The box housing the first season of The Familiar of Zero made me cringe. Pink hair, magic wand, two moons — can we be any more generic? This does not look like the sort of thing you would pick up if it weren’t stashed in a five dollar bargain bin. Books and covers, I told myself, not always indicative. The series ended up still not really being something I would recommend running out and buying, but it redeemed the boring box, at least, with really great character designs and a funny opening premise.
Louise Francoise is pretty hopeless as a student at the Tristein Magic Academy. No matter which element she attempts to use her spells cause trouble, so it’s no surprise that her peers call her “Zero.” It’s a little more of a surprise when during the second year familiar-summoning she summons, not a dragon or a… giant mole (like her classmates), but a human boy from another world.
Poor Saito Hiraga, she treats him like a dog. Even after he shows surprising aptitude for battle, it’s a life of laundry, sleeping on hay, and being shouted at if he so much as glances at another girl (which is tricky not to do when bubble-breasted Kirche is all over him and Siesta the servant girl has some Japanese blood in her — how can that be?)
I would’ve been perfectly happy just watching them flounce around campus; the love potion episode was pretty goofy, since she is so maladjusted, trying to lure him into bed by saying how she could just shut her eyes and pretend nothing is happening. Saito is always the gentleman, “At least put on some panties!” “I don’t wanna put any panties on!”
Perhaps unfortunately, though, the series has these higher aspirations of political drama, involving the pair in the capture of a thief, the saving of a princess, and class wars. The countries have names like Germania, which doesn’t sound anything like Germany at all, and the Prince of Albion is called Wales Tudor, for crying out loud. “Why do I have to be in such an uncomfortable situation?” grumbles one of the characters in somewhat typical crummy dialogue. I felt that way as well, especially once they whipped out the secret of how Saito can potentially travel back to Japan. I guess they had to come up with something to create some tension before of course keeping him around for a second (and even third!) season…
Despite the lame writing, the dub survives. Either I am just getting extremely used to the FUNimation stable of voice actors or their talents just suited this show particularly well, with the exception of Louise’s surprise fiancé — he was way too dream boat to have such a creepy voice; you don’t need to foreshadow the fact that he MAY or MAY NOT be a secret bad guy, since we already assume she won’t marry him!
Really, I would say if there is one reason to watch this show (beyond a tsunderekko fetish), it would be the character art. That may not be a big enough reason for some, but honestly, there is something about the cute softness in their faces. I often sat through the opening credits just to catch Saito’s smile near the end. You still may want to wait until The Familiar of Zero really does hit the bargain bin, but at least it’s not as banal as the box made it seem.