Magic is a truly wonderous concept. A mystical force with the power to bend the fundamental laws of nature itself. From firing bolts of lightning to transforming stone to gold, everything is possible…including summoning a highschool student. OK, so magic can be a tad unpredictable, I said it was wonderous not reliable. If that wasn’t complicated enough, students are still forced to withstand the perilous period of life that is high school. With elements to control, rivals to best and relationships to forge, it’s a miracle anyone makes it to graduation…
Meet Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere, better known by her unfortunate pseudonym Louise the Zero. You see, in a world of magic and monsters, Louise possesses a rather unique gift…in that she has no gift. Named after her success rate in magic, Louise is pretty much the laughing stock of Tristain Academy. Even the simplest of spells have a tendency to result in tremendous explosions…which when you think about it is kind of awesome. Anyway, Louise’s apparent ineptitude reaches its crescendo when each Tristain student is forced to summon their personal familiar, the companion that will follow them through life. Whilst her fellow students call forth salamanders, dogs, dragons, cats and all manner of curious creature, Louise gets the most curious of them all: Saito Hiraga.
Having been torn from his simple life, Saito is forced to adapt to the fantastic world and its customs. Of course I use fantastic in the “removed from reality” sense, not the “extraordinary” one because, in all honesty, it’s kind of a crappy world. Marred by archaic senses of nobility, society is harshly divided between the magic wielding nobility and the powerless peasants. The world is such that a peasant may be traded like a mere commodity, free to be used and abused by whatever noble should wish to do so. Of course, having come from Earth circa the 21st century, this attitude serves as a constant source of anger for Saito. Combined with his overall lack of class and reform, this makes for a number of explosive confrontations between said nobles and Saito.
Due to his bizarre manner and disregard for the established norms of society, Saito manages to garner himself quite the female following, much to the mounting ire of Louise. Whilst fellow peasant Siesta remains a stalwart supporter of Seito’s “Hero of the People” ideals and spends her time learning about his life and motivations, the flirtatious Kirche appears simply smitten with Seito’s individuality. So there’s a bit of a difference between each girl’s level of affection towards the hapless familiar. Of course, being the titular protagonist and Seito’s master, Louise’s relationship with Seito takes precedence over all others. As the series progresses, we see her warm up to her unique familiar and begin to see him as more than a servant…though that doesn’t stop her from ordering him around relentlessly. If anything, the other girls in the cast serve only as reasons for Louise to insult and assault poor Seito.
As the series progresses, the occasional plot element will slip through all of the formulaic elements of the series and present a new situation for the cast to face. However, these moments tend to appear rather sporadically and possess a fairly uneven sense of pacing. Action sequences will be followed by mundane chores and discussions regarding the ins and outs of nobility. The series does eventually return to the storylines it creates, but the stop and start layout remove a majority of the drama from a situation. One major plot point isn’t even mentioned until just near the end of the series. It’s just very difficult to maintain any sense of excitement or suspense when the series keeps cutting back to schoolyard trivialities.
Being centred around a world of magic and fantasy, the series contains a few interesting visual elements, namely the creatures…though admittedly they are not great in number…or focused on to any major extent. Regardless, there’s no denying that the salamander and dragon are pretty awesome. Characters themselves also feature a fairly diverse visual style, though a majority of the individuality is given to the supporting cast for whatever reason. The central cast features a noticeably more uniform design, particularly the shape of their faces, instead gaining much of their visual individuality from their colour schemes.
The series also appears to be extremely fond of crossfades, in fact pretty much every scene transition is comprised of one. Not only that, each one is also accompanied by a trail of sparkling stars, it’s quite magical…though it does possess the ability to become rather annoying. Certain episodes rely rather heavily on these transitions, creating situations where the sparkle fades may be seen as many as four times in fewer minutes…you’ve been warned.
Continuing on the mystical theme of the series, the soundtrack employs a number of classical instruments to create a fitting accompaniment. Violins are frequently used to create a sense of fantasy and wonder, though these strings are often replaced by guitar during the more action packed sequences. The noble nature of a majority of the cast also sees the brass section get a little work, adding to the forced regality of the series.
The English dub of the series was, in a word, average. Not terribly bad, not amazingly good, it just was. Most characters held a reasonable degree of emotion when speaking, though Louise was definitely the stand out character from a vocal standpoint. That being said, most characters seemed to have one specific emotion that they excelled at and it was in these moments that their voices reached their strongest point. For example, Saito’s sarcasm and Kirche’s seduction were by far their most well performed moments, which is good because they made up a majority of their screentime.
This release features your standard by the books extras. For those wishing to relive the musical bookmarks of the series, a clean version of the opening and closing animations are included. Extended episode previews are also present, providing, as you’d expect, longer pre-caps of each individual episode. Though these variations are only watchable in their original Japanese dub, same goes for the series’ promos that are also included. Finally, as always, are your standard anime trailers. Enjoy.
The Familiar of Zero is ultimately a fairly flat series. Though it possesses a number of truly interesting elements, it fails to utilise them to anywhere close to their full potential. Plot points are left to fall by the wayside, seemingly picked back up at the series’ convenience. Despite showcasing a number of main characters, any look into their identities or motivations is superficial at best. Hence when characters reveal secrets or undertake controversial actions, there is a severe lack of emotional impact. Even Saito and Louise spend large portions of the series falling into specific archetypes, though they definitely have the best explored dynamic…despite their pasts remaining desperately under investigated. All in all, I feel that if the series had have truly followed through with one of the many concepts it presented, it would have been far greater. Saito’s power was interesting, the world itself is presumably full of untold wonder and the socio political drama that arose in the later episodes held great promise. Unfortunately, in trying to do too many things at once, The Familiar of Zero just wound up being average.
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