Familiar of Zero isn’t just a 2006 anime — it is the most 2006 anime I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of uninspired extruded-fantasy-harem-crap we always complain about, in its purest and most unadulterated form. Its protagonist is without any particular traits, other than an over-the-top lecherousness that while it sticks out now was more or less par for the course a decade ago for harem shows. The romantic lead is the kind of poor-little-rich-girl tsundere we wouldn’t see properly fleshed out and given characterization until Toradora. There’s a large supporting cast of generic archetypes. The most interesting and original character may be Colbert, a plot device of a balding, kindly but boring professor who is also prone to chasing after myths — kind of like if your high school social studies teacher spent his free time trying to find Atlantis — but he is mostly notable for how little he resembles Stephen Colbert. It’s a spectacularly forgettable show, notable mostly for how stupid every single character appears to be. But what it does have is an interesting and well fleshed-out magic system.
That is, until the plot starts.
You see, the way magic works in this world is that each spell works with one of the four classical greek elements. Even simple spells that are theoretically identical are completely different between elements: the spell to illuminate the tip of a wand would have nothing in common in the mechanics of casting between a method using air and a method using earth, even though the result would be identical. A ward or seal created by fire magic can only be undone by fire magic. This creates a pretty stable set of parameters. Imagine this from the perspective of game design for some MMORPG: even if every player character is a mage, you would expect a party to by necessity contain a member specializing in each type of magic. To the extent that attack spells are used, they are undone by attack spells from an opposing element, usually — fire can be defeated by water or redirected by wind, etc.
And then, we’re introduced to the fifth element, void, which is incredibly powerful and can beat anything. Because that’s the only way our protagonists can be put into interesting situations: by deus ex machina.
Ignoring void magic, we have the possibility of multi-classing. The idea is that extremely talented people can reach the limit of advancement in one form of magic and then start from the bottom in another form. If…