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Yes, I’m still binging on the Fate franchise. Deal with it.

Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya[1] is set in an alternate universe to the rest of the Fate franchise, and one that I suspect is an affectionate parody of a number of other Magical Girl shows[2].

Kaleid Liner does turn serious when necessary, has quite an engaging story, and decent characterisation but is dragged down by some really creepy fanservice in places. So this is a show where your mileage will vary.

The Premise

In this version Illyasviel von Einzbern is a cheerful ordinary middle school girl[3] who happens to be in the area when the magical staves Ruby and Sapphire drop their current mistresses Rin Tohsaka and Luvia Edelfelt in disgust at their constant infighting.

Literally.

Watching Rin get dropped in the river when Ruby took the flight powers away was hilarious.

Rin and Luvia were sent to Fuyuki by the Clock Tower to recover 7 Class Cards whose presence is causing magical mayhem. There’s one Class Card for each Servant Type, so Archer, Lancer, Saber, Rider, Caster, Assassin, and Berserker. They already have Archer and Lancer so they only need to get 5.

After ditching Rin, Ruby finds Illya and contracts[4] with her to become a magical girl. It helps that Illya is an anime fan and was fantasising about this earlier in the first episode.

From there Illya meets up with Rin, and Rin guides her through the business of being a magical girl and capturing the cards.

The Story

Kaleid Liner, at least the first season, is short at 10 episodes plus an OAV. So it doesn’t mess around with the story[5]. The second magical girl, Miyu, appears at the end of the second episode, and a major battle with the Caster and Saber cards is underway by episode 4.

The story even manages to fit in a brief arc where Illya gives up before her mother Irisviel shows up to gently persuade her to find the courage to rescue her friend.

I’m skimming over the details but Kaleid Liner moves quickly through its story beats, and is ideally suited for binging on a Saturday afternoon whilst hiding from the world.

Miyu vs Illya

The dynamic between Miyu and Illya is well thought out, and cleverly executed. Miyu is the prodigy who is brainy, athletic, good at everything, and emotionally closed off. The cheerful Illya finds Miyu to be quite intimidating, at least at first.

Then they get hammered by Caster, and work out that they need to be able fly to defeat her in the return match.

Illya just does it because she believes that magical girls should be able to fly. Miyu can’t make that intuitive leap[6], and this sets the girls on the road to partnership and friendship.

That road is travelled fairly quickly given the general pacing of this series, but there’s enough carefully thought out moments along the way to make it convincing.

The Funny

There’s a fair bit of amusement to be had watching Kaleid Liner. In particular Illya, as an anime fan herself, is quite Genre Savvy and enthusiastically Lamphades the major tropes as they pop up. The two staves, or Kaleidosticks, are fairly amusing as well.

The Oh Dear

Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works were, for the most part, blessedly free of fanservice. They may have had other pacing issues, but at least they didn’t waste time on that.

Kaleid Liner? Oh dear.

Illya is in the bath when Ruby finds her. There are other incidents scattered through the series focussing on Illya and Miyu, which falls into the really creepy category for me. Rin and Luvia also come in for some unpleasant attention in this sphere.

I put up with it but be aware that the fanservice really is at a level that will be a deal breaker for many viewers.

The Verdict

I enjoyed Kaleid Liner a fair bit. In general Kaleid Liner is a fun show to watch with solid character work to back it up, even from the minor characters. For example, Irisviel only shows up the once but her gentle insights are a highlight of the show[7].

Recommended for those who can tolerate the fanservice.

For this review I watched a review copy kindly provided by Hanabee, and the disc set includes clean OP/EDs, and some trailers as extras.

[1] That’s a bit of a mouthful so I’ll use the hashtag I was using on twitter: Kaleid Liner

[2] Including Card Captor Sakura given the design of Illya’s magic staff Ruby.

[3] No, Really!

[4] Some hints of Madoka Magica there, but Ruby and her sister staff Sapphire seem to be fairly benign/helpful overall. And you can’t really blame them for dropping Rin and Luvia either.

[5] Something of a relief after Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works.

[6] Miyu never does get that worked out. She comes up with an alternative that works with her mindset, but I liked seeing that the difference remained.

[7] Well, once you get past the creepy scene in the bath.