Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 2nd 2013
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya
episodes 1-10 streaming
Illyasviel von Einzbern is a fairly typical 5th grade girl who lives with her older adopted brother Shiro Emiya in a household run by the industrious Sella and slacker Leysritt (maids of her family) while her mother Irisviel and father Kiristugu Emiya are away on business. She is enamored with watching magical girl anime series and dreams of becoming one – a dream which comes true one night when the Kaleidostick Ruby appears and essentially tricks her into becoming a magical girl. Illya soon discovers that Ruby and her sister Kaleidostick Sapphire sought out new masters because they were discontented with their previous ones, the young sorceresses Rin Tohsaka and Luvia Edelfelt, over their counterproductive bickering. Since Ruby is unwilling to return to her original master, Rin is left with no choice but to coerce Illya into helping with the original mission to collect seven Class Cards, magical cards which embody the powers of legendary Heroes and can potentially represent a serious threat if left unchecked. A reluctant and not especially competent fighter at first, Illya soon gets help from Miyu, a like-aged girl and future classmate who has contracted with Sapphire and operates under Luvia's sponsorship and guidance. However, Miyu is decidedly unfriendly at first and inclined to work alone. That leads to problems as the efforts to secure the Class Cards progressively get more dangerous.
In many respects Prisma Illya is to the Fate/ franchise what Pretty Sammy and Magical Project S are to the Tenchi Muyo franchise: a reimagining of the original series centered on a young supporting character who becomes a magical girl. As with Pretty Sammy, many characters from the earlier series (primarily Fate/stay night, although Irisviel from Fate/Zero also makes an appearance) appear here but often in substantially different roles, with a roster of new characters mixed in for good measure. That, however, should not be a barrier to total newcomers, as those guest appearances are more bones thrown to fans of the earlier series than anything intrinsically critical to understanding this one.
In fact, structurally speaking this is a very straightforward and even somewhat formulaic magical girl title. In it a late elementary school girl encounters a sentient magical item which can turn her into a magical girl. In that role she must collect certain McGuffins in order to prevent calamity. She soon encounters another magical girl working towards that same task with whom she initially has a prickly relationship with but eventually befriends. Naturally the heroine is somewhat incompetent at first but has a lot of potential power, and naturally there is a crisis of confidence for the heroine which almost takes her out of the picture before someone talks her back into it, leading to a climatic team-up and confrontation. Everything comes up hunky-dory in the end, at least until the inevitable second season/iteration comes around – and yes, this one is already confirmed to have a second season in the works, per an announcement in the final episode.
This being in the Fate/ franchise means that there is a bit more going on here, primarily in a Rin/Luvia rivalry which has shades of Ryoko/Ayeka from the Tenchi franchise. The way that they serve as mentors and supporting combatants for the two magical girls is a nice addition, though, as is the way Illya's friends function as a likable support group. However, neither factor amounts to much extra depth or complexity. The series also takes a decidedly comical approach for much of its run, though it does, predictably, eventually turn mostly serious.
When it does turn serious is when the sparks really fly, though. A certain battle which happens about mid-series, where Illya is forced by desperate circumstances to pull off a heretofore-unimagined trick, completely blows the top off of what had been until that point some decently interesting and moderately dynamic action sequences, turning the series into a jaw-dropping spectacle of intensity and heavy-duty action. (This is one of the few points in the series where being familiar with the earlier installments in the franchise is specifically valuable.) From that point on the action scenes exude wispy blue tendrils of a cool factor which transcends the series' cutesiness and more serious and dramatic undertones become more prevalent, though not exclusively so. Another nice touch is the revelation that, while the serious-minded Miyu is generally more competent at most things concerning their task, Illya does outshine her in one respect: that her greater acceptance of the whimsy inherent in magical girls makes it easier for her to perform certain magical girl-related tasks. In other words, being a fan of magical girl series actually makes her a better magical girl.
That clever twist is not the only way that the series panders to hard-core otaku audiences, who ultimately seem to be more the intended audience than young girls. Although the series is usually more subtle about it than most, it does have some fan service in the way the camera occasionally lingers on the chests of various female characters, some inevitable breast size jokes, a couple of scenes which imply lustful behavior on Illya's part, and one steamed-up appearance by Irisviel in a bathtub. It also shows some slight lolicon leanings in a couple of shots of Illyasviel in different episodes and a more overt dose of it in the ending artwork of episode 10. Again, this content is never so heavy that it cannot easily be ignored by viewers, but it is present.
Production on the series comes courtesy of the very busy SILVER LINK and the same directorial duo which produced Dusk maiden of Amnesia, although the visual style is utterly different here. The base artistic level is flatter, less vivid, and less refined than either Dusk maiden or the concurrently-running WATAMOTE and more resembles the studio's 2009 effort Tayutama – Kiss on My Deity. Character designs are fairly typical for the genre and animation and visual tricks are nothing exciting – normally, anyway. When the series forays into its action scenes, though, one can clearly see where all the time, effort, and budget went. These scenes are invariably sharper, flashier, and more crisply-animated, including effective use of CG, plenty of magical circles, energy bursts, and explosions, and even some riveting physical action. Graphic content is almost non-existent, but the intensity does kick up quite high at points. And mercifully, we are spared frequent recurrences of the magical girl transformation scenes.
The musical score by Tatsuya Kato, who has done effective work in titles like The Qwaser of Stigmata, Future Diary, and Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, is competent in the lighter moments and hits the right sounds to enhance the intensity of the action scenes, including occasionally inserting some rock numbers. The result is somewhat eclectic but it generally works. The opener and closer are both fitting for a magical girl series but quickly forgettable. The Japanese vocal cast returns all seiyuu whose characters appear in previous franchise titles and fills some new roles with seiyuu who voice other roles elsewhere in the franchise. (For instance, the voices of Sapphire and Ruby appeared in Carnival Phantasm.) The cleverest bit of casting here is a minor stunt that will probably fly beneath the radar of even many ardent franchise fans, as it involves an association between a character from Fate/Zero and the name that character goes by at the time of Fate/stay night, a connection never made explicit in animated content.
Ultimately these ten episodes do enough to hold the attention of fans of the franchise while also proving approachable enough to serve as a non-intimidating gateway into the larger franchise. They also provide a potential lead-in for the upcoming second season and a definite sense that we have not seen anywhere near the whole story yet, as mysteries about the nature of Illya's powers yet linger at the end. The series may sacrifice cuteness too much in favor of intensity to satisfy fans of more classical magical girl formats, as this one is definitely not about the power of love winning through all, but those who prefer more bite and vigor in their magical girl content should appreciate this one just fine.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Lots of bones tossed to franchise fans, some action scenes are impressive spectacles, some good humor.
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