By Andy Hanley.
Much like any successful franchise, the Fate/stay Night universe has expanded from its original roots, as its success took hold to become something of an industry behemoth – its starting point as an adult visual novel has begat a number of anime adaptations which have bolstered and added notably to its popularity, in turn giving rise to a dizzying array of prequels and spin-offs spanning anime, video games and (in the case of the source material adapted for the series in question here) manga.
If you were to imagine the recent anime adaptation of Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works as some kind of blockbuster video game, then Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya would be its smartphone game spin-off, stripping away the grandiose conceit of a “Holy Grail War” present within the original series and paring down its concept of summoning Heroic Spirits to compete in battle.
The removal or simplification of the most iconic elements of the original work is simply the tip of the iceberg: every element of Prisma Illya is very different from the series which inspired it. For starters, our story here revolves around Illyasviel von Einzbern, who has been removed from her unique upbringing within Fate/stay Night and instead finds herself enjoying life as a friendly, cheerful normal teen with a love of magical girl anime, under the watchful eye of her guardian Sella, and alongside her brother Emiya Shirou. Meanwhile, Rin Tohsaka and her comrade Luvia – both living, breathing magical girls themselves – have been tasked with journeying to Fuyuki City with a mission to collect all seven “Class Cards” in just two weeks.
Unfortunately, their “Kaleid Sticks” are no mere magic wands, but sentient beings in their own right. What’s more, both of them are rebellious, and waste no time in taking leave of their current owners to find new partners with which to bond.
This means that Illya (as she’s known to those close to her) quickly needs to make full use of her knowledge of magical girls, as she finds herself unwillingly partnered with Kaleid Stick Ruby and press-ganged into taking the lead in collecting Class Cards under the tutelage of Rin, while colleague-cum-rival Juvia also has a young charge of her own to take her place as a magical girl.
Getting to fly around in a pretty outfit wielding magic and defeating evil might sound like a dream come true for Illya, but the reality of the situation is rather different – the enemies in question are no pushover, and there’s a very real threat of injury to herself and others if she makes even the slightest error in combat. What’s more, Illya’s relationship with fellow “pupil” Miyu is a strained one at the best of times, leaving her fighting to cement their friendship as hard as she fights to collect the Class Cards.
Although it lacks the visual majesty of Ufotable’s work on Fate/zero and Unlimited Blade Works, production studio Silver Link still manages to bring a style of its own to Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya – even in reimagining the franchise’s cast of characters and heroic spirits it’s managed to bring something unique while keeping each character recognisable, and when it comes to the show’s occasional action pieces it offers up some tremendous fare. Beyond that, what we have here is a bright and colourful affair that also finds plenty of time to have fun with its cast and their unusual new situations, with an eye for comedy clearly tailored towards long-standing fans of all things Fate/stay Night, delighting in putting its well-known characters into unexpected situations.
The resulting series is actually a solid magical girl tale in its own right, but nonetheless best digested as a palate cleanser to the brutal violence and horrifying acts of other, more serious animated outings born of the Fate/stay Night franchise. With a second anime season, named Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei, airing in Japan last year and a third series – 2wei Herz! – arriving this summer, it seems that Illya shows no signs of giving up her hard-earned place in the spotlight either.
Andy Hanley is editor-in-chief of the UK Anime Network. Anime Limited will be releasing Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya on Limited Edition Blu-ray from 2nd November, and on Standard Edition DVD in December.