Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Zero's Familiar [Omnibus]
Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere is better known around her magic school as “The Zero.” This is because of her near total lack of magical ability despite being a member of an esteemed noble family. When the time comes to summon a familiar, no one expects Louise to be able to pull it off...but she does. Saito Hiraga is an everyday Japanese guy who walks into Louise's summoning circle and is transported to her world as her familiar. Neither of them are pleased with this turn of events at first, but as things go on and true powers come to light, it looks like this just might work out after all. Who knew that a zero and an average joe could be such a good team - when they aren't angry at each other, that is.
Based on the light novel series of the same name by the late Noboru Yamaguchi, Zero's Familiar will be more familiar to fans of the anime, the first season of which had an English-language release under the passive voice version of the title, The Familiar of Zero. Seven Seas may have initially promised the novels many years ago, but few can fault them for their delivery of the manga version, and this omnibus edition contains the first three volumes of the seven volume series, including both black and white and color image galleries. It may not be precisely what series fans were hoping for, but it still expands upon the anime's vision of the story and is a fairly enjoyable read.
The book opens with Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere attempting to summon her familiar. This is a ritual that all second year students at Tristain Academy of Magic must undergo. No one has high hopes for Louise, however, who despite her distinguished lineage is known around school as “Louise the Zero” for her appalling lack of magical skill. Much to everyone's surprise, however, Louise does manage to summon someone – a Japanese high school boy named Saito Hiraga. Saito was moping his way home from school, grumbling about how nothing ever happened, when a magical emblem appeared in front of him. Stepping through it, he finds himself in Halkeginia, a totally different world where magic is used by noblemen. Much to his surprise, he finds that he has been summoned to be Louise's familiar. Neither of them are thrilled by this – Saito doesn't understand what's going on, and Louise is really embarrassed that she seems to have screwed up again. She treats Saito as less than human at first, but Saito finds himself simultaneously attracted to and irritated by his “master.”
As things move along, Louise and Saito get themselves embroiled in various national problems, such as stopping a thief who is targeting magical items and a looming international crisis. None of these things seem to do much for Louise's standing in school – Saito garners much more praise, although some of that goes to Louise as he is essentially her pet. This is set to change as the story progresses, and the last story arc in the book looks as though it will lead up to it, as does a hint in the thief plotline. For the most part, however, we see very little actual action in this omnibus, and when we do, it belongs to Saito. Since technically speaking he is the title character, this does make a certain amount of sense.
At this point, although there is a definite harem sensibility with Kirche, Siesta, and Henrietta all hovering around our hero, it is still very clear who the romantic interest is. This makes it a bit troubling when Louise gets violent with Saito for any perceived infractions, and it is worth mentioning that if he really was an animal like the other familiars it would be equally bad. (Albeit in a slightly different way.) Saito is understandably confused by Louise's signals, particularly the kiss needed to seal the master/familiar pact, and while his actions aren't always as thoughtful as they might be, it still feels like Louise overreacts an awful lot.
Fanservice in this book is surprisingly uneven. There are minimal underwear shots, and strangely they occur at moments when physics dictates that they oughtn't. Nana Mochizuki misses natural opportunities for them with multiple characters, so it seems doubly weird that Louise gets a few totally out of the blue. Other than that, Kirche's bosom takes care of the rest of the service, and its fairly harmless. Mochizuki's art makes the characters look a bit younger and sweeter than they appear in the anime and the novel illustrations, and she uses a large amount of gray space, most of which looks to be done on the computer. The result is very smooth art that looks polished but lacks substance.
On the whole, people who are already fans of the franchise will likely get the most enjoyment out of Zero's Familiar. It has an interesting premise and its pseudo-European world has enough real world caveats to show what is meant to be where. The story struggles between catering to harem fans and not sticking to the genre's conventions, creating a charming love story and overemphasizing Louise's tsundere qualities, and building a believable world and throwing magic jargon at the reader. The result is a book that is fun to read in small doses and kind of annoying at the same time.
Overall : C+
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Interesting story and set up, some aspects of Louise and Saito's relationship are building up to something nice. Smooth art and a lot of content for a reasonable price.
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