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The Familiar of Zero: Knight of the Twin Moons is the second season of a fantasy anime that was originally broadcast in 2006, but took its jolly sweet time to come to the West. The question is was it worth the wait?
Hiraga Saito is a Japanese teenager who is stuck in a fantasy world similar to 17th century Europe. He is the servant/punching bag for Louise de La Vallière, a student at the Tristain Academy of Magic – a girl from a noble family. The continent is suffering from political strife with Louise’s home nation of Tristain being on the verge of war with Albion. As the war becomes ever more likely, the Queen of Tristain asks Saito and Louise for their help as they also juggle their will-they-won’t-they relationship.
Time for a confession: I have not seen the first season of The Familiar of Zero, so went into the second season blind. Despite this, the second season was easy enough to follow for a newcomer – only a few subplots like the Queen’s relationship with a Prince from another nation would have required some prior knowledge, but flashbacks were featured to help newcomers understand. The second season also brings in some new characters with their own storylines which gives the show a sense of renewal and allows new viewers a chance to get invested with the show.
The magic school setting gave The Familiar of Zero a Harry Potter/The Worst Witch feel. Some plots of the episodes are set in the school like a group of students and teachers having to go to the school’s underground archives, a thief trying to steal a magic ring that was being held in the institute for protection, to a more grounded plot of Saito becoming jealous of a new male student who shows an interest in Louise. One scene – in the ninth episode – where a teacher battles a villain holding the students hostage could easily have fitted in the Harry Potter series. Louise is a student who becomes a figure of mockery because she struggles to perform magic – her only real ability is to make things explode – yet she also has the potential to perform very powerful magic that none of her contemporaries are capable of doing.
The 17th century style world gave the series a fun swashbuckling feel, mixing the use of pistols, musketeers, swords and magic wands. Imagine The Three Musketeers meets Harry Potter. It differentiates the series from other fantasy worlds in that it is either contemporary or medieval. It was a wonderfully created world for fantasy fans with its own politics and social structures – only nobles can use magic and some nobles are prejudice against peasants. Nobles have a culture of honor where they are willing to die for their leaders which clashes with Saito’s anti-violence viewpoint. The series also has a sequence where Saito is piloting a Zero fighter and battling two men riding dragons – silly? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely!
The series does have compelling supporting characters – two of the best being Agnès – the head of the Queen’s musketeers – and Mr Colbert, one of the teachers of the Institute who has a pacifist ideology. Agnès has a subplot where she is investigating the massacre on her village and wants revenge against the people responsible for it, taking her down a dark path. Colbert is connected to the event, although audiences are quicker on the uptake than the characters in the series. This all cultivates into a thrilling and emotional episode being one of the highlights in the series.
The series had the good sense to show a more balance picture within the factions. There were bad figures within the nation of Tristian – characters suffer personal moral issues – and within the ‘evil’ nation of Albion only two characters are outright bad, one of them being a mercenary who was manipulating the nation. We see worried faces of Albion nobles as their leader is rallying the troops, showing they have doubts about the impending war. The generals within Albion show concern for civilians and when Saito and Louise enclose an Albion soldier we get a small glimpse into his life. This is when anime TV shows can be great – showing people and societies are made up of moral grays.
What lets the series down is the trope of sex jokes. Sex jokes are common in anime, so it is hardly a surprise for it appear in this series, but it was relentless in the series. These are constant with Saito being attracted to big breasts; Louise gets angry and beats him up because of it (spousal abuse is meant to be funny when it’s a young woman beating a man). There is only so many variations that could be done with the same joke – sometimes it works, other times it falls flat. The sex jokes are made even more uncomfortable because Louise looks like a 12-year-old and is dressed in a school uniform most of the time. Saito also gets incredibly excited when he sees a sailor outfit so he could dress someone up like a Japanese schoolgirl.
The Familiar of Zero: Knight of the Twin Moons does create a great fantasy world and has interesting supporting characters. It is a fun series for fans for Harry Potter and similar fantasy stories, but the large number of sex jokes prevents younger audiences from viewing it.
The British release of the DVD and Blu-ray which I watched comes without an English dub.