For Fairy Tail fans, the quiet slumber between the manga’s conclusion in summer 2017 and the anime’s return was a long, drawn-out wait. Once it was announced Fairy Tail would be back in fall 2018, a large chunk of fans continued to wait, hoping Funimation would SimulDub the final season.
I was one of those fans, faithfully checking Funimation’s Twitter and other news outlets. I didn’t doubt Funimation’s desire to SimulDub the final season, but I knew coordinating voice actors who had projects outside of anime would be tough. Thankfully, mere days before the fall 2018 season’s start, Funimation announced their SimulDub would air three weeks behind the Japanese broadcast.
Everyone rejoiced. There’s something special about the English dub of Fairy Tail. I think it’s a combination of excellent casting, passion on the part of the voice actors, a great script, and the Fairy Tail fandom itself. It’s natural for voice actors to have varying degrees of excitement for the roles they play, but when so many of them love their characters as much as the fans do, magic happens.
“So good to see you again, my friend,” Colleen Clinkenbeard tweeted with a gif of Erza. Other actors from the show also expressed their excitement for its return, such as Todd Haberkorn (voice of Natsu), who suggested, “Maybe we can do something fun with the voice cast to celebrate Fairy Tail’s return from a long hiatus?”
Lots of shōnen shows like to focus on themes of friendship and never giving up, but I think out of all of them, Fairy Tail does it best. Back in a 2008 interview with Thought Company, creator Hiro Mashima said, “I might be getting older, but I still like hanging out with my friends, I still play video games with friends until the early morning hours. So just the idea was to draw a community of friends, and how my friends and I would be if we were magicians.”
By putting a theme that’s so personal into the fabric of his manga, Mashima created a guild of wizards whose infectious love for each other spills into the fandom. These characters mean a lot to many people, and in a strange way, they almost feel like family. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction when the opening song of the final season played. Instead of going for a fast-beat song with a lot of hype, A-1 Pictures opted for a song with an emotional punch. The song describes Lucy’s sadness over losing her friends and wishing desperately to be reunited with them. The end of the song says, “so please stop crying / look up / and let’s move forward together.”
It’s the perfect opening for the final season’s first arc, which involves Lucy and Natsu traveling around Fiore Kingdom reuniting with the guild members who scattered after Fairy Tail’s disbandment. It encapsulates how many fans felt about the show going on hiatus and then returning. Although Lucy is not the main character of Fairy Tail, she is the point-of-view character for most of the show. “The Power of the Dream” is her song and the fans’ song.
While watching the first episode, I may have involuntarily squeaked (which is hilarious considering I’m an adult woman) when I heard Todd Haberkorn as Natsu. He’s one of my favorite voice actors and my definitive Natsu. Haberkorn brings passionate energy to Natsu, fully embracing the character’s humor and craziness, while also bringing him down for serious moments. I think it’s an important, understated balance.
Cherami Leigh shines once again as Lucy, but fans may notice her voice was slightly different for the first episode of the final season. The director confirmed she was sick and her part would be re-recorded for the DVD release. Though I noticed Lucy’s voice sounded more like Leigh’s voice for Asuna (Sword Art Online), it wasn’t distracting and didn’t take away from the episode.
Composer Yasuharu Takanashi (Naruto Shippuden) also returns for the final season of Fairy Tail, and there is a wonderful mix of new themes and music from seasons past. His Celtic rock soundtrack is synonymous with the anime, making Fairy Tail stand out from others in the genre. Takanashi is brilliant, and so far there are a whopping 257 purchasable soundtracks from the anime.
In regard to the final season’s story, the fandom is in agreement that Mashima’s final arc wasn’t up to snuff. It became apparent he was tired of writing Fairy Tail and some important plot threads were dropped. But the fandom’s hope the anime will fix some of Mashima’s mistakes seems to be rightly placed, as the anime has already filled a couple of holes without overexplaining.
The animation for the new season is the same limited style used throughout Fairy Tail, with artwork similar to Fairy Tail 2014 with new character designs. For anime fans used to battle shōnen with lots of movement, Fairy Tail’s limited animation does take getting used to, but everyone can expect bursts of exceptional fluidity for important battles. Animator YuYu Takahashi (Dragon Ball Super) will most likely be brought on, like he was in seasons past.
General anime fans should also expect Fairy Tail’s final season to contain more of the cast “winning through the power of friendship.” It’s a complaint cited so often the anime community has made it a meme. I understand why this idea can be a turnoff for fans used to characters training to get stronger. And to be fair, characters do train in Fairy Tail, it’s just that the audience isn’t shown many of these moments.
It’s important to note that while Fairy Tail’s characters are able to win because they believe in themselves and their friends, Mashima cleverly built an explanation into the lore of his manga. In this story, magic is made stronger by belief and emotion. It may feel like a cop-out for some, but I don’t mind. Fairy Tail is a fantasy and is more interested in character relationships then say, Dragon Ball, which has the theme of getting stronger built into its core. I would argue every battle shōnen has elements which require suspending disbelief (Goku obtained Ultra Instinct in mere minutes), and Fairy Tail also deserves a chance to be enjoyed for what it is.
So far, the new season is proving to be just as much fun as seasons past. I’ve laughed, I’ve cheered, and I’m ever thankful the animation studio and Funimation work hard to bring a faithful adaptation to Mashima’s manga. Everything has come together. The voice actors are excited about the project, the art looks fantastic, the music is thrilling, the pacing is good, and the script is fun. Fairy Tail’s final season is a welcome homecoming, and is sure to satisfy old fans while possibly attracting new ones. You can find the entire anime, including the SimulDub, streaming on Funimation Now.