If you're new to Fairy Tail, then Fairy Tail the Movie - Phoenix Priestess isn't really the best place to begin watching. For a start, we are currently up to Episode 85 in Manga Entertainment's UK DVD/BD run of the regular series, so there's a lot of back story here. The other reason not to start here is, like most anime movie spin-offs, it's just not that good an example of the series.
It's not really possible to bring a new viewer up to date with events in the series so far without taking up a substantial portion of the movie's 82 minute running time, but just in case any regular viewers have forgotten, the opening post-credits sequence of Phoenix Priestess rapidly reacquaints you with the skills, powers and personality quirks of the main members of the wizards of the Fairy Tail guild. Hired for a mission to capture a criminal called Geese, you won't be surprised to find that Natsu eats fire and uses dragon power but suffers from motion sickness, while his buddy Gray uses ice power and has a habit of losing his shirt regularly. Although friends, there is however a regular rivalry between them, fire and ice not mixing terribly well.
Other members of the team include Erza, who doesn't know her own strength and Lucy whose special skill is the summoning of zodiac spirits. I'm not sure where the movie lies in the continuity of the series, because although Wendy and Charle are members of the team here, they tend to take a back seat. This is probably because the movie was being prepared around the same time as they are being properly introduced in the last season of Fairy Tail, so I imagine the filmmakers don't quite know what to do with them at this stage. There's no mention, for example, of Edolas, the parallel universe where Fairy Tail has currently relocated to in the main series, or indeed any awareness of the Exceeds in their midst, one of the main plot twists of the last season. We're somewhere in the vicinity though.
This is traditionally a problem with movie spin-offs. They tend to lie outside series continuity, so there shouldn't be any significant developments, or at least none that have any lasting impact. You can't mess around with the regular characters then, but you can introduce some new ones just for the length of the movie. That person, in case you haven't already worked it out, is the Phoenix Princess, …clair. The movie opens here with a prologue that shows …clair making an escape when a druidic ceremony is interrupted by a group of armed men. …clair runs into the Fairy Tail team back in Magnolia soon after their failed mission to capture Geese. Discovering that she is being hunted by some powerful wizards, the FT crew accompany her on her mission to deliver her half of the Phoenix Stone to a mage called Keilard. …clair doesn't remember everything that has happened, but she knows her mission is of vital importance.
It's of life or death importance you could say, one where the whole land is threatened by a powerful evil force that has emerged, but since when have the dangers in Fairy Tail ever been anything but apocalyptic? Essentially then, there's nothing new here, it's just another battle with bigger, badder villains who are in danger of unleashing destruction on the land of Fiore. The movie is at least admirably concise, packing this into 82 minutes when it would probably take up about 18 x 23 minute episodes of the series at the current battle-rate. There are no great surprises or revelations unless you count a brief shower scene and a skimpy insecure towel that reveals more of Lucy than we've seen before (lets just say that this is one area where there are big "developments"), the movie wrapping things up with the usual lessons about friendship and teamwork.
The animation is nothing special, but it's not bad either. Judging by the extensive end credits, work on the movie has doubtlessly been subcontracted out to other animation studios and there's a new director on board (Masaya Fujimori), but clearly there's no scope here for any individual flair or ideas. There's a little bit of expansion to new territories on the journey, but nothing that is as spectacular or imaginative as some of the more technologically developed lands in the main series. Battle scenes are dispatched with quickly without much sense of danger or dynamic - or indeed without the over-extended back-and-forth from the brink element of battles in the regular series - but they are competently storyboarded. It's definitely a case of playing safe with the plot and the animation, which makes Fairy Tail the Movie - Phoenix Priestess really scarcely much more than an extended standalone episode, and one that isn't even as good as an average extended plotline from the regular series.
Fairy Tail the Movie - Phoenix Priestess is released by Manga Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray. On DVD, brief though the film and extras are, it's transferred onto a dual-layer disc. The DVD is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2. The transfer, as you would expect is 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, and coming from Funimation, is of the usual excellent quality and properly standards converted. Colours are bright and well-defined, the transfer stable with no sign of interlacing or colour banding. Basically, this is as good as you would expect to find a Standard Definition transfer.
The audio tracks are a little notch in quality above the usual series. Both the original Japanese track and the English dub are Dolby Digital 5.1. I didn't check the English dub, but the Japanese track has all the necessary impact and makes good use of surrounds. Subtitles are optional and are in a bold white font.
In addition to the usual trailers and textless credit sequences, there is one extra feature of note. Fairy Tail the Movie Prologue - The First Morning is an additional 11:38 scene featuring …clair and how she comes by her companion Momon. It's not exactly a deleted scene, as it would hardly fit into the movie as it stands, unless it was planned originally as a flashback episode.
No surprises, no great revelations, Fairy Tail the Movie - Phoenix Priestessis just a regular or maybe even slightly below-par extended standalone episode of Fairy Tail. The storyline might be thin, but at least it's not padded out, and if you're a fan of the series, this passes the time nicely before the next batch of episodes in the regular series. Considering the regular series is currently sitting at a new high point, if you want to just sit this one out and just wait for the continuation in Part 8, you really won't be missing much.