Since 2006, Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail manga filled with magic, mages, and more has had readers spellbound. With its lasting popularity despite running for ten years, there’s no question as to why fans all over the world are excited to see their favorite characters return in the brand new film, Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry. We got a chance to talk to director Tatsuma Minamikawa about taking on the movie.
[WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry film. For a non-spoiler look at the film, check out our review.]
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry is about the members of mage guild Fairy Tail Natsu, Lucy, Gray, Erza, Wendy, Happy, and Charles (Carla) embarking on a quest to Stella Kingdom—an island nation that makes its living off of magical crystals that grow there. Their goal is to retrieve the Dragon Cry, a staff that holds the powers of destruction. Standing in their way is Animus, the king of Stella who wishes to use the power of the staff, as well as his subordinates Sonya and Zash Caine, the latter of whom specializes in the dark arts.
Original author Mashima didn’t just prepare a story for director Minamikawa—he gave him an entire rough draft in manga form (copies of this rough draft manga were handed out to moviegoers in Japan). For Minamikawa, adapting these rough panels into animation was one of the most difficult parts of his job. After all, Minamikawa was already feeling the pressure of being in charge of a new movie for such a beloved property, and since he wasn’t the director on any of the previous Fairy Tail TV anime, it was a completely new experience.
“Fairy Tail is a long-running and very popular manga, and I came in as director for the new film despite having other directors helm the previous anime projects. I felt a lack of confidence because I was worried that the elements of the anime I wasn’t used to—like the complexity of the many characters—might come off a little bit weird.”
Not only did he have to deal with the expectations of the fans, but he also had to live up to the legacy of the long-running manga and its author.
“When I had a meeting with Mashima-sensei, he told me that the story of Fairy Tail has a theme, and that theme is ‘bonds with one’s comrades.’ Whatever happens, that theme cannot fall apart,” he explained, saying that Mashima told him that the series has a series of specific rules that have to be kept to—not just in the TV anime or films, but also in the manga series itself, “Mashima-sensei told me that he wanted me to keep that in mind while working on Fairy Tail.”
Speaking of the females of Fairy Tail, Minamikawa told me that a lot of work was put into the transformation scenes of characters like Lucy and Carla. He admitted that while it might not have been necessary, making the sequences so elaborate was partly due to his own personal love of those kinds of scenes.
Something he wanted to see more of in the film, however, was action scenes. Although the second half of the film is packed with action scenes—something he wants fans to keep an eye out for—Minamikawa said that he wish he could have added even more.
“Action scenes take a lot of frames, so it’s a lot of hard work. I think we put together the action scenes pretty well, but if I had the chance, I would have wanted to make the action scenes even longer,” he smiled, “I would have also been happy to have a few more action scenes in there.”
Another thing he wants fans of the movie to watch out for—even if it takes more than one viewing to notice—is the care that was put into the twist of the movie. The film features two original characters: Sonya, a gentle-hearted girl who can sense life forces who serves the king despite having doubts, and Animus, the cruel ruler of Stella Kingdom. The two are actually connected in a very important way, which is made clear in near the climax of the movie. However, the reveal isn’t as sudden as you might think.
“If you look really close in the scenes leading up to [the reveal scene], we actually set up quite a few visual clues to hint at the connection. Like, ‘This character’s shadow is actually that of a different person,’ and ‘When this character is with this other character, they don’t make any sound when they walk.’ If you pay really close attention, you might be able to notice.”
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry is set to premiere in sixteen countries around the world, with more scheduled to be added to that list in the future. Despite the anime’s immense popularity outside of Japan, Minamikawa told me that he didn’t really understand the work’s popularity until the trailers for the film went live.
“I found out how amazing the reaction from overseas was only when we uploaded those trailers. It almost didn’t feel real. I had locked myself up in a room to work on the film, so I never expected it to get attention from all over the world,” he expressed his surprise, “It was at such a level that I was like, ‘Really?’ Now that we’ve had preview screenings for the film, I can hear the voices of fans even louder by doing a bit of research.”
Having read the manga before helming Dragon Cry, Minamikawa believes that Fairy Tail’s popularity in the West comes from its speedy pacing—something he noticed when he first read the manga. He compared the pacing and panel placement of the manga to that of American comics from Marvel, and suggested that perhaps these factors make it easier for Western audiences to get into the story.
The European fantasy flair of the story might also be a factor in its success, he told me.
“With its dragons, buildings, and scenery, Fairy Tail has a very Western European feel to it. Japanese clothing like kimonos do show up, though, like the one Erza wears. However, I’d have to say that Fairy Tail is a work that mainly uses designs with elements from outside of Japan.”
While fans outside of Japan are hyped for their first taste of a Fairy Tail movie in a while, every fan has the same question: is there more anime coming?
“At the moment, I personally have not heard anything,” Minamikawa told me, “Maybe the higher ups are talking about the possibility. At any rate, there isn’t not a possibility that something might be coming.”
But for now, fans can get their claws on this action-packed film, and it’s coming to theaters all over the world.
“I think that most of the people going to see Fairy Tail have known about it longer than I have. The latter half of the film is especially action-packed, so I don’t think fans will have a chance to be bored during the movie,” he told me, “I think that lots of people who love Fairy Tail will be coming to see the movie, but maybe there are some people who have never seen Fairy Tail at all. It’s my first time with the property as well, but I think we’ve made a really fun movie, so I’d love it if people would enjoy the first anime work from Fairy Tail we’ve seen in quite a while.”
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry opened in Japanese theaters on May 6, 2017. It will also be screened in sixteen countries outside of Japan, including the United States, where it will have its premiere at the Anime Central convention on May 20 before getting a wider theatrical release. Screenings began in the United Kingdom and Ireland on May 17, and opened in Australia and New Zealand on May 18. Screenings are also planned in Thailand, France, as well as in nine countries in Central/South America beginning in May, with more countries planned to be added to the list.