The Summer of Love III: Fate/Illya’s Illyasviel von Einzbern: The Reboot that Works

The Summer of Love III continues! We are heading into the final season next week, but for now I want to take sometime to do a character dive. These are always fun to do, where I look into a specific character and talk about just one or two things that make them tick. It’s not a full blown observation, but just a glance at one thing that makes them stand out. I always end up doing one or two of these during this event, and this time is no exception. After the cut let’s take a dive into the main lead of Fate/Illya: Illyasviel von Einzbern

Great design, but the crosses are kinda weird.

With a world like Fate and its countless spin-offs, there has always been the fear of inconsistency. That with different iterations of the characters something might get lost in the weeds. They might not act like they are supposed to, or important character beats might be ignored because they don’t fit in the plot of the show. Shirou’s struggle with his hero complex can’t fit into every story, and it shouldn’t. As long as the characters are true to who they are, then everything often will work out. The Fate world for the most part has been successful in this. Spread across all of the spin-offs, from the serious to the comical, the characters are true to who they are. Rin is the driven and capable tsundere, Shirou is the skilled houseworker and kind young man, and Saber is forever the king of knights and bottomless pit. Despite the different plot points, sometimes vastly different, Fate has always remained true to what it is.

For Illyasviel, things are quite different. Not bad, by any means, just different.

I’ve banged this drum over the last few months, but it bears repeating here. The Illyasviel of the mainline Fate routes is at heart a tragic, but underdeveloped character. Born to be a vessel for the holy grail, abandoned by her parents in their quest and duty for said grail, and the subjected to horrible experiments, her life is not a good one. Despite the façade she puts on at times, Illya in the Fate visual novel is a bitter and angry person, desperate to get revenge on her father, and often takes that frustration out on Shirou. There are of course moments of kindness and compassion, especially as the Grail War spins out of control, and her self sacrifice at the end of Heaven’s Feel is a good way to wrap up not only her story, but that of her mother too. Still, there is very little for the viewer to chew on, and while the anime series help this in some ways, it hardly does enough. It just isn’t Illya’s story, and she remains the character drawing the short-stick throughout.

The Illya of Fate/Stay Night is not the same person we see in Fate/Illya. Here she is a bitter and abandoned woman seeking revenge.

With Fate/Illya, the choice to basically reboot her character from the ground up remains in my mind, the correct thing to do. While all the markers of Illya are there, this is a total different person than the woman we see in the mainline Fate series. And it works for the series and story they are telling. Magical Girl Illya is an absolute delight, a ball of kindness and compassion, but also the hysterics, comedy and awkwardness that can come from being a young woman growing up. She’s loyal to her friends, but can get annoyed by their antics. She has the ability to step up to be a hero, but wants nothing more then to live the stereotypical girl life. Things like sarcasm, fear, awkwardness, embarrassment, pride, jealously, love and empathy are all present in the story, and it helps fill in the mold of what was before, a very shallow character.

In contrast, the Illya of Prisma is given humanity and a life, often to the comedic joy of the viewer.

This is also helped by giving Illya a strong supporting cast that she can bounce off of. I won’t speak anymore about the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic that makes up Illya, Miyu and Kuro, but what is damn effective for how simple it turns out to be. What I will say is that it is the other characters who help strength Illya’s role. Tatsuko, Mimi and her other classmates allow the viewer a glimpse into the normal life of young girls. Sella and Leysritt are the big sisters who help manage her life, and Irisviel, the equally underdeveloped female lead from Fate/Zero is offered the chance to become the mother she never could, leading to moments both humorous and heartwarming. All of this combined allows Illya to become a more fleshed out person, an actual human being instead of the plot device she ends up becoming in the visual novel.

Illya’s bonds not only with her Kuro and Miyu, but the entire cast of Fate/Illya is part of why her reboot works. It fills her with oxygen and life that was tragically absent.

Illyasviel von Einzbern is not only my favorite character in Fate/Stay Night, she remains one my favorite characters in all anime. She has great design, awesome powers, and a stellar vocal performance. But it is the Illya in Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya that made me really become a fan. It is the show that gives Illya her soul, her voice, and her personality. The one that lets her become a true human that the visual novel never could. Whether it works is up to the individual viewer, but what is there is damn effective for me. This is a character reboot that takes the best of what was done before, but isn’t beholden to it. Taking a great design and ideal, and letting it flourish in a new setting unabated. If you take anything away from this series, and my look at it, let it be that. This is a reboot that works.

And those faces are just wonderful.

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