Wands! Cloaks! A magic academy nestled in the mountains! Sound familiar? Yes, Harry Potter would most likely come to mind, but just take out the Voldemort aspect and replace it with a little ecchi fan service, a lot of romance, and a positive avalanche of cuteness. Zero no Tsukaima offers a playful jaunt into another world and casts a spell that will leave you very much charmed.
Louise, referred to as “The Zero” by classmates for her dreadful magical skills, accidentally summons a boy named Saito into her life. The out-of-place Japanese youth finds himself submerged in a completely different reality, where wizards reside in castles and boss around the peasants. Within this unique land (faintly modeled after pre-industrial Western Europe), Louise and Saito’s relationship builds with intensity and good pacing; daily quibbling turns into jealousy, blushes, and furtive glances, to eventually comprise a boiling cauldron of passion. At the same time, the duo confronts challenges of a whimsical yet problematic world, where thieves, revolutions, treachery, (bouncing boobs), and perverted men run amok. Both romantic and narrative elements are convincingly mixed into a lucid whole.
In many ways the story moves along like a Mozart work – and no, Zero no Tsukaima is NOT an attempted portrayal at classical music, but it’s the best metaphor I can think of. Like Mozart, the story is pleasant, linear, catchy, shallow, and light as a feather. It’s not mawkish or profound, and still for an unknowable reason, it benefits you to give it a try. Here is a plotline that promises nothing but gives you something sweet to digest, and in the end you find that surprisingly, your stomach feels satisfied.
Unlike Mozart, however, some of the progression in Zero no Tsukaima fails to make complete sense. Among the string of adventures that Louise and Saito undertake, a couple seem to have been pulled out of thin air, contrived in a hurry to squeeze everything into thirteen episodes. (I affectionately term these as “WTF” moments). Thankfully, such “WTF” zingers mellow out into engaging plot spurts that delicately tend to Louise and Saito’s blossoming romance. Although the viewer might not actively acknowledge the relational development, he or she can still “feel” the cauldron of love boiling closer to breaking point. Humor flickers in and out of the story like a faulty wandlight and draws strength more from the characters’ outrageous antics than from a clever script. While Zero no Tsukaima is certainly of lighter substance, you won’t be giggling every minute – though what it lacks in humor it fills in with total romantic kawaii-ness.
Light, faded colors, soft edges, and brief instances of visual beauty all reveal J.C.Staff’s characteristic style in Zero no Tsukaima. In many ways, the show cuts the image of Toradora!’s younger, cuter sister (though it does precede Toradora! by two years): It’s strikingly similar, not as developed, and more apt to escape parental scrutiny. Weaknesses exist: unsubtle color shading, overly simplistic character designs, and occasional lazy bouts with background movements; but the tone radiates such charm that they are easy to overlook. The important thing is that everyone looks adorable. Whether it be students, villains, animals, or adults, the animators carve each being into diminutive proportions that supply them with a distinctive doll-like impression. The main duo especially oozes with chibi-tastic delight.
The show boasts a relatively prestigious cast, including the “Queen of Tsundere” Rie Kugimiya as tough, soft, adorable Louise. Incidentally, she and Yui Horie claim main roles in Toradora! and execute them brilliantly (as Taiga and Kushieda, respectively), but here, their performances as Louise and Siesta fall rather flat in comparison. Both carry out their jobs sufficiently, as do the rest of the cast, but if you are accustomed to more involved voice acting with such seiyuu, the ones here will slightly disappoint. Satoshi Hino, however, impressed me with his endearing yet somehow sexy quality to Saito’s voice.
On the other side of the audio tape, Zero no Tsukaima equals if not surpasses her rival sibling in the soundtrack’s style, charm, and retention rate. The background music, while not particularly striking in and of itself, suits the circumstances and gives everything an added fantastical flair. What takes the cake is the closing theme, “The Real Feeling,” sung by Kugimiya herself and placing a capstone on Zero no Tsukaima’s utter cuteness.
Ever since I made the jibe of Zero no Tsukaima being Toradora!’s younger sister, I cannot stop paralleling the two. The perpetual comparison cannot become any more evident after one looks at the characterization of Louise: Wavy, curtain-like hair, eyes that slant downward, tsundere qualities – she is the predecessor to Aisaka Taiga from Toradora!. Actually, I take that back. Louise is the predecessor to Taiga, with the edges of her personality cut off. Indeed, the budding witch enjoys brandishing her whip, but compared to the “Palm Top Tiger,” she is nothing more than a pink-haired pygmy puff. She isn’t particularly mean to begin with, but as Cupid’s Arrow digs deeper into her exposed royal belly, she develops into a mostly helpless girly girl. While the show lavishes attention on her and Saito’s dynamic relationship, it sweeps the Louise as her own character under the rug.
Saito comes across as pleasant, brave, occasionally rash, and most importantly, a breath of fresh air. For once, we see a boy who actually deserves the interest of multiple girls. The females themselves, while entertaining, largely rut into stereotypes and fail to develop sufficiently: Siesta smiles and smiles, Tabitha burrows her head in a book from beginning to end, Montmorency enjoys a brief episode of glory, and Kirche appears and re-appears like an annoying wet dream (yes, wet dream). They all become nicer to each other, but that’s about it. In the end, Zero no Tsukaima decides to spend its limited time not on the individual characters but on tying them together to make the product stronger than it would have been otherwise.
The important thing to remember is that despite its weaknesses, Zero no Tsukaima avoids pretentious complexities and is capable of providing solid entertainment. It does not make for a particularly intellectual viewing, but in many ways that’s what is so refreshing about it. With all the similarities the show shares with Toradora!, it gave me something Toradora! did not: Some good old fun.
First allow me to say that a flogger should only be used by consenting adults. Then, I'll follow up with "BWAHAHAHAHAHA, that's terrible". God, the tsundere/harem combination is horrible on so many levels, yet still somewhat entertaining. Zero no Tsukaima is just that; somewhat entertaining. The tsundere moments will make you at times smile and at times cringe. The harem will sometimes be cute and at others make you cringe. Did I mention that there will be moments that make you cringe?
Zero no Tsukaima is one step above generic garbage. It is not serious viewing in any way. What saves it from being complete trash is the person transported to a strange land theme, through which we discover magic and the in and outs of the world through the male lead. It works, and is effective enough to keep the viewer interested in a shallow kind of way.
The real thing about Zero no Tsukaima is the humor. It is funny at times but isn't exactly razor wit but rather cheap slapstick and the lower forms of situational humor. The action is crappy, the spells aren't impressive, but we get yet another school life thing with all the lame drama. Still, there is the generic charm of the series which works rather welll.
Anyone can say that Zero no Tsukaima is not a work of art. The artwork itself is average, the writing so standard it hurts, and it feels more like a mix-and-match of pieces from earlier works than something unique. All this would have been completely irrelevent had the show not been so damn fun. It is juvenile and unoriginal, but fun nontheless.
Writing (Story and Characters):
At the end of the day, the writing is not as bad as you'd expect. Zero no Tsukaima isn't bad, and that is largely because it doesn't try to be great. The writers are perfectly aware that this isn't Shakespeare, but give just enough to differentiate the show from the trillion others there. It isn't done in an original way, as this is a hybrid of several genres but mainly focusing on the school life / magic thing. The premise isn't particularly original and the details even less so. Still, unintentional sexual harassment followed by a flogging is classic humor.
It isn't that there's so much of a story in Zero no Tsukaima, but rather an endless number of setups for humor and innuendo broken up by something that matters in the long term. It isn't clever, it isn't creative, it isn't art, but the story does a workable job of just being there. That's really all that can be said for it, other than endless setups for character "development", cheap drama, and dumb humor. Thank god.
I cannot say that I like the tsundere cliche very much, though when it works it is kind of awesome (Bakemonogatari comes to mind). In Zero no Tsukaima it doesn't really, but at least it doesn't fail. It will make you cringe at times, but the cast is based upon a tsundere and her whipping boy... and the generic school harem minor characters. It isn't genius, but it works just as it had plenty of times before.
Effective would be the best descriptor for the script. It isn't particularly clever or creative, and it sure isn't deep. Despite the many (glaring) faults in the writing, it manages a lot of light hearted fun. It aims low, and it scores... which is a lot better than ambitious and failing.
Art (Animation and Story):
OK, so it isn't good. It isn't even average. The artwork of Zero no Tsukaima is subpar. There aren't any glaring issues, but it just doesn't have anything that is done well. Of course, it does just enough to get the story across without being too annoying. Mission accomplished, I suppose?
The animation isn't really good. The character designs are the classic harem cast (women ordered by height and bust to make sure every main flavor exists), though are not exceptional in any way. The backgrounds are effective, yet generic and unimpressive. The fight scenes are rather terrible, the magic doesn't look good, and there is an overabundance of animated gimmicks. Still, it manages to deliver the humor well, and most of the animation isn't bad either.
The soundtrack is a mixed bag of generic upbeat electronica and completely forgettable everything else. The voice acting is nothing special, but doesn't get too annoying. The sound effects aren't special. The audio positioning (stereo/surround use) is bland, and the filtering is standard (no clever uses of effects like echoes or reverbs). There isn't anything that I can point out and laugh at how terrible it is, but there isn't a single thing that I can say rocked me. Unimaginative, yet workable overall.
Is the world of Zero no Tsukaima brought to life? Yes, just in an uninteresting way. Still, it is just good enough to work on the humor bits. The artwork does the writing no favors. Still, it manages some cohesiveness as both the video and audio fit the vision behind the show well.
Zero no Tsukaima is stupid fun. It is an absolute waste of time, but manages some charm... I guess mediocre isn't always a bad thing.
Did that help making you more interested in reading further? If yes, then Zero no Tsukaima (ZNT) is the show for you. If not, then don’t even bother because this will be just another rant about yet another piece of crappy anime trilogy. And yes, I include all four seasons of this stupid franchise in the same review. Have fun…
First of all you should be aware (or be aware and at least admit) that this is an ecchi comedy with some fantasy grains for flavor and NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Do not try to see it as some sort of a amazing setting with elaborate mechanics and complicating social structure because there isn’t much plot or character developments other than a funky premise. But if you are satisfied with aimless softporn that makes vague tributes to other famous shows and never get bored of the stereotypical tsundere, then you will definitely enjoy this way more than I did.
By tributes, I am referring to all those almost unintended comparisons, such as:
- Harry Potter because the setting is about a magic school, where aristocratic wizards rule over lower commoners.
- Shakugan no Shana because the lead girl reminds us of her (or for the same reason any other loli tsundere voiced by Rie Kugimiya).
- The Lord of the Rings because of a fantasy war raging on in the background.
So yeah, imagine Shana riding a flying broomstick and giving us lots of panty shots, while for 48 episodes wastes hoards of Orcs next to Mount Doom. And instead of a generic eye the main villain is a bald Lich constantly scheming behind everyone’s backs. And having a thousand horny NEETs near by taking photos of Shana’s tsun moments and screaming OUR PRECIOUSSS !!! Sure, it could work; I love just the description of it.
… Too bad that instead of all those awesome events I mention above, all we get in this show is jack SHIT!
The story is (as it usual is in such shows) just an excuse to have a ball-less dork doing WHATEVER before he starts tripping on boobs and getting his ass kicked hard by a loli. Yeah, sounds funny … if it doesn’t repeat every 10 minutes without any sort of progress and while there are a hundred other shows WITH THE EXACT SAME THING GOING ON. So yeah, the premise may sound original, or interesting, or captivating, but the presentation is just the same old tsun fuss all over again. Here, let me give you a list of the subplots you can find in this trilogy:
- A magician girl’s struggle for acceptance by her society, who considers her weak
- A normal boy’s drama of being away from its home, against its will
- A conflict between the rich and the poor
- A mystery regarding a powerful magic element
- A war between two powerful fractions for the ultimate control of the world
Boy, this could mean the birth of the most awesome epic adventure of the PAST 30 YEARS! Tremble Lord of the Rings! Step out of the way Game of Thrones! Run to the hills Malezan Book of the Fallen! Here comes Zero no Tsukaima!
Yes, it would be quite lovely to get at least half of all that, yet what do we get in practice? NOTHING! A big, ugly, fat, shitty zero, as the titles implies. The only progress we get from all those amazing subplots mentioned above is fan service increasing exponentially while context and plot go for a walk. They occasionally try to make it epic and interesting (especially during the first and the last season) but it never manages to be anything more than a minor side dish before the next done to death ecchi scene comes along. So much for priorities …
The truth is that the novels the anime is based upon have a lot more plot and far less softporn in them. But as usual Studio J.C. Staff only cares to make all its adaptations as fappable as possible instead of making them decent and faithful to the source material. But what did you expect when their target audience is deviant NEETs and their ace card is a loli tsundere voiced by Rie Kugimiya?
But who cares about the story if the characters are unique, special, developed or just highly humorous? Most people care about the cast and not the story anyways. That is why the cast of this trilogy is again SHIT because they are carbon-copied harem stereotypes you can find anywhere, with absolutely nothing special or memorable about them after awhile. Why in blazes would I find Louise any better than any other stereotypical tsundere? She’s no Asuka Langley; that’s for sure. And why is Saito any better than all the rest of the harem or shounen leads out there when he allows to be humiliated all the time without even being a masochist? Or why is anyone else in this trilogy worth remembering when I can think of a hundred other similar characters with far more depth and development? Some say it was the voice actress who made it all worthy but surely, after a dozen identical Rie Kugimiya roles I no longer give a fudge. Some others say it was the jokes that made them feel funny, which means absolutely NOTHING because I have seen shows with far more original jokes and greener pastures.
It goes even deeper down the gutter if you think of what progress the cast had throughout the season. Any hints of development we had in season 1 are conveniently deleted in season 2, and the hints of progress we were given in the finale of the second season play no importance in the third. As for the fourth season, they do ACTUALLY develop but it is done in such a lazy and rushed way. Plus by then you have run out of toilet paper and no longer care about their personalities. So no, they are even less that average since for 48 episodes we see them doing aimless things with ZERO importance before ending the whole thing in the most boring way imaginable. Hell, they even shamelessly do development resets just to prolong the show’s crummy plot. Just how tasteless do they expect us to be and like this crap?
VALUE & ENJOYMENT
Yet another high-seller garbage of a franchise. Sure, it sold a million bucks amongst the sick otakus but that does not prove it is a quality show; only how low the bar is for most of the target audience. The fandom just loves mediocrities and never gets bored eating the same piss soup every day; this mentality would perform miracles in a communistic society. But being the capitalistic pig I am, I say this is a dreadful franchise and I would never recommend it to anyone, other than to waste his life when there are better shows out there. Now where is my tuna salad, zero coke, French fries with ketchup, and Cheeseburger with no onions?
Oh, I forgot to say something about the production values. Well, not my fault if they are the least of the things anyone should care about in this shitty franchise. Ok, here you go, animation and sound are good if all you want is generic pop songs, blunt medieval backgrounds and simplistic character figures who do and say generic harem stuff. There, now my perfect analysis is complete, have fun you tasteless otakus.
VERDICT: S1: 3/10, S2: 2/10, S3: 1/10 S4: 3/10
My anime reviews are always simple, short and straight-forward and is 100% spoilers-free.
Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Magic, Romance, School
Additional Info: Somewhat OP protagonist + Tsunedere + sweet romance + amazing comedy = Zero no Tsukaima
Ending Rating: 95% (Final Season)
Zero no Tsukaima is a masterpiece of anime. The exceptional mixture of action, comedy and sweet romance are so surreal that you'll want to go outside, holding a wand and shouting "Eureka!!!!!". Zero no Tsukaima is probably one of the best romcom animes out there. The animation is surreal for an anime that was release in the year 2006. This anime will make you cry, giggle and go "WOW" as you progress through the story. This anime is worth a thousand pages for your anime list.
This is one of the higher rated and hyped anime that I've been meaning to watch. So seeing as I stalled out on this after the third episode, it might seem wierd that I'm even writing a review for this. Well let's just say this: there's a reason I quit after only 3 episodes.
I won't say anything about the story or soundtrack seeing as I haven't done much of anything with them (Although from what I've heard they're practically nonexistant/super boring), and my thoughts on most characters and the animation will be limited.
So easy stuff first, the animation. It was blah. That's really sums it up. I know for a fact that I couldn't do any better, but I've seen SOOOO much better from older anime. The colors just seemed kind of flat and boring, the one 'action' scene that I saw was just a (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ worthy moment IMO (for real, 11eyes had better, dafug?). The coolest looking thing I saw in what I watched was the salamander the redhead girl had, I don't even know her name is how little I care. So yeah, there's my thoughts on the animation.
Now for the fun (relatively) stuff, the characters. OOoooohhh the characters.
To start with, Saito. From what I saw, he has his moments of me being kind of alright with him (ie: when he's being super sarcastic about everything). But beyond that, he pisses me off. I know that he falls in love (WTF) with Louise at some point or other, it's practically one of the most well known plot(?) things ever. But my question is, how? She seriously treats this guy like a complete piece of s**t for no reason other than: I summoned you, now you do what I say, so bleh. I was legitimately thinking, 'Why hasn't he punched this little turd yet?'. And I know what you're all thinking, "But she's just a little loli-girl!". Oh, I'm sorry, did the fact that she MADE AN EXPLOSION IN HIS FACE not register with you? I'm fairly certain it becomes fair game when they explode your face, but that's just me. So yeah, Saito, has his odd redeeming moments (Such as when he screws What's-his-face Geich or whatever, Blondie-with-rose) but otherwise he is a complete wuss who insofar as I know has no reason whatsoever to be that way.
And now, Louise-Girl-of-Too-Many-Names. No. Just, No. That's really all. I said most everything in the Saito block, she should've been decked so many times in just three episodes. So yeah. Let it be known, I like a good old-fashioned Tsundere, but this girl is just annoying to the point I couldn't watch her stupidity anymore.
So really, all that is to be said is that from what I've seen, I really don't like this to the point that I can't finish it. Which says quite a bit (To me at least, don't know about anyone else), seeing as I finished Kampfer, Pupa, and 11eyes of all things.
EDIT: In all honesty, I probably will finish this at some point (Out of sheer stubborn refusal to fail to finish what I started) and if I change my opinion at that time I'll change this to reflect that. But for now, it shall stay as something that I disliked.