Familiar Of Zero Series 4: F (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 288 minutes approx.
Regular visitors to this site will know that I haven’t been too kind towards the previous instalments of the Familiar Of Zero franchise due to the focus being more as a fan service heavy harem comedy and less the magical fantasy series it purports to be. Therefore the next sentence will come as a shock to you:
Familiar Of Zero: F is rather good.
Boy that felt weird.
Yes it seems the best was saved until last as this final season does what it should have done from the onset and that is actually focus on the story. Granted there are a couple of episodes which take a breather from the action to indulge in some harem hijinks but nine out of the twelve episodes presented here stay on track, and is all the better for it.
Putting aside the tacky prologue of the first episode, F begins in earnest with a three-part story serving as closure to the events of the previous series Princess Of Rondo. As our lead female Louise is now a Void Mage, her powers are needed to form an alliance with Romalia to save them from an attack by Sheffield and her master Joseph, by becoming a Priestess to the Pope.
Learning of Louise’s newfound abilities Sheffield employs the Gensou Siblings to capture Louise so her powers can be harnessed for her own destructive needs. Leading the rescue committee is Louise’s familiar and partner, modern day Tokyo-ite turned knight of the realm Sir Saito Hiraga, and it is all hands on deck for a climactic battle of epic proportions.
While the next three episodes concentrate on the many female characters all throwing themselves at Saito, there are still congruent threads remaining active here – such as the small matter of Elven Void mage Tiffania kissing Saito to make him her familiar, instead her powers turning him into a Gandálfr instead.
This becomes a vital plot point in the next adventure as the roles reversed when Saito and Tiffania are captured by a race of elves who fear their magic, and Louise is the one mounting the rescue operation. But bigger dangers await when the feared Ancient Dragon awakens, running rampant across the lands with its army, forcing a coalition of all the Mages and armies of the various lands to fight them off.
Louise has been – and continues to be – an annoyingly selfish and brattish tsundere and her growth as a person has been exponentially slow, with only fleeting signs that falling in love with Saito has changed her. In this series we see Louise take some monumental steps towards maturity, best demonstrated in the penultimate episode where she makes a selfless and painful sacrifice for what she believed was the greater good.
This is such a well-played scene and does catch you by surprise although it wasn’t entirely unexpected as it had been a point of contention earlier. It could have been obsequiously sentimental and saccharine but in fact it comes across as poignant and genuine, certainly due to Louise’s usual demeanour being one of caprice and knee jerk reactions.
For such a lightweight show which wastes half its time on harem nonsense, this emotionally charged display begs the questions “Why couldn’t it be like this all the time?” This might be down to the director of the first series, Yoshiaki Iwasaki, returning and using a different writer Noboru Hamaguchi, who brings to the show a palpable sense of development leading to a definitive and satisfying conclusion.
Of course old habits die hard – Louise still gets disproportionately jealous and lashes out at the tiniest of things, an episode is dedicated to a hot springs bath, the girls argue over boob sizes, there is frequent nudity – so the easily pleased are catered for, but the show truly is at its best when calamity strikes, a problem needs to be solved and its wands cocked and loaded, ready for battle.
Sadly underdeveloped are two sub-plots involving supporting characters Tabitha and Tiffania. The latter has an interesting story to tell, as an Elf with Void Mage powers who is ostracised instead of revered as other mages are; Quiet girl Tabitha cowers at the gravity of being a Princess, delaying acceptance of the role through low self-esteem. Both characters would have benefited from deeper exploration of their plights, had these issues arose sooner.
Improvements in the writing and storyline focus don’t always mean everything is perfect however. When a series is operating under the fantasy umbrella, ideas tend to be a little ridiculous – mentioned earlier is the exciting and bombastic finale but one element of it doesn’t just demand we suspend our disbelief, rather we are told to lock it away in a drawer until the show ends – it is THAT mystifying implausible.
But this is anime and normal rules do not apply as we all know so well, so perhaps taking this as affront to the intelligence is spurious, since the whole show is a product of pure whimsy and fancy anyway. In bringing this franchise to a close, F (for “final” perhaps?) stands high above its predecessors individually and in terms of what could be achieved under the right direction.
Taking all four seasons into account, we essentially have a decent two-cour series buried under a mire of common denominator tawdry prurience – in other words, out of 49 episodes approximately half could easily be excised, while others just need trimming of the fat. While speculation on my part, that isn’t a flattering statistic; on the positive side, at least it suggests there is huge potential enjoyment to be found in this series.
And so with Familiar Of Zero: F we bid Louise, Saito and the others farewell. It has been an uneven and often infuriating journey, but it does feel like with been through a lot together over four seasons, and we part, surprisingly but gladly, on amiable terms.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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