Prisma Illya review – flawed but magical

So what happens when you take a character from an H-game and give them a magical girl anime? You get Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Now what happens when you do the same thing in the 2010s? You get Magical Girl Prisma Illya.

I tried to look up more info on why this particular Fate/Stay Night spinoff exists, but I honestly don’t comprehend why or how. Other than Hiroshi Hiroyama really likes Illya and wanted to give her her own manga. Said manga started in 2007, it’s original run last for about a year in Comp Ace magazine with the anime starting in 2013. Contrary to beliefs some people have, the series didn’t start off as doujin but an official Fate spinoff.

While I also don’t know exactly why the Prisma Illya anime exists, it’s not hard to take a guess. Fate as a brand became bigger than ever before thanks to Ufotable’s adaptation of the Fate/Zero light novel blowing up in popularity and their adaptation of Fate/Stay Night’s second route just around the corner. Making any anime with the Fate name would surely make profit, it’s no wonder why Silver Link made an adaptation of the manga.

I have read the Prisma Illya manga, however we will not be discussing anything that has yet to be animated. My first experience with Prisma Illya was the anime, not the manga, so I will be covering just that here. I will not be looking at the OVAs, for reasons I will cover later. There will be minor spoilers talked about throughout this review, but no large plot points or twists.

Season 1 review

Season 1 of the anime, or as I like to call it “The search for Lord El-Melloi’s Yugioh deck” is a basic magical girl anime, and that’s okay. With a strange spinoff like this, sticking to the basics of the genre you’re branching into at first is fine, plus it’s clear they’re being tongue and cheek with tropes like having a new transfer student coming to school.

Where season 1 shines is in its characters and comedy, the comedy especially. This is easily the funniest of the four seasons. I don’t exactly know how to describe how it does comedy well so just look at the below picture and you’ll know what to expect from the season’s comedy.

Anyway, characters. The character arcs in season 1 are the strongest in the show. The season focuses only on our two central characters: Illya, totally just an ordinary girl who has suddenly become a magical girl, and Miyu, the at first seemingly perfect transfer student who excels in school subjects, but has severely underdeveloped social skills. The developing friendship (basically a relationship but the anime doesn’t have the fortitude to go beyond the word friend) between these two characters is downright adorable and their interactions carry the show. The dynamic of Illya being naturally good at being a magical girl because she’s an airhead (the show’s words not mine) and Miyu struggling because she thinks too logically leads to both good drama and comedy.

Action and animation wise the first season is passable. While watching it everything seemed fine to me, things only started to look flawed or rushed when compared to later seasons. The famous Archer/Illya fight that took the internet by storm a few years back is more of an outlier of the fight quality, not the standard. Most battles in the season tend to be very short and end in blasts of light, their purpose being less to be great fights and more to advance the arcs of our main characters.

However, while the main characters get the perfect amount of focus throughout the season this comes at the cost of screentime for the various side characters. Shirou Emiya, the protagonist of Fate, is just a generic magical girl anime big brother character in this series and while that role suits him fine, with how little screentime he gets it’s a wonder why they bothered writing him into this season at all. However, he at least isn’t the most pointless character in the season, that award goes to Illya’s school friends. Illya has 4 friends at school and god help me, I watched this entire anime three times yet I cannot remember a single one of their names. It seems the only reason they exist in this show at all is that the creators thought the audience could relate to Illya as a normal girl in this continuity more if it was shown she had friends.

While Prisma Illya as a whole is a spinoff of Fate/Stay Night, the first season can easily be watched without any knowledge of the original VN, the only thing that will generally fly over your head are easter eggs or slight references like Lord El-Melloi’s cameo. Overall, season 1 is a good, fun spinoff of the Fate franchise, albeit a bit generic and thus hard to really say anything about, but of course it’s far from the only season of this show. This roller coaster of a show

2wei review
Look at this image. This is one of the first things you see in season 2. They knew. Someone on the animation team was warning us of the disaster to come.

After the manga’s original run it took a six month break before relaunching as Prisma Illya 2wei, and then ran for three years. Similarly the anime continued as Prisma Illya 2wei.

Between seasons the animation budget clearly got a touch up. 2wei and beyond is much prettier than previous seasons, there has also been a slight change in artstyle. While not extremely noticeable, all characters are drawn in an older looking way than season 1

The Prisma Illya franchise has a reputation of just being a loli fetish series. While that reputation is certainly earned with the OVAs, which often are chock full of fanservice (the prime reason I refuse to talk about them) that aspect doesn’t often appear in the main series. 2wei is the exception.

2Wei introduces the character Chloe, Chloe needs mana to stay around and a lot of it. So she takes it from others. Those of you who know about Fate/Stay Night and what mana transfer means are probably disgusted. For those of you who don’t know, Mana transfer was Fate/Stay Night’s excuse for having H scenes in the game.

While Prisma Illya doesn’t straight up have the child characters having sex, the many scenes of Chloe draining mana from various characters are some of the most uncomfortable scenes in this franchise. By the end of the season I needed to fast forward through them.

This is easily the worst plotpoint in the show

The season itself revolves around her as well; Illya coming to terms with Chloe’s existence is the main conflict of the season, and I cannot bring myself to care about Chloe when such a large amount of her screen time is spent on scenes like that.

2wei’s only major improvements over the first season are it’s action scenes, which look great with the improved animation, and an increased amount of screentime for characters like Shirou and Illya’s mother Irisviel.

Similar to season 1, 2wei can be watched without any knowledge of the rest of the Fate series. While major Fate things like the Holy Grail War are brought up in this season, they are explained in a way that viewers who have solely seen Prisma Illya would understand.

2wei was too large for a single season, so the manga was split into 2 seasons for the anime. As such season 2 ends with a large cliffhanger and promises of better to come. Of course, when the series has already hit its lowest point, anything could have been uphill from here

2wei Herz review
After 2Wei’s first season ended with a large cliffhanger, season 3 decides not to follow up on it for SIX of its ten episodes.  Most of 2Wei Herz is spent on slice of life moments of Illya, Miyu, and Chloe. The pacing of the first two seasons, which saw a mix of magical girl action and slice of life moments, has been completely shattered. By the time the plot resumes the slice of life elements completely vanish from the show.

Thankfully there are significantly less mana transfer scenes in 2Wei Herz than the second season. Their existence is a plague that infects the entire show from this point on, but the number decreases over time.

However, 2Wei Herz has a major loss compared to season 1: the comedy. While obviously comedy is subjective and hard to talk about, 2Wei Herz is full of jokes that just do not land for me. This is not helped by every single joke now becoming a recurring joke to be shoved down your throat (Shirou and Illya relationship jokes weren’t funny the first time they’re told, let alone the sixth time). This combined with the frontloading of slice of life episodes in the season makes it a slog to sit through.

However, the final three episodes of the season make up for that tenfold. While a three episode fight scene in a ten episode anime isn’t good on paper, the action segments in these three episodes are some of the best I’ve seen in a long time. No part of the fight overstays it’s welcome, the constant evolution of the fight and the now large cast of characters make the whole thing a joy to watch.

This is, however, where watchers of Prisma Illya will begin to feel alienated if they haven’t experienced Fate/Stay Night in some form. Not enough to be completely turned off, but stuff like Gilgamesh and the many references to the Einzbern Holy Grail War start to become more centerstage here.

In the end, 2Wei Herz is a slow burn with an amazing payoff. Not as good as the first season, but leagues better than 2Wei.

3rei review
This is where everything changes. The slice of life parts of the series have been completely thrown out the window with the manga’s third name and the anime’s 4th season: Prisma Illya 3Rei.

With 3Rei the universe of the first three seasons has been completely abandoned, with Illya waking up in a dying world with no hope. However despite this she is determined to risk everything, even all other people in the world to save Miyu (who had been kidnapped at the end of 2Wei Herz). This season is where all the drama of the previous seasons takes centerstage, with Illya put through physical trials and emotional turmoil to save the one closest to her. Subtle and unsubtle foreshadowing from as far back as season 2 of the anime and the beginning of the manga gets payoff.

The animation style has also had a slight change here to match this tonal shift. The style attempts to be closer to the Ufotable style of their Fate anime, only with the budget of Silver Link. I’ve seen mixed reactions to their stylistic change. There are those who appreciate it for being more in line with the manga’s tone and others who dislike it do to liking how the previous seasons looked. I’m not an art critic so I can’t really cast judgement on this change other than saying I don’t mind it.

The action scenes in 3Rei are the best they have ever been. The class cards of the first season are finally used to their fullest potential again making every fight Illya gets into this season feel unique. Much of the plot of the season is also told during these scenes, removing any long exposition dumps

I say with the utmost joy that fanservice is next to nonexistent in 3Rei. There are two scenes in the 3Rei anime that are fanservice filled, neither of which are good but at least the number has decreased to the lowest its ever been.

This season is where knowledge of the primary Fate franchise stops being just a hindrance and becomes next to necessary for enjoyment. While it’s not required, I have seen Prillya fans who haven’t experienced any prior Fate work enjoy 3Rei much less than those who have prior franchise knowledge. Elements like Rule Breaker may have been touched upon in 2Wei, but not nearly enough for them to have the impact they need. Regular Fate fans can enjoy moments like those because they have the knowledge, but Prillya-only fans can be left confused.

3rei’s climactic battle ended on a twist that has become the thing most mainstream Fate fans know about Prillya, that Emiya Shirou is a relevant character in the magical girl anime. This twist leads us into the final thing we’ll be talking about today, the Prisma Illya prequel movie: Vow in the Snow

Vow in the Snow review
Prisma Illya: Vow Under Snow is an amazing film and my favorite piece of Fate media. Despite being a prequel to Prisma Illya, the film isn’t a magical girl story. Rather the film focuses on Emiya Shirou and how the world in 3Rei became doomed. Shirou made the same choice as Illya and fought in a Grail War all for Miyu’s safety.

The animation in the film is stellar from start to finish. With excellent choreographed fight scenes and beautiful looking slow moments. The film is a visual spectacle and easily the best looking Prillya media. The final Unlimited Blade Works sequence is amazing every time I watch it.

The film is a tragedy comparable to Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel, Emiya Shirou is put through trial after trial until his heroic ideals eventually fade away under the moonlight. The more he loses throughout the first act the more you want to see him succeed. However as this film is a prequel to 3Rei, we know that can’t happen.

This plot and the lack of magical girls made Vow in the Snow stick out from the main Prillya series enough that even Fate fans who would never give Prillya a chance decided to watch and love the film. It’s such a shame that many of them don’t then watch the main Prisma Illya anime. Prisma Illya is a very underrated in the pantheon of the Fate franchise because of its reputation, a reputation that mostly applies to 2Wei, the worst season of the anime. If more Fate fans would give the series a chance they would find that it’s quality is comparable to most works in the franchise.

Prisma Illya isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. I love season 1 but it still has problems like including a fanservice bath scene in the first episode as a horrible first impression, but it’s positives far outweigh its faults. Prillya characters like Miyu have become dear to my heart and they could only exist in this type of anime. 

Prillya is far from done, we have years of manga chapters left for the anime to adapt. The upcoming film Prisma Illya the Movie Licht – The Nameless Girl will be continuing where the anime had last left off. How much the movie will adapt is unknown, but I am very much looking forward to it and hoping that the 3 magical girls are as well animated as Vow in the Snow was.

To cap this article off, give Prisma Illya a chance, just have your fast forward button ready for any 2Wei fanservice.

3 thoughts on “Prisma Illya review – flawed but magical”

  1. There’s something seriously wrong with you prudish weirdos. Go watch some crap queer disney shows or something if anime isn’t for you.

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