It's been a long while but we are finally moving back into the world of anime reviews. What anime could be more perfect to start with than a magical girl series from a couple of years ago? Yeah, it's a pretty terrible way to start but bear with me, things can only get better, right?
In today's review we dip a toe into the world of Fate and get our magical girl on! Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya is easily one of the worst titles I have ever heard. I am trying to break it down so that it makes a little more sense and rolls off of the tongue a little better but it just never feels comfortable.
This anime has been knocking around for a number of years now so I am sure most of you have heard of it. The basic structure of the show is that of a typical magical girl anime. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya features something of a spin on that formula. One of the aims of the series is to take a sideways look at the well established names from the Fate universe.
With this in mind, we are reintroduced to a number of well loved characters and asked to re-consider them. Personalities are different, the scenarios are different, and the setting is different. This is basically a clever piece of fanservice (in the traditional sense, not the pantsu shots type) that helps to string the series together on the back of some familiar, well established, faces. It's a clever way to offer up something that is slightly different from the rest of the magical girl series on the market.
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya is a traditional magical girl in almost every sense. The series actually alludes to this and laughs at itself on a number of occasions. Cliches abound and almost every magical girl trope is touched on. Not a single stereotypical plot element remains un-turned. Does this make the plot bad? Not really, the series has a few surprises that keep it somewhat fresh and slightly different. What it does do is position Fate/Kaleid up against some of the anime industry's most popular and well loved magical girl series. This is, perhaps, where Fate/Kaleid suffers it's biggest failings. As a magical girl series, it's just not that sound. It lacks the serious nature that accompanies anime such as Madoka and attempts to positioning itself somewhere in the middle. When you consider Fate/Kaleid as a simple action anime, and don't place it against other magical girl series, it does a lot better.
The series setting is very typical. A young girl, Illyasviel Von Einzbern (イリヤスフィール・フォン・アインツベルン), lives the life of a normal young Japanese girl. She divides her time between anime, school, spending time with friends, and hanging out with her family. Naturally, she longs to live the life of the magical girls that feature in the anime she watches. One day, a couple of familiar characters, Rin Tohsaka (遠坂 凛) and Luviagelita Edelfelt (ルヴィアゼリッタ・エーデルフェルト) from the Fate series, drop from the sky after being abandoned by their respective Kaleidosticks Magical Ruby (マジカルルビー) and Magical Sapphire (マジカルサファイア). Their constant squabbling has forced the kaleidosticks (basically magic wands with personalities) to revoke their ability to become magical girls. This leaves a couple of vacant spots in the magical girl universe and, of course, they have to be filled immediately. There is no such thing as auditioning for this role; let's be honest, the first girl to get the call will surely be perfect. Guess what comes next? Illya, currently getting her steam censorship on in the bathroom, get's a visit from the ridiculously annoying Magical Ruby kaleidostick and is picked as the next magical girl. I mean, hell, a rookie magical girl with no experience that needs training from scratch is far better than a couple of bickering veterans, right?
I am sure you can guess what the rest of the plot entails? From episode two to episode ten we follow Illya as she develops her skills as a magical girl. But wait!! We can't have a magical girl series without a fellow protagonist to rival Illya and provide a yuri subtext. Well that is where Miyu Edelfelt (美遊・エーデルフェルト) comes in. Miyu is, wait for it, a transfer student who is both adorable and academically gifted. She is also the polar opposite personality type to Illya. This is alluded to via the wands. Magical Ruby provides Illya with her magical girl ability and Magical Sapphire provides Miyu with hers. The magical girl characters appear to reflect the personalities of their respective kaleidostick.
If all of this sounds very familiar, it's because it is. Fate/kaleid is unashamed of it's cookie cutter plot and frequently laughs at itself. The familiar aspects actually lend themselves to the plot itself and Illya uses the cliche nature of the story to develop her own abilities. Without going into too much depth, Illya can effortlessly fly thanks to seeing it performed on her favourite magical girl show and understanding that you just have to believe that it is possible. Miyu struggles with this concept which leads to an interesting episode of character development. It's around this same point that it begins to become obvious that Illya is special and has something that attracted the Kaleidosticks to her.
It would be fair to say that the place where Fate/Kaleid shines is in it's action sequences. They are both entertaining and exciting. Fans of the Fate series will see a few familiar faces, I won't spoil any of them; these scenes make for some real "Holy Shit!!" moments. The absolute best part of Fate/Kaleid is that it absorbs and indulges itself in these sequences. Fight scenes are muli-faceted and, at times, spread out over a few episodes. The slice of life stuff takes a back seat to the action and development of the characters as fearsome magical girls. I applaud the series for this as too many series are focused on the slice of life at the cost of the real meat of the series.
An element of Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya that really stands out is the class cards collected and used by the girls. Again, I won't spoil anything, but they make for some kick-ass moments. If you are a fan of the Fate series, you are going to love seeing some of the "heroic personalities" that the girls adopt. They are genuinely great moments and make for the driving force of the plot. You are eagerly waiting on the next attempt to collect a class card. This is most definitely something that makes the series stand out.
With the heavy action focus considered, the slice of life is still present and accounted for. We still have a couple of humorous moments involving Illya and her friends as well as a few scenes developing the relationship between Miyu and Illya. Illya has a somewhat unusual home life and this is expanded on a little. Miyu is something of an enigma but we get a few sniffs into her life as well. There is also a sub-plot that we only get slight hints of; I believe this will be expanded on in future seasons. Fate/Kaleid is, obviously, a series with a much larger story already set out. The developers fully expected to have further series commissioned so only dipped into the manga in a slight way. Rin and Luvia are key to this sub-plot and are simply perfect for this series. They provide plot advancement as well as moments of comic relief.
Rin, voiced by Kana Ueda, is the perfect foil to the prissy Luvia, voiced by the excellent Shizuka Itō whom some of you may recognise as Meiko Shiraki from Prison School. They provide a decent number of laughs thanks to their conflicting personalities.
With everything said, I think Fate/Kaleid is comfortable with what it is. It's generic magical girl plot is buoyed up by the focus on action and the many nods it makes to the hugely popular Fate series. The plot will not wow you but, with that being said, it will not leave you particularly bored. We are here for the action scenes and the blossoming relationship between the two protagonists. We get both of those things in spades along with a few moments of laughter and even a moment or two of well intended emotion. It's a solid if unspectacular plot that keeps the story focused and leads us nicely into the excellent action sequences.
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya has a massive cast of characters when you consider school mates, main characters, enemies, and supporting characters. The vast majority of these characters are firmly placed in the background and do not have any real consequence with regard to the plot. One thing that I think bears mention is the fact that none of the cast are particularly annoying. Well, I say that but Magical Ruby majorly annoyed me. My favourite characters were the excellent Luvia, the generally quiet and subdued Miyu, and Illya's psychotic school teacher. Luvia's classic histrionic laugh and the teacher's wild bursts of rage are hilarious and help you warm to the characters. Miyu has moments of being adorable and moments of being annoying. She appears to even out towards the end and finishes up the series with some of the biggest laughs of any character. Illya may bug some viewers, she is the classic overly bubbly airhead character type and is pretty one dimensional.
I wouldn't say there are any characters that will make you want to flip the channel, so that is a good thing. The enemies that the girls fight are impressive and almost have you rooting for them. As for the Kaleidosticks, Magical Ruby and Magical Sapphire, they basically serve as a way to move the story along and explain elements of the plot to the viewer via the medium of their respective magical girl. You will somewhat appreciate the annoying Magical Ruby when you are hearing the words prana and mana thrown all over the place and need an explanation. Overall, you aren't going to find any new character types here. The series reaches deep into the bag of anime cliches but it leaves a few of the more annoying ones in there so that's good. You will more than likely find at least one character that you like.
I feel like it is necessary to address the humour of an anime, especially in this case as the source universe is particularly serious. Fate/Kaleid takes a step away from the Fate universe and attempts a far more humorous approach. I have to be honest, my partner and I laughed more in episode one of Prison School than we did in the entirety of this series.
It's not that it is unfunny, it just fails at some of it's many attempts at humour. There are a couple of hilarious scenes and a few of the characters, as detailed above, have glowing moments where they really make you giggle. As it stands, however, the majority of the series is not that funny. At times it feels a little confused about it's direction. The mix of humour and seriousness doesn't gel well and can be a little jarring. Still, the attempts at humour are not distracting and some genuinely make you laugh.
The animation is pretty nice though nothing to write home about. You are not going to see any elements that were foreign to the 2013 season of anime series. Characters look good, I am a particularly big fan of some of the character designs though that is no surprise as everything borrows heavily from the Fate series. Action sequences look amazing with plenty of explosions and effects.
The sequences are both fluid and colourful. Backdrops are nicely drawn and the animation is generally smooth. The heroic personalities of Illya and Miyu look great and make for a nice change. There is some real nice use of geometric patterns and symbols with the series seemingly drawing from occult influences in some of it's designs. It all looks very cool and adds a certain layer of darkness to the magical girl formula. Overall, pretty nice but nothing to write home about.
Voice acting is excellent almost throughout. Shizuka Itō, as Luvia Edelfelt, and Kana Ueda, as Rin Tohsaka, provide veteran presence and some authenticity to the Fate world that comes along with the series. Mai Kadowaki also reprises her role as Illyasviel Von Einzbern, albeit a less self assured version. Kaori Nazuka, To Love-Ru's Yui Kotegawa and Strike Witches' Lynette Bishop, does a serviceable impression of Koneko Tojo, and other similar characters, as Miyu Edelfelt. Everyone is generally solid, the only annoying voice job was Naoko Takano as Magical Ruby. I don't blame this on the actor so much as the role itself; the character is supposed to be somewhat annoying and it is. A cast with plenty of experience of both the source material and similar series keeps Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya going strong.
There are only three songs that really prevail through Fate/Kaleid; the opening theme "Starlog" by Choucho, the standard ending theme "Prism Sympathy" by Stylips, and the episode 9 ending theme "Tsunagu Kizuna Tsutsumu Kodoku" also by Stylips. These tracks really don't stand out as anything special and certainly didn't stop me skipping through the intro and outro of each episode. Anime themes seem to either be forgettable or epic and Fate/Kaleid's fall more towards the forgettable end of the spectrum. Tsunagu Kizuna Tsutsumu Kodoku playing towards the end of episode 9 is particularly distracting.
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya features a little fanservice but it pretty much censors itself in one way or another. There is only minor use of steam and the character butts are not censored, which is good! Nipples are never featured on the characters although there is occasional nudity.
We have a few bath scenes and references to the embarrassment of being naked outdoors. The series, somehow, manages to find a way to get Miyu into a maid outfit and the naked Illya loses her mind at the sight of it. Illya then demands a naked massage from Miyu in the first of what ends up being a few Yuri undertones. It's all good though, all of the fanservice is in good humour and very much incidental. The characters are supposed to be young and there is very little in the way of sexuality. It's innocent, fun, and humorous. As far as I know, series 2 and series 3 are far heavier on the fanservice front. We will be reviewing them shortly so keep your eyes here.
A series with a few cute lolis doing cute things and beating people up. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya is the very definition of a strong seven out of ten. A slightly dull story is buoyed up by it's links to the Fate series, appearances by classic characters, excellent action scenes, and a couple of interesting plot devices. The humour is very hit and miss; unfortunately it mostly misses... a lot. The characters are a pretty nice mix but none are going to take your breath away in the same way the enemies do. Fanservice is welcome but minimal. Action sequences are beautiful, fluid, exciting, and epic in scale. Voice acting is decent and much of the Fate cast has been retained. All in all, the series is worth a watch. Temper your expectations, especially if you are a fan of the Fate series, and try not to demand too much from the series and you should enjoy it. It's only ten episodes long so you won't lose much by checking it out.