By Noboru Yamaguchi and Nana Mochizuki. Released in Japan as “Zero no Tsukaima” by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
I must admit to disappointment. Again. Not with the manga itself. Zero’s Familiar actually turned out to be much better than I’d given it credit for. No, I’m disappointed with anime and manga fans, who once again have labeled a young tsundere love interest as “the worst person ever, and deserving of all the epithets thrown at her!”. I found that she’s just a normal teenager with far too much going on in her life, a spoiled background, an entire class of students calling her a failure, and her familiar is not only a disrespectful commoner, but he also tries to molest her in her sleep at one point after thinking they’d grown close enough. Honestly, I felt the most sympathy with Louise through most of this omnibus. I’m sure I will hear, as I have with Ranma 1/2 and Love Hina and other harems featuring love interests men hate, “BUT IN THE ANIME” and “SHE NEEDS TO BE NICER TO HIM” and the usual chatter. And indeed, she may be worse in the anime and in the light novels, neither of which I know. But for now, my experiment to find a harem tsundere who’s genuinely loathsome and not hyper-exaggerated by fandom continues.
I suppose I should actually get around to reviewing the manga. The basic premise cries out for crossover fanfiction – indeed, I understand there’s more Zero’s Familiar crossovers in fanfiction than there are stories with the hero. The aforementioned Louise (who *is* a spoiled brat who tends to hit Saito in frustration whenever she’s upset or embarrassed, in case people thought I read the wrong manga) is at a magic school somewhere in Fantasy Europe, trying to summon her familiar – a lifelong spell that can only be done once. To everyone’s surprise, she summons Saito, a young Japanese high school student. this is not the usual frog or owl. This is unfortunate, as Louise is well-known for being a failure as a witch, and this only expands her reputation. Now Saito has to get used to living as a familiar in a magical world, and gradually accumulate girls who fall in love with him, as this is a standard harem series. No worries, though, he’ll end up with Louise. This is not a GROUNDBREAKING harem series, after all.
Indeed, the lack of originality is the series’ main failing. Louise and Saito are straight out of the stock cliche factory, though Saito is a bit more of a smartmouth than I’m used to, and also more of a lech – that scene where he said “you smiled at me, so I assumed you loved me and we could cuddle” made my jaw drop. We get the shy young maid, the busty rival, the stoic Ayanami clone. The villains especially disappoint by being lampshaded – I think the story would have had more suspense had the two bad guys not been signposted as “SECRET BAD GUY HERE”. Particularly the mustachio’d guy. Guys with mustaches in harem manga are evil, ESPECIALLY if they’re also fiancees.
But there’s stuff here to like. The series has a good feel for humor, knowing when to be funny and when to be serious, and the comedic violence that so offends young male anime fans is actually fairly mild compared to what I had been expecting. I like the backstory and world building going on, showing it’s not just a magic school divorced from the outside world. I also liked Henrietta, who shows us that it’s not everyone vs. Louise after all, and provides a good female friend for her. And the entire action scene with the Staff of Destruction’ was fantastic, and added intrigue as you wondered how the heck it got there.
I’d still only read this if you happen to like harem series with tsunderes, but if you do enjoy that genre, this should be right up your alley, and I find myself surprisingly wanting more. Also, that cover reminds me that every Japanese fanart we got of “Hermione Granger” back in the day seems to have been Louise instead – and that this story deserves the title “Harem Potter” more than Negima ever did.