Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, more easily referred to as Zero no Syo, takes place in a world where magic exists but is largely condemned as the bearer of misfortune. Humans blame witches for everything from plagues to natural disasters, and hold an almost equal disdain for beastfallen, humans born with an animal appearance like a wolf and tiger. Our story begins with one such beastfallen who stumbles across a witch unlike most other witches he has encountered.
When I first picked up Zero no Syo, I expected it to be much like any other generic fantasy show, familiar and forgettable. The average character designs and overall art style give no hint to the show’s immersive story. “Zero” and “Mercenary” are a surprisingly good combination of skepticism and wit, and I wish we had a longer amount of time than the slotted twelve episodes to explore their relationship.
A thread of miscommunication runs through the series–a lack of understanding between humans and witches, witches and beastfallen, beastfallen and humans. As is natural, they all prioritize their own interests before those of others, and create their own conceptions of the truth. These expectations appear fulfilled when events occur justifying their own ideas.
“…People who hold expectations…will often shape interactions such that their expectations of other people…come to be confirmed….This confirmation can come in two forms: perceptual confirmation, in which the perceiver interprets the target’s actions as consistent with the expectation; and behavioral confirmation, in which the target’s behavior becomes objectively consistent with the expectation” (Weaver et al. 179).
Many of the people in Zero no Syo hold views of both witches and beastfallen that are seemingly justified by the actions of various representatives of either group. As self-fulfilling prophecies often are, these beliefs are largely negative. The cycle of violence in our fictional world is briefly explained in the opening, but the first example of perceptual confirmation is shown in the opening scene with the burning of witches. As the church condemns them to death, the crowd jeers and blames the witches for storms, flooding, and even kidnapping. The charges seems ridiculous given the wide gulf between natural disasters and acts any human could take, but the convenience of a single target can be satisfying. The tendency of witches to hide comes across as evidence of guilt, rather than self-preservation. When the accused die and the phenomena stop, accusers believe their answer to be correct.
Almost immediately after that scene, we have another example of perceptual confirmation, this time concerning the protagonist, a beastfallen. Large bounties are placed on half-men, half-beasts, believed by many to be tools created by witches. Paradoxically, they are also considered the best witch hunters. Our main character walks through the streets covered in a robe. This makes sense to the viewer, given the stigma surrounding his kind. He can’t even purchase rock salt without encountering opposition. While it is not explicitly stated by the bounty hunters who attack him, the beastfallen’s clothing could also be interpreted as proof of culpability–why hide when you haven’t committed any wrong?
The Fall of Witches
The plight of the witches is a sympathetic one; hardly any proof is required to accuse someone of sorcery. Those suspected of being a witch or colluding with one are subjected to sanctioned violence. Entire covens are wiped out, and the friendly village witch somehow becomes a perpetrator of illness and famine. One of the pivotal events in their history was the death of Sorena, a peaceful sorceress who chose to live with humans. Actions she took to protect the village were misinterpreted as the cause of their multiple misfortunes, and she was burned at the stake. This murder in turn fueled the rebellion of witches against humans.
Some witches go on the offense, killing humans indiscriminately. These rogue witches do not speak for the whole of their kind, as there are those who seek compromise instead of war. Their differing views layer interior conflict on top of the exterior one with humans. The havoc brought about by sorcery and magic (yes, the two are slightly different in this world) only serve to strengthen humans’ opinions about witches.
“…witches always strives to achieve the best possible outcome for themselves. That man did not kill your friends. Would you do as Sorena’s killers did in her final moments, and sully her name by killing innocents in the name of revenge?” (“The Sorcerers of Zero”).
Albus, the young witch who initially chases after our beastfallen with a mind to sacrifice his head for stronger magic, joins Mercenary and Zero as a representative of the rebellion. I initially thought him annoying in his close mindedness. Now that we’re five weeks in, my opinion of him has improved somewhat, but that mostly has to do with the positive influence of Zero and Mercenary. His gradual understanding of the faults in the fight against humans provides some hope that others like him will also learn to think before acting.
The Beastleaven Curse
An interesting inclusion to this war between humans and witches is the existence of the beastfallen. Born to human parents, there’s a rumor explained by Mercenary in episode three, “Duel,” that beastfallen who give in too much to their primal urges will lose all human thought and become the very animals they represent.
They are targeted by both of the opposing groups. Witches seek them out as superior ingredients for sacrifice. Albus cites the need for Mercenary’s head to grow stronger in his magic. Humans also place large bounties on beastfallen heads, but do so in the belief that witches created them–which doesn’t quite make sense. If a curse is used to create the beastfallen, how does the amount lost measure against the magic gained from killing one? If witches made them to fight against humans, why then would they hunt the tools of their own protection?
If that isn’t confusing enough, there are humans who pay beastfallen to hunt witches. I suppose it’s all a matter of who appears more threatening at any given moment. If a human has no prior encounter with beastfallen but plenty of grief with witches, why not rely on animalistic men to go after them?
“I’m teaching them not to get close to beastfallen. Lots of them were treated like monsters as kids, and have become those monsters now that they’ve grown up” (“The Road to Latette”).
Unlike witches, who appear to form groups, beastfallen are largely solitary. The discrimination that surrounds them from all angles can harden even the softest of hearts. While Mercenary somehow retained his kindness, we saw others who seemingly had no qualms victimizing innocents for their own gain. Mercenary points out that many like him face negativity so frequently that it becomes a part of their being. Perceived violence turns into actuality.
We’re almost halfway through the season and have barely tapped into the truth behind Zero’s character and purpose. The fact that her grimoire has been used as a fundamental teaching tool for aspiring witches attests to her vast knowledge and capability. Unlike her followers, like Albus, or other factions, she treats everyone accordingly to how she would like to be treated, rather than expecting certain behaviors from them.
What will she do once she tracks down the book? It’s unlikely that she will return to the caves where she grew up and trained since we saw her collapse the entrance in the first episode. She is also sorely lacking in basic skills to function in a human society–she doesn’t know how to handle money and is unaware of much of the conflict in the world outside her home. Perhaps she’ll follow through on her comment to forever remain by Mercenary’s side, but she first has a bigger role to play in the witches’ unbalance of order. In a world rife with discord and misunderstanding, she presents a much needed compass of morality and practicality.
“The Road to Latette.” Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho. Amazon Anime Strike. 1 May 2017.
“The Sorcerers of Zero.” Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho. Amazon Anime Strike. 8 May 2017.
Weaver, Jason, Jennifer Filson Moses, and Mark Snyder. “Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Ability Settings.” The Journal of Social Psychology 156.2 (2016), 179-189.