On first glance at the synopsis and the concepts that guide Familiar of Zero, the uninformed part of my brain rushed to its first poor conclusion... could this play out anything like Bewitched? Not a chance! Allow a few episodes unfold, and, no, marriage not in the outlook. Marriage? Hah! So much is considered in the first episode of the second season, Knight of the Twin Moon, where the male lead character bemoans the fact that the female lead will marry ‘better,’ and he can’t even ogle at girls. Hmm, how about Sabrina, the Teen-Age Witch (either live or animation) as a good Occidental parallel? Maybe closer, as there was a love-angle. Ah, the love-angle in the anime Familiar of Zero … that would be quite the topic! But then, we must examine the plot, and, with all apologies to Salem, such a dicey venture will be attempted with limited hope of success.
First, the main characters. Louise is a student of magic at the Tristein Academy and is called the 'Zero' due to the success rate of her magical skills. She’ll blow things up more than anything else. She must acquire a familiar as part of her magician training. While her classmates gain such nifty magical beings as flying dragons and fire-breathing salamanders, Louise conjures up ... Saito is a Japanese teen-ager who enjoys the active life of Tokyo until he is whisked to the magical realm of Tristein to become the familiar of Louise, a contractual arrangement that is sealed with a kiss. This leads to all the confusion in the undercurrents of the plotline. For Saito is something of a 'chick-magnet,' and this leads to a massive disruption of what we might call 'plot' until the final episodes. You must with all might and mien hang in there until something happens. Until then, it is one harem-concept going completely awry, and all for comic effect.
And so, no apologies for you, Salem!
For the cast of Familiar of Zero is studded with lasses deserving passes. Kirche, a Teutonic-style girl, has a chestiness which would rival that of Nodoka Haramura of Saki, save that Nodoka strives not to show cleavage and Kirche is nothing but. Siesta is a serving-girl of the lower class whose features resemble the Japanese traits of Saito, for reasons which soon become obvious. Jessica is a chesty dish-washer at her father's tavern who makes a pass at Saito. All these girl-encounters have an adverse effect on Louise, who uses her riding crop to whip decency into her 'dog' of a familiar Saito. After a time, this will become old, even though this adversarial relationship between Louise and Saito will be the foundation for the Familiar of Zero seasons.
The story rides heavily on the differences between the magic-using nobility and the powerless serving class. Louise sees nothing more in Saito as her assistant, but she is moved to rages as other girls become too familiar with the familiar. Most of these exchanges are innocent greetings, but in the world of the double-entendre, even the innocent stuff is suspect. There is nudity in some of the scenes, but all are screened, usually by the gallant and modest turn-aways of Saito. All we see is the last piece of lingerie fluttering into Saito's lap, Louise’s demand that her unmentionables get properly laundered. No girl exposed to view. Saito gains a large metal vat and converts it into a hot tub. Siesta slips in during Saito's soaking, but Saito again buries his head not to look. No girl exposed to view. There is a try for sexual tension, but in the magical land of Tristein, nothing comes of it (dark magic, indeed!). Even with the attempted passionate meetings of Kirche and Saito, always (and fortunately for Saito) broken up by Louise.
Finally, a plot wanders in by episode ten. There is political intrigue against the kingdom of Tristein, and Louise's good friend, Princess Henrietta (yet one more fine example of va-va-voom for the series). Louise and Saito become embroiled in a rising civil war which will not go well for Louise should it break out in all its fury ... just at the same time Saito finds the means to bring him back to his place in Japan. And the supreme irony, the mode of conveyance would have to be that esteemed Japanese fighter-plane, the Zero.
There are flashes of animation brilliance here and there in the series, as Louise's discovery of the true magical forms she is fully capable of using. As the mysterious rune-symbols on Saito’s hand which activate in a blaring flash, making Saito a master of all things weaponry. Other than that, the animation is standard and well-presented. The music is lively, playing on the theme of the destiny of two people from vastly diverse backgrounds and opposing worlds. One given to dishing out beatings, the other passively receiving them and resenting them all the same. Eyes that stare at each other with suspicion and loathing.
Yet, deep in those eyes ... a glimmer ... could it be love? Not by end of season one … but wait! There's more! The second season, Knight of the Twin Moons bodes new plot twists (now that we got one) and a deepening relationship between master and lackey.