Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jun 18th 2014
Zero's Familiar: Chevalier
With the first battles in the war with Albion behind them, no one in Tristain is willing to just wait around for what will happen next. To that end Henrietta is mobilizing students of magic to help in the fight, including her close friend Louise de la Valliere. Louise and Saito, the Japanese boy she summoned (accidentally) to be her familiar, are ready to go, but Louise's parents aren't so sure about all of this...and especially not if it means Louise and Saito might have a romantic relationship!
Zero's Familiar Chevalier is less a sequel series and more a continuation of the previous seven volumes with a new artist. This time the images are handled by Yukari Higa, who has also done manga adaptations for Galaxy Angel and Clannad. Her art is very similar to previous artist Nana Mochizuki, although she takes fewer pains to work in fanservice shots, letting them come more naturally than her predecessor. Eyes are a little more square and Saito's face is a little cuter, but other than that it really isn't obvious that the artist has changed at all. Depending upon how you felt about the art in the first series, that may or may not be perfectly fine with you; Higa's art is certainly attractive enough to work for the story.
Picking up after Henrietta has ascended the throne and decided to mobilize some of the magic students in the war against Albion, Chevalier skips around in time a little. The first chapters take place at Louise's family home, where she and Saito find themselves mired in their disapproval. Then in goes back in time to Louise and Saito working in a tavern in order to gather information for Henrietta about what the average joe thinks of her rule and the war. Why these are in the order they are is unclear but presumably has something to do with the original light novels. It is unfortunate that they are not chronological, however, as it disrupts the more interesting storyline, that of Louise's interactions with (and defiance of) her much vaunted noble family. The final chapter is a side story about Saito using a version of the “Toire no Hanako-san” story to play a trick on Louise, which is cute, but again pales in comparison to the earlier chapters.
Part of what is so interesting about the section of the volume where Louise goes home is that it explains somewhat her tsundere tendencies. It is clear that she only really gets along with one family member, middle sister Cattleya, who is much more laid back than the rest of the group. Eldest sister Eleonore is insufferably snooty and demanding, traits she clearly learned or inherited from her father, the ultimate autocratic aristocrat. Mother is vaguely disapproving at all times, making it clear that Louise is certainly the least of her children, something that only Cattleya does not buy into. It cannot have been easy growing up in that house, and Louise's difficulties with affection could very easily stem from her upbringing. Fortunately she is much less violent with Saito than she has been previously, which makes her a much more sympathetic character all around. She's more verbally than physically abusive in this volume, and while neither is good, it certainly is nice to see Saito take fewer punches and zaps for Siesta's poor behavior. (Not that he doesn't get a few anyway. This is still the same series, after all.)
Siesta is mercifully absent for the tavern chapters, but her presence in the first few is more annoying than anything. She flat-out admits that she knows that Saito likes Louise and not her, and her constant flaunting of her breasts in both his and Louise's faces comes off as more irritating than anything. While you can't necessarily blame the girl for trying, there comes a point when it is time to stop, and that has been reached by the middle of this volume. That's when things take a turn for the romantic and the series earns its rating (although it's still very mild compared to other T+ books), and while Siesta isn't privy to what happens, Saito is and he really needs to tell her to back off.
The tavern chapters, while ostensibly about Louise going undercover to spy for Henrietta, are really about her insecurities as regards her body and interacting with others. There are some fun moments plus a fairly offensive stereotype of a transvestite, but on the whole their greatest sin is that they are in the way of the more interesting previous storyline. They do, however, provide Higa with a chance to draw some cute maid outfits and to play with the Louise/Saito romance a bit.
Zero's Familiar Chevalier's first volume, roughly equivalent to the beginning of the second season of the anime, isn't a great start, but fans of the franchise should still find things to enjoy. The artwork is a little more subtle, the romance has picked up, and the translation reads well, so if you're fond of the story and/or the characters, this is good enough. I wouldn't suggest just jumping in here even if you've seen the first season of the anime, but for those who have been reading along, there really isn't a good reason to stop now.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Less of Louise physically attacking Saito, some nice romance. Louise makes more sense once you meet her family.
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