I haven't thoroughly enjoyed a Japanese animated series since watching 'Robotech' with my brothers as a kid. As a teenager, I gave 'Ninja Scroll' and 'Akira' a shot, both of which were just okay. My wife watched and enjoyed 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' prior to the release of M. Night Shyamalan's boring live-action adaptation, but it just didn't hold my interest. Not having loved an anime series since 'Robotech,' I wasn't looking forward to reviewing this 294-minute 12-episode 'Fairy Tail' set - but much to my surprise, shortly after popping in disc one, I started enjoying it. The blend of childish humor and very mild adult jokes brought me back to my youth with tiny reminders that I'm not as old as I think I am. (Mind you, there's a difference between childish humor and stupid humor. Childish humor is naive and silly; stupid humor consists of poop jokes, and people getting hit in the junk and falling down a lot. Thankfully, none of the latter is present here.)
'Fairy Tail' takes place in a world where magic is an everyday tool that all people use to accomplish tasks, kind of like electricity. But only a select few have the ability to completely harness and master it. They are known as wizards and come in all ages, shapes, sizes and sexes. While some may share similar qualities, no two are the same. Wizards fall into different classes according to their powers. The first wizard that we meet is a young girl named Lucy. The root of her power is rare. Known as a celestial wizard, she has the ability to summon certain contracted spirits through the gate of the spirit world to help her. Other wizards draw their powers from things like ice, fire, wind, et cetera. Sure, this may sound like 'The Last Airbender,' but it's actually quite different.
If a wizard decides to make a career of it, he or she must find a guild to work in. There are more than a dozen to apply for (including a few black magic ones), but only one that everyone wants to be a member of. Always in the public eye, seen as an object of popularity, is the Fairy Tail guild. Being a teenager who reads about the guild's members and achievements, Lucy is dying to become a member of Fairy Tail. Out of shear luck, in the first episode, Lucy meets a young hot-headed member of Fairy Tail named Natsu. He and his talking and flying blue wizard cat sidekick Happy introduce Lucy to the other members of Fairy Tail and get her inducted.
The next few episodes establish the world they live in via stand-alone episodes showing them on certain missions. Other members are introduced along the way and it quickly becomes evident which ones will be the main few. Before long, we get into a multi-episode story arch with our central five characters. Just as that story is closed, our characters try foiling a much bigger plot against humankind - then it ends mid-story. The set ends with a cliffhanger. Although this is the first time that the animated 'Fairy Tail' (which started as a Manga) has made its way into the U.S., it's more than 100 episodes deep in Japan. Technically, this set is only one-third of the first season. There are 48 episodes in the first season and the other two-thirds of it will be released on Blu-ray in December 2011 and January 2012. With the high number of per-season episodes, you can assume that season two will be released in a similar fashion some time next year. Japan is currently nine episodes into the third season, so don't get your hopes up for those Blu-rays for some time.
After watching this first two-disc 12-episode set, I'm hooked. Being left in the middle of a cliffhanger, next month's release of 'Part 2' can't come quick enough. I'm excited to have stumbled across this Japanese animated series. 'Fairy Tail' is fun, playful, clever and filled with enjoyable characters. Anime-lovers should enjoy it thoroughly and those who think they won't - like me - just might be surprised.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Part 1' arrives in a two-disc Region-free set. Holding the first eight episodes, disc one is a BD-50. With the remaining four episodes and a few short special features, disc two is a BD-25. Both are housed in a blue keepcase with a plastic slipcover. 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. Upon inserting disc one into a Blu-ray player, unskippable videos play before the menu - a warning about copyright, a FUNimation vanity reel, an unrated disclaimer and a preview for 'Yu Yu Hakusho' season four coming to Blu-ray. Disc two only features the FUNimation vanity reel.
'Fairy Tail' debuts 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 spastic characters is meant to be jittery.
Artifacting and aliasing are absent, but banding frequents about one time each episode and typically in the sky or in beams of light.
Where the picture quality is perfectly crisp and clean, the lines aren't as defined as they could be. The comparison could be made to the images being drawn with a fat sharpie instead of a fine pencil. It's never annoying or distracting, but simply could be better.
This style of anime is quite colorful, full of vibrant primaries that may all share the screen at the same time. 'Fairy Tail' is no exception and this Blu-ray highlights the well-saturated palette.
Only one English option is available for 'Fairy Tail,' a clean lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track. The only other foreign language track included is a Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track.
The first thing you hear when you start the series is the intro and the Japanese pop-music opening credits. As the theme song plays, each channel fills with music only. This usage drops your room right into the magic-filled world described in the intro just prior. After the credits are finished and the episode begins, the audio mostly shifts to the front. Unless thematic material causes the score to rise and fill the channels again, the surround and rear channels are frequently used simply for little bits of witty environment dialog. Let me explain.
Did you ever watch that Japanese game show called 'Takeshi's Castle' that was brought to the U.S., innuendously dubbed over and played on the Spike network as 'MXC?' Do you remember how there were little bits of dialog dubbed in for almost every person on screen, as if everyone had to interject a wisecrack? More often than not, that's what the surround and rear channels are used for in 'Fairy Tail.' Whenever our team of wizards is doing anything in front of an audience of onlookers, each spectator has something to say. You can't help but laugh each time the peanut gallery slips out a piece of golden dialog. But don't worry, this is not all those channels are used for. Remember, I said they are frequently used for such effect. During the loud fighting scenes of magical destruction, they kick on in such a way that places the bass-filled action around you.
Despite dreading having to watch all five hours of this first collection, after watching it, I found myself longing to know how the cliffhanger ends. I am invested in the characters and the fun shenanigans they get themselves into while trying to save the world. And the possibilities of the story at hand are limitless. The video and picture quality aren't demo-worthy, but they're not terrible either. They are perfectly sufficient for what the show is - an animated series that you wouldn't recommend so much for kids, but for the kid within.