The last volume of Fairy Tail ended pretty tensely, with the guild hall in ruins, the guild’s master possibly on his death bed, and the members themselves locked in a battle with a giant, magically powered doomsday robot controlled by their arch rival. Those are some pretty high stakes, and as this set opens the clock is still ticking on stopping the weapon that threatens to wipe Fairy Tail and several square miles clean off the map.
With the weapon drawing its strength from Phantom Lord’s quartet of Elemental Four wizards, those that have made it onto the transformed fortress split up to hunt down and defeat the not-so-fab four. This is fairly stock shonen formula, but as always Fairy Tail finds ways to keep it fresh.
The absolute highlight is Gray’s battle with Juvia, the female water wizard introduced in the previous volume. So eccentric is she that Gray ends up unknowingly catching her heart, and she spends the resulting battle comically swooning and jumping from one extreme to another as an oblivious Gray treats it as a standard battle against a top-ranked enforcer. Pretty much every antagonist in the show has been eccentric, but Juvia takes it to a whole new level, and it gives a tired formula a much needed shot in the arm. Natsu, of course, gets a rematch with Gajeel, Phantom’s own dragon slayer. This is supposed to be a big, dramatic event, but it feels let down by the somewhat generic nature of our ‘lead’. Natsu is brilliant when the story uses him for comedy, but his constant ‘I won’t let you hurt my friends!’ nature is very clichéd, and has been the backbone of shonen heroes since the earliest days. It’s already well established that Natsu is fiercely protective of Fairy Tail, so unfortunately this just feels like more of the same instead of the triumphant, awe-inspiring moment it should be.
Whilst the arc features practically the entire guild, the focus character is Lucy. We found out last time that Phantom Lord were primarily attacking because they had been hired by her incredibly rich father to bring her home, and the arc spends some time looking at her backstory and role. This continues into a two-episode story which finally explains the past of the mystery Loke and why he’s been consistently avoiding her. It’s still clearly early days for Lucy as a wizard, but a prodigious future for her seems assured. It’s certainly nice to see a shonen female who is assertive rather then sitting in the corner bawling as she waits to be rescued.
A filler episode sees the main cast take a job from a theatre owner, and end up playing the roles in his latest script themselves. It’s amusing enough, but the ‘Badly done play that gets mistaken for a comedy’ plot has been done by so many other shows. Bizarrely, quite a few bit characters from earlier in the series come to watch. The most curious of these is the villain of the very first episode, the circumstances of which get fobbed off as a big misunderstanding. Odd choices there, writers.
With arcs for Lucy and Gray and smatterings of explanation for Natsu, it’s little surprise that the next big arc concentrates on Erza. We’ve had lots of little hints about her having a tragic past that drives her to be the focused character we know, and they all start to gain context with the arrival of a group of dark magic users from her past who spirit her away to a distant island. The show actually appears to have learned something from the previous arcs, as we get a few subtle moments with Erza that echo and add weight as the tension starts to rise. It is becoming a bit predictable at this point that each of the characters has a painful past they choose to keep private, but hers takes things to the necessary next level as we discover that she has unfortunate links to a puppet master partially responsible for nearly all the past high level threats the cast have faced.
Along the same lines as my complaint with Natsu, there’s a bugbear nagging at me with this arc too. Previously I’ve strongly supported the show’s willingness to move at a swifter pace then most of its brethren, so ironically I now have to wonder if that is a bad thing. Something intangible made me feel we’d reached this point in the overall story too quickly. Possibly it’s because we’ve already had so many ‘origin story’ arcs or possibly because the antagonist of this arc has been revealed to be such a major player. Either way, I feel as if at this point the series begins to sadly reveal a bit too much of the shonen tropes that often keep me away.
Extras consist of the two pairs of opening and closing animations debuting on this set and another pair of dub commentaries. I have to be honest and say I simply feel the show changes its bookend animations far too quickly. An opening with elements of Phantom Lord debuted long before that arc started, and at the start of this volume is replaced with one with the new Tower of Heaven arc, even though it doesn’t start until midway into the second disc. Worse, it’s then replaced with a spoiler-heavy one for the arc coming next by the last of this set’s 12 episodes. Very poor planning on the part of the original producers. The second commentary is a write-off, but the first offers an intriguing explanation of how sound mixing for the show is done. I admit to being more a fan of visual design, but I appreciate the key part sound plays in selling a story, so it’s very interesting to hear an in-depth explanation of the technology and techniques which include ways to make dialogue sound more ‘epic,’ and even clever use of sound filters in the commentary’s edit to pinpoint the effects being discussed. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes commentary tracks worth paying out for.
Whilst still fun to watch, Fairy Tail Part 3 starts to lose some of that enchanting magic that had wowed previously. It’s still entertaining, but the question now is if that factor is sadly short term or will continue. Either way, Erza spotlight makes everything better!
Fairy Tail Part 3 (UK Edition) is available through Amazon.co.uk.