The Familiar of Zero proves that being fun doesn’t have to equate to being good. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to sit through 4 seasons of a show I am not actually having fun with. Yet, while I greatly enjoyed the show’s comedy, characters, and (sexy) presentation, its actual storyline and lore are hilariously bad.
Every crisis the cast faces is resolved in no time at all, the story as a whole is filled with contrivances and plot holes, but the red flag right at the show’s front door is the world of Halkeginia itself. One glance at that world map and you know exactly what’s in store for you.
Imagine calling yourself a fantasy author when the world of your magnum opus fantasy epic is just a mangled map of Europe. I have never read anything else by Noburi Yamaguchi, but The Familiar of Zero gives me the impression that he is an absolute hack; I have never seen a fantasy world this lazily smacked together. The lovable characters and politics-driven storylines of this anime are just begging for an interesting world to exist in, but they have to cope with off-brand western Europe that just transitions into a blank void that is never, ever mentioned by anyone.
Tristain is a small monarchy on the north-western coast of Halkeginia. It is surrounded by the two, larger nations of Germania and Gallia, with the country of Albion being an island close to the main continent. Far to the south, there is also Romalia, the center of Halkeginia’s religion that also houses its pope. The similarities to real-world countries are so obvious that I won’t insult your intelligence by describing them.
I have watched and read a lot of fantasy and have seen this kind of world-building before. Authors take historical countries from our own reality and place them in a fantasy alternative, which can be useful when you want to keep your world simple. Even Valkyria Chronicles, one of my favorite video game series, uses a bastardized take on Europe as the theater for a devastating world war. Though it should be noted that Valkyria Chronicles at least makes the effort to distinguish its world map.
However, it also robs your world of its mystery. When I get into a new fantasy series and see a map like Halkeginia’s, I instantly lose my excitement for it. I am too familiar with the real-world parallels, so much of the wonder is spoiled outright. You take a map of Middle-Earth, or even something as simple as The Legend of Zelda, and you see a world of endless possibilities. You don’t know what you’ll find over the next mountain range or what kind of people inhabit the castle town over yonder. You look at Halkeginia and you see England, France, and Germany. Those aren’t fantasy to me, I live literally right nextdoor.