Sooner or later I’m going to have to make a decision as to what constitutes a series, and thus allow me to write a review about it. How do I even describe Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei now that more episodes have been announced - with the suffix “Herz”? Is it the first season of the second series? Just the second series and Herz is the third? Even with its 10 episode runtime that is as petite as its protagonist, there is a familiar self-contained arc to the story with spin up, climax and wind down that matches a typical series. Even the last episode has a sense of finality to it.
As much finality as a show about a white haired magical girl in a luminous pink frock can muster at least. Almost none of the (spoiler filled) portents that the end of the last series held have to come to pass, despite a deceptive amount happening. So Illya and Miyu are still magical girls, Rin and Luvia are still bickering over the cards and Ruby and Sapphire are still malleable floating rings that somehow manage to avoid being seen by any of Illya’s classmates.
Only this time around it seems like the priorities of the story, or at least the target audience, have shifted. It may just be selective memory but I don’t remember this amount of bath scenes, crotch thrusts, sexual assaults or homosexual overtures in the first instalment. And yet here they are, thanks mainly to the sultry new cast member Chloe. “Sultry” is an odd description for an elementary schooler but that’s the unfortunate route taken by the show. You can probably guess how she came about given how similar she looks to someone else in the show. Her portion of the story takes up the lion’s share of the runtime at six episodes but it’s the resolution to it that differentiates this second series from the first.
Whereas the first fully embraced the very well known magical girl formula: ditsy girl is given powers, makes friends and fights to protect them; here, despite the presence of Illya’s signature tutu and hair clips, the genre’s usual motifs are nowhere to be found. So Chloe’s story is wrapped up not on the battlefield, but in the bath. And while both Illya and Miyu fight in all their frilly finery, few if any victories are achieved because of it. Due in part to no longer adhering to the “monster of the week” format that was co-opted by the first series with the heroic spirit cards, but without any of the touchstones that magical girl shows excel in: friendship, love, chutzpah, the result feels too piecemeal, too shambolic.
The first series was certainly no tour de force, but it at least had a sense of progression. 2wei’s story still has the same kind of light hearted whimsy, helped along by the superb entrance of the flighty and capricious Irisviel, Illya’s wayward mother, who despite ostensibly revealing Illya’s past and Chloe’s purpose, still manages to keep the majority of the series’ secrets stashed away. So Miyu’s past remains shrouded in mystery just as the nature of the kaleid sticks, now with 75% less sass, and the heroic spirit cards continue to be obscured. At many points I questioned why I persisted in watching 2wei when, after yet another steamy fondly bath interlude, the accumulated squicky feeling was beginning to overtake my interest in the story.
Then, the episode nine happens.
Late stage antagonists rarely come off well, but Bazett - full Fate appropriate title: Bazett Fraga McRemitz - a single-minded, Terminator-esque machine of humourless pugilism, is a breath of fresh air. Her introduction had been teased by the opening, and Nasuverse savvy watchers were practically abuzz with anticipation at her arrival (if you haven’t read Alain’s posts on Illya over on Reverse Thieves, they are well worth digging into). It’s easy to see why because that penultimate episode is an exceptionally accomplished, full length battle that blows away any doubts as to whether the series was worth sticking with.
Amidst an orgy of prismatic magic and white gloved fisticuffs, it puts the (eventually combined) magical girl squad to the test and keeps victory uncertain right to the end. It’s sterling stuff and proves that studio Silver Link can animate (and Shin Oonuma direct) exciting action that matches the detailed character designs and, crucially, go some way to justifying the Fate/* heritage.
And then it ends. And not even with a trip to the beach despite being the flimsy spine to a lot of the campus character drama. And, somewhat ironically given the series’ proclivities thus far, not even a bath scene despite the setup for it. Instead we get Illya uttering the line “The future has a lot in store for us”. Which might indeed be true, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei Hertz could well be the series that capitalises on the use of the Fate/* moniker and finally leverages some of the story found in these past twenty episodes (twenty one if you count the dancing OVA). It could well justify characters like the belligerent - albeit amusing - nurse taking up more screentime than their effect on the story rightly justifies.
This series of ten episodes though feels like a collection of setups, laying the foundation for what is potentially, hopefully, possibly, to come. Which brings me back to the question of whether to treat this as a discrete series or not. Staggered releases are becoming far more common for reasons beyond my ken - though my instinct says “money” - but the question of whether the story can justify a break in what has been a weekly serial is the core question. For episodic series like Space Dandy or Mushishi it doesn’t pose a significant issue, Illya’s narrative on the other hand finishes but doesn’t conclude which strikes me as trying to have its cake and eat it.
Make no mistake though, the Bazett fight is worth the prices of admission for 2wei, but a lot like my relationship with the Darker than Black franchise, goodwill towards a series only goes so far before exposition stops being optional and starts becoming mandatory. Illya’s next series has something of an unenviable job and though I remain guardedly optimistic about it, 2wei’s approach thus far does seed an entire plantation of doubt.