characters, plenty of action (it hardly lets up for a moment) and some great animation to keep up with the explosive battles and fast-paced adventures. If you compare the first episode of the season one of Fairy Tail with the last or compare the first episode of season two with the last, you can however clearly see a series with a sense of purpose developing and improving in leaps and bounds. There's nothing like the same sense of progression in season three. It's treading water, recycling ideas, reviving old villains, dragging a familiar fight situation out across three-quarters of the whole season, and at the end of it all we've really gained is Wendy and Charle. Not really a major development, it seems, but I hope I'm wrong...