Zero no Tsukaima: Suffering Servitude So Is Such Sweet Sorrow, Sayeth Saito

‘Gee, thanks . . .’

I’m working on some further work on the comments on my last GAR entry, but in the meantime I was prompted to write this by commenting on concretebadger’s defence of the tsundere. I mentioned the Loli Trinity,¹ and began to cast my mind back to watching Zero no Tsukaima. (I hear there will be a third series. I may even deign to watch it.) After a little thought, a few amusing parallels began to emerge.

Before properly beginning, I’ll briefly sketch Zero no Tsukaima for any readers who haven’t seen it or read the first novel in fanlation (if you’re one of those people, congratulations on having taste). We’re basically talking about a fantasy (in several senses) romantic comedy: Hiraga Saito (an Average High School Student) is magically summoned into another world, to be the familiar of the magician – and textbook loli tsundere² – Louise. Wacky hijinks and also the occasional war ensue.

The relationship between Louise and Saito is much as you might expect, except that the ‘I hate you but I love you really’ dynamic is taken to its logical conclusion and combined with the comedic violence traditional in anime to produce ‘I beat you but I love you really.’


The tsundere-with-power – as epitomised by Louise – is not so very different to the cruel mistress of medieval and Renaissance love literature (I’d say ‘romance literature’, but the ensuing confusions aren’t worth it). There is a considerable body of lyrics from various poets, going on (and on, and on) about how a woman won’t sleep with them. Then of course we have characters like Guinevere who (in many versions of the Arthurian legend) is continually snubbing Lancelot, sending him away and then calling him back to fight for her. This is probably all bound up with the whole literary tradition of courtly love, although I’m no cultural historian.

[And in fact if you search Wikipedia for ‘cruel mistress’ you get this:

Coincidence? I think not!

This is not entirely a coincidence. The historical Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710, mistress of Louis XIV) is where Yamaguchi borrowed the name for Zero‘s Louise. But I digress . . .]

So we can tentatively place Saito in the tradition of chivalrous knights, put-upon by changeable Ladies. The cruel mistress character can be difficult to judge: on the one hand, it’s a literary picture of female power (courtly love didn’t feature much in RL), but on the other hand it’s power wielded purely through relationships with men, and the fact that the mistress is cruel makes it feel rather misgynistic. And poems about the cruel mistress are usually more about the (male) speaker of the poem than about the mistress’ own feelings. So perhaps in this instance Zero is superior: Louise’s feelings feature heavily (more than just in their role determining how much pain Saito is in at any given moment).

And, since we mention pain, suffering featured quite heavily in courtly love (though – unlike Saito – not physically at the beloved’s hands). Love and suffering were very closely linked, with the lover trapped in (to appropriate a phrase from Michael) ‘a tension that is exquisite and also harrowing’.

‘exquisite and also harrowing’

Hooking this up with the different kind of love embodied by the Passion, medieval poets began to argue that to love is to suffer – and, logically extrapolating, the more suffering, the better the love. Hence the medieval love stories in which the lovers suffer terribly and then die immediately after being allowed to marry: the suffering hallows the love, and the death prevents the love from being tainted by the everyday quarrels and disagreements which mark marriage.

Where Saito differs from medieval courtly lovers is that he’s undiscriminatingly lecherous: he’s only in love with Louise, but his physical desire is about as precisely targeted as a colony drop. Love and lust do not march hand-in-hand as far as Saito’s concerned. By contrast, while there’s debate about exactly where lust fits, if at all, into the system of courtly love, scholars are agreed that a good courtly lover didn’t lust after people other than his mistress.

[And that’s it. The comparison made, I can land on the aircraft carrier of the Publish button and declare ‘Mission Accomplished’.]


1. ‘We believe in one Kugimiya Rie: Rie the Shana, Rie the Nagi and Rie the Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière. Amen.’

2. Textbook to the extent that the second season’s ED is pretty much the Hymn of the Jealous Tsundere.

2 responses to “Zero no Tsukaima: Suffering Servitude So Is Such Sweet Sorrow, Sayeth Saito

  1. Ahh… Bush references… how excellent :) A photo-op that will live in infamy.

  2. Heh, it’s lazy of me really. Regardless of his merits, Bush is such a well-known and comedic figure that an aircraft carrier joke isn’t so much shooting fish in a barrel as harpooning a porpoise in a bathtub (to steal shamelessly from a political columnist).

    But if it ain’t broke, I suppose there’s no need to fix it.


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