Originally, I had intended this as a Striking The Right Note entry, but decided to write it as a stand alone post. The main reason being, Striking The Right Note is a fun, quick, and easy thing for me to write, and for you to read, while this is going to be a bit more in depth.
There’s another reason, though, and that is, to put it simply, this was something that I felt deserved to be given its own corner in my little blog. While it is hardly uncommon for me to talk about music, especially as it relates to anime, I didn’t want to get my Friday post too bogged down in the details of why I think a piece of music, or in this case, several, work the way they do.
Friday is fun for everybody, after all. Tuesday, that’s my day to just do random things that I think are enjoyable.
Now, it should come as no shock to anybody that I’m a fan of Fairy Tail. I mean, I wrote a three part essay on why Erza Scarlett is the most awesome person ever, and have Fairy Tail stills scattered around this blog like sunflower seeds at a banjo convention. So, yeah, I’m a fan.
I’ve taken more than a little heat for that, too. Even been run out of one anime fansite for daring to say I liked the series. So, I get that Fairy Tail isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I’m not gonna be talking about the series so much as I am certain pieces of music from the series that I think are great examples of using music to add layers to a anime.
I do want to say, though, that Fairy Tail is pretty much the only shonen anime I’ve ever really enjoyed. One Piece is fun, but never held my attention. Bleach is… Bleach. It’s good, but again, didn’t hold my interest. Same goes for Naruto. My girlfriend loves it, but I just could never stay with it.
It’s been years since I watched any of the Dragonball series, so I can’t say how well it would hold my interest now.
Point being, I don’t usually get into shonen anime, especially of the fighting variety. If you look back over my Monday Anime selections, you’ll notice a theme emerging pretty fast. I am much more drawn to female lead think pieces than I am pretty much anything. Which isn’t to say I don’t love the ever loving hell out of FMA or Cowboy Bebop. I do, but so does everyone, so those aren’t good shows to build a measurement on.
I’ve got a certain kind of anime I enjoy, is what I’m saying, and shonen has never been it. Yet, Fairy Tail has been my jam for years now. Why is that?
Main reason? We’ve all got a thing that is our weakness, and wizard battles are mine. Fantasy love trumps shonen avoidance, ya know. Fairy Tail revels in being a fantasy series, too, so that’s another thing about it that I love. Fantasy should always be proud to be weird, and that is what Fairy Tail is. Weird fantasy. It makes no apologies, and that’s the big draw for me.
My girlfriend and I first got into Fairy Tail in late 2010, when we happened across the first few episodes, and got hooked. It became required weekly viewing, right up until the first series ended in 2013. We still watched it when the new series kicked off in 2014, but there was something different about it. A lot of the magic and fun seemed to be missing.
First off, the second series suffered from various odd direction choices that sometimes made episodes muddled and hard to follow, or stretched out things beyond belief, a problem the original series didn’t have. The big thing, however, was that the music had changed. It was completely different, and nowhere near as good.
Yes, this was a big issue for us. The music of Fairy Tail has long been one of the strongest aspects of the anime, after all. That and the awesome magic circles they flat out stopped using in the second series, which never made sense, cause those things were cool as fuck.
The original run of the anime had music composed by Yasuharu Takanashi, which embraced the wild and crazy nature of the series, adding a lot of depth to the world, and helped tell the story at the right times, in the right ways. Most of all, it was just plain awesome music, even by itself, which isn’t something a lot of anime can claim.
The most notable piece of music, right from the start, was the Fairy Tail Main Theme.
Done with a Celtic flair, it is pure fantasy music. More than that, though, it captures the nature of the Fairy Tail Guild as a raucous, free wheeling gathering of misfits, who have banded together into a family. Frequently used as the ‘battle music’ in the early episodes, the high energy nature of the theme reflects the main group of characters, and how they keep building on each other. As the music builds, adding more instruments and vocals, so too does Fairy Tail grow stronger with each new addition and voice added.
It’s a clever way to craft the music to reflect the nature of the setting, and it does a beautiful job of it. Takanashi seemed to get this, too, as he began reusing the main theme in interesting ways, such as the Slow Version.
Almost exactly the same piece of music, only much slower and without the frantic energy of the original version, the slow theme tells a different story. Where the main theme builds momentum, and is, in essence, an upbeat piece, the slow theme reflects loss and sorrow. The same piece of music, in essence, is now conveying totally different emotions.
Where the main theme is a stronger, more harmonized whole growing from individual, disparate instruments, the slow version is the pain and suffering of those instruments before they found that family that made them stronger. Everyone in Fairy Tail has sadness and loss in their past, and just as the main theme tells the story of them growing more vibrant together, the slow version tells of them crying together.
It’s a neat musical trick, is what I’m getting at. With a tweak to the theme, it now tells a totally different story, while not losing the key element that made the theme work in the first place.
Of course, Takanashi wasn’t done with the main theme, and altered in once more, into a piano version.
Now this, this is the sad piece of music of a single person. The main theme and the slow version both tell a story of togetherness, both in joy and sorrow, but the piano version leaves the together part out and focuses on the individual. When this piece comes up, it isn’t the whole group holding together through sadness, it’s that of an individual.
What works about this, though, is that while it is an individual piece, the same theme music is there, reminding us that even alone, we are never alone. That’s real music magic, right there. Adapting one piece of music to tell three different stories, all with profoundly different meanings, but still tied to the same original premise.
It’s beautiful, okay? I find that beautiful.
Later, Takanashi would take the backbone of the main theme and use it in a different way, with Dragonslayer.
You can still hear the main theme in there, but punched up, amplified to a moment of anger and intensity. It takes the core theme of togetherness, and makes it more aggressive, fighting back against the things that would tear that togetherness apart.
The parts of the main theme are there, but with a sharper, rougher edge to them. Like each previous iteration, this one builds steadily, but in that more aggressive way. It’s a more commanding, less fun loving version.
Speaking of less fun loving, Takanshi perfected that with Dragon Force.
Building on what he’d done with Dragonslayer, this becomes the most aggressive, most assertive version of the theme yet. Starting with that tecno background, adding in a single, lone instrument wailing, it quickly begins to add more voices, as it were, building in intensity, driving forward relentlessly, until the midway point, when Takanashi throws in an electric guitar to make the impetus behind this piece clear.
Don’t fuck with us. We’re metal as fuck.
From the main theme on to Dragon Force, the same basic musical theme is at play. You can hear the notes and melody in every version, but each one tells a different story, and each one played a different role in the story of Fairy Tail. It’s a constant, continuous build on the original idea, which I find really enjoyable.
The Main Theme presents something enjoyable, and through each variation, that is present, but altered in some way. It creates a consistency to the music, and in doing so, creates a consistency to the backdrop and environment of the show itself, in a way that isn’t always seen in anime, especially shonen.
Whatever you may think of Fairy Tail, the music was on point, helping make it one of the better shonen anime out there. At least until the second series, when the music became much more generic and lacked that same special spark the first series had.
It wasn’t just with the main theme and the many variations of it, either, that Takanshi really excelled. Pieces like Awakening Soul, and Tower of Heaven Part 2, were beautiful, powerful, and poignant in their own right, even outside the context of the show. Which is a real accomplishment, when you think about it.
Most anime takes great care with their music to have it be something that fits the story being told. It’s one of the things that really separates anime from American television, and even live action shows in Japan. The music of anime is treated as an art form unto itself, and most of the time, gives us something that is unforgettable.
Takanashi did that with Fairy Tail, making it the first and only shonen anime I’ve ever truly loved, and for that, the music of Fairy Tail will always hold a special place in my heart.