3rei is the last of the current Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya manga, but this season isn't the end of the anime. There's going to be more. (Possibly a movie!)
- Season 1 = first manga series (2 vols)
- Seasons 2-3 = second manga series, 2wei! (5 vols)
- Season 4-? = third manga series, 3rei!! (7 vols so far and not finished yet)
It's also where the franchise gets darker, with Season 5 due to get even more so. Our heroines get sucked into a parallel world ruled by the Ainsworths, who are the show's first real villains. There's going to be a twist on that, but it's still sort of true. Most of Ilya's fights have been against non-sentient cards. Kuro and Bazett were antagonists, but even at their worst you'd never compare them to these kidnapping, child-murdering psychos and ice queens who are living in luxury in a magic castle, amid the shattered remnants of civilisation.
The first thing we see in ep.1 is Ilya adrift in the magical equivalent of a nuclear winter. We then backtrack to spend some comedy time with Ilya's schoolfriends on Earth, but we won't even be spending a full episode in the real world. Before the episode's out, Ilya's been snatched. She's friendless, powerless and trapped in what's practically a post-apocalypse setting, being hunted by killers who'd wiped the floor with everyone at full strength. This is pretty horrific. Admittedly it's still Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya and hence basically light-hearted, but Ilya's plight is too grim for us to feel comfortable while watching it. That's true despite quite a lot of what would normally be comedy. (She meets some locals, including a deranged ramen-seller and the multiverse's ultimate indestructible airhead, Tanaka. I love Tanaka. She'll soon be funny, but at this stage we're in no mood for laughter.)
Gradually, though, Ilya's situation improves. She finds some familiar faces. Admittedly one of them was last seen fighting Ilya to the death, but hey. (Curiously he's also a direct crossover character from the Fate/stay night franchise of which Prisma Ilya is a lighter, fluffier spin-off.) There's enough fanservice to make you wonder how explicit the Blu-ray version will be. You start laughing at the comedy again. We learn that the pointy-fanged sadistic bloodlust bitch with godlike combat powers is also a goofball spaz, while still of course being just as scary.
There's also one wildly surreal plot twist, which is both eyeball-poppingly funny and a reminder of the dangers of fighting magic-wielding enemies.
However there's also a serious story going on. The Ilya-Miyu relationship is at the heart of 3rei and is more intense than it's ever been, with Ilya putting a world at risk with her determination to rescue Miyu. (Kuro cheerfully goes even further.) Ilya finds the right answer to an unanswerable question. And of course fighting the Ainsworths is like jumping in front of a blood-hungry steamroller.
There are some interesting character points. Apparently there are three characters here who could be seen as representations of the original Ilya from Fate/stay night: Ilya herself, Kuro and the youngest Ainsworth. There's quite a moral range being explored there, with the scariest, most villain-like attitudes not necessarily coming from the one who's currently an antagonist. Unusually there's also slightly more gender balance, although of course the show's still mostly female. Sadly though there's also been an enforced casting change, with Yumi Kakazu now playing Sapphire after the death of lymphoma of Miyu Matsuki, aged 38. (She was also Cthugha in Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, Anna in Shimoneta and Isumi Saginomiya in Hayate the Combat Butler, among many other roles.)
It's extreme, high-stakes and sometimes bizarre, but in a good way. It managed to boggle me. Ilya as King Arthur was kind of stunning too. It completely fails to have an ending, mind you, with a "what the hell just happened?" in ep.12 that puts the plot on feelgood hold while the audience goes, "Hang on, you still haven't saved the world yet." (Apart from anything else, you couldn't end like that without answering all our Tanaka questions.) I'm delighted that there's going to be more of this show, but it's going to be tough waiting a year for it to appear and so I've just bought the original Fate/stay night series on DVD to tide me over. Maybe I'll like it? Admittedly I was bored by the episode I saw a while ago of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, but maybe I'll get more out of the main franchise now I've become a massive fan of its spin-off? It'll be more Ilya!