Fate/Kaleid aired between June and September of 2013. I’ve only watched the final episode this week. I might have a small issue with finishing shows, sometimes. But, in terms of understanding this show, which I’ve mostly rewatched before writing this piece, I think this additional time was useful for my understanding of it. Having watched more of “this” type of show, I can look back on my notes from when it aired and where I’ve questioned whether it’s parody and realize that it’s not. But even back then, I knew it didn’t matter.
Now, before we go on, a couple of words on “Fan-service”. Fan-service is quite literally content that’s there to please the watchers. Of course, content aimed to please an existing fan-base is often what’s meant, such as the Steins;Gate film which revisits many situations watchers of the series enjoyed, or even something as nebulous as in-jokes, which is what many “comedy series” employ in order to make the fans feel smart and appreciated, by speaking in their language.
(This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that have risen in my mind as I’ve watched it. There will be some spoilers, one of them large.)
Finally, there’s the colloquial way in which fan-service as a term is mostly used these days, which is sexual content. Seeing girls’ (yes, it can be guys’ as well, but it’s mostly girls) panties, seeing them in sexually compromising positions, innuendo, etc. That this is what “fan-service” usually means these days tells you how much of anime is marketed.
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma☆Illya is About Fan-Service:
So, what’s Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma☆Illya? It’s a fan-service show, through and through. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. It has “cute girls doing cute things”, with a bunch of elementary school girls, complete with silly antics, gag humor, terrible drawing, and other things one would expect in a 4-koma manga adaptation (which this isn’t, but when they appear, it almost feels as if it is one). The humor is standard anime-fare, so if you don’t like that? Well, we’ve got some amazingly well-drawn and well-directed fights, which embody the differences in ideals and outlooks, and even if they run overlong for that purpose, they’re so stunning (yes, that good), that you will hardly complain.
You don’t like silly and cute girls, and you don’t like stunning fights? We’ve got the usual shounen “what do we fight for?” and “The need to protect my allies!”, and then we have some of these issues tied to how Magical Girl show, on how magical girls are essentially conscripted, how they must risk life and limb for others, and a really nice part about how a Magical Girl’s powers come from her imagination, and being magic, what she can imagine she can then make real. Truly made me think of White Wolf’s Mage: the Ascension.
We’ve even got fan-service for the established fan-base. Fate/Kaleid is an offshoot of the Fate/Stay Night series, and it shares some characters. Not the same mood, not the same themes, but hey, more Saber Alter kicking ass, and a demi-Emiya Shirou Archer kicking major ass. Something for everyone, right?
And finally, if you don’t particularly care for all of the above, we’ve got the sexual type of fan-service, not on its own, but heavily covering every other bit. From Illya embodying the anime-gag of more or less stripping and molesting Miyu, where her friends happen upon them and back out, to how every time we see a female character change her outfit the camera pans from their crotch up to their faces as they speak, rather than start and stay on their faces. Heck, we have numerous scenes where characters speak to one another, or speak while running, that the camera stays on their crotches and buxoms for the entirety of it, without spending even one moment on their faces.
It’s not like Kyoto Animation shows where we might focus on their body for the sake of body language, but it’s pure titillation.
Poe’s Law? Doesn’t Matter:
First of all, here’s Poe’s Law:
Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.
Simply put, you can’t tell apart satire from what it’s attempting to ridicule, too often. How does this relate to Fate/Kaleid? When I began watching the series, I thought to myself, “All this sexual fan-service, it’s quite ridiculous, but the show has some serious concepts, and is so well-produced, so surely they’re trying to draw our attention to how ridiculous it is, with these teens to sub-teens’ transformation sequences being sexualized, or just to draw our attention to this part of the anime industry as a whole, right?
My, how naive I’ve been. I’ve never been one to watch a lot of “fanservice shows”, where the sexual content is everywhere, but in the year since watching Fate/Kaleid, I’ve watched a lot of “general audiences” shows, ones that purportedly do not draw upon sexual titillation pull this sort of thing all the time. Enough that I know Fate/Kaleid was certainly dipping into the fan-pleasing content as well. Some examples, and yes, these shows tend to do these things more tan most, but that only made it easier to find – “Amazeballs” in Gokukoku no Brynhildr’s first episode exemplifying the male-gaze. M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane’s “boobie-balls”, a non-sexual scene, but delivered in a manner that tries to be. And Unbreakable Machine-Dolls giving the teacher a “breast-settle”, when it added nothing. They even added another half-second for them to “settle”.
But here’s the true crux of the matter; let’s say that Fate/Kaleid did in fact try to employ Poe’s Law, and ridicule fan-service, what then? It doesn’t matter. If you ridicule fan-service by giving people more fan-service, then you’re perpetuating just that. If you try to tell people their titillation material is ridiculous by titillating them then you’ve defeated yourself. Just look at Hideaki Anno and “Ice Queen Ayanami Rei” and “Tsundere Queen Asuka Langley Soryu” from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Trying to mock these archetypes? He created their champions. Culture will assimilate you trying to mock it, which is Poe’s Law and “Self-referential geeks” working in tandem.
The Show As a Whole:
Fate/Kaleid is a show with something for everyone, but due to how much fan-service is there, and how “something for everyone to like” also often goes hand in hand with “something for anyone to dislike“, there are quite a few people who might appreciate parts of the show, but not the show as a whole. It’s a light show, and it’s enjoyable. As someone who can’t take much fan-service or “cute girls doing cute things”, there’s just enough plot and action for my attention to not wander, and I’m sure it can be the same for the people on the opposite side.
The show is well-produced, and pretty, and even well-directed. Those shots, those scenes, of the fan-service strike me as awful, as they don’t happen as something else is going on, say, we see people being kick-ass while also seeing them nearly naked, but they draw your attention, they force you out of whatever is going on – they actually hinder what is going on.
So how is it well-directed? First of all, the fights are well-directed, and interesting. But even above. I find that to be detrimental to the show’s pacing, and plot, right? But what if that is the goal? The show doesn’t use fan-service to keep you interested in the show. The fan-service isn’t a vehicle the show coasts along. Oh no, the fan-service is the point. The show is there to make sure you can keep getting said fan-service. At least, that’s what the direction feels like to me – it’s a well-directed show, focusing on all the things I don’t care for, but it’s doing what it set out to do, even as it’s detrimental to the rest of the show.
Score? Somewhere around 6.8/10 heaving buxoms. It’s light, and fun, and full of funny bits and well-directed fights, but aside from being a show that’s doing its hardest to make you feel like a creep (don’t watch it in public, seriously – these aren’t even teenagers, but pre-teens), some of its goals don’t align perfectly with mine. I’m still going to watch the second season, airing tomorrow, cause it’s mostly enjoyable and good at what it wants to be good at.