Anime Worth Watching: Zero no Tsukaima

Zero no Tsukaima (ゼロの使い魔 or usually The Familiar of Zero in English) is is a 49-episode fantasy isekai series, spread out over 4 season from 2006-2011 by JC Staff. Its based on a series of light novels by Noboru Yamaguchi.

Synopsis

Louise is a student at the Tristain Magic Academy where all nobles are supposed to have at least some magical aptitude, only Louise is spectacularly bad. Nicknamed Zero Louise by the other students for her ability to cause any spell to quite literally blow up when it comes time for everyone to summon a familiar she manages to not summon a dragon, or bird or anything normal, instead she pulls Saito Hiraga off the streets of Akihabara yanking him into her world much to his confusion and dismay. Now Saito is trying to adjust to his new life as Louise’s de facto pet while looking for a way back home and dodging a bunch of political intrigue as various shadowy groups incite war between several of the kingdoms.

So whats up with it then?

Isekai as a genre is divisive to say the least. While there are examples of it from the 90s (Escaflowne, Twelve Kingdoms, hell Alice in Wonderland if you wanted to get really old) starting in the early aughts it became incredibly prominent which turned a lot of people off on it. Not helping matters either is that a lot of isekai relies on having protagonists who are thinly veiled authorial insert characters acting as overpowered chosen ones while every female character instantly falls in love with them. So how does Zero no Tsukaima dodge that? Well to be exact it doesnt- rather it rides a very thin line of having Saito be a uniquely gifted individual thanks to a blessing he gets from Louise upon being summoned as well as having multiple girls start fawning over him by having Saito be anything but the milquetoast sad sacks usually leading isekai. Saito wants to go home, and barring that hes determined to at least have fun, so he freely flirts with the girls to at least enjoy himself a tad; and while Louise treats him like a dog going full tsundere he is all too willing to mess with her in return giving them a rather adversarial relationship thats fun to watch at least.

“Fun” is the operative keyword for most of the series really. For all it does with its political intrigue and Game of Thrones-esque feuding between noble families leading to wars breaking out the bulk of the show is spent screwing around with its setting. Saito is not the first person to end up in this world, others have arrived by more accidental means and quite a lot of items have slipped through as well, leading to episodes where all the girls are fighting over a family heirloom said to be a book that can win a mans heart (revealed to be a porno magazine) or a legendary staff of destruction said to be able to kill a dragon in one shot that Saito instantly recognizes as a bazooka. This mix of ordinary Earth items being wildly misconstrued by the fantasy world people lets the show keep throwing in simple new items to throw most of the cast for a loop for an episode without getting too old, partly because there’s a basic joy in finding out the answer to “who wins in a dogfight, a bunch of wyvern riding knights or a 1940 Type Zero fighter?” or seeing Rock Golems getting blasted apart by a tank.

What you need to watch out for is that for riding this line the show is thus still indebted to a lot of isekai and light novel tropes- plotting isnt always consistent between arcs, some character backgrounds seem to change pretty drastically as the show goes on, multiple characters very clearly die at one point only to be retconned back alive in the next season via shenanigans and Rie Kugimiya is once again voicing a short tsundere girl (joined by Satoshi Hino who was Yuji in Shana, that this show debuted right after that one with the same lead couple was not missed on audiences). The last season is also an anime original ending as it aired the year after the 20th novel volume came out1 and while its decent as far as A-O-E go, it is also a bit abrupt as the anime could never get into the various world building aspects the novels have.

It cant resist a standard romcom hijinks when one presents itself.

Conclusion

Weeb Level: Like last week the early aughts tropes are strong here, though its playing looser and joke-yer with them.

Content: While there is a lot of fighting, especially in the later seasons when wars keep breaking out, most of the violence is relatively tame. There is a fair amount of fanservice though coming from several of the girls attempting to seduce Saito in varying ways and the general tone of some of the comedy episodes (the aforementioned porno one, a legendary relic for seduction turning out to be some lingerie, etc)

Worth Watching: Seek it out if you like a fun little romp through isekai and light novel tropes, with just enough of a serious plot in the background to not be complete fluff. Worth watching if you like magical fantasy shows in general with solid world building. Skip it if you dont like tropes or spending effort hunting something down because…

Where to watch it: Well you can’t and you can. Currently only the 4th season is available to watch on Crunchyroll and HiDive, with the first 3 seasons being lost in the vague unclear licensing waters of coming out in the aughts. You do NOT want to start with the 4th season as it wont make any sense, so unless you can find the DVDs for the first 3 secondhand, possible but not exactly cheap as theyre at least $35 a set on average, you probably wont be watching this.