I have been toying with the idea of writing a post about Fate for a while now. I’ve been playing the mobage. I watched Unlimited Bladeworks the other month, and before that rewatched Fate/Zero. All three of these works, despite building on each other, are drastically different. They have drastically different goals, and drastically different philosophies towards achieving their goals. However, whilst there is a multitude of ways I could tackle Fate – from it’s portrayal of the sufferings brought about by the restricted world views of Men in Zero, to the promises that Unlimited Bladeworks makes and then fails to keep – lets instead talk about, what I can only imagine to be, the worst Fate series available on Crunchyroll. Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya.
Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya, or Prisma Illya for short, is essentially a reference gag show revolving around “What if Fate/Stay Night but Magical Girls
and younger for some reason“.
Reference humour as a whole may be regarded as the lowest bar for humour, if it even has comedic value in many cases, but it is at least possible to use references as a basis upon which to build the comedy of your show. Haiyore Nyaruko-san, for the most part, manages this despite the fact that show contains more references, in the forms of shout-outs, borrowed iconography, and shared dialogue, than any other show I have seen. Even Gintama somehow. Furthermore, Fate as a franchise is already predisposed towards recurring iconography.
When a character in the currently airing Fate Apocrypha is introduced as Kotomine Shirou we are genuinely supposed to suspicious. Not due to anything Apocrypha has already presented us, but because Kotomine Kirei is a major antagonist within Fate/Stay Night and Fate/Zero, whilst Emiya Shirou is the main protagonist of Fate/Stay Night. Something weird is going on, or we have clearly been given a fake name. And that’s just one example of the lexicon of Fate working. Almost any large franchise is going to have it’s own dialect it can explore. An understanding of it’s own structures and terminologies can allow franchises to play with their own works in a somewhat unique fashion.
I am emphasising the nature of reference humour and franchises to make it clear that, even if there are somewhat bland typical ways you can use referential humour (Hi Big-Bang Theory) you can genuinely do interesting things with referential humour. Be that using the referential aspect in an interesting light, or simply building a solid comedy shell around that culture. To be more specific, shows like Genshiken, Cute High Earth Defence Club LOVE!, Gundam Buildfighters are all shows engaging within certain franchises or genre conventions. They all feature various prominent shout-outs to other works. Yet they all do something interesting and different with these works. Different from the works themselves, and different from each other.
Prisma Illya could have been a fun show. Carnival Phantasm already exists in basically the same area, riffing on Type-Moon tropes and plot devices, and is at least somewhat successful as a referential comedy show from what I have seen of it. “What if Berserker had to go buy some batteries” “What if we’re Holy Grail Cart Racing instead of Holy Grail Warring”. Carnival Phantasm plays with Fate in it’s premises in the same way Prisma Illya does. If one of them can be good, then so can the other. Instead, Prisma Illya, at least in its first episode and a bit, manages something quite amazing. It manages to fail, as a show, as a comedy, at almost everything it sets out to do.
Prisma Illya is a mess of a show. It is a prime example of parody failing to separate itself from the thing it is parodying. For instance, one of the gags of the show is that the magical companion/item, the Kaleidostick (Kaleidoscope meaning something in Fate/Stay Night. I dunno, I just know it’s a good Craft Essence in Grand Order), is a paedophile. A molesting, perverse magical item that tricks Illya, the protagonist of Prisma Illya, into becoming a magical girl. Diegetically, this stick is hated. Illya, and Rin both hate this horny magic stick. The stick itself calls Rin an ‘old hag’ despite the fact she appears even younger than she is in F/SN, where she is a high-schooler. The stick is constantly creeping on Illya, even going as far as telling her to ‘work it’ during her own transformation sequence. It even sexually assaults an unconscious, and again much younger than he is in Fate/Stay Night, Shirou. But, even though the characters in the show itself hate the stick, the show itself doesn’t.
Prisma Illya gives lip service to the idea that the stick is terrible, whilst also engaging in all the actions it should be condemning it for. “Look how bad this stick is creeping on this child” Prisma Illya says whilst it chose to spend the past ten minutes staring at Illya’s naked body in the bath. It engages in the exact actions it is, supposedly, judging the stick for. Multiple sensuous shots of Illya exist. These are neither POV shots where we’re supposed to take the infatuation to be with another character, nor ridiculous enough to work as parody of sensual depictions (Though if I’m mistaken in my analysis here that would be wonderful). Which leaves the ‘humour’ associated with the stick’s immorality suspect. If the humour revolves around how an item of power and expected support is indecent then you really ought not to engage in that indecency yourself. If the humour is more “Wow look at that stick. That’s very forward of it”, a gag about how socially unacceptable these innocent actions are. Or at least, if these actions are wrong, they are more misguided than toxic. But that is morally bankrupt. Not simply as “this character is morally bankrupt” but “the implied author of this work, the work itself, is morally bankrupt”.
I do not think, nor want to think, that Prisma Illya genuinely, openly, wants to pretend that sexaul assault, child abuse, and the like ought to be morally permissible. I think it genuinely does want the joke to revolve around the distance between how the Stick ought to be Good and is instead Bad. I think it just fails, to use childhood sexuality and predatory actions serious enough. At best that is.
Even without the camera’s bad taste in it’s underage and very young looking characters most of the humour in the show is bland. Prisma Illya constantly relies on pointing out it’s jokes are jokes. Giving it’s audience the exact cues for when they’re supposed to laugh. This is really weak. An audience does not need to be told “Hey it’s weird when Rin puts on glasses when expositioning, is she trying to look smart?” that action itself should serve as visual humour. We don’t need the magic stick to state that Illya has a crush on her brother when we have already had her nosebleed at the stick’s stripping him for her. Even ignoring how so much of the humour in the show revolves around normalising sexual assault and pedophillia, there isn’t even any faith in their own humour. It’s subversive jokes begin and end at sexual assault and “Hey gender roles exist“. Beyond that you’re left with slapstick, funny faces, and the absurdities of it’s own plot devices. Most of which it doesn’t even have faith in it’s repertoire to let them stand by their own strengths.
Gratuitous, voyeuristic and without confidence in its own existence, Prisma Illya I somehow expected more from. I expected it’s humour to extend beyond “Me the author should be in jail”. I expected it to at least have some undercurrent of good humour, or even interesting Fate BS. But whilst it shied away from the Traditional Fate Episode One Exposition, it also shied away from almost anything of interest. Some cool style change in a fictional anime that Illya watches on TV before the 15 minutes of naked Illya begins. Some nice fight scenes in the opening and in the expository “this is how Magical Girls work” scene, and maybe that one joke of Illya saying her “parents are travelling the world” which plays off the tragedies that befell them in Fate Zero more or less covers everything of value in the episode and a bit I saw. I expected more of that. I expected interesting subversions of Fate’s tragedies. I expected some fun magical girl genre trappings. I expected it to be terrible but with redeemable aspects.
I don’t even think I can say it manages that. The opening and less than 20 seconds of screentime aside, Prisma Illya is both bland and disgusting. The former being a sin of interesting entertainment. The latter being a sin of content. They aren’t separate sins, nor the same. But instead build together to make Prisma Illya an unwatchable hell.
I just wanted to watch enough that I could lower Kuro from my Fate Grand Order character sorter list.