What’s valuable in today’s TV anime is invariably the means to an end. The end is to sell eyeballs–get a large audience–so you can move those home video releases, sell model licenses, CDs, DVDs, radio shows, and adds value to the franchise when you get it licensed out to foreign distros and other derivative producers. But that’s just the cynical view; we watch anime because we get something out of it. It has some value to us.
I watched all of Zero no Tsukaima just a while ago. It is an utmost well-executed package of … something. I call it appeal. It has appeal. It’s not like the music is wonderful. It’s not the designs are wonderful. It isn’t really either that the artistic direction is wonderful. The characters are admittedly flat, expected, and just as exciting as its predictable, third-rate plot. Its humor is just as third-rated. People may call it “fun” or “guilty pleasure” or whatever. Fair enough, I have a hard time finding the right word to describe the whole thing, as I often do.
In retrospect I don’t regret watching something so lame. Not only because it was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it gave me a chance to look at something with the focus of what exactly made the show tick. And it really ticked–lots of people watched this little thing. And as much as I may be trashing the show, I think Zero no Tsukaima did something really well. What is it? What is its appeal?
[Pettanko jokes? Tsundere? A really tsun-tsunderekko? The Harry Potter suspension of belief? Boobs and nudity? A very good girl? Camaraderie? A combination of several things? The arrangement of several non-offensive elements? Its mood? Good-alignment characters? The romance? Humor? Compromising situations? Uprising of the lowly common folk against an arrogant aristocracy? Gothloli outfits? Repeat villains? Predictability? Magical talking weapons? I know why I liked Nanoha, I don’t know about you…]
Maybe somewhere on that list I skirt what it really is what makes Zero no Tsukaima, objectively, a fun watch. Maybe there’s more to it. But looking back to the show I feel while I liked some parts and pieces of the overall construction, the whole of it was a totally unimaginative familiarity. It is repackage in a very inoffensive presentation which made it easy to pop down episodes after another, with very little in terms of fillers past the first handful of episodes. We love Kirche’s charm without being overbearing. We love Siesta’s boobs and primness. We love Henrietta for the tragic figure that she is and that regal physical appeal. And knowingly or not Louise is the magical active ingredient to the entire sloshy mix of appealing positive goodness wet dreams are made of, so we actually have a story.
Perhaps that is all there is to Zero no Tsukaima?
But is that all there is to, say, Negima!? Maybe. I hated the original Akamatsu incarnation, and rightly so. I applaud what he created, and I think it is a very divisive piece. But perhaps equally controversial is Akiyuki Shinbo‘s animated remake.
And I think this is much worthwhile of a subject matter to dwell on than Fat Taiyaki Girl or something to do with mornings. An alternative anime. I love alternative anime. And I mean it both ways–a derivative work as well as something that evokes the un-mainstream.
But is the Negima remake all that unconventional? Actually, aside from the fact that I see more of the darker parts of Tsukuyomi and SoulTaker than Pani Poni Dash (an observation that probably betrays my interest to the franchise, expectedly), I think it evokes more, in me, the familiarity of Akiyuki Shinbo’s signature works. It’s like stumbling on something you thought you lost ages ago. It’s comforting, perhaps, even satisfying a deeper longing caused by his earlier works that I didn’t know I had. In fact I think the only radical thing about the Negima remake is that it is an off-beat remake at all.
All this merely illustrates the point about appeal and familiarity. Akiyuki Shinbo speaks a language that I understand, in his direction. And Zero no Tsukaima speaks yet another that more of us understand. It’s a bit like finding a familiar face who speaks your tongue in a foreign land, and no matter if this familiar face is a toddling 2yo or a professional comedian, it’s good stuff.