While ditching the first three episodes of the series might have made more sense to the hard core fan base, it gives newcomers the chance to buddy up to the characters and get a feel for its blend of goofy and eccentric comedy and moments of wonder. These episodes might seem at first throwaway, but they do establish The Edolas Arc like a set of dominoes, with the arrival of certain characters the flick of the finger to set things in motion.
The meat of the series is quickly entrenched, after mysterious forces siphon the folk of Magnolia to the parallel world of Edolas. It’s a civilisation which uses magical items, rather than innate ability and the magic is in short supply. A power hungry monarchy is determined to drain the power from the Fairy Tail guild.
The only few to have made it without being turned into a giant crystal, Natsu and Wendy soon discover a phantasmagoric version of the guild, run by none over than a hardboiled version of Lucy. It might play up to the doppelganger trope, albeit with everybody’s core traits on the fritz, but does so with good nature and a candid humour, particularly Natsu’s other self, who’s cocksure in his car but a weedy lickspittle out in the open.
The action is stupendous, with a stunning and sometimes kooky display of magic and muscle. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, it never feels like any of the protagonists are in any real danger, as someone always shows up in the nick of time or a character discovers some hitherto untapped power. That said, there’s plenty of memorable clashes, the fight at the fun fair is particularly dazzling, and Gajeel brawling with Pantherlily is devilish fun.
The key to the careful plotting is the regular injection of mystery, spearheaded by Happy and Carla discovering the surreptitious origins of a cat-filled kingdom. It makes for a carefully meditated pay off, that’s by turns hilarious and heart-breaking.
The animation, while an improvement on the previous two seasons, is prone to inconsistency but it’s not without its showiness, particularly the iridescent cherry tree sailing down the river, and the floating islands of Edolas like one of Roger Dean’s Yes covers.
Fairy Tail is a series that embraces the tropes of fairy tales alongside those of anime, but with its universal themes and strong characters, it’s a potent mix that’s beautiful and exhilarating in its climax and, dare we say, empowering.
Extras: commentaries; textless opening/closing and trailers
FAIRY TAIL COLLECTION FOUR / CERT: PG / CREATORS: HIRO MASHIMA, MASASHI SOGO / TETSUYA KAKIHARA, AYA HIRANO, RIE KUGIMIYA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW