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The Familiar of Zero Complete Series Blu-ray Anime Review

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In a world of magic, one Japanese teenager finds himself bound to one of the most awkward mages-in-training there is.

What They Say:
The Familiar of Zero Complete Series contains episodes 1-13 of season 1 directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki, episodes 1-12 of season 2 and episodes 1-13 of season 3 directed by Yuu Kou, and episodes 1-12 of season 4 directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki.

Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière’s name is longer than her list of positive accomplishments at the Tristain Academy of Magic. Cursed by her fellow students with the horrible nickname “Louise the Zero”, she hopes that summoning a surprisingly strong Familiar will turn her luck around… but instead of some cool mythical creature, Louise summons a normal human from Japan! Now Sato Hiraga is magically bound to an incompetent sorceress, but there may be more to her seemingly mediocre magical powers than meets the eye!

The Review:
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. At least for the first season as no dub was produced for the latest seasons, which is still unfortunate. 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 and going for four seasons, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across eight discs with nine on the first and the rest on the second for each season. Animated by JC Staff, the show definitely looks better than I expected it to as we close in on twenty years since it first aired as I think it still 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 as 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 an oversized Blu-ray case that holds all the discs on hinges with nothing against the main packaging itself. It’s easy to flip through but the mechanism for holding it all feels like they’re all constantly falling off the spine even though they’re actually not. The front cover goes simple with this edition as it’s just Louise in her uniform looking serious but also showing off some skin and fanservice while set against a lot of pink sigil elements. The back cover goes for a very light background with more sigil material while the character artwork is of the main cast of women in all their fanservice outfit glory. There’s a good banner through the middle that breaks down the disc and episode count as well as the extras while the summary of the premise breaks the whole concept down well. 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 extras for this release are pretty basic but are decent as we get the clean opening and closing sequences and the original promos for each season as well as some of the extended episode previews. It was never an extras-heavy release so it’s good to get the basics here.

Season 1: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a series of 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 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 see.

So when the big day comes when 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 are 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 a while as he tries to figure out how best to survive. His easygoing 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 help 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 a 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.

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