I first began watching Zero no Tsukaima with the initial intention of seeing a light-hearted comedy. Prior to watching, I had read a number of mixed reviews about this show; some praised it for its humor and strong romantic development while others seemed to indicate that it was nothing more than your typical harem/romance/comedy anime. I figured that Zero no Tsukaima (now ZnT for simplicity’s sake) would be a charming and funny show that I could watch without having to do any form of overly-complex thinking. At the same time I hoped that just because ZnT was a comedy it wouldn’t get into too much random insanity and pointless fan service that a great deal of comedy-oriented animes do. So I went into ZnT with low standards; not expecting too much in terms of a story but at the same time not seemingly pointless garbage.
So now you may be thinking to yourself, “Okay, this anime obviously isn’t this guy’s cup of tea. For him to rate it a 5 clearly screams bias!” Before you decide to comment saying that this is totally wrong at the bottom of this review panel please let me explain where I’m coming from when I rate ZnT a 5.
Story – 4/10
The first thing I noticed about ZnT’s setting was that it was a blatant rip-off of the Harry Potter universe tossed together with a few element’s of last year’s popular Shakugan no Shana series (coincidentally also produced by the folks at J.C Staff). Everything from the academy of magic to the dining halls to the student’s robes reminded me of that immensely popular abomination written by J.K Rowling (as you can see I’m not really a Harry Potter fan). Thankfully, ZnT’s story diverged completely from the plot of HP, at which I let out a sigh of relief. The actual plot of ZnT begins with our flat-chested, pink-haired heroine Louise. Louise is considered the failure of her 2nd year class by her fellow peers and teachers as she is unable to properly conjure up magic. Her failures often always result in large catabolic explosions causing hell for everyone. As a result, she earns the nickname “Louise the Zero” for having zero talent (and breasts). Much to Louise’s dismay she is forced to summon a familiar (basically a magical servant) as part of her 2nd year curriculum. While her classmates successfully summon giant moles and salamanders Louise ends up summoning Archer, err… I mean Saito Hiraga (your average teenage Japanese boy).
Forced to comply with the rules of the academy Louise is stuck as Saito’s master and Saito is stuck as Louise’s servant. And thus begins the daily life of Saito as he is forced into a world full of magical lunatics and one bossy, unreasonable master. Luckily for him the academy is just filled with pretty girls who seem to throw their virginity at Saito considering he’s probably the most normal guy in their school. A lot of the early episodes of ZnT rely on ecchi/fan service moments for comedy which usually involve Saito getting pulled into some unfortunate situation with another girl and seduced to the point where…. Louise walks in out of the blue and severely punishes her hapless familiar for lechery. When I say she severely punishes Saito, she goes all out with her personal horse riding device aka. a whip. I really wonder if any human rights were violated in the production of ZnT, but I guess they were overlooked since Saito is now nothing more than a mere servant of Louise who is a high and mighty noble. Oh and we all know that it’s okay in the 21st century to relentlessly beat our servants if we see them flirting without ever listening to their side of the story, right, right? I’m not sure which member of J.C Staff felt it was funny for Saito to constantly be whipped by Louise (probably thought it was kinky or something) because it seems to be a reoccurring method of humor. Believe me, after the first or second time you’ll shake your head when you see this unfair demonstration of poor human rights.
Thankfully after the halfway point things begin to take a more serious turn. Politics and class seem to play a great role in ZnT’s later half. We witness the noble-commoner relationships throughout the series especially with Louise and Saito being key examples, but how could politics ever fit into a comedy such as ZnT? Answer: they probably don’t. The politics displayed in this show are actually some of the most vague and simplistic examples ever. It’s truly a disgrace to consider anyone in ZnT as a political strategist. For example, just because a king declares war on another country to expand his territory and potentially take over the world it doesn’t constitute politics. From what we observe in the real world, politics are a combination of strategy, tactical maneuvering and the manipulation of others. All three of these components are what ZnT lacks. So really, I would disagree with anyone who claims that ZnT is a great display of politics.
One thing that ZnT manages to do a decent job at is the romance between characters; of course this is often hindered between mild ecchi moments and fan service. Poor Saito, just when he thinks that his relationship is going somewhere with Louise another girl enters the fray and then its beating time curtsey of Louise-sama and minus 1 point for the Louise/Saito relationship. To sum it all up it’s basically: relationship increase, ecchi situation, relationship decrease. I’m not that great at math but if you take 1 and then subtract 1 you’re left with a grand total of zero! Hey, that’s probably why this show is called Zero no Tsukaima, because the main relationship almost always resets back to zero. Wow, great symbolism J.C Staff, I never would have thought that you were such masterminds! Coincedentially, the romance between Saito and Louise inevitably improves towards the end of the show. I won’t spoil anything because I feel that this should be the highlight of ZnT, but I’d just like to add that even that is rushed. So in the end we get a last minute, shaky relationship that probably will reset back to zero by the time season two rolls around (and from what I’ve heard, it does).
Animation – 7/10
Phew, after that long rant about ZnT’s groundbreaking story, I’ll keep the animation section short. To sum it all up the animation was ZnT’s strong point. The cute and colorful character designs fit the comedic theme of the show nicely. As a nice bonus J.C staff added a row of magical stars whenever a scene changes. I found those stars a nice touch which helped me get into the setting of the show more. The backgrounds are your standard fantasy-locations and they were handled quite well. There weren’t really any instances that I noticed when the animation quality dropped below average, so all in all a solid job done by the animation crew at J.C staff.
Sound – 6/10
Again, I should probably keep this section short or people will stop reading. The audio component of ZnT was another one of its stronger points. Most of the background music was light and cheerful to accommodate the various comedic highlights. Whenever a fierce battle took place the music changed appropriately to a fast, electronic beat. The OP song “First Kiss” seems to fit the theme of the show well and overall is a solid JPop song (as a side note the OP goes really well as a trance/dance remix). The ED song “Honto no Kimochi” sung by Kugimiya Rie works as an ending song but is average at best. Other than that the voice-acting is done well with Kugimiya Rie (who also voiced other tsundere characters such as Shana) and Hino Satoshi (who voiced Yuji in SnS) as Louise and Saito respectively. Rie seems to be quite comfortable with tsundere roles and she hits home base as Louise. Generally, voice-acting is subject to interpretation and cannot be as readily argued as the story or overall value of an anime. Therefore I’ll just leave the sound value at a neutral 6; nothing spectacular, but at the same time won't hurt your ears to listen to.
Character – 5/10
Well the meat of ZnT lies in its characters. Unfortunately at times the characters seem like nothing more than dry bologna; thanks but I’ll have my black-forest salami instead.
Boy, I suppose for all those times Louise was put down and laughed at by her classmates she now has the opportunity to take her anger out on poor, hapless Saito whom she feels is ultimately lower than her. I suppose that’s one way of looking at her character. Another much simpler way of looking at Louise’s character is that she’s your typical tsundere; harsh one moment to hide her true feelings and then submissive and shy the next to gain affection. Sure tsunderes are fun to watch but sometimes enough is enough. ZnT doesn’t know when to draw the fine line between stubborn and cruel. I enjoyed watching Louise’s character but ultimately I felt that she wasn’t realistic enough and was merely one sided. She constantly wanted Saito's affection but would not properly accept it as she felt it showed a personal weakness. But thus is the way to keep the mindless otaku satisfied.
Saito on the other hand was a much more realistic character than Louise. I suppose living in Japan rather than in Harry Potter land will actually develop one’s values and sense of morals. Saito comes across as a very modest and sincere young man who is simply trying his best to survive in an unknown world. It’s a shame that most of his screen time is spent hopelessly negotiating with Louise to spare his ass and being forced into ecchi situations because otherwise he's fun to watch and easy to relate to. One could argue though that almost anyone in Saito’s situation would act in the same manner to avoid being blown up by magic. Either way, I really enjoyed Saito’s sincere character and found him to be the calm reason in an uncontrolabe storm.
The supporting cast in ZnT was very weak on the other hand. The other stundents were all pulled from a bottomless pool of anime archetypes including the busty, talented girl, the quiet bookworm/Yuki Nagato and the rich, self-obsessed playboy. These side characters unfortunately do not receive that much development and are simply used to further along the plot or to get the main characters out of trouble (which we’ve all seen about a million times in anime). On a side note the villains in ZnT are all one-dimensional and underdeveloped (not in body figure though). Hell, they could easily be twirling their long moustaches and cackling with the wind while tying young damsels to railroad tracks for all I care. The worst part is even at the end of ZnT we still don’t know their ulterior motives. I don’t know about you but unanswered questions tend to irk me. Mind you, there are the second and third seasons of ZnT which may answer these questions so that last point could be considered moot if you so wish.
Overall, I wasn’t bored or lost but rather annoyed by the redundant humor and weak, last-minute attempts to wrap up the story. While the first half of the series was mostly comedy oriented it wasn’t up to par with many of the revolutionary comedy animes out there such as GTO. I’m not sure why people assume that just because an anime is a comedy that it should only be funny and thus lack morals and well-developed characters (again not physically). The second half of the anime was supposed to be more romantic and plot-driven but again that fell short of anything close to groundbreaking.
After watching ZnT I now realize what type of audience the show is targeted at, and I know for a fact that I’m not part of that audience. For people who want a clichéd comedy that will continue to serve you the same thing over and over again with an attempt to redeem its story at the end then by all means watch ZnT. Although, if you tend to feel the same way that I do and want an anime that is funny but with some inherent morals and life lessons then watch GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) instead. GTO is more slice of life oriented but it also has its fair share of perverted moments and wacky humor that doesn’t get repetitive. If you enjoy fantasy and magic then I’d recommend something like Spirited away or Howl’s moving castle. Both are Studio-Ghibli movies which are full of imagination and magical adventures (although both are rated PG and thus would have no ecchi moments).
Anyways, if you happened to read to the end of this incredibly long review, I congratulate you and hope that you learned something from reading it.