Just as every tale has its end, so too do they have a beginning. A simple statement, but one that can lead into many an adventure unforeseen. Far before a certain blazing wizard took the stage, long before a girl would wield keys to a dimension beyond, in a time wen magical flying cats were merely a dream, a young girl believed in a dream. An innocent, charming dream that would give rise to one of the most powerful forces in her world. For just as dreams may be realised, so too do they have consequences.
For any remotely familiar with the mythos of Fairy Tail, Zero is a somewhat in-depth glimpse into the origins of that oh so titular guild. For those unfamiliar, might I recommend watching a few of the episodes set in the fictional present. Realistically, one could simply jump into Zero and enjoy the story on offer, however it lacks a certain emotional resonance, born of knowing where the story ends. Zero is also technically the final twelve episodes of the anime proper, so the cut back to present day will mean little to nothing for the uninitiated. But, that’s not why we’re here. Natsu has had enough time in the sun, firing up and whatnot. Now is the time for Mavis Vermillion to tell her story, the story of how a poor little orphan became one of the most crucial figures in the history of Earth Land. So, let’s begin…
In case you held reservations about empathising with young Mavis, the early days of Fairy Tail Zero goes above and beyond to tug at your heart strings. What this effort amounts to is the constant mistreating of an orphan to a ludicrous level. Not only is her guardian pointlessly mean to her, his entire existence revolves around tormenting her, robbing her of her few possessions, reminding her of her dead parents and remaining blind to the horrifying irony that he loves his daughter unconditionally. Additionally, Zera (the aforementioned guardian’s daughter) treats Mavis with naught but contempt, solely due to her…because of her…poor? You know, Zera is just a bratty kid, raised by a horrible man, told that she can do no wrong. You know the recipe. On top of that, this horrible personality is also used in a strangely positive light, showcasing how petty hatred can be born of simple ignorance. Also, Mavis forgives Zera after roughly two seconds of self-awareness, cementing that she is a pure and noble girl who we should all support and emotionally invest ourselves in.
That being said, there is a definite limit to the emotional impact Fairy Tail Zero creates. Though moments are powerful on paper, their implementation lacks a certain charm. Yes, the life shown to us is one of unfair treatment and sadness, but it is also one of heavy-handed representation. I cannot personally speak to the truth of Mavis’ experience, or those even remotely similar, however her situation, and her implacable happiness within, borders on caricature. Even beyond her childhood, through the decimation of her people and the seven years of isolation that followed, Mavis changes supremely little. Granted, this is a Shonen series and more inclined to focus on the excitement of a world of magic, but the lack of consequence to the actions of those around Mavis severely hinder an form of emotional resonance. It’s just hard to care about a cast that shows little emotion outside of melodramatic moments. Show me Mavis feeling a tinge of sadness for finally leaving Tenrou Island when she finally finds a way off, show me some conflict when the trio of treasure hunters come to care for Mavis more than the treasure they are using her to find. These emotional moments simply skip from beginning to end, ignoring the process of change found within. Warrod and Precht simply decide that they’re cool with forgoing the Tenrou Orb (the aforementioned treasure) and Yuri seems so hollowly interested in it that his later actions seem to exist only for the sake of the final episode of Mavis’ tale. Sure, all stories utilise moments to lead into others, most just do it more subtly.
Somewhat speaking of build-up, Zero presents a rather…odd example. At least as far as my perception went, the group (Mavis, Warrod, Precht, Yuri and Zera) arriving in Magnolia seemed to be a stop on their journey, not the end. Blue Skull was presented as a despicable force that razed an island to the ground, murdering every single citizen in their path and leaving Mavis the sole survivor of Tenrou Island. Therefore, when a group of magic wielding jerks were shown to be ruling over Magnolia like a pack of thugs, I expected there to be a larger group pulling the strings. Nope. Turns out the doofus with the dumb face tattoo is the one who murdered everybody Mavis has ever know, a fact which she treats with slightly less emotion than that time she met an old woman selling candy. Again, I’m not saying every series must revel in the darkness of human emotion, nor spend copious amounts of time wallowing in intense character development, but a little consistency and depth wouldn’t go amiss. Without those, Zero simply presents a number of emotionally trying events that were never earned and never matter as much as they should. Which is sad, ironically.
As for it’s positives, Fairy Tail Zero is an interesting jaunt if you are a fan of the main series. With so much devoted to telling the tale of what the guild is, it is nice to see what it once was and how it grew from nothing. The references to the world itself having changed also paint as nice backdrop, revealing a time of near lawlessness when it came to Wizard Guilds and the chaotic balance of power found within. The simple concept that Blue Skull is not the only guild running amok adds an implication of scale to the world and quietly reminds us that Mavis Vermillion is not the only one beset by trauma. The notion of Treasure Hunter Guilds is also pretty fun, reminding us that magic isn’t necessarily everything in Earth Land, although it certainly is useful in a fight. That being said, your interest in these background concepts is entirely based upon your own focus, as they hold little sway over the unfolding of the main plot. I’m pretty sure Warrod, Precht and Yuri only mention the name of their guild once, maybe twice, through the entire story. Which is a shame, because Sylph Labyrinth is a cool name.
Don’t let my negative ramblings fool you, Fairy Tail Zero is a pretty fun watch. True, your interest is realistically based upon a vested interest in Fairy Tail proper, but I doubt any who lacked this would pick up the final episodes of a multi-year series anyhow. The emotion is ham-fisted at times and consequences are more informed than represented, but the moments of interest and sincerity do stand out in their own way. Also, the slow transition of the series’ title was a nice touch, lending perhaps more credence to the foregone conclusion of the Zera storyline than anything within the series itself. Still, the tale of Mavis Vermillion is definitely one worth knowing in the saga of Fairy Tail, even if its impact has been drowned out by time…and the last two episodes that jump back to Natsu time and the reigning chaos within. Along with Lucy’s dreams of writing which are totally cool, in my unbiased opinion.