Familiar of Zero: Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, November 28, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, November 04, 2008

When Saito suddenly finds himself drawn from the streets of Tokyo to a fantasy world, his life is thrown upside as he becomes a Familiar to a mage-noble.

What They Say:

In a magical land where two moons shine in the night sky, one young student in the magic school, Louise, has acquired the nickname of "Zero." Why? Her "zero" talent! With a near-perfect failure rate for her spells, the shock that Louise's summoning spell works equals the surprise of her new familiar, a human boy from Japan! When the boy begins exhibiting some unexpected abilities, why do the teachers get so nervous?

Contains episodes 1-13.

What We Say:

Audio:
The Familiar of Zero has a pretty basic set of audio mixes to it but it is at least a bilingual presentation as the work was completed even after the distribution shutdown in 2007. The two language track provided here are both done in a standard 192kbps stereo mix and it works pretty well for the material, though little really stands out. The opening and closing songs are the strongest pieces in terms of overall presentation while dialogue and action effects are nicely placed throughout, but never all that heavily or distinctly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and in listening to all thirteen episodes in Japanese, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The thirteen episodes for the series are spread across three discs in a 4/4/5 fashion, though interestingly for the geek crowd the individual discs are authored strangely. Each two episode set, and then the final three, are in their own title rather than in either individual titles or as a full title for each volume. That said, it doesn’t impact a thing and the series looks really good. Colors are wonderfully vibrant and solid throughout and outside of some occasional banding, such as during sunsets where blacks are hit, it comes across very strongly. The little bit of noise or banding here and there aren’t distracting overall and the series has a certain bright and vibrant feel that’s very appealing.

Packaging:
The Familiar of Zero has a really nice package design to it that’s certainly evocative of what we’ve come to known of Geneon. These first new collections were ones that people were unsure of how they’d come out because of the FUNimation distribution side, but it really does feel like classic Geneon. The heavy chipboard box is laid out very nicely with some classic framing and some dark images that really are quite striking. The main panel features a shot of Louise in her usual outfit sitting on a chair as you can see the moonlit night outside her window. It’s sexy but not overly so while also being moody. The other panel is a bit lighter as you have her set against an indistinct blue background with a big blushing smile on her face as well as having a small bodied shot of Saito behind her with a bucket full of panties as he heads off to do more wash.

Within the box are three regular sized keepcases, though thinpak cases would have worked just as nicely I think if the heavy chipboard box could have accommodated it. Each cover is done with a light pink and purple background that lets the character artwork stand out all the more. Louise gets the first and third covers, the first with her in her uniform looking annoyed while the third has her in some lingerie looking happy if she’s blushing. The second volume features a very good shot of Kirche as she busts out of her top. The back covers are all laid out the same for each volume with a section of text along the top that’s different for each volume and describes the basic premise of those episodes. Below that is a series of shots from the shows that are tied to the individual episode numbers and titles as well as listing the discs extras. The remainder is given over to the technical grid and production credits that are all quite solid.

Even better is that each volume has a reverse side cover. The cover artwork is the same as the insert cover for that volume except that it has a bit more character artwork to it as well as a pencil sketch of part of it as well. The back cover portion features more character artwork, the material from the front cover in a new light, along with episode numbers and titles. The inserts are a real piece of work though as they open to a two panel foldout where they’re mostly pure fanservice. The third volume piece with Louise looking all sultry is just priceless since it’s signed by her. This really punches up the fanservice level and it feels a little out of place but still mostly welcome.

Menu:
The menu design is like a lot of Geneon’s works throughout 2007 in that it’s pretty, but basic. The main menus are all static screens that have a fairly nice faux widescreen feel to them done in a parchment style with indistinct backgrounds to them. The center piece to each of them is a different piece of artwork for the various characters and these look really nice, vibrant and appealing alongside the brief bit of instrumental music. The menus don’t jump out at you but they’re certainly cute and appealing in their simplicity. Individual episode access is along the top menu, located at the bottom of each screen, and submenus load nice and quick. The discs also correctly read all of our players’ language presets and played according.

Extras:
The extras are pretty minimal as they’re spread across all three discs. The main thrust of it is that each disc has its own set of the original on-air previews as well as either a clean opening or clean closing sequence. The last disc has the added bonus of the original two minute preview/promo piece that showcased the series before it first aired. Nothing really stand out here, but solid and welcome extras nonetheless.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on a series of ongoing light novels by Noboru Yamaguchi and illustrated by Eiji Usatsuka, Familiar of Zero is a thirteen episode series that really feels like it needs a whole lot more. In fact, it really feels like the first part of Kyo Kara Maoh in how you can really visualize a whole large epic of stories over time relating to these characters and this world. The novels began publication back in 2004, so this series started off relatively early and the creators are certainly going strong with a number of stories. And thankfully, as of this writing, there are two more seasons that have been made covering some of the other books. With luck, these will get picked up as well as this is an utterly charming little show.

The opening thirteen episodes of the series do a rather splendid job of introducing a fair number of characters, establishing some basic setups and running through a few plot points to hint at the larger world that’s inhabited here. Rather than spill all the beans at once, it’s a fairly good progression with the storyline that really only falters in the most traditional sense. And that’s in having the lead character actually not asking any questions which would illustrate just what kind of situation he’s in. That would make sense to do but unfortunately makes for boring entertainment. It’s far more entertaining to watch him stumble into situations without any knowledge of why it’s wrong and to see him flounder briefly about it or cause trouble for others.

The Familiar of Zero initially revolves around magic student Louise, a young noble as all mage users are who is attending the Tristien Institute of Magic. Louise is the third daughter of a well respected family of the country of Tristien and her elder siblings are all apparently pretty solid mages. The problem comes in that Louise, while having ability, doesn’t seem to have really mastered it. Nothing she does actually works well when it comes to magic and she’s earned the nickname of “Louie the Zero” because that’s how well she does with it all. She’s an earnest young student and wants to do well, but everything is working soundly against her for some unknown reason. When she shoots a fireball for instance, it’s little more than a little puff that you really can’t even seen.

So when the big day comes where each mage casts their spell that calls forth their familiar, Louise talks a big game but is completely unsure of what she’ll get. Familiars are key to every mage as they are a reflection of them in some way and they’re bound to them for life. So it’s only fitting that in this fantasy style world, Louise calls forth as her familiar a Tokyo high school boy that’s walking down the streets. Landing flat in the middle of the courtyard, young Saito finds himself in a strange world he doesn’t understand (for a little while, as magic eventually helps with the spoken language barrier) and with people whose customs are completely alien to his in many ways. To a native born urbanite from the 21st century, going to a world where there’s many small countries that revolve around magic – and floating nations at that – is something that’s hard to take in and adjust to.

Thankfully, Saito is an interesting leading male character and one that fits in well with Louise. Saito’s realization that he’s become her Familiar is amusing at first but with the knowledge that the world is in some ways dangerous and unknown, he keeps up with it for awhile as he tries to figure out how best to survive. His easy going nature as well as his sense of right and justice puts him in conflict with others that are used to only this class based society, and he often finds that his beliefs end up putting Louise into bad predicaments she has to help get him out of. Since he’s the familiar, what he gets into is something that she can be responsible for. And that ranges from challenging a fellow mage noble at the Institute to taking on the very power structre of the world itself.

While the main focus is on that of Saito and Louise as their pairing morphs throughout the show, it’s also accented by the other characters that come into play. With this being an Institute, there’s a fair variety of characters from other lands that helps to flesh things out nicely. The most amusing for me was Kirche “the Fever”, a talented mage noble from Germania who beds just about every guy she can because she can. She’s got reason for doing so, but it’s cute to see her so open about it and chasing after Saito in such a friendly and really non-threatening way. Balancing her is another really neat little character in Tabitha, a very powerful yet very reserved young woman who is studying intently for very personal reasons. She balances out Kirche very nicely and that the two of them end up together often really works out nicely.

The one character that I felt the best about though is that of Siesta, a peasant girl working in the Institute. Saito finds himself naturally drawn to her and she, like some of the other peasants after a certain incident, are very proud and helpful of Saito. Siesta is a little bit more than that as she has a crush on him and he ends up helping her out quite a lot. That only reinforces the feelings that she has for him which in turn causes some rifts between Saito and Louise. Her history is actually a bit more interesting as this season goes on, but it was watching the dynamic between her and Saito that really endeared me to her. She’s the kind of character that is helpful, a bit shy but also forthcoming enough to be close to brazen at times in a way that’s not outlandish or too blunt. If not for the fact that it’s obvious that Louise and Saito would be together, this would be my ideal pairing within this world.

The Familiar of Zero is a really well put together show. JC Staff has done a lot of really great shows over the years and even when they do a relatively simple show like this one, they go all out with some really strong quality animation. The character designs are all very much on model throughout and there is a great fluidity to the animation throughout. There are obvious moments where they go minimal, with just lips moving, but by and large this is a really fun and intriguing looking world that they’ve made here from the source material. The vibrancy of it, the blending of the backgrounds and foregrounds, and the overall presentation is very appealing. With the way the production of the show is put together, there’s really nothing to complain about here as it’s a really solid job.

In Summary:
Knowing nothing about the show prior to watching it, and with the delay in release from when it was initially planned, the Familiar of Zero really turned out to be a whole lot of fun. It reminded me of Kyo Kara Maoh in just how sprawling it could be but also a little of El Hazard in some of the playfulness of it. This season does have something of an overall plot to it that’s touched upon here and there, but overall it’s more of a primer for the larger series as a whole. It introduces us to a fun and engaging world with characters that you like, even when some of them are basic archetypes. It’s not too terribly deep but it has the kind of pacing to it that keeps you completely engaged and looking forward to the next episode. This is one of those series that really does make out well from marathoning and seeing it all quickly. Very recommended for a good fun time.

Features:

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, On Air Previews, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Original Promo

Review Equipment:

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
 



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13+
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (Mixed/Unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Familiar of Zero