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Friday, December 1, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Fairy Tail Season One (Fairy Tail Month Part 1 of 9)

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Fairy Tail. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Introduction

Fairy Tail takes place in the world of Earth-land. Here magic is the norm. The people who practice the art tend to join the various wizarding guilds across the land. To make a living, wizards seek out odd jobs that require their abilities.

One of the more rambunctious guilds is the lively Fairy Tail. Its members are some of the most well-known magic users around. Among their most destructive is the team considered Fairy Tail’s strongest.

Natsu Dragneel (voiced by Tesuya Kakihara) the Dragon Slayer and his partner Happy (voiced by Rie Kugimiya). Lucy Heartfilia (voiced by Aya Hirano) the Celestial Wizard. Gray Fullbuster (voiced by Yuichi Nakamura) the Ice Mage. And Erza Scarlet (voiced by Sayaka Ohara) the legendary sword master.

With these five, no task is too great. Come hell or high water, they will see the job done.

Month Overview

December 2017 is Fairy Tail Month.

To end off the year, we will be looking at all eight seasons of the long-running series. Giving us a total of, my God, 277 episodes. To get through intact, we need to set a few ground rules.

By the end of everything, I’ll be concluding if the entire series is worth watching. Yet to review the entirety of Fairy Tail in one go isn’t going to work. I don’t trust myself to remember details from season one and apply them to season eight.

Furthermore, an outstanding season is as memorable as a garbage one. This makes both easy to talk about in an overarching summary. Except those are the extremes. What if a season is only okay? Or what if there are one or two standout moments in an otherwise lackluster batch? What if those stand out moments apply to just a given season, but do little to affect everything else? These instances shouldn’t get ignored. They may be worth discussing.

Then there’s the problem with the eighth season, Fairy Tail Zero. Yes, it’s based on a spin-off story. Too bad it has actual connections that make a difference in the main plot. Can’t treat that as a separate series.

In fact, treating each season as a separate series review would run into its own issues. The main one being continuity. Particularly when a positive or negative aspect can apply to Fairy Tail the series. This could lead to me saying the same exact thing eight times. I don’t want to do that. If there were only two or three seasons, then okay, that’s manageable.

This could be doable in longer shows if there’s enough of a gap between installments. Yeah, that didn’t happen here. The norm was a week between finale and premiere. Though you can see which is which, the effects of time don't exist. The only exception was a year’s break when the series went on hiatus in 2013.

I’m starting to see how this whole idea can turn into a huge mess.

Thus, the structure of the month will be as follows. I’m breaking the series into eight, season-specific reviews. No synopsis, we’ll jump straight into positives and negatives. With them, we will look at any highlights or improvements. As well as focus on any stumbles.

Then I’ll wrap everything up with a final ninth, more traditional, review. Elements that spanned the entire series will get discussed there.

For example, characters. Granted, I may bring up one or two things Natsu, Lucy, Gray, Erza, or anyone else did during the seasons. Yet who they are as characters I will save for the end.

With that out of the way, let’s begin with the first season of Fairy Tail.

Season Positives

The hardest part of any journey is the initial step. Needing to get through 277 episodes is daunting. Good or bad, that’s enough to hesitate over the start button. You can only hope that it’s worth it in the end.

Having sat through Fairy Tail’s first forty-eight episodes, the next 229 won't be as demanding. For one, there’s momentum. Plus, this series has the nice bonus of being a lot of fun so far.

Season one was strong. Its biggest accomplishment was creating a world you want to get lost in. In addition, this opener introduced a swell of characters you don’t mind following along for the ride. And yes, it’s been a ride.

Over the course of the season, the story went through five arcs. There was the Lullaby Arc, the Moon Drip Arc, the Phantom Lord Arc, the Tower of Heaven Arc, and the Battle of Fairy Tail Arc. As an indicator of things to come, none of these plotlines were weak. They were solid for their own reason. Except some reasons were more interesting than others.

For example, the Lullaby Arc. This finished off the series' introduction. We learned who our main cast would be and got enough backstory to get us going. Our first bits of exciting action was also present. So, again, good.

But the Lullaby Arc was inferior to something like the Battle of Fairy Tail Arc. Here there was more flushing out of what made the characters who they were. That’s always going to be more meaningful than learning of someone’s existence.

Yet what hurt the Battle of Fairy Tail Arc was its predictability. It was clear what the final showdown would be. You’re waiting for it to happen. That made the slower moments drag on and there were a few slow moments. That said, this arc had one of the best fights of the season.

For the remaining three arcs, they were fantastic. On top of being important. Each served as an essential step to allow this series to expand. Had they not been here or had been terrible, it would’ve been hard to look forward to the rest of the show.

The Tower of Heaven Arc gave Fairy Tail tragedy. Although labeling it as such is too intense at this point in the story. In spite of the severity, it was needed. This show’s bread and butter, at this time, is its goofy nature. Nevertheless, the Tower of Heaven Arc demonstrated that dark things have happened to our characters. And dark things are possible in the future.

What’s more, this arc demonstrated anyone could turn into a regular character. Someone who appeared secondary may develop into someone pivotal. A silly joke or set up could have more meaning than you give it credit for.

Then the Phantom Lord Arc, I would argue, was the most necessary of the season. Along with it having some terrific face-offs, it opened the door for so many possibilities. The main one being exhilarating fights didn’t have to come from the main characters. Coupled with that, countless conceivable storylines became a thing.

In one swoop, Fairy Tail was free to do whatever it wanted. Whether that came to be is a discussion for a later time.

And Fairy Law is awesome. It would be a shame if it never gets used again.

Finally, of the five arcs, Moon Drip was my favorite. It did a lot to solidify the series going forward. It established the team of Natsu, Lucy, Gray, and Erza. It formed how their group dynamic would operate. Despite whatever may be going on, it should be entertaining. This was then confirmed and re-confirmed throughout the season. It’s now up to the rest of the series to make something of it.

Likewise, Gray in this arc came to be a character worth rooting for. His rival shtick with Natsu may be hilarious, but there’s more to him. There was a wonderful instance when he was willing to stand up to Erza in her ever-terrifying glory. When he must he will draw a line, consequences be damned.

Together with the arcs, there were the little things. These small nuances added tons of personality to this series. These little touches, like the entire first season, carried more weight to them. Quirks that could become commonplace going forward needed to sell here. Fairy Tail has a lot going for it.

But to say season one was perfect would be a gross misstatement.

Season Negatives

You can split what’s wrong with this season into two groups. One, something occurred and it needs fixings before it gets out of hand. Two, a problem exists that needs resolving now and better not stay persistent. One of these is more worrying than the other.

The former has a swell of examples.

For starters, I guess breaks aren’t a thing for this series. Season one explored its five arcs well. None of them were unsatisfactory. Most episodes weren’t wasted. Of the forty-eight, only one felt like filler.

Now, I’m of the opinion that filler doesn’t have to be the bane of a show. If used in the correct manner and not too often, unimportant one-off stories have their place. Like, say, between arcs.

Think about it. You’ve just finished a long, intense confrontation. The heroes have defeated the big bad and the threat is, for now, over. What’s wrong with the heroes enjoying their victory? Why not spend one or two episodes doing random nonsense? They can be as nonsensical as they want, it doesn’t matter. We’ve earned a break. According to Fairy Tail, no that’s not allowed.

The next arc began as soon as the previous one ended. Oh, you completed that long, arduous struggle, cool. Do it again. 

Since Fairy Tail had plenty of silliness throughout, it got away with this. This time.

Season one had a number of threatening encounters. I imagine the series can only ramp up. If it doesn’t then why bother? More serious developments will come. When they transpire, the jokey joke atmosphere will need to step aside. Either that or it will no longer be charming. Allowing a quick breather will go a long way into balancing everything out.

Besides, season one’s arcs, while solid, had a couple of pacing oddities. What made each of the five arcs so good was how intricate they were. If only everything wasn’t taking place at once.

Something Fairy Tail season one made sure to do was complete what it was doing. When two characters fought, that was it. Nothing was going to break the action until a winner came out ahead. This made each encounter stand out.

When a victory came it was a triumph. You realized how invested you were. In fact, you got so invested you forgot there were three other fights going on. What’s more, they haven’t started. You must go through the entire process again. And remember, season one always completed what it was doing.

You could also see when the story wrote itself into a corner. Some huge incident would take place and there was no clear way out of it. Then in the next scene, poof, it got solved. Wait, how did that happen? Never fear, someone would be there to explain why it got fixed. The season never showed how it got fixed, but hey.

At present, these issues aren’t major. They are tolerable. Something else, on the other hand, is getting real annoying real quick.

Lucy's Fights Sucked

As of season one, I like Lucy. I don’t want her to go away. She is an integral part of the group. She’s the straight man to offset the insanity of her comrades. That said, in a fight, she has been useless.

On more than one occasion, Lucy was more a hindrance than an asset. Most of the time when she was in battle, Lucy ran around not knowing what to do. And it involved a lot of screaming which wasn’t helping her case.

At her disposal, Lucy had the means to be a formidable opponent. She's a summoner after all and her team's getting pretty good. Too bad she never realized this until the last second. Or one of her spirits acted on their own to save her.

Then again, whenever Lucy did summon someone they did most of the fighting. Sure, she assisted, but her spirits were doing the cool things. 

Lucy had very few chances to prove herself as a capable wizard. To be fair, I said few, not zero. I get where her power comes from and how she can be of use. Moving forward, I expect her to play a much larger role. That wasn’t the case this season.

Season One Final Thoughts

Where season one ended gave me a lot of hope for what’s to follow. Going into season two, my intrigue has turned to true excitement. 

I’m curious to see why Fairy Tail lasted so long. That’s something I haven’t mentioned yet.

While I did enjoy this season, there are shows I’ve enjoyed more that never got a follow up. I assume a mixture of manga popularity and exposure went into this series' longevity.

Now am I saying Fairy Tail doesn’t deserve its run? At this point, not in the slightest. I’m thrilled to have plenty of time left with this series.

Fairy Tail Month will continue with a look at season two on December 4th.

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