This will be the last of the magical girl animes for a while. Today, I’m going back to the anime that started it all: Zero no Tsukaima (The Familiar of Zero).
I have a special connection to this show, as it was my “gateway anime”, if you will. Before I saw this show, I was very selective in what anime I watched. It was limited to Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, and Dragon Ball. When I found The Familiar of Zero, I was introduced to the larger world of anime, so this a special one to me. Nevertheless, I will try to analyze as unbiasedly as I can.
In a parallel universe lies Tristain, a magical country where young magicians can study to learn, well, magic at the prestigious Tristain Academy of Magic. Among the students is the daughter of a rich and powerful aristocratic family, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, who, despite her social status, is hopelessly incompetent at magic. She has never been able to cast a spell properly, always blowing something up instead. This lack of talent has branded her with the humiliating nickname, “Louise the Zero”. Despite this, Louise continues to press on, determined to show her peers that she can be a splendid mage as well. She decides to prove it the day all magicians summon their familiar, a magical creature that will be their servant. While her classmates summon salamanders, dragons, and…. moles, Louise summons this.
He is Saito Hiraga, a Japanese boy called to this brave, new world, now stuck as the Familiar of Zero. The rest of the show focuses on Saito and Louise’s relationship to each other and Tristain.
This show’s story adopts a non-linear plot line. One reviewer described it as “fast-paced”, and that’s a great way to describe it. The show’s broken up into four seasons, each lasting about 12 episodes, but it’s able to squeeze a lot in. Of course, there are some pacing issues, but it rarely felt rushed. The Familiar of Zero also doesn’t have any central antagonist. Enemies appear and disappear with the flow of the story. Normally, that would mean the show lacks direction, and, to a certain extent, that is true, but it does such a great job explaining its plot devices that it’s able to compensate.
This brings me to, by far, the best selling point for The Familiar of Zero‘s story: how interconnected the storytelling is. The show takes time to flesh out Tristain, its society, its laws, and its customs. The result is a compelling world that never fails to pay off on almost every plot device. If it’s mentioned, it will show up in the anime at some point. That indicates a certain level of care and attention to detail that was refreshing to see. However, that means that you have to be paying attention to what goes on, or you will be very confused.
I will say that the first and second seasons were infinitely better than the final two. The last seasons introduced strange concepts and plot devices that didn’t really contribute to the show overall. The first two seasons fit well, the last two not so much.
The Characters: Familiar of Zero is a harem. Like Date a Live and A Certain Magical Index, the show keeps itself light-hearted by falling back on its female cast and fanservice. It gets a little suffocating, but never such that you lose sight of the plot and who’s important to the story. That said, most of the characters in this show start out very strong, then slowly regress towards fanservice.
I normally say that J.C Staff does a great job with their characters, but by their standards, they could’ve done much better.
Louise: Louise is your standard, run-of-the-mill tsundere. Looking back, she doesn’t do much in her own show, outside of whipping Saito and blowing stuff up. She doesn’t get a fight scene all to herself, though she usually plays a crucial role at the end of each season. By the end of the show, she gets reduced to fanservice as well. At the beginning, Louise was a great character in that while she as a bit of a jerk, she had a valid reason to be. Yes, she is a stereotypical spoiled aristocrat, but that’s milked for comic relief, and can be weighed less against her as a whole.
Saito: Saito’s easily the more interesting character of the two mains because of the wide range of situations he gets put into, whether it be avoiding amorous advances or slaughtering an army of 70,000. He doesn’t get a backstory, but he’s fleshed out through the world he now inhabits. I would say he’s bland (actually, he’s kind of a pervert, but that’s not entirely his fault), but again, his interaction with the world makes him an interesting character. By the end of the show, he loses most of his appeal, but was very strong starting out the show because he is our link to Tristain and its customs. That forces him to develop as a character, giving the audience more reason to get attached to him. By the end, he’s still the most interesting character, but that’s not saying much, which just goes to show just how far he fell by the show’s end.
Siesta: Siesta is a maid at the Tristain Academy of Magic and the first girl to fall into Saito’s harem. I put her here as a representative of all the fanservice that goes on in this show because that’s really all she is, from season one to four: Fanservice. Such is the fate that befalls many in Saito’s harem.
Final Verdict: Familiar of Zero is a perfect example of a short anime done right. While it doesn’t avoid all the issues short animes suffer from, it compensates very well, and allows for a fleshed-out, compelling world with enough strong characters to keep the show running smoothly.