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Monday, December 11, 2017

Anime Hajime Review: Fairy Tail Season Four (Fairy Tail Month Part 4 of 9)

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

Season Positives

Time for a recap. We’re four entries deep into Fairy Tail Month. It can’t hurt to look at where we’ve been.

From season one, there were five major arcs.

The Lullaby Arc saw our team fight their first big threat. We also got the introduction of the powerful dark wizard, Zeref. Be sure to remember that name.

The Moon Drip Arc, which was fantastic, solidified Fairy Tail’s strongest team. Bigger and more dangerous villains came to be. The beginnings of future storylines took root.

The Phantom Lord Arc has actually been growing on me the more I think about it. Plus, this series saw great additions in the forms of Juvia and Gajeel.

The Tower of Heaven Arc’s significance, much like Phantom Lord’s, I respect much more in retrospect. This was when Erza rose became my favorite character in this series thus far.

The Battle of Fairy Tail Arc was a super cool, super drawn out free for all. Yet it did serve to establish two potential developments in the future. Though entertaining, its place in the show doesn’t appear pivotal yet.

Season one was large in scope. A combination of fun characters and interesting stories led to amazing payoffs. No season at this point has quite managed to match it since.

Season two gave us the Nirvana Arc. This was part continuation of the Tower of Heaven Arc and part natural progression of this story. It was here where we were given the sweetheart known as Wendy. Not to mention, this is the arc that currently holds the best final fight.

There was also the Daphne Arc. But we don’t need to talk about that.

Season three was the Edolas Arc. This was a mixed bag. There were a lot of good ideas. It would be nice to see the Edolas Fairy Tail group again. At the same time, there were problems. My God, there were problems. Still, it was worth it in the end for a pretty epic concluding fight.

Thinking about where we’ve been, it doesn’t feel that long. Except this series has done a number of things. When you let it sink in, it’s rather impressive, isn’t it? Then when you factor in the events of season four, it’s almost like the end of an era.

This go-around was the Tenrojima Arc. And for the first time, there could’ve been a natural finale. If only a few episodes and details got cut, Fairy Tail could’ve had a satisfying conclusion. I recognize that was never the intention, but it was possible.

If you think I’m taking this as a bad thing, I’m not. Nor am I taking this as a good thing. It’s just a thing. I can’t say what this will mean for this series moving forward. The only thing that’s clear, Fairy Tail instigated the biggest progression so far.

Many loose ends are gone or are on hold in an acceptable way. Most of what has made this series fun remains. Yet Fairy Tail found a way to change up everything. The future of this show is at a fresh start with the benefits of an established world.

The last few episodes following the Tenrojima Arc progressed the story seven years. This hasn't changed our main cast in terms of how we know them. But the effects of this event can become drastic. We will have to wait and see where this goes.

On the topic of the final episodes of this season, they were some of the best of the series. For every ounce of silliness that squeezes its way through, Fairy Tail does know how to have a moment.

That may sound fine and promising. That’s because it is. Too bad season four has been my least favorite. Problems that have existed from the beginning were littered throughout the Tenrojima Arc. The difference here was how they intensified. The thing that saved this season and made it enjoyable was what went right.

Despite what I might be indicating, season four did a lot of things right.

The Beginning

A consistent problem in this series has been the beginnings of its arcs. They’ve tended to drag and there pacing hasn’t left much to be desired. The worst culprit of this has been the Edolas Arc. I mean, how do you screw up an Erza versus Erza fight? How is that possible? How did you make that possible? I’m still uber-butt hurt about this.

The Tenrojima Arc, though not perfect, was worlds better. This story found a presentation model that was tolerable.

At the height of this arc, there were like four or five different things happening at once. Some of them were fights, but all were important. And rather than handling each of them one at a time, like season one, this story jumped back and forth. Unlike the Edolas Arc, Tenrojima never started something, cut away, and then came back to it five episodes later. In addition, everything that was taking place was engaging. So that took care of the issues the Nirvana Arc had.

As combatants dwindled, only then did the more intense developments began. These were the plot points you don’t want to pull away from. Once this arc had less going on, only then did it decide to focus up.

For comparison, and sorry to go back to this, let’s use Erza. During Tenrojima’s busiest section, Erza wasn’t doing much. Although the story had set it up to look like she was going to fight. The key difference between Edolas and Tenrojima was this fight never started. Nor was there any preconception to think it would be the greatest thing ever.

When Erza did fight, it was when this arc was ready to spend the necessary amount of time on it. Thus showing it in its entirety. While still not the ideal method, it beats being teased while in the middle of a clash.

Speaking of fights, there were some good ones here.

If there was one thing the Tenrojima Arc made clear, Fairy Tail’s S Class wizards meant business. Anyone who held that rank wasn’t someone you messed with. Erza was an S class. This is an exclusive honor many guild members qualify for. So, the same level of power associated with the rank exists within the wizards trying to earn it.

Season three ended at the start of the Tenrojima Arc. Fairy Tail was conducting its yearly S rank exam. The participants were who would you expect. There was Natsu, Gray, and Juvia. Alongside them were Fried Justine (voiced by Junichi Suwabe), Elfman Strauss (voiced by Hiroki Yasumoto), Levy McGarden (voiced by Mariya Ise), and Cana Alberona (voiced by Eri Kitamura). Each contestant was also allowed a partner of their choosing. This was how Lucy, Happy, and Gajeel got involved.

We’ve already learned time and time again that Natsu and Gray were more than capable of holding their own. As such Juvia held her own against Natsu and Gray. It was no shock to see them as candidates. And sure enough, each of them had great fights.

Gray and Juvia, in particular, had fantastic ones. Gray’s made all the sense in the world. In fact, had anyone other than Gray faced his opponent, it would’ve been wrong.

Juvia’s fight was unlike any she had been in before. Her attempts to win Gray's heart have been hilarious. But she is not a person you piss. I had already acknowledged Juvia’s power by this point. This killed any lingering doubts.

Yet what made the Tenrojima Arc shine where the other characters.

Let’s start with the weakest, Fried. Weakest in development that is. I was under the impression he already was an S rank wizard. Anyway, I will let you assume his chances. Spoilers, he didn’t get it. Though he did prove to be the kind of person you’d want on your side. His presence was enough to tip the balance of battle.

Next is Elfman. He keeps surprising me. He demonstrated what he was capable of back in the Phantom Lord Arc. Except that wasn’t enough to convince me he was S rank material. I’ve only seen him as the beefy buffoon. To be fair, he is. But his skills and dedication prove his qualifications.

After Elfman is Levy. Her combat capabilities weren’t established before this arc. Yet that’s why I love the idea of a Fairy Tail, that’s the key, S rank wizard. Levy's power level is low compared to the other participants. But what she lacks in strength she makes up for with intelligence. Her knowledge and quick thinking make her formidable. Then when she had her partner, Gajeel, act as muscle, she lives up to the rank's reputation.

Two quick things. First, though it was funny how Gajeel was not chosen as a contestant, he still should’ve been. Two, Levy and Gajeel are adorable together. There have been several couples forming. But the pair that’s the closest to fruition is these two. I’m on board, I want this to be a thing.

HOWEVER, Levy and Gajeel need to address what Gajeel did in the Phantom Lord Arc. That’s too big to ignore. It may have been touched upon in Tenrojima, except Levy wasn’t part of that conversation. That’s not right. Her outlook on this matter cannot be more vital.

Who's left is the person who came out of nowhere. She’s always been around. As a background character that is. She played the role well. Perhaps a little too well. Or at least that was the case. Now, Canna is right in the mix.

Her entire storyline for this arc hit right at my core. It was the kind of plot that makes an easy sucker out of me. The idea of it for some reason tugs at me. And the conclusion of it played out as perfect as you expect from the characters involved.

So yeah. There was a lot going for the Tenrojima Arc and this season. Why then is it my least favorite?

Series Negatives

One of Fairy Tail’s enduring problems has been its reliance on conveniences and deus ex machina. The Tenrojima Arc got carried away with this. This story backed itself into so many corners.

The number of times when success was not possible was staggering. Yet success always happened. Given who they were up against, Fairy Tail should’ve lost. That hurts to say, but yeah that was the case.

One thing this series has impressed me with is how it's managed to remove its most powerful characters. Not only that, do so in a way that makes sense. The Tenrojima Arc was no different.

Having a crisis take place during the S rank exam was a brilliant idea. It meant people like Erza, Master Makarov, and the other test proctors weren’t in their top condition. They had to use much of their magic while administrating the test. The same was true for the test takers. The villains were always going to be a challenge. But this time, Fairy Tail had a crippling disadvantage.

How did the story get out of this? By having fresh recruits come to rescue for reasons. It was nice that these people showed up because our heroes needed help. Except there was no reason why they should’ve showed up. Even if they did have a reason, their timing was impeccable.

We’re talking milliseconds before a disaster.

This would’ve been fine had this happened once, maybe twice. These moments were exciting. At first. Too bad the trick doesn’t mean much when you’re expecting it.

I have one exception to this. Yeah, this instance had everything I mentioned, but with one tiny extra detail. It involved Fairy Tail’s strongest wizard, Gildarts Clive (voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue). His fight was cool.

By cool, I mean he beat the s@#$ out of this one smug asshole and it was great.

Other than that, this got annoying. Then to bring it home, this arc had a weak finale.

Coming off the epicness that was the Nirvana and Edolas’ final fights, you’d think this one would at least match. No, it didn’t.

Things went downhill when super weapons that should’ve solved the problem, didn’t. Why build this up? Hell, why include it at all? This object didn't do anything. Much like the Spirit Bomb from Dragon Ball Z, this was an ultimate move with like a ten percent success rate.

Then came the final boss fight itself. This also suffered from a very Dragon Ball Z problem. As in the villain would not go down. Even after multiple waves of the heroes throwing everything they had at him, he kept getting back up.

Not because he was more powerful. It was because everyone kept asking the one question that makes me want to bash my brains in.

“Did we get him?”

Saying this once is bad enough. If a story decides to say it anymore after that, I check out. This includes whenever everyone is shocked when their last-ditch effort doesn't work. Of course, it didn’t. Nor was it your last of anything. You’re about to do the same damn thing you did before only louder.

I’m not saying the other arcs were guiltless in this aspect. The Tenrojima Arc just took this to the extra annoying mile.

The last thing, narration. I haven’t mentioned this yet and it needs to stop. This was obnoxious. Do not spend ten minutes re-explaining things. This is fine if the topic is something that happened several seasons ago. But if we are discussing something that happened this season. Or last episode. Or the killer, the same episode, piss off.

Season Four Final Thoughts

Season four and the Tenrojima Arc pushed a lot of my buttons. This was the most annoyed I’ve been in this series so far. That said, I still had a good time with it.

Despite what went wrong, what went right counterbalanced it. Characters got more time to shine. All the fights, aside from the last one, were wonderful. There’s now plenty of new things to explore. This series is not in a bad position.

And if I were a betting man, which I am, we haven’t seen Fairy Tail’s best yet. I’m going to hold out hope for that.

Fairy Tail Month will continue on December 15th with season five.

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