This isn’t my first rodeo with an anime/manga one-two punch related to Fate.
However, when talking about such a popular franchise that managed to spawn products well beyond its eroge roots to date, it’s more than possible to miss the odd series now and then.
Needless to say, even with all the anthro, genderbent, and ‘moe-fied’ characters and historical figures the Fate/stay night visual novel and its sequels/spin-offs have come to be known for, I still did not expect Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya to be a thing.
Type-Moon’s sleeper hit, visual novel Fate/stay night (2004), takes place in a world with a certain degree of magic where a life-and-death tournament called the ‘Holy Grail War’ is waged to grant the master-servant pair that wins any wish of their choosing.
The main participants of the Holy Grail War, masters, are made up of human mages (for the most part) while their servants, ‘heroic spirits,’ are where the Fate shenanigans truly begin.
While the idea of having a mix of characters, historical figures, and even icons that blur the line between the two, duke it out is both objectively cool and a tad bit silly, Fate/stay night tends to err towards the former.
I think this comes from the fact that a majority of Fate/stay night’s servants are fictional characters reimagined for the spectacle that is the anime adaptation (2006) with one of its most memorable master-servant pairs being antagonist Illyasviel ‘Illya’ von Einzbern and her servant Heracles/Hercules.
Illya and her Greek myth-inspired servant were a force for protagonist Shirou Emiya and his own servant Saber to reckon with, a rivalry that was very much personal…and tragic.
It turns out, the near-destiny level circumstances that brought Illya and Shirou together were far more relevant than either of them expected.
But in yet another twist of fate, the pair were given a second chance to become close in the alternate universe spin-off titled Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya.
What Is Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya?
Hiroshi Hiroyama’s magical girl manga Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya (2007-ongoing) was adapted into an anime by Silver Link (released in 2013) and continues to find success.
Silver Link’s adaptation of the manga follows a younger version of Illya who grows up a normal girl in a normal home with her adoptive older brother Shirou.
For once, Illya gets the chance to live a happy life with a brother and parents, the latter being former main players Kiritsugu Emiya and Irisviel von Einzbern of Fate/stay night’s prequel Fate/Zero.
However, magic is never far from our antagonist-turned-protagonist.
In another Fate/stay night cameo, Shirou’s former ally and rival Rin Tohsaka is forced to transfer her magical girl powers to Illya due to her ‘Magical Ruby’ going rogue.
Thus, kick starts the plot!
With the sentient staff Kaleidostick ‘Magical Ruby’ in hand, our protagonist is tasked with reclaiming seven ‘Class Cards’ based on heroic spirits from the Fate franchise, one of them being her very own once upon a time, Heracles.
(I may not be a hardcore fan, but I love me some wholesome Illya and Heracles.)
As is the magical girl way, Illya and frenemy Miyu, a completely new character, compete for the Class Cards and engage in cutesy slice-of-life staples.
But if my all-time favorite show Puella Magi Madoka Magica taught me anything, it’s that the life of a magical girl isn’t always what it seems.
The series was renamed Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!, 2wei Herz!, and 3rei! for its following seasons and from 2wei! on, Illya and company start to uncover dark truths and greater threats to their world.
Moreover, just last year, a film-length spin-off OVA to the spin-off titled Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya: Prisma Phantasm was released with promises of more comedy and nods to the previous series a la the first season’s shtick.
While Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is generally more light-hearted than its predecessors and the like, this parallel world is still one where the Holy Grail has weight.
As far as spin-offs go, I think Prisma Illya’s take on fleshing out a supporting character, a villain at that, is well done. It’s not a bad thing, embracing your own silliness and making references when it fits the story being told.
What Is Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya: Oath Under Snow (Sekka no Chikai)?
The darker elements introduced during the latter half of the show return in full force for the film Oath Under Snow (2017).
Unfortunately for Illya, she loses the spotlight to her brother Shirou yet again… which I found odd.
I’m not opposed to Shirou getting more character development, but the series is called Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya for a reason.
In an interesting turn of events, Oath Under Snow further explores Illya’s frenemy Miyu of all people. The film follows up on Miyu’s mysterious ties with the Holy Grail and even showcases the complex and underused Sakura Matou, Shirou’s third love interest in the original Fate/stay night visual novel.
What Makes a Spin-Off?
So aside from the obvious, what else makes Prisma Illya a series worth checking out for returning Fate fans, new fans, and non-fans alike? Or at the very least, what makes the show worth talking about?
I brought up the Oath Under Snow movie in the first place as it showcases the degree to which a supporting character like Miyu can be expanded upon.
As much as Oath under Snow’s inclusion under the Prisma Illya umbrella confuses me, I do enjoy seeing fictional ladies being given their dues. When I consider how spin-offs are handled in other anime franchises (mostly those aimed at the shounen crowd) and western animation, they don’t quite hit the same.
If the spin-offs that come to mind are anything to go by, both schools of animation have bred their share of mediocre to poorly written side stories. There’s a tendency to take a fan favorite and let him or her roam free via a show with smaller stakes.
A choice that often highlights said character’s inability to carry a show on his or her own.
And then you have the Fate franchise that practically runs on supporting characters and servants.
There’s nothing wrong with liking the Fate protagonists (most of them being masters or former masters), but I doubt they’re considered fan favorites or preferred over any of the numerous ‘Saberface’ waifus out there.
I’ve made no effort to hide my love for dark magical girls and the like in the past, and the same applies here. Illya is a supporting character with layers that lend themselves to different genres and roles. She has a history of being both a heroine and a villain. She’s clever, driven, and outgoing, traits that carry over no matter the iteration of the mage.
But in contrast to Fate/stay night’s Illya, Prisma Illya’s version retains the innocence of her childhood. Where the original Illya was groomed to despise her father and brother out of loyalty to the Einzbern name, magical girl Illya gets to choose her destiny from the get go.
Although crushing on ‘harem protagonist’ Shirou, or in Illya’s case, having a (sigh) ‘brother complex’ for the guy, is a common thread among Fate’s popular ladies, I still think these ladies have plenty going for them.
Illya aside, Rin, Rin’s rival Livia, and Sakura all exhibit heroism and potential villainy (if not straightforward villainy) too.
And then there’s Miyu, and to a lesser extent, Illya’s ‘double’ Kuro.
Not only does Prisma Illya expand upon Fate/stay night characters, but set groundwork for potential mainstays Miyu and Kuro rather than treating them as mere throwaways.
Which demonstrates far more thought in itself than your typical spin-off.
Miyu in particular is given ample time so as to make Oath Under Snow something worth getting invested in. Yes, I still think Illya should have been a bigger player in the movie, but the ‘passing of the mantle’ from one antagonist-turned-protagonist to another does feel oddly fitting.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the way in which fanservice is handled in the franchise (with girls’ love being tailored more and more for a straight male audience these days), however, it would be remiss to single out Prisma Illya.
After all, the show at least turns some of its lighter material on the head well into 2wei!, 2wei Herz!, and 3rei!. Illya is only able to have the life she does in this universe due to her parents sacrificing something precious…
And as is to be expected of sacrifices, they sometimes come back to haunt you.
Which brings us to worldbuilding.
The franchise is best known for its battle royale structure, colorful cast and tone, as well as a wide range of master-servant fantasies, making Prisma Illya’s magical girl story a truly unique reimagining.
Prisma Illya puts its own spin on old favorites and plot devices all the while introducing different magic systems and visual language.