The MoeGamer Awards are a series of made-up prizes that give me an excuse to celebrate games, concepts and communities I’ve particularly appreciated over the course of 2017. Find out more and suggest some categories here!
Today’s suggestion is another one from longstanding friend of the site Annie Gallagher. Check out her page Guardian Acorn for some insightful writing on games, anime, politics, music and all manner of other goodness from the perspective of a trans feminist philosopher, critic, gamer and otaku. She didn’t like Criminal Girls as much as I did, but at least she doesn’t call people who did enjoy it paedophiles and ban all discussion of it. Which is, you know, nice.
Annie had a number of great character-centric suggestions — one of which I’m still debating whether or not to actually jump in and do… we’ll have to see on that one! — and this was one of them. It was a tricky decision, for sure.
And the winner is…
Illyasviel von Einzbern (Fate/stay night)
Oh man, Illya. What a fascinating character, and one that we see multiple facets of over the course of Fate/stay night’s three main narrative paths.
My initial reaction to Illya was that she was a terrifying, horrifying little girl who I wanted to keep as far away from as possible lest she cause me, directly or indirectly, to meet an extremely unpleasant and bloody end. Indeed, her initial appearance in Fate is seemingly set up to make her into something of an imposing “antagonist” character despite her small stature, and a number of Bad Ends relating to her play up these violent themes.
But then, as the story progressed through both Fate and Heaven’s Feel in particular, I was shown different sides of Illya and came to understand her a bit better. And she ended up being one of my favourite characters in the whole thing, particularly when these scenes were complemented by the frequently hilarious (and fourth wall-breaking) post-Bad End “Tiger Dojo” scenes, in which Illya plays a prominent role.
Illya, at heart, is a lonely girl who has suffered considerable abuse through her tender years, and has learned to draw comfort from the strangest of places — most notably the terrifying figure of her Servant Berserker. As part of one of the families inextricably tied to the ongoing cycle of Holy Grail Wars, she is fated to be part of the whole supernatural mess, and it’s not entirely surprising, given her background and upbringing, that she doesn’t quite know how to deal with that like a normal human being. This, of course, makes her a formidable opponent — one without remorse, as this was a concept she never really grew to learn.
Illya’s seemingly casual violence that we see in the early hours of the visual novel isn’t born from maliciousness or sadism; it’s born from innocence, and in some cases even a seeming desire to simply have a connection with another person actually capable of communicating with her normally, as opposed to Berserker’s primal, wordless roars. In the Bad Ends where she kills protagonist Shirou, she tends not to defeat him quickly or easily; she wants to keep him alive to draw out his agony. A twisted way of looking at things, for sure, but a signal that she wants to keep the connection between them intact for as long as she can. In another route, she takes a less physically violent approach, dominating Shirou’s mind until he is almost powerless to resist her.
Obviously I’m not all that keen to get involved with that particular side of Illya, but this is not all there is to her. The reason I find her to be a character that I’d like to sit down and have a chat with, however, comes as a result of the scenes where she attempts to be a much more normal girl, acting almost as an adoptive little sister for Shirou. These scenes are initially tense and uneasy, as Shirou is thoroughly aware of what this deceptively sweet-looking young girl is capable of, but over time she becomes someone he feels more comfortable and confident talking with and opening up to. Indeed, he clearly starts to see their increasingly frequent secret encounters as something to look forward to — albeit something he doesn’t believe his other companions Saber and Rin will understand.
Illya, you see, is a friendly and personable sort when she’s not trying to kill you. And she’s only trying to kill Shirou as part of the Holy Grail War; it’s nothing personal. As such, it stands to reason that were one to encounter her under more… normal circumstances, she would err more on the side of the “peaceful” side than anything else.
Once — or rather, if — you’re able to put what you know about her to one side, she becomes someone with whom it’s oddly easy to feel at ease; someone that it’s easy to enjoy the company of. While she does look at many things with childlike innocence, she does also speak about and understand things with a clarity that many people lose sight of as they grow older and more embittered with the world around them.
Peaceful Illya is someone I’d enjoy hanging out with in the park she likes so much, idling away the hours talking about everything and nothing. She strikes me as someone with whom it would be fun to discuss “secret” things that don’t really matter in that uniquely conspiratorial way only youngsters can truly pull off.
Interestingly, in reality I don’t feel like I generally get along all that well with children — or rather, I don’t feel like I’m entirely comfortable in their presence, to be more accurate. But there’s something about Illya that sets my mind at rest, something comforting about her presence. I think it’s to do with how she occasionally says things that seem wise beyond her years, but then follows them up with cheeky facetiousness and good humour. She’s not your average “child”, in other words, but she’s no adult, either — she’s something altogether unique, and someone I think it would be fascinating to get to know.
Plus, if it came down to it, she’d probably be good to have on your side in a fight, especially if she has Berserker on hand to help out.
More about Fate/stay night
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