For the simple fact that apparently nobody has caught on yet, let it be stated thusly: Ancient artefacts are bad news. If they’re not the direct source of some all-consuming evil, then they appear in response to it. Also, if the known history of an object involves the beginnings of a genocide and the crystallisation of the abstract concepts of fear and rage, you should run as far and fast as physically possible in the opposite direction. On a similar note, maybe attempting to harness said calcified emotions for the purpose of a revenge only made necessary because you are a terrible person in every sense of the word; not the greatest plan.
As is so often the case in adventures featuring the mages of Fairy Tail, the world is on the precipice of total annihilation. As is also so often the case in adventures featuring the imminent destruction of the world, or a large portion thereof, only the mages of Fairy Tail are up to the task of averting it. This time around, the source of said destruction is an artefact known as Dragon Cry, a staff formed long ago by the amassing of dead dragons’ lingering resentment regarding their untimely demise. Stolen from its hiding place, the Dragon Cry finds itself in the hands of a man so diabolical, that we are completely justified in hating him and there is zero chance of us coming to care about his motives. To put it bluntly, Zash Caine not only betrayed the Kingdom of Fiore, he also murdered all those who stood with him in order to placate the leader of Stella, a kingdom that for some reason agreed to grant him asylum. Now, I’m not sure if everybody here has ever seen Fairy Tail, but betraying your allies is far and away the worst crime possible in the eyes of Natsu; who is definitely the guy that will beat the main villain into the ground. Spoiler warning on that note, because Natsu is totally the guy who beats the main villain into the ground. Although, is it who you think?
No. Remember all that stuff I said about Zash Caine? Well, turns out he isn’t the true villain of this piece and is actually a pawn of the true Big Bad…because of reasons. Now, I’m all for twists and turns on the journey to good triumphing over evil, but they generally have to have a purpose for littering this metaphorical path. Dragon Cry spends a substantial amount of time setting up Zash as the rightful lightning rod for all of our hatred, only to have him unceremoniously and unsatisfyingly removed from the equation. This is immediately followed by a reveal that was not foreshadowed in the slightest and only serves to muddy the final act of the film. Said spontaneous truth bomb also severely hampers the impact of the true villain’s motivation, as we have little time to build any form of connection to them. Combined with the insistent inclusion of a henchman trio for the non-Natsu roster to occupy themselves with, there just isn’t enough focus given to anybody to care. This is almost doubly true of Fairy Tail themselves, most of whom seem to have little purpose beyond one retroactively scripted moment. The most apparent victims of this direction are Gajeel and Levy, who could be completely absent from the film to no discernible detriment. Apart from apparently fighting a horde of evil soldiers, who also appear for no reason at the film’s climax, the duo add nothing to the plot. In fact, their inclusion only serves to make us wonder what quest they undertook that placed them within the same kingdom as Natsu and the other main cast members. Though never answered in-film, I can only assume the real world popularity of Gajeel, Levy, Juvia and Pantherlily saw them included at all. Don’t get me wrong, I like them all too, I just wish they got the chance to do something. Hell, one of the enemies flew around on a shape-shifting metal device, seems like the perfect target for a guy who, oh I don’t know, eats metal.
Speaking of confusion and timing, the entirety of Dragon Cry carries the unmistakable pacing of a rushed endeavour. For anime movies based upon series, one of the largest boons is the ability to pace one story over a much longer span of time, to grant pause amidst the chaos of a medium where punching dragons in the face is a relatively common occurrence. Dragon Cry lacks this and instead feels like a chaotic hodgepodge of ideas the production team thought were cool. Now, individually speaking, they were not wrong, but when combined into one excursion, everything becomes diluted. The idea of a remaining dragon longing for revenge against those who rose to prominence? An interesting concept, given the history of the Fairy Tail world. A villain who wishes to eradicate an entire continent for housing those whom he despises? A simple concept, but one possible of housing a great deal of terror and intrigue. A king who would see the world burn for the safety of his people? Extreme, but inherently complex in its presentation of weighing lives against one another. However, by forcing these concepts into an unbalanced union, each loses their potential for depth and wind up as surface level threats that can be convincingly solved by a strong uppercut.
On a more meta level, Dragon Cry holds the unintended side effect of showcasing the required existence of certain anime tropes. During at least two dramatic beats in the story, scenes transition so spontaneously that I believe I literally blinked twice in anime-inspired uncertainty. After finding himself sent to a prison of some vague description, Natsu screams of how he must immediately locate his friends and escape. Then he finds them. There’s no ceremony, no actual searching, the film simply cuts to a scene where everybody is together. Then they escape. That moment doesn’t even receive the onscreen treatment, it just happens. Now, I don’t necessarily believe that everything needs to be drawn out to its utmost potential, but it would appear that at least some degree is needed. Even though we all knew immediately that Natsu would find his friends and escape, having it immediately happen just seems like cheating in a weird way. Which is slightly different from the kind of cheating that Juvia has nightmare fantasies about. Because she’s Juvia.
What more is there to say about Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry? Hopefully not much, else I’ve done a terrible job at outlaying my thoughts and bored you all pointlessly. Still, I feel I should say that this film is not without its moments, even if they are scattered and hectic. What Dragon Cry essentially boils down to is an endeavour in fan-fiction, a seeming swan song born of ideas meant to delight the fan base. The usual suspects are given a chance to showcase their more potent power-ups, the legend of dragons permeates the plot and the value of friendship triumphs yet again over the strongest of evils. Also, Lucy belly dances and Erza sports a bunny suit as one of her less revealing costumes. I mean, Gray also doffs his underwear at one point, but that one is played more for comedy and less for…not-comedy. The part where Lucy winds up a slave in Zash’s dungeon is also played less-than-comedically, but I like to believe that it is somewhat balanced when she thwarts an all-powerful dark magic in its entirety with the help of her trusty goat butler and pair of dope shades…right before Zash rides away on his pet dog. Fairy Tail is weird.