Fairy Tail Zerø (2016)

Episodes 266 – 277

Her Magic Spells Hope

A prequel to Hiro Mashima’s beloved Fairy Tail anime/ manga, Fairy Tail Zerø depicts the events leading up to the formation of the titular wizards’ guild, the 12-episode story arc based on a single-volume manga written and illustrated by Mashima himself, which was originally published as 13 short issues in a monthly magazine titled Monthly Fairy Tail — from July 2014 to July ’15.

Tracing the lineage of Guild with a Heart of Gold, Zerø opens after the shattering events of Tartarus, Makarov disbanding Fairy Tail (with all members parting, going their own separate ways) without Natsu and Happy’s knowledge, the duo having ventured out for a year of intense training, hoping to return to the guild stronger than ever before. As part of their ‘work-out,’ the twosome journey to Tenrou Island in order to pay their respects to the guild’s first master, Mavis Vermilion. While on the isle, the hotheaded Natsu and piscivore Happy stumble upon the ruins of an ancient village, which seems to have been abandoned long ago. Exploring the area, our heroes discover an old building (embedded with a crumbling lizard logo) situated in the center of the town, which, as it turns out, once belonged to a guild known as Red Lizard. After some exploring, and some fumbling and bumbling about (there’s a beehive blunder and a run-in with some local wildlife), Salamander and his flying compadre make their way to a peaceful little tucked-away shrine that was raised in honor of Mavis. And this, in turn, triggers a flashback, which kick-starts our story.

This is where the magic happens!

Zipping all the back the year X679, we meet a 6-year-old Mavis, who resides in the aforementioned rundown town, the soon-to-be Fairy Tail co-founder a mere orphan (with no magical ability whatsoever) working as an errand girl for the Red Lizard Guild under its cruel and demanding chief Master Zeeself, her servitude payment for a debt owed to him by her deceased parents. Constantly at his beck and call, Mavis mostly attends to Zeeself’s daughter Zera, a bratty young girl (round about Mavis’ age) with a bit of a mean streak, the brown-haired, olive-eyed tot constantly putting others down, particularly Mavis, who Zera believes is inferior to her in every way.

Late one night the settlement is attacked by a dark guild known as Blue Skull, the unexpected raid wiping out the township and its entire people. Mavis, however, manages to slip away unnoticed, pulling Zera’s unconscious body out from under a pile of fallen rubble. As it turns out, Zera was somehow still alive, the two girls fleeing into the forest in the hope of escaping Blue Skull’s evil clutches. Waiting out the invasion in the thickets, Zera apologizes for the way she’d treated her rescuer, the protective, peachy-skinned Mavis forgiving her former tormentor, the sole survivors agreeing to be friends. Cut to seven years later, and the girls are all grown up (13 years of age anyway), Mavis and Zera now the bestest of buds, the pair spending their days in the dilapidated village, mostly hanging out in the library (Mavis’ face buried in books), living out their lives breezily and peacefully.

Memories never die.

Everything changes with the arrival of three strangers: treasure hunters from the Sylph Labyrinth guild named Yuri Dreyar, Warrod Sequen and Precht Gaebolg, who have come to the secluded paradise in search of an elusive S-Class treasure, the Tenrou Jade. Upon their arrival, the triad splits up, the iron-willed Yuri bumping into Mavis when inspecting a seemingly abandoned library. Certain that the ‘childish teen’ knows her way around the land, Yuri challenges Mavis to contest of wits: if he wins, she must lead him to the cherished orb, but if he loses, Yuri must depart the island and take Mavis with him, making good on a promise of finding a real-life fairy, seeing as Mavis was so desperate to prove that fairies existed. Following an inventive sequence that sees Mavis outsmart her cocky opponent via loopholes in the game’s rules — which, early on, demonstrates Mavis’ tactical knowhow (amassed over years of extensive reading) — a frustrated Yuri is indebted to our leading lady, forced to fulfill his obligation. Mavis’ victory, however, is cut short when Warrod and Precht appear and then inform the two of the relic’s disappearance.

Introducing herself to the rest of Yuri’s gang, Mavis convinces the treasure-seeking trio to take her along with them, seeing as it was clear that she had a pretty good idea of where the gemstone might be — and that was in the Blue Skull guildhall, which, at the time, was located in the kingdom of Fiore. Besides, Yuri still needed to uphold his end of the deal, showing Mavis a fairy, and Mavis, being so open-minded and carefree, was eager to help the visitors out, even if they couldn’t guarantee to return the stone once they’d found it. And so, Mavis and her gal-pal Zera (who’s still kinda shy when it comes to talking to strangers) set sail for the mainland, our gutsy protagonist unknowingly disembarking on the adventure of a lifetime, one that would lead to the creation of her very own guild.

Mavis Approved

Helmed, once again, by the great Shinji Ishihira (who’s directed every episode of the anime thus far), Fairy Tail Zerø takes us all the way back to the beginning, which (really) feels like a very different time, the 10-episode arc smoothly laying the groundwork for what’ll eventually become the Fairy Tail we all know and love. Sticking closely to the writing and artwork of the manga — bar the inclusion of an underwater treasure hunting episode, where Mavis swims with dolphins and explores a deep-sea temple — Fairy Tail Zerø features tons of explosive action, drama, comedy and heartbreak, along with the introduction of a small cast of well-rounded characters, the series containing all the staples that fans have come to expect; the narrative’s eleventh hour ‘shock reveal,’ though, admittedly works better on paper than it does on screen.

In terms of the story itself, Zerø is actually quite simple, the series telling a straight-forward tale of how a quintet of unlikely champions liberate a ravaged Magnolia Town from the oppressive Blue Skull, led by a menacing masked miscreant named Geoffrey, the guild holding the city and its citizens under its thumb. We also see the origins of Fairy Tail’s magic, the anime giving audiences a cool little lesson on Ethernano and its function, the source behind every mage’s power and skill. There’s also a surprise encounter with a familiar lone wizard, Mavis chancing upon a naked stranger bathing in the woodlands, who (oddly) winds up playing a pivotal part in the forging of Fairy Tail. As per usual, Zerø explores themes of friendship and loyalty, ideas that have been woven into the very fabric of the entire Fairy Tail saga, with a poignant message, particularly in the latter episodes, reminding us that our history, and where we’ve come from, remains a part of who we are long after its gone.

When duct tape won’t fix it …

Turning to the cast, the long, blonde-haired Mavis validates herself as a worthy enough lead, despite the fact that she lacks the rambunctious energy of her distant successor, Fairy Tail’s red-hot golden boy Natsu. When we first meet our heroine, she’s an avid reader who can perform basic illusion magic, and her transformation from a carefree childlike outsider (who’s burning with confidence) to a fully-fledged wizard (one that’s able to single-handedly take down a city-crushing skeletal dragon) unfolds in a plausible/ convincing manner — and I totally dig how she dreams up the Fairy Tail name! Then there’s Zera, Mavis’ childhood companion/ BFF, who initially starts out as a dismissive brat before blossoming into a tender young lady. With her short orange halter neck dress and cute tied-up twin-tails, Zera, from a design standpoint, is really quite winsome (in a girl-next-door sorta way), even if her story arc could’ve been stronger; ultimately, the character winds up feeling more like an afterthought, Zera missing for large chunks at a time. Looking back on the series, however, I can kinda see why she was handled/ treated in the way that she was, her trajectory making it next to impossible to do anything more with the character.

As far as the fortune hunters go, Yuir is the only player who gets a substantial amount of development, the cunning adventurer undergoing a drastic change because of his fondness for Mavis, her infectious power of positivity influencing him in all the right ways. Given his stone-cold demeanor and eventual turn to ‘the dark side,’ the eyepatch-wearing Precht is certainly the most interesting of the bunch, so it would’ve been nice to have seen a little more of the guy, considering that the socially awkward, disapproving do-gooder would eventually become one of the most powerful dark mages in the land. And then there’s the doubtful Warrod, who views himself as something of a hindrance, and though he’s probably the blandest of the band, still manages to get a handful of moments in the sun.

Friends are the sunshine of life.

It goes without saying, A-1 Pictures have done a bang-up job with the artwork and animation, though the colors seem to be getting more and more muted with each passing arc. It’s also worth noting that many of Zerø’s character do resemble their future selves, this adding an extra ounce of authenticity to the series, while the backgrounds seem to be a tad more detailed here than they were in Tartaros. And, those that are uber-attentive are sure to notice the letter ‘ø’ disappearing from Zerø’s title card, which, apart from being a very neat touch, helps hammer home some major plot points. The music/ score is similarly as impressive. The rocky ‘Ashita Wo Narase,’ performed by Kavka Shishido, stands as a major highlight, the track now one of my all-time favorite Fairy Tail openers, while the closer, ‘Landscape’ by SOLIDEMO, rounds proceedings out in an apt and ideal way — soft and moody. And, of course, we have those iconic Irish-influenced rock-driven battle themes, along with plenty of somber melodies, to guide audiences through it all, the anime’s music now pretty much synonymous with the fist-flying antics of the Fairy Tail guild itself.

The concluding two episodes, for me anyway, really boosted the entire collection. Titled ‘Challenger’ and ‘Message of Fire,’ these take place a year after Fairy Tail’s disbandment and primarily focus on Lucy (who’s finding it hard to let go of the past) as she navigates her new life as an editorial trainee for the Weekly Sorcerer Magazine, working under the guidance of Jason — you know, that blonde goof who always shouts ‘COOL!’ whenever something remotely exciting happens. Without giving too much away, what follows is a hilarious, engrossing and absorbing introduction to the Avatar arc, which is set to premiere later this year; and based on what I’ve already seen, I’m all fired up for more.

‘It’s abso-lucy great to be back!’

An enjoyable and entertaining ‘filler arc’ that’s actually considered canon, Fairy Tail Zerø is a hugely satisfying spinoff — if the quality remains this good, let’s hope somebody adapts Blue Mistral, Fairy Girls and the rest of the manga offshoots. Sure, Zerø does have its faults — for one, the post-Zerø history is rushed at the tail end of the last flashback episode, while some of the ‘next up’ previews reveal too many key plot points (unnecessarily). All in all, though, Zerø is an excellent end to the 2014 revival anime, wrapping things up in a hopeful and exhilarating fashion. Thankfully, 2018 is set to usher in Fairy Tail’s ‘third’ and final chapter, which is scheduled to premiere sometime this Fall (U.S. Season). That’s only 4 short months away — I’m already counting down the days, can’t you tell?

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Fairy Tail Zerø is released through Madman Entertainment Australia