Zero to Excess in 6.5 Hours (updated)

The Zero no Tsukaima download was finished when I got home yesterday. So what did I do? Watch all 13 episodes back-to-back-to-back. Six+ hours of anime, until well after midnight, when I was tired to start with. Ugh. Why do I do this to myself?

Random thougths about the series:

  • Someone needs to slap both Louise and Saito until their heads spin. They’re both idiots. Denial is not just a river in Albion.
  • To hell with Siesta. She’s not much better endowed than Louise the Zero Chest. Give me the innkeeper’s daughter or Kirche any day. But keep the innkeeper. Please.
  • I really wish the Zero hadn’t been in the OP. It spoiled the impact of seeing it turn up in Ep. 12.
  • “Void spells take a long time to cast.” Well, maybe if she’d actually been, you know, casting, instead of standing upright in the cockpit, it would have gone quicker.
  • And that’s another thing. What is it with these roomy cockpits built for two? Coyote Ragtime did the same thing in ep. 6.
  • I expected Siesta to ask Saito if he was cooking himself in the hot-tub. But hey, jumping in with Saito was a much better idea.
  • The Kingdom (Queendom?) of Tristiem (whatever) needs to find better soldiers, or a queen who’s a better judge of character. Putting the griffin knights under the command of a traitor, picking your incompetent best friend to go on delicate secret missions accompanied by said traitor, and having to lead your own army on a forlorn hope because not even the War Marshal seems to have the balls to do so, are not the hallmarks of a successful ruler.
  • Said War Marshal is an idiot. (What do you expect from Guiche’s father?) How do you lead a counterattack against a flying battleship with horse cavalry? Wait, the queen ordered him to do so. Guess we know who the real idiot is.
  • Albion’s battleship designers are also idiots. Why would you design a flying battleship with such a huge blind spot directly underneath it? Couple of murder holes, some boiling oil (or some of the professor’s “Dragon Blood” and we’re good to go.
  • Once again, we’re treated to a medeival/magical society that demonstrates knowledge of gunpowder precisely once during the entire series.
  • How do you burn down a stone church? And how does knocking over one pillar with magic set the whole place on fire? And why does Kirche assume that Wald must have died in the fire after Louise and Saito watched him walk out?
  • Tabitha is a genius beyond the level of Einstein. That’s the only way I can explain her instantly and instinctively understanding that for Saito’s Zero to generate enough lift to clear the wall, she had to conjure a headwind, not a tailwind. Well, granted, she had a flying familiar, so maybe not.
  • Did anyone else think Saito agreed to kill someone in order to get the elemental’s help just a little bit hastily? When did Japanese teens get so bloodthirsty? Or flat-chested tsunderes become so undesirable that murder is preferable to taking advantage?
  • Kirche + Guiche. They were meant for each other.
  • Am I the only one who thought Montmorancy’s (sp?) love potion was actually a truth potion? For me, watching Louise go all dere-dere was the best part of the series.
  • What a small world. The Baron’s place is only a hour away… on foot.
  • You know, if your daughter has just been handed poison, there’s better ways of dealing with it than drinking it yourself. Is there a stupidity requirement to become of royal blood?
  • “Charlotte’s” royal family is pretty civilized as fratricidal royals go. In this world, we usually aren’t nice enough to give the losing side suicide missions. Unless you consider “having all your lands seized, and survive the executioner” a suicide mission. Though technically, I suppose it is…
  • Louise takes density to a new level. Yeah, Saito’s your familar–sure, he’s a commoner and you think of him as a privileged body-servant at best, but for crying out loud you stupid pink-haired tusndere bitch, taking a teen boy you just met (who can’t even speak your language) to your room and demonstrating that “the rug matches the curtains” has got to constitute “she asked for it” in a court somewhere! (Maybe only in backward nations like Saudi Arabia, but daaaaaaaaamn, you hussy!)
Louise kisses you. Louise strips for you. Louise takes it all off.
Louise gives you her panties. Louise says "Wash my underwear, boy." What do you want to do?

Now, taking a more serious turn....I'm a strong believer in character development being important to the story. Jumping out of animé for a minute, let's take The Rock for an example. The character played by Sean Connery learns that there are still some honorable people left in the world, but the real development is on the part of Nicholas Cage's character, who is forced to evolve from a geek specialist to a hardcore/badass FBI agent, in order to stop terrorists. Sure, he's got nerves of steel when disarming a bomb attached to a chemical weapon, but by the end, he learns how to cope with real fear, and having to physically fight for what he believes in.

The Rock is perhaps not the best example, since it's an action-adventure movie, but I picked it because of Sean Connery. For you young'un's out there, he's the original James Bond. When have we ever seen James freakin' Bond undergo character development? Development isn't the point of Bond movies; it's the gadgets, the one-liners, the intrigue (in the better ones, anyway), and naturally, the babes. The sole exception was the one horrible film with George Lazenby as Bond. In that movie, Bond actually falls in love with the girl and marries her, only to have Blofeld show up and kill her (rather unspectacularly) in a drive-by shooting. And, as growth and change in Bond were two things completely against the grain of the movie franchise, it was a disaster at the box office. Utterly uncharacteristic of Bond, isn't it?

Now you know why I don't watch Bond films any more. I can only watch him cruise through yet another collection of villians, tossing off one-liners, for so many years -- and Brocolli has been making them for almost as long as I've been alive.

Steven DenBeste calls this process of change getting a grip if it involves the lead of a harem animé, usually because the lead starts out as a nebbish or nobody, and finds himself/grows up through his interactions with the harem. Often, one or more of the haremettes are changed also. It is no more formulaic than the acknowledged "Bond formula" of quirky megalomaniac villians, beautiful females, and one-liners. Sometimes, it's less formulaic, because the lead never gets a grip -- one could make a case for Shinji in NGE being such a case. And while that was a hell of a show, could you really describe it as entertaining fun to watch?

Which brings us back to Zero no Tsukaima, finally. In several important regards, Saito starts pretty much together, "with a grip" so to speak. He's completely freaked out to find himself in an alternate world, but he demonstrates quickly that he's not going to be a doormat. The very first night, even before he realizes he's not in Kansas anymore, he tries to escape. Recaptured, he has to confront the fact that he's a long way from home, and that all the nobles around him can do magic--and he can't; making him by definition, a commoner, even aside from his status as Louise's familar. It doesn't matter; he is still nobody's doormat, as he gets revenge on Guiche the next day. Challenged to a duel he has no hope of winning, Saito still refuses to back down--and eventually triumphs, even though no one understands how, let alone himself.

But emotionally, neither he nor Louise ever get their act together. They're both stunted in that they can't admit to themselves (even under Derfflinger's prodding), that they've developed an emotional bond, if not actually fallen in love. Even at their triumphant moment, when Louise initiates a kiss with Saito, she maintains it was to re-seal their vow as master and familar -- and Saito doesn't call bullshit; instead he returns to insulting her like a 13-year-old. And that is no better than she acts. The show actually ends over a sequence of Saito making Louise jealous by flirting with Siesta, and Louise whipping him with a crop--which is typical behavior for both of them.

While I make a lot of fun of the series in the points you see above, in the end, it's the stunted emotional development of the main characters and their total lack of progress in growing up that spoils this show for me. I've remarked before that Japanese animé writers are far more likely to take real chances and have a true ending to their series, but it's not a universal constant. In Japanese TV, as with American TV, all too often, the writers chicken out and leave the characters stuck in a permanent status quo. Sometimes it's a bid to continue the series, but more often, it's just "writing to formula," because changing the characters risks alienating some portion of the fan base who didn't want to see the changes, or wanted to see different changes. This is especially true in harem anime: if a fan wants to see Siesta be the winner, making Saito and Louise get together will disappoint him or her. By being unwilling to take the chance, the writers lessen their story. Such harem plots become nothing more than simple adventure/escapism, with little or nothing to recommend them.

Sadly, that's where Zero ends up; it's a fun romance while you're enjoying the hugs and kisses, but at the end you're left with an empty wallet, a hangover, and the realization that the dame was just stringing you along the entire time. Pity. The one positive thing I can say is: even with that little, it delivered more than Crescent Love has so much as promised.

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