“Life on Anime” issue #1 – FATE/KALEID LINER PRISMA ILLYA

Greetings fellow nerds!!
Welcome to Jade Woodruff’s “Life on Anime” – a brand new column here at Nerd Nation dedicated to reviewing all of the great anime titles out there (of which there are many – as most of you reading this already know!) from the perspective of a life-long anime fan.

For our first installment, we will be tackling Fate/Kaleid a ten-episode “magical girl” series circa 2012… so without further ado… let’s get to it!!

FateKaleid Liner Prisma Illya

Here’s the premise:

Rin and Luvia are sent to Japan by the Wizard Marshall to collect “Class Cards” by transforming into Magical Girls using the Kaleidosticks (wands that talk).  They’ve already collected a few cards, but cannot stop bickering long enough to make further progress.  The Kaleidosticks, docile Sapphire and ditzy Ruby, break their contracts with Rin and Luvia, opting to find new, cooperative Magical Girls instead.  Ruby immediately finds Illyaviel (Illya).  Explaining nothing about the role or potential dangers, Ruby cons Illya into a contract by playing on her innocence.

Rin mentors Illya while still longing to have the power she lost by not staying focused on her job.  Illya’s doe-eyed, anime-skewed perception of magical girls quickly fades as a transfer student and rival, Miyu who is mentored by Luvia, enters.  Illya quickly finds herself outclassed at school, in athletics, and as a Magical Girl.  Battles prove more challenging and dangerous than expected.  Peril and mystery become commonplace and her life as a normal schoolgirl is forever gone.  Faced with life-altering decisions, Illya must question her resolve and what being a Magical Girl means to her before it’s too late.

Review:

Opening with parody, slapstick comedy, and countless cliche elements, Fate/Kaleid sets the bar low for a spinoff of the highly reputable Fate/Stay franchise.  For about 12 minutes after the flashy fight sequence between Rin and Luvia, I felt like I was just checking off the “yup, it has that too.” boxes.  But Fate/Kaleid wastes no time introducing nearly the entire cast, most of whom may as well be cookie cutter archetypes serving the roles of friends and family.  Given the introductory pace, it was apparent that the series wasn’t going to meander and there was already a promise of some fantastical magic fights on the horizon.  Ruby, the talking wand, makes her debut and convinces Illya to become a Magical Girl.  Immediately followed by more slapstick humor and fan service, Rin reappears and decides to train Illya since she can no longer use Ruby herself.

Moving into episode two, the series continues pandering fan service and elements of parody, daring the viewer to underestimate it.  Enter Miyu, your typical transfer student rival character who is blatantly superior to the lead female in every way.  By this time, the series felt like it was walking a fine line between Card Captor Sakura and Madoka Majica only with more fan service.

Then the action happens.  And it is beautiful. 

This is where Fate/Kalied finds its stride.  The fight sequences are fluid.  There’s no stopping to discuss strategy, explain battle mechanics, or comment on how powerful someone or something is.  Things just happen and, when they do, there’s just enough visual information to encourage the viewer to think about what’s happening.  Fate/Kaleid doesn’t have characters tell you what’s happening, it shows you.

As the series continues with one bright and crisp action scene after another, the mystery behind the Class Cards begins to unravel, characters grow, and Illya and Miyu learn more about their powers and themselves.  There are a few breathers of daily school life and silly antics to break up the increasing number of serious scenes.  The series finds a nice balance between these lighter elements and dark undertones.  It manages the ebb and flow well by delivering plot and brilliant looking magical fights right when the school themes start losing steam.  Even with all the magical elements and short learning curves of the characters, Fate/Kaleid grounds the more unbelievable plot points through foreshadowing and grounded battle strategy progressions.  No one character is so overpowered that she is left unchecked.  No one character is so useless that doubt would be cast when she pulls through.  The characters are believable and likable, even if based on exhausted archetypes.

My only complaint about the first season is the lack of background animation during the school scenes.  Many characters just stand still, not talking or moving.  They’re there for decoration – nothing more.  They definitely spent their animation budget on the fight sequences.  Had the series droned on for multiple seasons, I could see this shortcoming being more disappointing.  For the most part, I was too busy paying attention to witty banter to care about the lack of attention to environmental detail.

Fate/Kaleid is a fun, action-driven magical girl series.  It balances comedy, action, fantasy, and dark themes well.  It’s something that’s easily watchable in an afternoon.  While it encourages viewers to contemplate where the series is headed or how characters will come out on top of a seemingly impossible fight, it requires as little thought as viewers want to invest.

Length and Power Curve

The brevity of Fate/Kaleid is a welcome change to the “collection” genre.  It’s a familiar premise that’s been well-established by notable franchises like Pokemon, Card Captor Sakura, and InuYasha.  Usually “collection” titles span multiple seasons and have to find creative ways to address the power curvePower Curve refers to how characters “level up” in anime.  Sometimes, they gain new skills through collecting objects, participate in training camps, or consume powers from other characters or weapons.  Fate/Kaleid’s characters “level up” by gaining cards, but also through new experiences.  The mentors are not “all powerful” or simply there to comment on the increasing power levels of enemies and heroines.  They help out from time to time and are somewhat effective considering they are no longer Magical Girls.  They aren’t useless, but always serve as a point of comparison.  The brevity of the series can be attributed to the low number of cards to collect: 12.  Compared to the 30+ cards of Card Captor Sakura, hundreds of Pokemon, and thousands of Shikon Jewel shards, it’s a reasonable number.  Had the title wanted to further develop the friends and family or delve into Miyu’s background (which I’m hoping is covered in Season2), they could have done so had they lengthened it.  I didn’t get the impression there was anything to gain by developing the secondary cast.  It would have only extended the length of the series, added more dialogue, and would probably have negatively affected the pacing.  This show wasn’t made to be earth shattering or change the perception of the genre.  It was meant to be fun.

Fate/Stay Franchise Knowledge

My biggest concern with Fate/Kaleid was that I never watched any titles from the Fate/Stay franchise.  I am not familiar enough with them to provide a plot synopsis or enjoy any of the Easter Eggs planted in Fate/Kaleid.  I heard that Fate/Kaleid was a spinoff and required no knowledge of the canon material to understand and enjoy it.   I wanted to assess the validity of that statement.

After watching Fate/Kaleid, I can say that you don’t need to know anything about the Fate/Stay franchise to enjoy it.  At no point did I feel lost or confused by jargon or plot.  I found it enjoyable.

As a Spinoff of Fate/Stay

Spinoffs of widely popular shows can easily pale in comparison to their predecessors.  Something that could be good on its own doesn’t always live up to the nostalgia or the hype, even if we know that it’s a spinoff going into the series.

After I finished Fate/Kaleid, I did a little research into the Fate/Stay fans’ perceptions for a perspective that I could not give.

Most seemed disappointed.  While there were Easter Eggs and homage, most viewers expected it to be as good as the original.  I’ve made this mistake too.  It’s an easy one to make.  I’m glad that I was able to enjoy Fate/Kaleid for what it was: a spinoff.  I’m not sure I could have done this had I already been a Fate/Stay fan.

Fan Service

One common complaint is the over sexualizing of young girls, lolis.  Yes, there are bath scenes and some nudity.  There’s even Yuri undertones.  But, over sexualized?  No.

The magical girl outfits aren’t revealing or sexual.  Clothing doesn’t get ripped off like in Ikki Tousen, there aren’t any ridiculous boob physics like in High School of The Dead, and there’s less nudity and sexual banter than in Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.  Nor are the girls posed or “filmed” from angles that portray them sexually.  The original Sailor Moon showed more underwear, butt, and thighs than this series ever dared to bare.

Aside from one scene that got out of hand and a few boob jokes, it’s a relatively tame show.  If you want overly sexualized lolis, watch Needless or Puni Puni Poemy which make most ecchi anime look tame.

That being said, this isn’t a show for younger viewers because there is nudity.

BOTTOM LINE: Very enjoyable anime, though definitely NOT for younger viewers. Give it a watch!
9.0/10 

 -Jade Woodruff – Nerd Nation Columnist

Jade Woodruff is a professional writer, life-long anime fan, and the chair of North Florida’s AMELIACON. The views & opinions expressed by Ms. Woodruff in her reviews are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Nerd Nation Magazine, or anyone else, so don’t be a d-bag and try to sue anyone over the stuff she writes.

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