Illya: the middle ground between Shirou and Kiritsugu

Warning: This article features major spoilers for Prisma Illya 3Rei, Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel

A classic thought experiment that is now an internet meme. A trolley is moving along a track that forks in two directions. On one path there is one person tied to the track, on the other is several people The trolley is set to go on the path with more people. However, you can switch the path the trolley will take by pulling a lever to switch to the path with less people. Do you do nothing and allow more people to die, or do you pull the lever and personally cause a death?

This thought experiment is put into practice in the penultimate episode of Fate/Zero. Kiritsugu Emiya is told the problem multiple times by Angra Mainyu, and each time he chooses to kill the lesser number of people until he has killed more than he saved. This is the core of Kiritsugu Emiya’s heroic ideals: Sacrifice the few to save the many. He is a ruthless killer who will mercilessly steal the luck of others.

Shirou Emiya is confronted with a similar dilemma in the Heaven’s Feel Route. Knowing the source of the shadowy-feeling that is causing people in Fuyuki to end up comatose, or worse dead, he tries the only solution that comes to mind to stop any more death: He has sex with the metaphorical trolley.

Okay in all seriousness Shirou tries his best to find a solution where no one has to die, or alternatively an ending where he alone is sacrificed. Shirou Emiya is selfless to the point of being self-destructive. If he believed it would work, he would throw himself in front of the trolley. However, heroic ideals like that rarely work when put into practice. Eventually Shirou does have to kill, but instead of killing Sakura and putting an end to things early on, he chooses to stand by her with her and kill another.

Miyu Emiya

In Prisma Illya we are presented with a similar dilemma, Kiritsugu and Shirou find the God Child Miyu after a disaster ravages the city of Fuyuki. Kiritsugu quickly learns that this child has the power to grant any wish in exchange for her life. Being the kind of man he is, Kiritsugu is determined to use this child to save humanity, but he cannot figure out how before the end of his life. Before he dies he passes his dream on to Shirou.

Shirou is now confronted with this same choice, only now he has the added weight of Miyu being his sister and Kiritsugu’s dying wish involving killing her. As the Holy Grail War begins Shirou loses everyone close to him and has to choose between saving the last person he’s close to or allowing her to be sacrificed to save humanity. Having lost everything, Shirou’s choice becomes clear. He gives up humanity for family.

And that transitions us both in-universe and in this article to my favorite Fate work, Fate/Kalied Liner Prisma Illya.

Illya’s core

Illya’s Prisma Illya incarnation is a very different character from her Fate/Stay Night incarnation. She is an ordinary girl who just happens to be related to the Holy Grail War. In the beginning of the series she becomes a magical girl for one reason: Because it sounds like fun.

Illya is portrayed to be a bit of an airhead early on, performing magical feats like flight that should take years of practice effortlessly because she simply thinks she should be able to. When questioned behind the logic of it her only response is “Don’t think, imagine.”

Still one of my favorite season 1 gags

After developing a friendship with her fellow magical girl Miyu, Illya’s life goes on normally until her doppelganger/other half of her, Chloe, appears in her life. The introduction of Chloe allowed another character trait of Illya to come to the surface: her selfishness. Illya had become a magical girl for the fun of it, but not wanting to accept Chloe’s existence she doesn’t want any of this anymore. She just wants things to go back to how they were, not even once considering Miyu’s feelings upon saying that.

This selfishness is Illya’s core. She’ll make decisions based on what makes her happy, not considering moral dilemmas or the fate of the world if she fails. When Gilgamesh attempts to use the Holy Grail in the third season of the anime she isn’t fighting to stop him or save anyone, she’s fighting because he kidnapped Miyu and she wants her friend back.

This selfishness has a simple root: Illya is an ordinary child

A Childish Choice

And so, Prisma Illya 3Rei brings us back to that oh so familiar problem. The villains of 3Rei, the Ainsworth family, have kidnapped Miyu with the plans to save humanity from imminent extinction. Shirou had saved Miyu from them a year earlier, but humanity’s last hope didn’t give up that easily.

Chloe, as Illya’s sister and Kiritsugu’s daughter makes an unexpected choice. When asked to choose between a world she doesn’t know or her friend, she chooses her friend. She specifically compares the Ainsworths’ ideology to Kiritsugu’s as she stands against them.

And so, Illya has to make her own choice. Humanity or her friends. As the series states, that’s a big decision. Bigger than words can describe. For the first time in her life Illya has to face a real moral dilemma and it’s the biggest one a human can face. Being true to herself, Illya makes the most selfish choice: She wants both.

She is determined to find a way to save everyone without needing to sacrifice anyone. 

Moral Dilemma 

With Miyu saved and the Ainsworths still out there, Illya and the gang prepare for their upcoming fight. As they are preparing, Shirou and Chloe have a private conversation with each other. This conversation gives us a new light on Chloe’s mindset. She is very similar to Fate/Stay Night’s Emiya Shirou in that she sees herself as expendable, and an ending where she is sacrificed is acceptable.

The two of them are peas in a pod, and so Shirou gives Chloe a cold memento from Kiritsugu: an Origin Bullet, a bullet that can destroy the magical circuits of a mage.

While Shirou and Chloe have their talk, Illya meets Erika Ainsworth again. Illya tells her that she’s looking for a future in which everyone is saved. However, Erika doesn’t take this well. She tells Illya that her only wish is to die and asks Illya to kill her. Unable to comprehend the meaning behind Erika’s words, the two part ways.

When the fight against the Ainsworths begins the team splits up. Illya and Bazett fight Beatrice while Miyu and Chloe fight Sakura. Illya is able to defeat Beatrice, but before she moves on she asks something important: For Beatrice to tell her story. Illya knows that the only way she’ll end the aggression of the Ainsworths will be to first understand each of them. She won’t be able to save anyone if she doesn’t first make friends of her enemies.

Miyu and Chloe however have a much harder time fighting Sakura. The two of them know that if Illya was in their place she would find a non-violent solution to their situation. However, they’re not Illya. The only solution Miyu can think of is to stab Sakura through the heart.

A Child’s Eyes

And so we come to the fight against Julian Ainsworth. Julian represents the heroic ideal that Kiritsugu chased after and Shirou admired. One who is willing to save the world no matter the sacrifice. Illya’s fight here is as much against the ideal as it is against the person behind it.

Before the fight even begins, Illya asks Julian to tell her his story. She believes the only reason Julian is fighting is to save his sister Erika, but Julian just laughs saying he wants to kill Erika. Claiming that even if Illya were to save Miyu and the world, there is one person she wouldn’t be able to save. As the fight goes on we learn the truth about Erika, or rather, Pandora. 

The world is ending in Prisma Illya because Pandora’s box was never opened. In order for the world to be saved Pandora must die and open the pithos. However Pandora is immortal, in order to kill her he must sacrifice Miyu and make a wish upon the grail. With the truth behind his plan revealed Julian asks Illya “Will you open the pithos?”

However there was one thing neither Julian nor the 6,000 year old Pandora took into account: They were fighting a child. Illya is able to see right through their words and the Ainsworths’ plan of collective suicide. If they truly wished for the end their ideal has brought them to, then why:

Illya saw right through their facade, she knows now that Julian doesn’t want this ending. However he will fight for it until the end. As the two fight Illya continually raises her hand to Julian, she can tell he’s suffering and wants to help. Julian cannot stop thinking about the look in Illya’s eyes, a child’s eyes not that will not hesitate on ideals.

Illya knows that the future she’s fighting for is selfish, she can’t save everyone, but despite that she will reject any method that involves sacrificing the few. She may be Kiritsugu Emiya’s daughter, but their beliefs couldn’t be more different.

Now Illya knows the truth about Julian, he never wanted to kill Pandora. He was thrust with the same dilemma that Shirou had to face. Do you sacrifice a family member to save the world? Shirou chose family, he had nothing left but Miyu. Julian however couldn’t choose that, humanity is big: “Bigger than words can express”. Similar to Kiritsugu, Julian attempted to disregard the victims and focus on saving as many as possible, and that’s why he lost. His dark cynicism couldn’t stand a chance against the bright future a child would seek.

The Ending of One Story

Having made friends with Julian, the only Ainsworth left for Illya and the others to face is the head of the family: Darius Ainsworth. Unlike the others, Darius is a monster. He cares about nothing, there is no reasoning with him. To make things worse, he’s also an extremely powerful mage who has lived for a millenia.

Illya and the others cannot hold their own against him, he effortlessly destroys any Servant Cards they have. However, Chloe has one idea, an ending that she is okay with. One where she alone is sacrificed. Using the origin bullet she got from Shirou she uses herself as bait and destroys Darius’ magic circuits, disappearing in the process as her Archer card is destroyed.

And that brings us to where the manga is now. There have been several chapters since Chloe’s death, but none relevant to this analysis. It’s hard to guess where Prisma Illya will go from here, the manga has consistently surprised me. The only thing I can confidently say is that Illya will continue to be herself.

Characters like Julian and Kiritsugu would pull the lever of the trolley, characters like Shirou and Chloe would stand in front of the trolley if they thought that would work, and Illya would desperately find a way to get everyone off the tracks.

Thank you for reading my article, if you would like to read another Prisma Illya article by me I reviewed the series a while back

If you would like to read an article unrelated to Fate, DK recently did an article about the current state of Shonen Jump state of Shonen Jump

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