What They Say:
Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere’s name is so long and her spell-casting skills are so poor that everyone at the Tristain Academy of Magic just calls her “Louise the Zero”. Louise’s humiliation only increases during an important second-year test, where the other students summon up dragons and other mythological creatures as their familiars, and she inexplicably summons Hiraga Saito, a totally normal teenager from Tokyo.
Now she’s stuck with him and Saito’s stuck with the lousy life of being a familiar. Except, maybe there’s more going on than meets the eye, because Saito’s not prepared to accept the social inequities that Louise and other aristocrats consider the status quo, and he may not be quite as normal as everyone thinks. And the reason Louise is so bad at magic might just be that she hasn’t figured out what she’s good at yet. In fact, they might even have the makings of a great team… if they can learn to stand each other first, that is!
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this series is presented with its original Japanese language track and the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded in the lossless DTS-HD Ma codec in stereo. The opening and closing songs are the strongest pieces in terms of overall presentation while dialogue and action effects are nicely placed throughout, but never all that heavily or distinctly. The action has a bit more oomph this time around compared to the previous DVD edition of course and there’s something of a louder presentation overall, but it’s one that works well in giving it a bit more impact. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and in listening to all thirteen episodes in Japanese, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by JC Staff, the show definitely looks better than I expected it to even though it’s just under ten years old as it has a slick and modern enough look overall. The transfer for the show definitely looks great here with lots of bold and bright colors that come across very solid in presentation and the darker areas hold up very well as well, with no noticeable breakup and nothing in terms of serious noise or problems. The show looks like it could fit in easily with the new season of series that are out there and that’s a big plus in its favor. While I had liked the show visually when I saw it before, it definitely feels like it’s more alive here in this incarnation.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior walls. The front cover goes for a decent mix where there’s a good starry background with some dashes of red swirls throughout it that gives it a little more oomph. The foreground gives us several of the main characters with Louise in the front while surrounded by all the other mostly main characters of the series. It’s not a hugely bright and colorful piece, which is where I think it should have gone, but it looks decent and has that dash of magic about it. The back cover goes for a very dark background that doesn’t have anything to it but that works nicely with some of the framing aspects with its white aspects. The top gives us the basics with a season listing and a cute tagline while below it we get a lengthy premise summary. The episode and disc count is listed clearly as are the extras, which is just to the left of the shots from the show and some cute Louise artwork. The rest is rounded out with the usual production credits and the technical grid that lays it all out clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works off of the color design of the front cover nicely as we get the navigation along the right with the same framing as the back cover but the front color covers of a black background with very appealing reds and blues with a dash of white for the selections themselves. It’s standard style design where we get the episodes by number and title and submenus for languages and extras as needed. The left of the screen is given over to character artwork, such as the first volume that lets Louise stand out in a great illustrated piece, and it keeps the logo along the lower left in a good way. It may not be the most engaging of menus but it fits very well with the theme of things and has a certain appealing quality in its little bits of detail and the illustration work itself.
The extras for this release are pretty basic but are decent as we get the clean opening and closing sequences and the original promos for it. Add in the extended episode previews and it’s about what you’d expect from a show of this nature and the time it was produced.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a series of ongoing light novels by Noboru Yamaguchi and illustrated by Eiji Usatsuka, Familiar of Zero is a thirteen episode series that really feels like it needs a whole lot more. In fact, it really feels like the first part of Kyo Kara Maoh in how you can really visualize a whole large epic of stories over time relating to these characters and this world. Which is why it’s a good thing there are three more seasons of this that followed over the years. The novels began publication back in 2004, so this series started off relatively early and the creators certainly went strong with it as there were twenty volumes published before the author’s untimely death in 2013.
The opening thirteen episodes of the series do a rather splendid job of introducing a fair number of characters, establishing some basic setups and running through a few plot points to hint at the larger world that’s inhabited here. Rather than spill all the beans at once, it’s a fairly good progression with the storyline that really only falters in the most traditional sense. And that’s in having the lead character actually not asking any questions which would illustrate just what kind of situation he’s in. That would make sense to do but unfortunately makes for boring entertainment. It’s far more entertaining to watch him stumble into situations without any knowledge of why it’s wrong and to see him flounder briefly about it or cause trouble for others.
The Familiar of Zero initially revolves around magic student Louise, a young noble as all mage users are who is attending the Tristien Institute of Magic. Louise is the third daughter of a well respected family of the country of Tristien and her elder siblings are all apparently pretty solid mages. The problem comes in that Louise, while having ability, doesn’t seem to have really mastered it. Nothing she does actually works well when it comes to magic and she’s earned the nickname of “Louie the Zero” because that’s how well she does with it all. She’s an earnest young student and wants to do well, but everything is working soundly against her for some unknown reason. When she shoots a fireball for instance, it’s little more than a little puff that you really can’t even seen.
So when the big day comes where each mage casts their spell that calls forth their familiar, Louise talks a big game but is completely unsure of what she’ll get. Familiars are key to every mage as they are a reflection of them in some way and they’re bound to them for life. So it’s only fitting that in this fantasy style world, Louise calls forth as her familiar a Tokyo high school boy that’s walking down the streets. Landing flat in the middle of the courtyard, young Saito finds himself in a strange world he doesn’t understand (for a little while, as magic eventually helps with the spoken language barrier) and with people whose customs are completely alien to his in many ways. To a native born urbanite from the 21st century, going to a world where there’s many small countries that revolve around magic – and floating nations at that – is something that’s hard to take in and adjust to.
Thankfully, Saito is an interesting leading male character and one that fits in well with Louise. Saito’s realization that he’s become her Familiar is amusing at first but with the knowledge that the world is in some ways dangerous and unknown, he keeps up with it for awhile as he tries to figure out how best to survive. His easy going nature as well as his sense of right and justice puts him in conflict with others that are used to only this class based society, and he often finds that his beliefs end up putting Louise into bad predicaments she has to help get him out of. Since he’s the familiar, what he gets into is something that she can be responsible for. And that ranges from challenging a fellow mage noble at the Institute to taking on the very power structure of the world itself.
While the main focus is on that of Saito and Louise as their pairing morphs throughout the show, it’s also accented by the other characters that come into play. With this being an Institute, there’s a fair variety of characters from other lands that helps to flesh things out nicely. The most amusing for me was Kirche “the Fever”, a talented mage noble from Germania who beds just about every guy she can because she can. She’s got reason for doing so, but it’s cute to see her so open about it and chasing after Saito in such a friendly and really non-threatening way. Balancing her is another really neat little character in Tabitha, a very powerful yet very reserved young woman who is studying intently for very personal reasons. She balances out Kirche very nicely and that the two of them end up together often really works out nicely.
The one character that I felt the best about though is that of Siesta, a peasant girl working in the Institute. Saito finds himself naturally drawn to her and she, like some of the other peasants after a certain incident, are very proud and helpful of Saito. Siesta is a little bit more than that as she has a crush on him and he ends up helping her out quite a lot. That only reinforces the feelings that she has for him which in turn causes some rifts between Saito and Louise. Her history is actually a bit more interesting as this season goes on, but it was watching the dynamic between her and Saito that really endeared me to her. She’s the kind of character that is helpful, a bit shy but also forthcoming enough to be close to brazen at times in a way that’s not outlandish or too blunt. If not for the fact that it’s obvious that Louise and Saito would be together, this would be my ideal pairing within this world.
The Familiar of Zero is a really well put together show. JC Staff has done a lot of really great shows over the years and even when they do a relatively simple show like this one, they go all out with some really strong quality animation. The character designs are all very much on model throughout and there is a great fluidity to the animation throughout. There are obvious moments where they go minimal, with just lips moving, but by and large this is a really fun and intriguing looking world that they’ve made here from the source material. The vibrancy of it, the blending of the backgrounds and foregrounds, and the overall presentation is very appealing. With the way the production of the show is put together, there’s really nothing to complain about here as it’s a really solid job.
The Familiar of Zero had a kind of unusual life about it as it came out after Geneon was shutting down and that put the series and future seasons in limbo for quite some time. With Sentai Filmworks picking up the fourth season first and then going back to get the rest, fans finally get it back in rotation in a great way since we get the high definition upgrade and more current authoring techniques. Quite simply, the show is a lot of fun and it feels more current than I expected. Even after all these years, it still reminds me of Kyo Kara Maoh in just how sprawling it could be but also a little of El Hazard in some of the playfulness of it. This season does have something of an overall plot to it that’s touched upon here and there, but overall it’s more of a primer for the larger series as a whole. It introduces us to a fun and engaging world with characters that you like, even when some of them are basic archetypes. It’s not too terribly deep but it has the kind of pacing to it that keeps you completely engaged and looking forward to the next episode. This is one of those series that really does make out well from marathoning and seeing it all quickly. This series has been in limbo for so long that it’s great to see it finally make its way out and to open up to the rest of it in the coming months. Definitely worth checking out.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Japanese Promos, Extended Previews
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 8th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.