Thursday, 12 October 2006 00:00

Zero no Tsukaima (TV, Season One, 2006, Nolen)

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Overview

Zero no Tsukaima, or Zero's Familiar, is all about an inept magician in training and the familiar she summoned. Turns out the familiar she wound up summoned was actually a human being from 'our world.' Too bad on this world, Saito is just a commoner, which earns Zero a great deal of ridicule, and himself a lot of Zero's ire for being a human, and worse, a normal human at that...or is he?

Review

Before we go on, let us define the word 'familiar' so there is no doubt what exactly it is they're doing. The best definition (not to mention short history) I've seen is from Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary, cited on dictionary.com, which defines a familiar or familiar spirit as:

Sorcerers or necromancers, who professed to call up the dead to answer questions, were said to have a "familiar spirit" (Deut. 18:11; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chr. 33:6; Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Isa. 8:19; 29:4). Such a person was called by the Hebrews an _'ob_, which properly means a leathern bottle; for sorcerers were regarded as vessels containing the inspiring demon. This Hebrew word was equivalent to the pytho of the Greeks, and was used to denote both the person and the spirit which possessed him (Lev. 20:27; 1 Sam. 28:8; comp. Acts 16:16). The word "familiar" is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a "household servant," and was intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as their servants ready to obey their commands.

The generally accepted idea of it is much like a witch's cat or a wizard's succubus. You always see one of these around such an individual, yet no one really sits there and thinks, "Why?" Basically, and put bluntly, they kidnap an individual from their realms, and put them to work as a veritable slave. Menial labor, lab assistant, sex toy, you name it. In some cases it's more of an employment contract, but in cases such as the one in this series, the familiars are out and out slaves. Kinda puts a whole different spin on things, eh?

Honestly, it's not usually that bad a situation for the creature in question. From what I saw for the most part in this series, the creatures are loved, adored, and taken very good care of while performing whatever function that their masters ask of them. At least until one of our main characters, Louise Francoise le Bran de la Valiel, gets to summon hers, and winds up with...Saito Hiraga, a very confused boy from our world. I'm getting ahead of myself however.

This series takes place on a world parallel to ours, and appears to have places that mirror medieval Europe. Though that is arguable considering its use of names like "Albion" in what is an obvious parallel to Great Britain; the wiki article makes references to Roman times, so who knows? In any event, within this world, magic has grown to dominance, and those who wield magic have become the ruling class. All others without the ability, or those that have been stripped of their rank for whatever reason, are in a form of serfdom, where it seems the ruling class has near absolute authority over the people. You find this out in about the first...10 minutes or so of episode one, so it's not really that much of a spoiler.

Of course, with magic users, you do need to teach them how to use it. Enter Tristein Academy, one of the best schools for this sort of study around. In it we have students from all over their version of Europe there to learn the art of magic; and within its hallowed walls (who dress their students to match Harry Potter, heh), one Louise Francoise, who has attained the title of Louise the Zero. This is due to the fact that every single time she tries to use magic...shit goes boom. It doesn't matter what school of magic she tries: fire, water, wind, earth...all fail for her. There's a fifth element, but there have been no mages with that skill in quite some time. Yes, everyone in the whole fucking universe can see where this is going already. You'll find that as you watch this anime, subtlety is not its strong point. This is not necessarily BAD per se, but don't expect any twists turns, or Evangellion mind fucks. If it's obvious how something is likely to play out in this anime, likely, that's the way it is.

I want you all to know I'm writing this part half dead with a killer cold. For you, my readers...FOR YOU!

Let me explain more about the Zero nickname, just to give you an idea of what you're really dealing with here. This nickname is almost needlessly demonstrated for us, quite spectacularly, when a new teacher asks Louise to demonstrate a spell, and most of the student body cowers in fear. Hell, the bookworm, Tabatha (a Yuuki Nagato knockoff), picks up her staff and gets while the getting is good. Zero tries to perform her spell, and blows it...literally. Most of the class is covered in ash, the classroom is wrecked, it's all pretty spectacular really...she'd have a great future in demolitions if she wanted.

Anyways, the following day, it's time for a certain test that the mages undergo, which is to summon a familiar. Which essentially means, kidnapping them from whatever place they were before, and forming, what they call a contract, which looked more like to me, binding them to your will. In any event, everyone pretty much got something that was in tune with the element they were specialists in. I also seem to recall reading somewhere, that there was an usually high number of magical familiar's summoned for this year's class. This information would likely be confirmed in the novels this anime was based on; so I'm not sure of the accuracy of it. In any event, it was Louise's turn. With a chant of wanting the most beautiful, holy, and powerful familiar, she gets, along with an explosion...Saito; your typical Japanese teenage male. To which everyone makes fun of Zero, for summoning a commoner. Though there's more to this 'commoner' than meets the eye, when the familiar rune, "Gandalfr" appears on his hand...only a few even know what it is they're looking at when it did appear. You see what it is shortly and, eventually, what its purpose is as it relates to Louise.

This leads into what is one of the main attractions of this series, at least for some I suppose. Louise is tsundere, which means she's hot headed and aggressive at first, but then softens and is nearly docile later in the relationship to her significant other. She's been treated to quite a bit of ridicule all her life, and here is Saito...someone who is beneath her, and whom she can take all that out on. And she does, oh does she...she treats him as a slave in some of the worst ways. Now, Saito isn't what you'd call submissive towards this...the boy has a nasty streak in him, and is prone to petty revenge. However, he doesn't take steps to stop Louise either. At best, his response to her tsun-tsuning on him is passive-aggressive. Still, it grates on me, just how much he's willing to take from her. Though I do wonder if perhaps one of the Something Awful crew had it right when he said, "He gets to wash her panties, dress her, and occasionally be whipped by her...he's living a fanboy's dream!"

The two other characters that are really explored in depth are Kirche and Tabitha. Kirche is from a noble family in Germania. Everything about her reflects the fire element she represents; her body, her blood, her magical powers, and definitely...her libido. This girl burns with passion, and is often trying to bed Saito, though it's not really a love thing...it's just after watching him swing a sword in his duel with the playboy Guiche, she wants a taste of that, heh. Tabitha is just the opposite; she represents water and all the calm, cool, and collected nature of that. She's also, as I mentioned previously, an out and out Yuuki Nagato knockoff from "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya," right down to her character design. I don't know if this is parallel development or one ripping off the other, but it's eerie to see. She's also, quite arguably, the most powerful of the students at that school, having already obtained a type of knighthood that one only gets due to ability alone.

There are other characters, such as Guiche, the playboy that Saito has a bit of an antagonistic relationship with, and Montmorency, the girl Guiche is primarily after, but who seemingly tries to blow him off, while at the same time, tries to bind him more closely to her...you'll see how that goes in later eps. There's also Siesta, one of the few friends of Saito while he's on that world, and Henrietta, princess of the country they are presently in...who winds up in one of the most comical cultural misunderstandings I've seen in anime in a long time. All in all, not quite as well developed as the main characters, but they're welcome additions. However, that lacking of development hurts the series a bit; more on that later.

The series seems to try to mirror some historical events in a most fictionalized and stylized manner, but I honestly think, it fails in this. At least as far as the anime goes, and for a couple of reasons. First, because of the big bad of the series, Reconquista, was never really explained. Sure one of them did some bad shit, and had things planned for Louise, but the why of it was never explained. What did they want? World domination? Revenge? Whatever it was, it was a symptom of the lack of development of the series noted before. Second, it honestly didn't fit with what Reconquista was really about, which was the Christian Knights of Spain and Portugal kicking out the Moslems back about 722 AD. So why bother putting it in? I understand that the writer probably wanted a sort of historical parallel, but when it doesn't fit...you probably shouldn't put it in. And this didn't fit in this context at all. Heh, I expect certain historian friends of mine are still banging their heads on a wall over this.

This flows into the biggest flaw of the series. And it's not the abuse Saito takes, or the shear tusndereishness (is that a word?) of Louise; that's only a symptom. It's the length of the series. This is a 13 episode series that was heavily compressed...I could have well seen this as about 32 episodes, if not more. Honestly, the story was good...what they managed to put in, but it was far far too compressed for the way the story needed to be told. Instead, they concentrate more on Louise and Saito; making them the focus during the goings on of this anime. It truncates quite a bit, from the development of the secondary characters to the motivations of the villains, we don't get nearly as much as we need. This is especially true during the last ep, when it seems every 10 seconds the scene changes. We get a lot of compressed action going on.

And in the end, nothing was resolved. I truthfully dislike anime that becomes about the status quo, rather than the characters growing and evolving in their circumstances as we all do. When the story becomes about the status quo, rather than the characters themselves, the end comes when the status quo is broken...or the author doesn't bother to end it at all. Yes, I'm looking your way Rumiko Takahashi. Saito is still Louise's slave, though it seemed to be growing into something far more interesting until the final ep, Reconquista is still out there, Kirche is still trying to fuck Saito blind, and Saito is still taking all this as he's done since moment one of getting to that world.

It should probably be noted, since a lot of guys in anime seem to be sexaphobes, and it's one of my biggest complaints, that Saito was quite welcoming of Kirche's advances until he came under the impression that she saw him as more of an object, rather than a person.

The animation itself is top notch, and there was nothing I'd really have to say against it to be honest. The music isn't what you'd call stellar...certainly nothing to write home about. However, it does the job, like most anime soundtracks, so it's not grating either, and typically fits the scene. That damn opening song gets in your head though...it gets in your head and won't shut up.

The one thing you've really got to chuckle about is how they practically transplanted the cast of Shakugan no Shanna into Zero no Tsukaima. I've noticed a few anime like this, where they've transplanted entire casts, rather than just mix and match their VAs. Mind you in this instance I kept wanting Louise to shout at Saito, "Urusai! Urusai! Urusai!" heheheheh. I swear, I was expecting it every time she said it once.

Not much else I can say about it. It's biggest flaw and greatest weakness was that they made it 13 episodes, when it could have been twice that at the very least. It's heavily compressed, still, for what they did, they didn't do too bad a job. It's just at the end, I was wishing for far more, as the characters and world they were in obviously provided a whole helluva lot more. I hope a sequel is in the works, though I hope it's not nearly as compressed as this season was. It's certainly worth watching in any event; though if you don't, it won't be a total loss for one as a fan.

Though at the very least, you have to see what their Dumbledoore type character loves to do to his secretary. That man has my admiration...that magnificent bastard, heheheheheh.

Characters Voice Actors/Actresses
Louise Francoise le Bran de la Valiel Rie Kugimiya
Saito Hiraga Satoshi Hino
Longueville/Fouquet Akiko Kimura
Henrietta Ayako Kawasumi
Kirche Nanako Inoue
Tabitha Yuka Inokuchi
Siesta Yui Horie
Guiche Takahiro Sakurai
Montmorency Mikako Takahashi
Osman Takeshi Aono
Ward Tomoyuki Shimura

Additional Info

  • Title: Zero no Tsukaima, The Familiar of Zero, ゼロの使い魔
  • Genre: Adventure, Harem, Fantasy, Romantic comedy
  • Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki
  • Studio: J.C.Staff
  • Licensed: Geneon (expired)
  • Network: CTC
  • Format: Television
  • Episodes: 13
  • Animation: Good (+2)
  • Writing: Above Average (+1)
  • Pacing: Very Bad (-3)
  • Voice Acting: Very Good (+3)
  • Soundtrack: Average (0)
Last modified on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 23:05

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