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.
For this viewing, I took in the English dub. Both language tracks are offered in 2.0 stereo. The mix is decent, with some nice directionality on the sound effects, but the dialogue stayed mostly along the center. With some decent action in this series, a 5.1 mix would have been nice, but what is offered is fine.
This is a nice anime, visually. The characters are designed well, and some of the visual effects are really well done. The transfer appeared to be clean too, with no technical issues that I noticed. Colors are bright, and the lining is solid. It is a well done release.
The three discs for this release come in a single amaray case, with a center insert to hold two of the discs. The front cover has a shot of the main cast with some mystical designs in the background and series title along the top. The back has a picture of Louise in her night gown looking happy/slightly amorous (likely from the episodes where she had accidentally taken the aphrodisiac), along with the summary, some screen shots, and the technical details. It is a basic, but well designed case.
The menus are pretty basic in design too, though they are functional and fine to look at. The main menu has a shot of one of the characters to the left of the screen, with the episode titles listed along a black bar to the right and the submenus at the bottom. Like all Sentai releases, there is no play all, but an episode will jump straight to the next without going back to the menu, so one isn’t really needed. In a nice touch, a pentagram is used as the cursor for selections, which shows up well in white against the black background.
There are a few extras on this release, more than is usual for Sentai sets. Aside from clean versions of the OP/ED, there are also some Japanese promos and extended versions of all of the episode previews that usually air at the end of each episode. They are pretty fun to watch, to see what got cut and what made it in if nothing else.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere is the third daughter of one of the most prominent families in the kingdom of Tristain. As a noblewoman, she has the ability to use magic, and is currently in training at the academy of her home country. The only problem is that while Louise can technically use magic, it usually tends to backfire on her whenever she tries to do anything. Her powers are so inept that she hasn’t even been able to determine what her innate element is, garnering her the derisive nickname “Louise the Zero.”
As a noblewoman, though, she still has her pride, and never lets her constant failure deter her from her belief that she can be a great spellcaster. As a second year student at the academy, she is set to go through the ancient rite of summoning the familiar that will serve her for the rest of her life. While those around her manage to summon things such as salamanders, birds, and even dragons, imagine her surprise when her familiar turns out to be a young, Japanese boy named Saito Hiraga, pulled from Earth by her magic.
As a person, Saito does not act like other familiars, and refuses to ever show Louise—or any of the other nobles attending the school—the proper respect a peasant should show one of his better. But when he manages to defeat one of the noble students in a duel through guts and determination alone, it shows that there might be something more to him than just being a strange peasant boy. And as he begins to be drawn into the series of strange situations about to descend on Tristian, he knows he cannot turn away.
On the surface, The Familiar of Zero is every other harem-ish action-comedies that come along. Saito is a young man trapped in unusual circumstances with a number of cute girls around him all vying for his attention, and when the chips are down, he feels he must help in any way he can regardless of the circumstances. Add in that the majority of the jokes are pretty standard to the genre, and it really shouldn’t do anything to stand out from the crowd.
That said, though, I did find myself enjoying this one more than most. The strength of this piece, for me, lies in its cast. Though Saito suffers from the “nice-to-a-fault” syndrome of any male protagonist in a harem comedy, he’s not just a follower as so many of them are, either. He has a definite personality which allows him to shine a bit more than his counterparts. He finds himself pulled from Earth and into this strange new world, and even though he has no idea what is happening to him and he is set upon at every turn, he also refuses to accept the world order as it is. Like any good harem male, he must combat injustice at every turn, even if that means standing up to a noble that is wronging a peasant—which is perfectly legal in the terms of this world otherwise. And he doesn’t just accept what others tell him to do or think, even though he is at the mercy of pretty much everybody else in the series if he is ever going to go back home.
And then there’s Louise: again, on the surface, she is every tsundere female to come before her. However, the reality of her situation also makes her a sympathetic character too. She might treat Saito like dirt much of the time, but it’s because she is unable to face her true feelings. As a “Zero,” she has retreated within herself and feels she must keep up a pose of superiority whenever possible, even though her inability to control her magic and the ridicule it brings her really frustrates her. The scene fairly late on where, in a moment of weakness with Saito, she admits just how much the constant name-calling hurts is a really poignant one. And because of all of this, there is some real chemistry between the “doesn’t really want to be bossy but feels she must” Louise and the “refuses to be bossed around but still wants to help” Saito.
The surrounding cast is pretty fun too. Kirche is fun as the typical vixen who has a thing for Saito, despite his debilitating pleasantness; then there’s Guiche, the braggart and wanna-be playboy whose plans, both amorous and otherwise, backfire at every opportunity; Tristan as the quiet type, who just happens to be able to kick everybody’s ass if the mood strikes her—it just rarely ever does; Siesta, a sweet maid at the academy that Saito finds himself drawn to; and then the Princess, Louise’s childhood friend, and just about as pleasant and friendly as Louise is waspish and angry. Together, they make a really fun cast and help inject a lot of humor into every situation.
I went into The Familiar of Zero expecting it to be fun, but I was really surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. It’s not brilliant, but it has a great cast, some good humor, and solid execution. On the surface, it doesn’t really do anything that plenty of shows before it haven’t already done, but I found it to have the magic combination that makes it shine a bit more than most. It’s not the greatest thing I have ever seen, but it was a lot of fun. And that’s really all I ask. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Extended Episode Previews, Japanese Promos, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
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: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System