Familiar Of Zero Series 1 (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 295 minutes approx.
In a magical world called Halkeginia those born of nobility are taught how to use magic at the Tristain Academy. One such student is the haughty Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière; while that is a mouthful fear not because she has a much more manageable nickname of Louise The Zero. This unfortunate moniker comes as a result of Louise’s inability to perform magic properly putting her at the bottom of the class and making her laughing stock of her peers.
As fate would have it, Louise’s mistakes may be a blessing in disguise as a mishap during the familiar summoning ceremony brings about a major change in her fortunes. While everyone else summons powerful or useful creatures, Louise somehow dragged an average Tokyo school boy, Saito Hiraga, into her realm instead. Initially showing a similar lack of magical aptitude Louise literally treats Saito as a dog and slave until runes markings appear on Saito’s hand and he is able to wield a talking sword named Derflinger. Perhaps he may be of some use to Louise after all?
If there is ever a common complaint to be levied at anime it is how a potentially good concept or idea is conceived but when it comes to the execution stage, the confidence in its individuality wavers and the end result is something that settles instead within the safe old parameters of well worn clichés and conventions. Welcome to Familiar Of Zero, the first word of the title literally telegraphing what you can expect from this show.
Actually that may be a little harsh as it does at least try to posit the hackneyed content in a different setting to at least hook they viewer from the start, but the old comfy slippers of typical anime paradigms soon make an appearance. The pot pourri of influences Noboru Yamaguchi drew upon for his series of light novels are fairly apparent – a touch of Harry Potter here, a few grains of Shakugan no Shana there and a light seasoning of The Slayers – which are forgiven as they are whisked together to make an edible but not wholly nutritious cake.
The obvious central issue is the relationship between Louise and Saito which is spoiled in the first few frames of the opening credits (JC Staff, you had one job…) although anyone with even a modicum of anime experience could have foreseen this development coming a mile off anyway. Being a noble, Louise regards Saito as a peasant and forces him to live as a slave, right down to dressing her and washing her smalls. For his troubles, Saito gets to sleep on the floor and eat a slice of bread if Louise thinks he deserves it. Thankfully a maid at the academy named Siesta and the kitchen staff take pity on Saito and feed him heartily with left overs.
Meanwhile Louise’s peers, ludicrously busty Kirche from Germania (who falls for Saito and leaps at every opportunity to bury his head in her ample bosom), wannabe lothario Guiche, the target of his affections Montmorency and taciturn bookworm Tabitha find themselves forming the obligatory central cadre to create something of a harem for our hero without actually being a harem. Unlike other anime teams they are able to work together and are not designed solely to support the main character, while Louise remains somewhat on the periphery of the action – although the possibility she may have a latent power that needs unlocking is as obvious as Saito conveniently being a specially powered mage called a Gundolf!
The majority of the adventures are standalone comic affairs with minimal story development and a dash of action until things settle down into mini arcs in the latter stages. One sees a sacred weapon being stolen from the academy which the group hunt down, exposing a traitor in the ranks; another sees Louise being hypnotised into marrying a villain which then morphs into the final arc where an all out battle between the kingdoms of Halkeginia take place.
Unfortunately the biggest drawback is the characters, none of whom look either original or posses unique enough personalities to standout from the crowd. Saito is every male anime comedy lead; Tabitha could be Yuki from Haruhi Suzumiya while Guiche may have escaped from Ouran High School Host Club. However Louise is the main culprit being one of the least likeable lead heroines in anime. Her lofty, snobbish attitude and abusive treatment towards Saito does nothing to help her cause as a sympathetic character when she fails at magic; she speaks largely in excitable screeches and lashes out violently for no reason, usually at Saito. Even when she does eventually fall for him, she instils in Saito it is his privilege rather than a union of two hearts. What does he see in her?
Fan service is at a minimum although smutty humour is never far away and the animation is competent enough for what is really a throwaway show. Admittedly it is nothing if not entertaining and moves along at a steady but energetic pace, yet one can’t help but feel slightly short-changed by the fact so much of the material is standard fare that belies the potential of the main premise. More worryingly is that there are three further series to come which sends out some alarms signals as to whether the best stories are yet to come or if the sequels will cover the other well worn paths not featured in this series?
Familiar Of Zero is the perfect show to scratch that anime itch you may have when you don’t fancy anything too demanding or sophisticated. It’s easy to get into and isn’t particularly offensive, unless puerile jokes about panties and breast sizes are anathema to you. If it had the power of its own convictions it could have been something quite outstanding but instead it is a lightweight piece of confection to snack on when the need rises.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Extended Episode previews
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black