ゼロの使い魔 (Zero no Tsukaima)
YAMAGUCHI Noboru (story); MOCHIZUKI Nana (art)
Seinen – Fantasy, romance, comedy, action, adventure, harem, ecchi
3 Omnibuses (complete)
Instead of an animal, mage Louise summons a human to be her familiar! Saito is bored with his life, but he doesn’t expect to be transported to another world. Now Saito is stuck being Louise’s servant, bodyguard, and pet. To top it all off, she’s famous for being the worst student at school. Will Saito be able to return home?
The story had an interesting plot. However, the engaging parts of the story are corrupted by the random ecchi moments, an irritating heroine, and the less-than-stellar artwork.
Getting sucked into another world or time period is a storyline done quite often in manga. In this case, meet Saito, a guy who is way too casual about the whole thing. He jumps right into the magic circle, and although he is confused upon meeting Louise, he doesn’t ask too many questions. Most of the time, especially in a fantasy series such as this one, the protagonist acts as a stand-in for the reader. The other characters explain the state of affairs in the new land and any rules regarding magic. Since Saito asks very few questions, the laws of land of Halkeginia are explained “as needed”. I put the last part in quotes because I just had so many questions. Is the school grouped by age, making Louise, Kirche, Tabitha, and the others all the same age? Why was the neighboring country on the brink of an uprising but not Tristain? Who the heck are the girls in the side stories? And, perhaps most significantly, why didn’t more people react when Louise summoned a person? Do commoners regularly get drafted to be familiars?
With Zero’s Familiar being a light novel adaptation, it is possible some of these holes are present in the source material or are explained much later in the story. But details like Kirche’s lineage are suddenly mentioned then dropped. Most of the main cast in Zero’s Familiar makes much to-do about being nobles, but yet characters are hesitant about marrying for political reasons. It’s like they bring up noblesse oblige whenever it’s convenient. While people in real life are apt to take advantage of their position and yet complain about their responsibilities, this is fiction, and these qualities don’t exactly make for likeable characters, especially in a lead.
As I mentioned before, the setting is quite interesting. I really like a good fantasy story, and this is exactly the type of plot one would find a good JRPG. There’s the first major boss fight, and a couple of characters are actually traitors. Had the weaker harem and ecchi elements been eliminated, I think the series would have been stronger. It’s so bizarre; the series will just suddenly go on binges of panty shots, heavy breathing, and bosom snuggles. It just suddenly becomes a generic ecchi shounen harem at times. Why? The fantasy story with some light harem elements would have been fine.
The story is also affected by the leads, most notably Louise. She is an extremely violent tsundere, and she’s bossy and focused on her social status to boot. Even when she does “mellow”, she’s the type of person who will hurl insults and then cry as Saito walks away. How about going after him or, even better, not saying those things in the first place? Saito, on the other hand, seems to bounce between being drawn to Louise simply because she’s the closest female around and she’s giving him signs, truly loving her, and being a hormonal teenage boy who will follow any pretty girl. He’s surprisingly blasé about coming to Louise’s world. When he talks about going back to Earth, it seems like he thinks he should go back because that’s where he came from rather than missing his parents or any friends he had there.
As the series is set in a school, several of their classmates play an important role in the story. Kirche is the buxom beauty who likes Saito, but it is the maid Siesta’s feelings that play a more prominent role later in the story. Tabitha is the quiet brains of the group, and my enjoyment of the series went up whenever she was around. Guiche is a playboy, and I don’t know if he’s supposed to be in a relationship with Montmorency or if it’s some type of unrequited love. His familiar did crack me up. We also have a few villains, but they were not that interesting. Princess Henrietta was an emotionally strong female, but the final side story blunted her personality somewhat.
The art. Oh, boy, the art. The biggest — and it’s a biggie — issue is the characters themselves. I had to double-check other sources and make sure the main cast wasn’t supposed to be elementary schoolers despite Kirche’s busom. I could tell right away Mochizuki must have been a lolicon doujin artist. Heights sometimes look more like SD proportions. Eyes are large, plain, and uneven. Even in medium distance shots, the eyes have a startlingly lack of detail. Backgrounds are plain, but I was so distracted by the characters that I didn’t pay too much attention to them. The drawings of the creatures and settings are well-done. Dragons look powerful, and ships are large and imposing. Action scenes are sloppy. One sword strike against a golem looks more like the golem teleported away rather than being hit. The series ran for over three years, but the art does not improve. In fact, the main story concludes with one of the ugliest pictures of Louise, showing a chubby, toddler-like face turning toward the reader. The series honestly looks like several different doujin artists worked on each chapter.
No honorifics are used. This isn’t too surprising for a fantasy series, especially when the setting is Western-based. Characters like Siesta address the hero as “Mr. Saito” to replace the original. The first omnibus lists two people doing the adaptation, and the second is listed as the only person for the other two omnibuses. Reading the first volume, there is a definite, abrupt shift. My guess is that one person started the project, and another took over. I remember thinking when I first started reading it that this adaptation was a high level one. Everything sounded natural with minimal rewrites. Suddenly, the language becomes more casual, more slangy. “Let’s get out of here!” lines are replaced with ones like, “Let’s make like a tree and get the heck out of here!” It’s not terrible, but it feels like a letdown after the high quality of the earlier chapters. Fortunately, the second and third omnibuses tone it down.
I also would like to hear why the company went with “Zero’s Familiar” instead of the more common “The Familiar of Zero”. I know the first is more natural, but the latter is used everywhere else, including in the pages of the manga itself.
It was smart of Seven Seas to do this series in omnibus format to reduce cost. Even so, I just cannot recommend Zero’s Familiar. I do think the premise is worth me revisiting in other formats (the anime or the light novels), but I did not enjoy this version. The art is a big part of that, but the uneven storytelling is also a factor.
The manga has a four volume sequel, Zero’s Familiar Chevalier, also released by Seven Seas. It was released in regular manga volumes. The company also licensed the original light novels, but those plans have been abandoned. It’s too bad. I would have picked them up.
The anime’s four seasons has been released in Blu-ray and DVD formats by Section23 under the title The Familiar of Zero.
The author of the Zero’s Familiar light novels died, but it has been recently announced the series will continue with another writer.
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