Tags: anime club: zero no tsukaima

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Urusai Urusai Urusai!

It's been a while but I'm finally going to get back to the anime review. When I last left off I had just finished rambling about Zero no Tsukaima which features Kugimiya Rei as the female lead. While I liked ZnT, it did get a little repetitive and boring after a while. I was really hoping for more plot advancement. I'm starting to think that the basic structure of japanese anime is a fundamental flaw. Take ZnT. There were around 39 episodes total, which by any estimation should be enough to tell a pretty substantial story. The problem is that the 39 episodes were produced as 3 separate seasons with 13 a pop. Imagine you're a producer who has to tell a story with only 13 episodes and won't know until you finish the first 13 whether you'll get a chance to even have a second season. This means that not only to do you have to rush the plot development but you have to make sure there are no major loose ends by the end of the first 13 and everything wraps up into a nice pretty bow. That pretty much guarantees that you're going to have plot and storyline problems. I've seen some really wonderful 13-episode anime lately whose only flaw is that the pacing was erratic. They were often so incredibly rushed that you felt like the victim of whiplash at times and it was almost inevitable that giant plot holes appeared as there wasn't enough time to establish all the necessary backstory. It's almost painful sometimes to see this and realize the lost potential and how good it could have been if the creators had just known ahead of time that they would have 24 full episodes to tell their story.

Anyway, Shakugan no Shana was the other Kugimiya Rei anime I watched recently and I also enjoyed it, probably more than ZnT. While SnS had the same staring seiyu as ZnT, the story was a less campy and more serious which I felt brought about a better performance overall. The basic plot runs like this. There's another world filled with, well, 'demons' for the lack of a better word. The demons can cross over to our world and basically end up eating the life force of normal everyday people in order to accumulate power for themselves. This power of existence can be used to cast normally impossible spells or fuel normal abilities/provide healing. Some of the demon lords actually have a conscience however and try to stop those of their own kind who go marauding. In order to accomplish this they grant some of their power to human beings, making them Flame Hazes, a sort of hybrid whose job it is to run around the human world and destroy the interlopers. In addition to fighting off these invaders, the Flame Hazes are also responsible for lessening the negative impact of having people consumed. They create a 'torch' when someone is eaten, which is sort of a remnant of a person powered by a little life energy. Over time the energy is expended and the torch goes poof. This makes sure that you don't have huge groups of people all going pop at once, which could threaten the fabric of existence. Instead the damage is spread out and while all of those people are in effect dead, their torch lives on for a time and then vanishes on its own.

As the story opens our protagonist Yuji, a normal highschool student, has an unfortunate encounter with a couple of demon monsters who begin eating people. He's saved by Shana, a flame haze, but discovers that he's already dead. At some point in the past he was already 'eaten' and became a torch. Seeing as the supernatural world views torches mostly as leftover flotsam, Yuji doesn't exactly get a warm reception. He pretty much assumes that he'll go poof any day, like any other torch, but it turns out that he's lucky. Some torches have treasure hidden inside them. I know, I found this idea sort of whacky too. I guess it's like RPGs where when you kill a monster an unexpected item pops out. Anyway, he just happens to have the Reiji Maigo (Midnight Lost Child) inside him, which happens to be one of the greatest artifacts ever created and which refreshes his power of existence each day at midnight. That means that unless he somehow uses up all of his power of existence before midnight, he should continue to survive indefinitely unlike other torches. As the story develops, he wins Shana over with his determination to make something of himself despite his limitations. He goes through training to develop his abilities and joins with Shana and diverse others to fight off the legions who would love to slice him open and scoop out the Reiji Maigo inside.

In the end, SnS is a mixture of action drama and school life comedy. Yuji continues to attend school and Shana soon joins him there, taking over the identity of another student who had been a torch which extinguished. Add in Kazumi, a female classmate who is in love with Yuji and you have a classic love triangle to boot. The episodes alternate between stretches where the biggest plot twist is whether Shana can actually learn to cook without poisoning someone and finally make a bento for Yuji to an invasion by hostile forces of demons trying to accomplish a centuries old Xanatos gambit to rule the world. It's not a bad mix though there are plenty of times when you're hoping for one type of episode and run into a streak of the other. I thought for sure the second season was going to feature a lot more action and plot advancement and instead ran headlong into episode after episode of Slice of Life. That said, it was still an enjoyable watch overall and I'm thinking about reading the manga, which explores the plot in greater depth. While only touched upon partially, it turns out that the Reiji Maigo has multiple existences trapped inside it, one of which is some uber-powerful psycho nutjob which I believe eventually emerges and takes over Yuji to some degree. There are also a multitude of factions and a pretty intricate backstory for which you only get drips and drabs of in the anime. Until I work my way through the manga I won't know if the anime skimmed off the cream and left the dross behind or if there are still diamonds in the rough left undiscovered.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention it but the Title line is Shana's catch phrase in the anime. It basically translates to Shut up Shut up Shut up! She is considered one of the great tsundere characters of all time after all. It wouldn't make sense for her catch phrase to be all peaches and cream right off the bat. You have to work you way up to that level.
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I always seem to get more Tsun than Dere

So, after my pledge of a few days ago to no longer 'save' anime as if it were a commodity to be hoarded, I chose a lineup featuring Rie Kugimiya as seiyu. For those not in the know (and I'm pretty sure that means everyone who could possibly be reading this), Rie Kugimiya is a voice actress who has been dubbed the Queen of Tsundere for her work in bringing a certain type of character to life.

Tsundere is a Japanese word combining two emotional states: tsun-tsun (irritable and pissy) and dere-dere (sweet and love struck). I guess you can think of a tsundere character as having the romantic and relationship characteristics of a person with bipolar disorder. While none of us would probably enjoy being around such a person in real life, there's something incredibly appealing about this character type in anime. It probably doesn't help that one of the very first anime I watched and adored years ago was Love Hina, featuring one of the greatest tsundere characters of all time in the form of Narusegewa Naru. This trend has continued since my favorite of the newer series I've seen since rediscovering anime around a year ago was Toradora, which also features a tsundere character voiced by Rie Kugimiya as the main character. It probably doesn't say much about my sense of taste that I find tsundere characters so appealing but they're absolutely adorable when done right. Then again, maybe I just figure all women are crazy and abusive anyway so you might as well find one that's sweet and sane at least part of the time.

So the two Rie Kugimiya anime I decided to watch were Zero no Tsukaima (Zero's Familiar) and Shakugan no Shana (Burning-eyed Shanna). Interestingly, in addition to having a common voice actress for both female leads the male lead in both is also performed by the same guy. This is far more unusual in anime then in Western animation from what I've seen. For most anime, every single voice part is performed by a different seiyu no matter how small it is while in Western animation you're more likely to see one single actor portray half a dozen different roles or more. For comparison purposes just think of say, Hank Azaria from The Simpsons or Billy West from Futurama. I guess in that way, the Japanese treat their voice talent more like actors then a particular subset of entertainer. Anyway, the fact that the leads all had the same seiyus across the two series made it easier to compare between them.

Zero no Tsukaima takes place in a Harry Potter-like world where magic exists and the characters are all living at a magical academy. The land is actually based off medieval Europe to some degree, much as you would expect to develop if the nobility had access to magical powers while the peasants didn't. As a rite of passage for each mage, they're required to summon a familiar which will aid them and be a companion for life. The main character, Louise, has shown absolutely no applitude for magic despite being a blue blood and because of her lack of skill has been given the nickname Zero. As the rest of the class begins summoning familiars ranging from moles to salamanders to dragons, she casts her spell and ends up with Saito, an ordinary Japanese High School student from modern day Earth. Cue hijinx.

Now, the story might not be very interesting if that were the end of it. After all, all we have is a magical incompetent and her fish-out-of-water familiar summoned from Earth. Instead, as the story develops, it's discovered that Louise only seems incompetent at magic because she doesn't have a normal affinity to one of the common elements of fire, water, air, or earth. She's attuned instead to the Void, which is considered a lost element for its rarity and generally seems to accomplish the impossibly such as dispelling other magic and blowing the crap out of everything in sight. Saito also isn't the average familiar, having been imbued with a power that grants him automatic proficiency with any weapon the minute he touches it. Add that to the fact that artifacts from the 'real' world often times ends up in the magical world and are thought to be magical items resulting in fun circumstances where he gets to shoot off rocket launchers (The Staff of Destruction) and fly around shooting things in a World War II era Zero (The Dragon's Mantle).

In the end though, the crux of Zero no Tsukaima is the relationship between Louise and Saito. She's an arrogant, stuck up noble who views familiars on the same level as we would dogs or cats and he's a slightly lecherous high school kid who can't seem to help himself from oogling other women. Cue sexual tension. As is normal in a lot of these shows, the writers can't really bring themselves to actually resolve the relationship problems because those are the crux of the show as far as the comedy goes. So what you get is the relationship tango where you take two steps forward and one step back. It's actually sort of sad that there is so little resolution because the plot would have been much more interesting if it had been allowed to develop instead of stagnating on endless episodes where Saito gets into some compromising position with another woman (deserved or not) and Louise explodes, beating the tar out him. I'm told that in the novels that the anime is based on the plot progression explores a lot more about the world, its politics, and the epic struggle between the few but immensely powerful Void users. The anime touches on some of this but is more likely than not to devolve into romantic slapstick.

That's not to say that it's not entertaining to a degree. I found it to be fun for quite a few episodes but the anime ran for 3 season of 12-13 episodes each, and it got a little old by the end. If we were to peg the age of the viewing audience this show was aimed at it would certainly be lower than that of Shakugan no Shana. There was a far greater episodic quality to the episodes and the characters were all pretty immature in one way or another. Speaking of Shakugan no Shana, I think I'll get to it and its comparison to Zero no Tsukaima later on. I've been pecking at this entry on and off for hours now and I think I should just put it to bed already.