Anime Review: Zero no Tsukaima

September 18th, 2009 – Anime Reviews

Last semester, CJAS screened the first season of one of the more popular shounen-harem series in recent years: Zero no Tsukaima, a.k.a. The Familiar of Zero.  Originally a series of light novels from Japan, the series (still in serialization as of this writing) proved popular enough to warrant an anime adaptation and an additional retelling as a manga.

It is the story of a student-mage of noble background, Louise, who unintentionally summons a teenage boy from Japan named Saito into her world of magic, mystery, and fan service to act as her familiar.  All is not sunshine and roses for our hero Saito, however, as his new mistress treats him no better than a dog, and only softens as time goes on.  As he struggles to make a living for himself under the furious eye of Louise, there is action, adventure, and even the budding of romance for our happy couple-to-be!

Sounds like a fun anime if I ever heard one, no?  Well, I hate to disappoint you all, but I beg to differ.  Zero left a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth, that special flavor that only comes from good, old-fashioned bad writing and an unhealthy abundance of wasted potential.  Be afraid, ladies and gentlemen.  Be very afraid.

But first, the good parts!  Though few and far between, Zero had moments which I genuinely enjoyed.  The “Staff of Destruction’s” first usage was nicely done indeed.  Come to think of it, the action in this series wasn’t bad at all.  It just had so little, though, that what was there really did strike me as well-paced and fiery.  And, I suppose, the setting wasn’t bad at all either.  Though a bit on the generic side, the Fantastic-Europa analogue worked well as a setting for magic as a dominant force.

…Ok.  Am I done now? I am? Good! Now that the formalities are over with…

Apart from the aforementioned “good parts,” I can find little else to enjoy in Zero.  I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but this is just a bad series.  Yes it certainly looks pretty, saturated colors, pink hair, and all, but that is no way to make up for a bad series.

The worst offender?  The writing, without a doubt.  I seem to recall meeting Louise’s character earlier, back when she was called Shana.  Then Louise turns up again in Toradora! under the name of Taiga.  Anyone else tired of seeing the same wrathful loli palette-swapped and tweaked with a few different personality quirks for a “new” series? Uh, sorry.  I digress.  Still, if you find Louise and Saito to be a bit, well, obnoxious, that’s no surprise.  Louise’s abrasive, perpetually wrathful personality staves off most normal attempts to like or (Horror of horrors!) relate to her character.  She has few reasons to act the way she does.  Frustration with her abilities, status, and familiar/slave only carries so much weight.  I can scarcely think of a single valid reason she might have for physically abusing Saito at the drop of a hat.  I can guarantee you that no one would be laughing if Saito where the mage beating some obedience into that stupid dog, Louise.  And yet… her constant, completely disproportionate whippings are played for comedy of all things.  That’s right: we’re supposed to laugh at Saito who, despite being a horrible victim of circumstance and the perpetual holder of this series’ Idiot Ball, is being whipped like a slave by his mistress.

Did you ever see Tom and Jerry cartoons when you were young?  Remember how they tried to kill/outwit each other all the time?  See, that was funny.  That was cat vs. mouse, hunter vs. hunted.  It was two cartoon animals beating the crap out of each other for no other reason other than, “He started it!”

This is not present in Zero.  Saito is treated like an animal for no good reason other than that his mistress thinks of him as one, and we’re supposed to laugh?  Nuh-uh.  I’m not buying.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… Yes, I did find Saito’s character to be bland and idiotic.  He lacks the self-respect to make any stand against Louise or reaffirm his identity as a human.  He lacks the common sense necessary to recognize that the green-haired assistant to the Headmaster is also the green-haired thief (!) from two episodes ago.  And he lacks the personality to be anything more than a stand-in for the viewer.

There’s a term for this…  I think it’s called “bad writing,” but you know how I can be, what with my standards and all in my entertainment.  Far be it for me to enjoy series with comprehensive, well-rounded characters and more coherent plots than “How can we make the Wrathful-Loli and the Johnny Q. Main Character look like they like each other?”  (They can’t, by the way.  Saito has one of the worst cases of Stockholm syndrome I’ve ever seen.  There is no reason why he should like Louise at all, and yet he willing sacrifices a chance to go home to stay with someone who treats him like an inferior.  And yet…)

I mentioned earlier that Zero drips of wasted potential.  Here we are, in this D&D-inspired world, and the camera is stuck on Louise and Saito! Why?!  The local Ensemble Dark Horse, Tabitha, would have made for a far more compelling series.  A driven and soft-spoken young lady, she acts as the retainer for a monarchy that wants her dead and deliberately sends her on grueling missions as an attempt to passively kill her off.  And yet, she perseveres, thinking only of her mother as Tabitha struggles to stay alive in a court that couldn’t care less.

And why couldn’t she have been the main character?! Seriously, give me one good reason! There’s way more story to be had with Tabitha than the pink-haired witch!  And yet… Tabitha, like much of the cast, is shoved aside for one of two main reasons: fan service (*shudder*) or Louise and Saito.  Often both.

Take, for another example, the Prince Wales of the floating country of Albion.  A noble and eloquent young man, he leads a rebellion in the name of his people against Cromwell, the most heinous of all Britons/Albion-ians.

“Finally!”  I thought to myself.  “It took them almost a whole season, but we finally got another compelling character!  Hopefully, Wales won’t get pushed to the side by that damn pink-haired wit—Good Lord, is that a sword in him?!”

Yep, you betcha.  Wales (who happens to look quite a bit like Tamaki from Host Club) gets whacked within a few minutes of his debut in favor of more screen time for Louise and Saito.  It’s all downhill from there.

And did I mention the panty jokes? No?  Well, there are a lot of them, and most episodes open with a scene of Saito washing his mistress’s unmentionables.  Gah, what is this?  Middle school? Perhaps I’m being redundant, but just in case, I’ll make myself clear:  No more whips.  No more panties.  This is not funny!

I’ll be honest with you: I sat through all 13 episodes of this immeasurable suffering and I tried really, really hard to like it.  I did try, too!  It’s standard policy for me to gives shows like this a chance.  But in the end, I can’t stomach it.  This show is not rough around the edges, it’s just bad.  Bad writing, bad pacing, idiotic plot, and trite, humorless “jokes” left such a bad taste in my mouth, I’m seriously debating whether or not I want to see if seasons 2 and 3 (Yes, it got two sequels…) are even worse than the first.  If this sort of show is your thing, go ahead and be my guest.  Some of us, however, still enjoy character development.

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5 Responses to “Anime Review: Zero no Tsukaima”

  1. User avatar Narshen says:

    Just going to point out a couple of your points about S1.

    1) Familiar of Zero came out in 2006, while Toradora was released in 2008. So really, only base her off of Shana, who was still much better than Louise could ever be.

    2) As for focusing on other characters, or more specifically Tabitha, I recommend at least trying to get through the following two seasons of ZnT.

    Season Two focuses more on the status of the world and the war that will soon engulf the whole of the nation, but it does provide more insight on Henrietta (personally my favorite character), Colbert-sensei, and Louise’s inferiority complex about her powers compared to her sisters. It has some fan-service, but that is not meant to be the focus of it. Instead, focus on how the world in ZnT is dealing with the war, and Saito developing more.

    While the third will probably leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth because of the excessive fan-service throughout the season, it does have a large focus on Tabitha and her involvement in the world as a whole. Unfortunately, this is overshadowed by the excessive amounts of fan-service thrown in by the introduction of a new character (who you meet at the end of S2).

    That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

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  3. DareDevil says:

    This is by Far the worst anime I have seen and really leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    If only I can catch the Bitch who wrote this crap , I will rally kick her ass

  4. temperus says:

    If you’re going to try this series, I HIGHLY recommend the light novels over the anime (no idea about the manga). The anime adaptation is very bland and annoying by comparison. Although Seven Seas decided to leave the novels in license limbo, you can find the first ten volumes translated online (the minor issues with those translations are well worth it compared to the anime adaptation).

    You are right on the money about Louise and her treatment of Saito, though. It’s ridiculous and even makes the novels much tougher to appreciate. Like with Shana, it seems that Louise was just a prototype for Taiga in ToraDora (who you could actually almost empathize with in the end). Same loli-tsundere stereotype voiced by the same actress, and so on.

  5. zalas says:

    Zero no Tsukaima was one of the first light novels I read in Japanese. There are some good parts, but I found the writing in the light novel to be not that enjoyable either. I think it’s just that particular author’s style. I felt like it was catering to the horny adolescent male type, since the text tries to cram in a description of some girl’s revealing attire at every opportunity. It did have some moments, when it actually gets serious. Unfortunately, the first season of the anime (didn’t bother to watch more) scaled down the better parts of the novel, making it just a whacky comedy series.

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