I'm not the biggest fan of anime, but the 'Fairy Tail' series completely won me over when I randomly volunteered to review the first Blu-ray set a few years ago. The premise is simple, yet allows for endless scenarios: magic is an everyday tool that all people use to accomplish tasks, but very few have the ability to completely harness and master it. Those who can are known as wizards. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes and sexes. No two are the same. Certain powers may contain similar elements, but no two wizards share the same magic. Because of this, they can be categorized into classes according to their powers.
Just like the different "houses" of the 'Harry Potter' series, the wizards are aligned with various organized groups known as "guilds." The wizards within a specific guild may differ in attitude, strength and personality, but they all hold the same general ideals. From the very first episode of 'Fairy Tail,' we've followed along with the wizards of the Fairy Tail guild through thick and thin. We've seen many light-hearted moments, as well as many tragic and emotionally devastation ones.
FUNimation started off sending each Blu-ray set for me to review, but for reasons unknown, they stopped sending them after the fourth Blu-ray set. I have yet to see sets five through eight. Assuming that they follow suit with the doubled-up "collection" releases of the first four sets, I'm waiting to purchase them until sets five and six are combined and sets seven and eight are combined into cheaper consolidated releases. Walking blindly into set nine for this Blu-ray release, a lot of things have changed. Many of the dark wizards that belonged to the wild assassin guild (that was out to destroy Fairy Tail in set four) are now full-fledged members of Fairy Tail. I have no idea how things went from A to Z, but that's doesn't mean you can't follow the events of this set with ease.
Up to set nine (which technically marks the first episode of the third season of Japan's popular series), each 12-episode set has contained the same flow: (with the exception of the first set) the first four episodes wrap up a previous cliff-hanging eight-episode story arch, followed by four monster-of-the-week episodes and wraps up with the first four episodes of a to-be eight-episode story arches that will end with cliffhangers and resolve in the next set. 'Part 9' breaks the habit, featuring one solitary story that isn't resolved here.
The time has come for another wizard to be promoted to the coveted "S Class" ranking alongside esteemed peers Erza, Mirajane and Gildarts. Our lead characters Natsu, Gray and Juvia are amongst the guild members invited to participate in the unbelievably challenging trial. Each participant is allowed to invite one non-S Class member to function as their companion. We quickly learn how taxing and difficult the challenges will be, but don't see the major surprise that comes along with the guild challenge. Although we've seen the gang face many seemingly impossible missions until now, this is definitely the hardest mission we've seen them go through.
Another change to come with set nine is the inclusion of more adult content. My kids have watched 'Fairy Tail' with me up to this point, but now we're starting to get animated side-boob, silly suggestive sequences, little bits of swearing and even sexual references. It's as if the showrunners decided that they needed to add this content in order to keep up with other more popular anime series. Having said that, even at this point, 'Fairy Tail' still isn't as "adult" as most other anime series that I've watched and reviewed. It could be worse, but it's not as kid-friendly as it one was. During the video commentary, Todd Haberkorn (who voices lead character Natsu), mentions that he can no longer watch the series with his young son because of the new content.
It's nice that as we hit 'Fairy Tail''s 100th episode, it's still just as strong, fun and entertaining as it's ever been. I wish the show's creators could teach a thing or two to the writers and showrunners of the American TV series that only lessen with age.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The consistency of 'Fairy Tail' Blu-ray sets continues with 'Part 9.' Just like the others, this set contains two region-free Blu-ray discs and two DVDs of the same content. The first Blu-ray disc is a BD-50 with episodes 97 through 104 and the second is a BD-50 with episodes 105 through 108. (The previous releases contained a BD-25 for disc two, so thanks for the upgrade, FUNimation!) Unfortunately, all four discs are housed in a clear DVD-size keepcase with a plastic slipcover. Sorry, folks – no blue keepcase here, so this disc is going to stick out on your Blu-ray shelf. Made to look like a frame, the front center of the slipcase allows you to see through to the cover art, while the edges and sides are decorated to frame the cover image like a book. The cover art sheet is reversible so that you can see a different image through the "frame" – should you choose to do so. Disc one plays an FBI warning, a FUNimation vanity reel, a disclaimer for unrated features and a promo before getting to the main menu. Disc two plays the exact same content with a different promo.
The video quality of 'Part 9' is absolutely identical to the last 'Fairy Tail' set that I reviewed. 'Part 9' arrives on Blu-ray with a smooth 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer shown in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. When intended to be, the motion of this animation flows along naturally. The only times that the image's movements appear choppy are when they attempt slow motion or when a character has a skittish outburst that's intentionally meant to look jittery. Artifacts and aliasing are absent, although there's a minor banding issue that occasionally pops up.
The lines drawn are still not as defined as they were in the 'Part 1' and 'Part 2' Blu-rays. At times, should-be straight lines seem to feature slightly jagged and pixelated edges. Luckily, this isn't a constant nuisance, but it's obvious when it happens. Black levels are still strong, deep and rich. This style of anime is quite colorful, full of vibrant primaries that may all share the screen at the same time. These Blu-ray sets do justice to the well-saturated palette.
The audio also keeps consist with the previous releases. Only one English option is available for 'Fairy Tail,' a clean lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track. The only other option is a Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track.
The first thing you hear when you start each episode is poppy Japanese rock music during the opening credits. As the theme song plays, each channel fills solely with loud music. This usage drops your room right into the magic-filled world of 'Fairy Tail.' The Blu-ray set keeps the well-balanced dynamics going throughout.
The use of surround and rear speakers is just as strong as ever. Effects frequently move from channel to channel. This seamless imaging doesn't go unnoticed. The magic in the series stays the same, so their effects also stay just as great as they did in previous releases. Blasts of water and ice smoothly flow across the room during H20 battles. During Natsu's great battles with an equal, but darker wizard, the sound of their mirrored magic awesomely spreads throughout the room. Bass and LFE are also ever-present and powerful.
I love 'Fairy Tail.' With the content taking a turn for the adult – although not nearly as adult as most anime – I can't watch it with the kids anymore, but I'll gladly continue watching it by my lonesome self for my own viewing pleasure. Having not seen Blu-ray parts five through eight, I was definitely missing out on a lot of story by jumping ahead to 'Part 9,' but with this set telling one solitary story (which isn't even wrapped up within these 12 episodes), it's not at all hard to follow along in this stand-alone story. FUNimation has continued with the consistent Blu-ray cases (which are really clear four-disc DVD-size keepcases), video and audio qualities, and special features. 'Part 9' is just as entertaining as the others and it's re-sparked my desire to binge-watch the series. As soon as parts five through eight are released in two-part collections (which are cheaper than the individual Blu-ray sets), I'll purchase the missing sets and fill in the gaps. If you're looking for a great anime series, don't pass on 'Fairy Tail.'