Mutsumi TamuraYuka IguchiNatsumi TakamoriHisako Kanemoto
The Familiar of Zero
Also known as: Zero no Tsukaima
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2006
Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki, Yuu Kou
Writer: Noboru Yamaguchi, Takao Yoshioka, Yuji Kawahara, Nahoko Hasegawa
Original creator: Noboru Yamaguchi
Actor: Akiko Kimura, Ayako Kawasumi, Chiemi Ishimatsu, Daisuke Hirakawa, Hikaru Tokita, Hisako Kanemoto, Itaru Yamamoto, Jurota Kosugi, Kenji Nojima, Kikuko Inoue, Kotomi Yamakawa, Mamiko Noto, Masahiro Yamanaka, Masako Katsuki, Michiko Neya, Mikako Takahashi, Mutsumi Tamura, Nanako Inoue, Natsumi Takamori, Rie Kugimiya, Satoshi Hino, Shinnosuke Tachibana, Takahiro Sakurai, Takeshi Aono, Taketora, Takuma Suzuki, Tetsuo Goto, Yasuaki Takumi, Yui Horie, Yuichi Iguchi, Yuka Iguchi, Yuka Inokuchi
Keywords: anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 50 episodes across four seasons
Website category: Anime late 00s
Review date: 17 May 2024
Zero no Tsukaima
I enjoyed it, as unchallenging light relaxation. It's a throwback to the questionable old days when an irascible anime girl would keep beating up her love interest, e.g. Love Hina. A gender-swapped version would be unwatchable. (Urusei Yatsura makes it work, though, because Ataru deserves all the abuse he gets.)
The show's mildly epic, despite also being slightly kiddified. There's worldbuilding in these fifty episodes, even if it sometimes gets forgotten after serving its purpose. (The show loses interest in familiars, for instance, bar Tabitha's dragon.) This is a fantasy Europe that's repeatedly on the brink of war, with mad kings, succession struggles involving poison-induced insanity and race hatred between humans and elves. When we see the elves in action in Season 4, we understand the fear they inspire. Also, "aristocrat" is synonymous with "magic-user" and there are magic schools based on the ancient Greek elements, plus a fifth forgotten one called Void. You could tell heavyweight stories in that world. There's also unexplored but intriguing backstory like the half-elf Tiffania's parents.
However, the tone's a mixed bag. Occasionally, it's dramatic and heroic, especially near season finales. More often, though, this feels like a children's show, something you could watch in the background while doing something else and not worry about missing too much. The characterisation's painted in primary colours, with goofy plot beats. My nickname for some villains in Season 4 was Team Rocket. Paradoxically, though, it gradually becomes unsuitable for small children because of the sex comedy. It never shows either sex or nipples, but our two heroes (Saito and Louise) go well beyond kissing and more than once are about to consummate their relationship. She tells him to feel her boobs, for instance. They become a couple quite early in the series, which made me wonder how the romantic story would continue. Answer: badly. That's thanks to Louise's jealousy, Saito's idiocy and the fact that they're both horny as hell. They're both terrible at relationships and keep failing to get from A to B.
Also, Saito's a girl magnet. Five girls get serious about him, not counting the likes of Kirche (voluptuous girl who in Season 1 would seduce anything in trousers and set her sights on Saito) and Tabitha's "younger sister" (introduced with a naked hug). Louise and Siesta behave like a combined force against the others and I'm pretty sure Siesta sees herself as part of a threesome. (She's their maid.)
Harem nonsense aside, the biggest problem is of course Louise (full name Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere). If you can tolerate her, you'll enjoy this show. When it starts, she's the worst student at the Tristain Academy of Magic. Her classmates call her Zero, describing her magical aptitude. The schoolteachers order the students to summon familiars, which will be a lifelong bond. Most people get frogs, birds, giant moles, etc. but Louise manages to drag a Japanese schoolboy across the dimensions. That's Saito. He's got no way home and no choice but to be Louise's slave and punchbag. In the early episodes, she doesn't see him as human. She doesn't bother sending him outside when she's undressing, for instance. Later, she'll develop a romantic interest... but that won't reduce the explosions, whips, beatings, etc. because she's got a hair-trigger temper and always assumes the worst.
She's not always wrong, mind you. Saito's dogged and loyal, but indiscriminate in his appreciation of female breasts and overly fond of reminding Louise that she's flat-chested. You'll sometimes want to slap him too.
How much of a drag factor is Louise? I don't mind her, but she inflicts so much punishment on Saito that in a realistic series, he'd be dead. She'll say things like, "You don't care at all how I feel. All you care about are Tifa's feelings." She's utterly without empathy in the early episodes, while also being so hostile and hot-tempered that she can't open up. Fundamentally, though, she's a good person. Her attitudes towards Saito are partly because she's an aristocrat, brainwashed by social hierarchy. (Most of her family are even worse.) She's deferential towards her superiors, e.g. incapable of a negative word or action around Princess Henrietta. She'll regret her overreactions afterwards and wish she wasn't so spiky. She'll also unblinkingly accept a suicide mission in wartime. She's brave and admirable. I respect her. She's also funny when trying to backtrack in embarrassment after being romantic and girly. If you were dating her, though, the relationship wouldn't last a week.
If you're okay with all that, the show's enjoyable. Its core romance is problematic, but they'll be okay. They seem happy at the end. The cast are silly and likeable, the plot can get serious and there's the odd episode that digs a little deeper. It has daftness like Saito stealing and flying a 21st century fighter jet in the finale, but apparently there's an explanation of that in the original novels. There's nothing essential about this series, but it's a fun time-waster.