Re:Zero means a lot to me. And to a lot of
other people. Anyone who was watching anime back in 2016 can tell you that it had the
community in a death grip, and… it never really let go. 4 years after its only season,
its waifus are still top tier, weebs still quote it, and they’re still selling figures
by the truckload. As is the case with anything that popular,
Re:Zero has its share of detractors, too. It’s faced a barrage of criticism to match
the praise supporting it, and through that discourse, the anime community at large seems
to have reached a middle-ground conclusion about the show:
Gigguk summed up the apparent consensus fairly concisely in the title of his video “Re:Zero
is no Masterpiece (but it’s still Damn entertaining)” – where he argues that the show has a neat
high concept, and its shocking moments and impressive production values make for a thrilling
ride, but a lack of weight behind its characters and themes makes it ring a little hollow when
all’s said and done. In case the title of THIS video didn’t give
it away, I disagree with that sentiment… quite strongly. Especially the idea that the
show doesn’t have a greater point. For as much love as the anime community has heaped
on Re:Zero I still think it’s being sold short. Waaaay short. And I can see why – it
is a VERY popular, overtly “edgy” entry in a trendy and oversaturated subgenre that’s
not exactly known for its substance. Its lead, Subaru, bears a striking resemblance to…
Take your pick of Isekai heroes, really. His design intentionally evokes the “Everyman”
protag-kun. And that creates certain audience expectations, some which are then subverted
when he and everyone around him starts dying horribly and time starts looping, but the
show still leaves a general first impression that it’s probably not that deep. And if
you believe that, you might never think to dig into the massive subtextual strata in
which most of Re:Zero’s narrative substance is found.
A lot of that, to be fair, isn’t readily apparent on first viewing. If you haven’t
re:watched re:Zero, you haven’t really watched Re:zero. But rewatching a whole 25 episode
anime is a bit of a tall order, even with the currently airing director’s cut giving
you the perfect excuse to do so *cough*. So to aid those of you who don’t have the time
– and maybe convince those who don’t have the interest – I’m gonna lay out my own
observations and interpretations of the series, gleaned across multiple viewings, and make
the case that it is, actually, kind of a masterpiece. Fuck you fight me.
This deep dive is brought to you by Bookwalker – Kadokawa’s official Ebook store, where
you can buy hundreds of English language light novels and manga to read on your phone, tablet,
or PC. Including Re:Zero, which I’ve been using Bookwalker to read myself. Stick around
to the end to hear more about their winter 2020 kickoff event, where you can get great
rewards for reading the source material of the coldest season’s hottest shows.
If you go into Re:Zero expecting another mechanical, plot-driven escapist adventure story about
a meek young man becoming an unlikely hero and saving the world, with some gore and time
travel shit mixed in for giggles… I mean, your expectations will be met, it is, in part,
those things. But it’s also a lot more, which means it’s a bit too bulky to comfortably
fit that mold. More generic isekai like Wise Man’s Grandchild succeed by being easy-breezy
affairs – shows you can fully enjoy without having to think too much about them.
They’re like anime potato chips – not nourishing, but satisfying. A nice light snack between
meals. And that’s where I think some weebs run into trouble with Re:Zero. Because this
series is not a snack, no matter how many snacks it contains. It’s a full three course
meal plus salad and desert. It is dense. And heavy. It’s the thing that puts you in the
emotional food coma that you need the snack to recover from. And if you turn your brain
off while you’re watching it, it’s gonna leave you a little bored.
Re:Zero does have a very elaborate and detailed plot. It needs to. Writing good time travel
stories demands a complex understanding of cause and effect. If the plot is weak, the
whole concept collapses around it. But as good as it is, that plot is not the focus
of the series. Rather, Re:Zero lives and dies in its characters; who are more than just
appealing waifus and hasubandos – they’re complicated, multilayered human beings with
distinctive, sometimes conflicting personalities, values, and desires.
The show can get away with retracing its steps over and over – holding off on sometimes
even basic plot developments for multiple episodes at a time – because its characters
are interesting enough to carry it. The real brilliance of return by death as a concept
– in my opinion – is the way it allows us to see multiple sides of its entire cast.
By resetting Subaru’s relationship with Felt, for instance, we get to see how she
reacts to him as someone Rom vouches for, and as a total stranger. How she treats someone
she sees as a mark, versus a legitimate client. With Emilia, we see how she responds to him
first as some know-nothing kid whom she can’t help helping, as a random asshole shouting
the elf equivalent of the N-word at her in the street, and finally as the selfless hero
who swooped in from nowhere and nearly died to save her, asking nothing in return but
her name. Of course, that impression doesn’t last.
Because that’s not who Subaru is. It’s definitely who he wants to be – who he needs
to grow into – but Subaru isn’t just another jesus-kun, and he’s barely even a hero.
He’s a hikkikomori otaku who never really thought of anyone but himself back on earth;
who read his share of Isekai, and expects certain things when an isekai happens to him.
Cute girl. Magic powers. Easy life. All wrapped up in a neat little bow and dropped in his
lap by Haruhi herself. Unfortunately for him, Lugunica isn’t a
fantasy video game playground; it’s a real world with real problems like crime, and racial
segregation, and a market economy. Just like the real world he just left. And unless he
shapes up, pulls his head out of his ass, learns to read a room, and most importantly,
figures out how to understand what people other than him actually want and need, that
real world is going to keep chewing him up and spitting him out at subtly ironic checkpoints
forever. Again, just like the… slightly more forgiving
one he just left. Here, the isekai fantasy is not an escape
from the responsibilities of growing up. It’s a wakeup call.
The series hammers this in with the very thing that clues him into the time loop – the
fact that he keeps running into the same three goons in the same alley. Something that Subaru
chalks up to fate, but which is actually very obviously the product of his own dumb ass
not paying enough attention to avoid them. Subaru grows a lot after being subjected to
all the horrible, painful consequences of his inadequacies, and that slow growth, the
procedural peeling back of his own worst traits, is the most interesting narrative arc in the
series – at least out of what’s covered in the show. It’s what keeps the story driving
forward – not the desire to figure out what will happen next, but to see how Subaru will
overcome himself and rise to the occasion. He’s not all bad – as puck says many times,
Subaru can be inconsiderate, but he’s NEVER malicious. He’s a creature of impulse, for
good and bad. A manchild – as selfish and ignorant as any real kid, but also as playful,
and willing to do a good thing just cause he feels like it. He’s got SERIOUS shortcomings,
but they only make his eventual triumphs feel that much more… triumphant.
The series isn’t just interested in critiquing the otaku hero archetype, it strives to improve
on it, and the way it does so feels incredibly cathartic… When it gets there. But that
takes a while, and if you’re not paying close attention to the characters and the
underlying ideas the show is toying with – if you’re just watching to see isekai shenanigans
get edgy – those cathartic moments may come a bit few and far between for your liking.
Which is not a knock against you if you wanna watch a show like that – sometimes you just
don’t have the energy to invest. I get it. But I will say that the return re:zero gives
on on your attention is well worth the investment. There are so many subtleties to how these
characters are portrayed, from the way Rem constantly watches Subaru through each loop
of the mansion arc, because she’s suspicious of him, to the whalesong buried in the sound
effect of Reinhardt’s finishing move – a hint at his family history.
A lot of subtle worldbuilding happens between the lines as well; it’s pretty obvious from
the way Emilia reacts to Subaru’s nonchalant acceptance of her Half-Elf nature that she’s
dealt with some serious systemic and social prejudice in her life, for instance. But if
you pay attention, in the scene where she’s trying to help the lost little girl… you’ll
notice her ear is what spooks the girl and makes her double down on crying. No wonder
she keeps her hair swept in front like that. And yet, despite how horrible it must feel
to be judged like a monster by an innocent child based on nothing but her heritage, Emilia
responds only with kindness. She is the very definition of pure-hearted, and it’s moments
like this that make her the best girl in this series DON’T AT ME REM STANS.
Actually, do. I’d relish the opportunity to make my case for why I Love Emilia, but
this video’s gonna be pretty hefty as it is, so I’ll be saving that for a What’s
in a Waifu. Anyway – There are signs of inequality and social tension
all over the city, and in every one of Subaru’s interactions with Emilia, but he only notices
the sharp divide between haves and have nots in Lugunica when the plot forces him to go
down into the slums and stare it in the face. And the hints are subtle enough that any reader
who’s only concerned with what will happen to Subaru will share in that experience.
That’s not just the anime trying to work in some sly social commentary, though that’s
part of it – it’s crucial to Subaru’s character development. Each arc of this story
culminates in our – big air quotes at first – hero learning a very basic lesson about
how to be a functioning member of society, and using that knowledge to not suck JUST
ENOUGH to avoid getting everyone around him killed.
In the loot house arc, for instance, Subaru manages to save everyone’s lives by paying…
just the tiniest amount of attention to the world and people around him [Jumping to block
Elsa’s last attack on Emilia]. And He’s only able to survive the mansion arc by learning
to think about the needs and wants of people he cares about, instead of acting like an
incredibly suspicious, self-centered imbecile. He then carries that lesson forward into the
fight against the Ma-Beasts, and overcomes the threat without dying for once by putting
Rem, Ram, and Emilia ahead of himself. Unfortunately the success kinda goes to his head, and he
buries himself in a deep, deep hole shortly afterward by failing to listen to anything
that Emilia tells him to do, ever. Because in his mind, the fact that she’s a powerful
mage, an experienced hero, and also one of the 5 most important people in the country
is overshadowed by the fact that she’s a pretty girl who he’s claimed as his waifu.
That toxic, possessive attitude – coupled with his insecurity and anger issues – causes
him to view Julius as an arrogant fuccboi who’s moving in on his turf, when he’s
actually just a really nice guy who takes his job seriously and is showing Emilia the
bare minimum of knightly respect befitting someone of her station.
Episodes 12 and 13 of this show are a painful, frustrating watch for me. In a good way. It’s
hard to watch Subaru thinking with his dick and making all of these stupid, obvious mistakes…
that are eerily reminiscent of mistakes I made when I was younger, and more sheltered,
and thought interests and quirky behaviours were a personality, and found it easier to
be critical of media than myself, and most importantly, didn’t have sufficient respect
for other people around me, especially the women.
I see an uncomfortable amount of myself in Subaru. Made more uncomfortable still by the
fact that I know I didn’t see it when the show came out back in 2016. You know, when
I was still living with my parents. I was unironically in Subaru’s corner up until
he made a fool of Emilia and hindsight kicked in, and I think that speaks to how good the
show’s character writing really is. While it’s being critical of selfish male otaku,
it represents that mindset authentically enough to be relatable to one of those.
Or at least a then-barely-recovering one. That’s not just valuable because it may
encourage self-reflection in people who need it. It’s an example of the show doing its
genre right. Re:Zero – like a lot of other top isekai, actually – isn’t just fantasy,
it’s dark fantasy. Horror in a fantasy setting. And truly great horror seeks to do more than
shock with oceans of gore and big scary monsters –
Although, just as an aside? Re:Zero has some BOMB ASS monster designs. Like. Holy shit
guys. HOLY SHIT. And the ones we see in the anime are great too! I love the little pupper
that turns into the very very big pupper. The white whale manages to live up to like
6 straight episodes of hype when we finally see it, and then there’s the friendly critters
like my homegirl patrasche! These are some of the dopest monster designs this side of
Made in Abyss, and I am super here for it. Wait, I was talking about something, right?
Ah! Good Horror – psychological horror – tries to identify what its target audience is afraid
of – insecure about – and play to those fears. Re:Zero is, obviously, targeted at Otaku.
And what are otaku scared of? Being looked down on; seen as creepy losers. Being bullied,
made a fool of, and tormented by the strong. Being hurt by people they care about – and
seeing those people get hurt. Being rejected. Being alone.
Re:Zero has moments that speak to all of these fears – in a setting that’s supposed to
be our shelter from them – and by emphasizing how Subaru’s choices lead to those consequences,
the looping story structure creates an unnerving implication: That maybe it’s not just the
rest of the world that sucks. These things keep happening to him in part because of him,
and that means they’ll keep happening FOREVER, no matter where he goes, or what he does,
so long as he’s the same person he is now. Of course, the flipside is that if he can
change, things can get better. Starting from Zero, Subaru still has the POTENTIAL to become
a hero. And with infinite time to achieve that potential, that potentially counts for
a lot. There’s so much more to say about Subaru’s
character arc – he is a VERY underrated protagonist – but I’d be making the same
mistake he does if I focused entirely on him. Because it’s not just one good character
who makes Re:Zero great. It’s all of them. LITERALLY all of them. Every major character
in this series is as complex as Subaru – and keep in mind, I just spent like ten minutes
talking about him – and even the side characters who don’t have that much substance behind
them still feel like they have lives that continue offscreen.
They also ALL have great designs to match. Memorable, distinct silhouettes and colour
palettes, with styles of dress that create a general impression of each personality at
a glance, and smaller accessories and details that speak to the characters’ personal relationships
and history. It’s no wonder that re:zero has generated so many figures and works of
fanart, even if the distribution of both is a little bit… skewed toward one character
in particular. *cough* Now as for the characters’ personalties…
Emilia is the very embodiment of pure-hearted heroism – but she’s also intelligent,
and tries to be pragmatic, so she often ends up performing mental gymnastics to logically
justify the good things she does on gut instinct. Puck is both adorable, and wise enough to
know that he’s adorable, a combination that has resulted in, essentially, a magical talking
cat fuccboi with more swagger than people a hundred times his size. He’s also an empath,
which means he can tell who Emilia can trust at a glance.
The pair clearly have a deep and intimate symbiotic relationship beyond anything Subaru
could possibly understand – as evidenced by how willing Puck is to murder anyone who’s
not Emilia when she dies – and together they make a nigh-unbeatable team.
Felt and Rom likewise share a symbiotic relationship – the younger girl, despite her pluck and
talent, never could have made it in the slums if the old merchant hadn’t taken her under
his wing. Felt is a kid, trying very hard to be the adult she needs to be to survive,
while still clinging to optimistic dreams of getting rich and paying Rom back. The old
man, for his part, has clearly SEEN SOME SHIT – he’s got history with the Astrea family,
just for starters – and he’s doing his best to protect that optimistic smile from
the harsh realities of the world. Elsa, who comes in to tear these found families
apart, is clearly more than little unhinged, and takes legitimate pleasure in fighting
and killing. She’s more of a predatory animal than a human being, able to smell fear, and
always looking for her next opportunity to strike. But, like many real predators there’s
an element of play to her hunting. She enjoys a good fight, and getting carried away with
that proves to be her undoing. For all her bluster, she doesn’t stand a
chance against Reinhardt. Dashing, kind, selfless, and capable, he’s every bit the Hero Subaru
isn’t. A real champion of the people type who carries his sword around while off-duty
specifically so that he can do heroic shit that’s outside his jurisdiction as a royal
guard. He’s a capital G good dude, but he’s still flawed. Driven by the very real insecurities
that come with having to uphold a family legacy that includes this guy.
That, guy, Wilhelm, is a complex enough character to carry his own three volume spinoff series,
which is really good, and you should read it. His victory over the whale is so well-earned.
And that depth is apparent in his first appearance, where his reactions imply that he recognizes
a bit of his younger self in Subaru. He immediately understands, specifically, the hurdles that
a young, dumb dude like that, with a big, purehearted crush on an incredible lady way
out of his league and social standing is going to face.
And because of that, he decides to give Subaru some kindly grandpa wisdom, instead of giving
him the cold-shoulder that Felix is apparently used to. I mean, really take that in – Felix
is one of the most adorable and endearing creatures in existence. He’s a gorgeous
bishie catboy with the campy, flirty mannerisms of bugs bunny – impossible to hate. And
Wilhelm can stonewall him – so it really says something that he’s friendly with Subaru
immediately. A lot of Re:Zero’s most interesting male
characters do also serve as foils to Subaru, in one way or another. Including its most
brain-trembling villain. Petelgeuse Romani Conti represents the logical
extreme of Subaru’s otaku obsession and entitlement; a creepy, gross overzealous nerd
who hangs out with a bunch of anonymous genocidal goons in a hugbox cult dedicated to the top
waifu in their favourite book. He leads a life of unrepentant cruelty, completely divorced
from the consequences of his actions, because he believes the blessing of his witch waifu
makes him superior to the unloved subhumans that populate the rest of the world.
Petelgeuse is driven by possessive, one-sided love to do literally anything for the witch
of Envy, just with no regard for what she actually wants. Kinda like how someone else
we know treats his favourite silver-haired half elf girl with magic powers. Which makes
it incredibly fitting that, before our heroes can truly finish Petelgeuse off, Subaru first
has to find a way to rip the entitled little creep out of his own mind. Which he does with
a cold blast of reality – specifically, by proving that his waifu will never love
him back. Now Satella… there’s a fascinating character.
All we ever see of her is her hand, reaching out either to pull Subaru from the cold embrace
of death… or to hold his heart in her own cruel embrace, should he ever even THINK of
sharing what they have with another. A few lines of expository dialogue and a handful
of animations are all it takes to- Actually, I probably shouldn’t get into
characters who don’t even appear on screen in season one. Because I’m not even halfway
through talking about all of the ones with identifiable faces and names.
Even the three muggers who ambush Subaru in the alley have consistent, discernable personalities
that reflect – and sometimes contrast with – their appearancess. Both the little guy
and the big dude, Kan and Ton, put on scary faces, but they’re not super down with hurting
or killing people, while the skinny dude with the knives, chin, is clearly a bit more reckless
and drags them into a lot of trouble. I could literally sit here ALL DAY analyzing
the psychology of these characters. And I will for at least one of them if you philistines
keep insisting rem is best girl. But I guess before I stop, I should at least talk about
the show’s most important supporting characters. The first time I watched Re:Zero, I found
the mansion arc to be the toughest part to get through. It’s the most time Subaru spends
in one place, and as a result, it kinda feels like he’s spinning his wheels there. Which
is frustrating when you just want the plot to go. But by keeping the story at a standstill,
the show does give us a lot of time to get to know the mansion’s inhabitants. And they’re
all … so great. Ram, for example, is SUPER underrated. And
I understand why. Rem gets way more screen time, and the gap between her initial cold
demeanour toward Subaru and the blushing sweetheart she becomes when her guard is down is SO FUCKING
MOE I COULD DIE. But then, so is the way that Ram is actually super helpful and lifts everyone’s
spirits by leveraging her natural resting bitch face for a-grade insult comedy.
Her sass game is so fucking good. And the way that her “Barusu” nickname seamlessly
transforms from an expression of disrespect to one of endearment as he proves himself
to her is… I- I wrote “chef’s kiss” in the script, and now that I’m here I realize
that’s not gonna come across super well with this video being all voiceover. But you
get the point. Ram, being clairvoyant, and therefore responsible
for overseeing Roswaal’s entire domain, is very concerned with the wellbeing of everyone
close to her all the time, especially her sister, who she recognizes is trying WAY too
hard to fill her shoes. She’s also acutely aware of the ways that she can be a burden
on the much stronger people around her, which is probably why she’s slow to take a shine
to the weak and oblivious Subaru, and also probably why she’s so prone to falling back
on humor. Rem does her best to keep up with the comedy
routines – I’d wager their telepathic link helps with the timing, and she’s got
fantastic deadpan delivery – but beneath the surface, she’s a lot less confident
than her sister. Which you already know if you’ve watched the show. She’s the only
character in the first season to be the subject of proper “character study” episodes – mostly
so it hurts more when this happens and also when she-
*heavy breathing* n-never mind. At any rate, I don’t think I need to tell
you how well rounded her character is. And I’d rather spend the time extoling the virtues
of Roswaal and betty Beatrice is adorable. Then as soon as you
get to know her, she’s not. But then she is again. Because she’s got layers. The
first of those layers is her appearance, which, much like that of puck, is too cute for words.
It immediately clashes with the second layer, her personality, which is brash, abrasive,
and arrogant. She does everything she can to push Subaru away, telling him multiple
times that he’s an insect, a pest. But then we get to the third layer. How she
really feels. Beatrice spends all day locked up in a library, only allowing others to see
her when she feels like it. And she’s happy with that on the surface, but deep down, she’s
lonely. So while it bothers her that Subaru keeps pushing obliviously through her defenses,
she also kind of appreciates having him around, and also that he seems to really like her
despite her demeanour. So while she’s very… Beatrice about it, she helps him, a lot.
They’ve got a playful comedic dynamic with each other, and her presence makes scenes
where Subaru would otherwise just be pacing, thinking to himself a lot more fun and interesting
than they have any right to be. That said, subaru also has pretty good comedic chemistry
with the lord of the house. Roswaal doesn’t get much screen time, but
he steals almost every scene he’s in. He’s a charismatic, eccentric, hedonistic rich
dude with a STRONG personal brand and an anarchic sense of humor. He’s savvy enough to respect
the formalities of his class, but not bound by them, and he seems to take a shine to Subaru
specifically because the young man is so cavalier and open with him despite the obvious (to
him) difference in their social standing. He’s a hoot – he has great comedic moments
with basically everyone – but he’s also VERY SERIOUS when he needs to be, and a nigh-unparalleled
badass when it comes to combat. I mean, most of the people around Subaru are considerably
more competent than he is, whether he notices it or not, but Roswaal in particular is SCARY.
He needs all of one word to turn a whole forest into… golly, there are so many current events
I could reference. Way too many things have been on fire lately. And considering that
he’s very clearly operating on his own shady agenda, that might be a problem later.
Which is another thing that makes all of these characters great – they don’t just show
up to be interesting once, they have clear potential to develop in interesting ways far
off in the future. And it’s fun to speculate about what they might do in different scenarios
– I think that’s why this franchise has been able to support so many solid spinoffs
and short stories. Speaking of spinoffs,
The show explores these characters in even greater depth through the Re:Zero Break Time
Shorts. These 2 minute comedic interludes – which quite clearly laid some groundwork
for Isekai Quartet – show additional conversations that happened off-camera in their corresponding
episodes. These conversation actually reveal a surprising amount about the supporting cast
– some of them are modified versions of cut content from the light novel. And they
also deliver a lot of exposition about Re:Zero’s world.
Which, if you didn’t know, is one of the coolest, most thoroughly-realized fantasy
worlds in anime. Those shorts touch on a lot of interesting things, but to know the full
story, you really need to read ALL of the light novels. Spinoffs included. Which I know
is a lot, but if you’re into that kinda thing, it is SO WORTH IT.
Remember in my favourites of the decade video when I said it has a great hard magic system?
That was a bit of an oversimplification. It actually has three – elemental magic, witch
authority, and divine protection – that operate on different principals and interact with
each other in interesting ways. There’s also a HUGE timeline full of very
interesting events, both political and magical, that explains… basically everything about
the present state of this world, from where the mabeasts came from, to how a dragon got
involved in running a country, to how come there’s so much racism everywhere all the
time. If you like lore, Re:Zero has SO MUCH lore. Politics, religion, wars, economics
– Tappei Nagatsuki has thought through all of it in as much detail as he’s devoted
to his characters. And it’s not just there to be flavour text.
Re:Zero’s individual volumes make for compelling psychological thrillers, but on a macro scale,
the grand overarching story that the series is telling is a sociological one, driven by
the forces of history and competing ideologies. Most Isekai send their heroes off on a morally
brain-dead, by the numbers, black and white journey to beat the demon king. Re:Zero tosses
Subaru into the middle of an incredibly volatile political clusterfuck, where 5 mostly well-intentioned
but ideologically opposed leaders and their factions – plus a secret evil cult – are
competing to fill a power vacuum, so that they can apply their own solutions to complicated
societal problems that really have no clear right answer.
Worst girl Priscilla is a staunch Monarchist, who believes that the world is “made in
her favour” – and thus everyone else will be happy if they just do everything she says.
Crusch is a hardline Nationalist and Militarist, who believes that the people of Lugunica have
become soft under the Dragon’s protection, and wants to build a truly independant nation
with a strong military at its center. Both were born as elites, and their philosophies
of leadership very much reflect that out of touch perspective.
Anastasia is an elite as well, but one who rose to her station out of poverty with a
lot of help from her demihuman friends and a little luck. She’s a Capitalist at heart,
who wants to count the kingdom among her possessions, believing that will be in everyone’s best
interests because she takes VERY good care of her things. She sees that the systems governing
Lugunica are unfair, but has also benefitted from similar systems, and thus seeks to reform,
rather than replace them. In contrast, her fellow Orphan, Felt, who
was raised in the slums by an old Demi-human rebel and had to steal to survive, hates everything
about the kingdom and its class structure – ESPECIALLY the military and nobility – and
wants to raze the whole broken system to the ground.
She is my anarchist waifu, and I love her. Though not quite as much as I Love Emilia,
who – true to her pure heart – just wants to build a world where everyone is truly equal.
Though she seemingly needs some help figuring out finer, practical details of how to make
that happen. Though some are clearly better than others,
all of these potential leaders have their own pros and cons. And based on their backstories,
it makes complete sense why each of them believes the things they do. None of them, not even
Priscilla, is a truly bad person. Which is only going to make it more tragic when their
competing ideologies finally come to a head. It’s a very serious situation that a very
unserious person like Subaru really has no place being a part of. And he probably wouldn’t
have any interest in it AT ALL if he’d been born into this world. But because he sees
it like we do – as cool fantasy lore that he wants to learn more about, as part of a
grand, heroic adventure story that he wants to be part of – he gets in way over his
head and spends most of his time making things worse.
He’s really lucky, then – and so is the entire country – that his superpower allows
him to reset all of the complex systems he keeps accidentally fucking with without knowing
what they do. Meaning he can effectively save-scum his way through this game of magic civilization,
exploring different possibility states until he arrives at the one that causes the least
amount of strife. And because this constant resetting both allows
and forces him to understand the point of view of every major player in the royal elections,
he might just become a real force for political good if he ever fully dislodges his cranium
from his rectum. But that’s just a potential story development
that’s fun to speculate about – at this stage in the anime, Subaru is still very much
bumbling his way through more conventional fantasy adventures, defeating monsters and
bad guys and stuff. And the way he and (mostly) his friends defeat
those bad guys, it’s worth noting, is IMMENSELY entertaining. Re:Zero has great action scenes
– they’re well animated, with strong, cinematic lighting and framing. Its greatest
strength, though, is well-thought-out fight choreography that makes heavy use of each
location the characters find themselves in, and builds on the painful lessons Subaru learns
throughout each time loop. Just look at how the battle with Elsa evolves,
from the one-hit-kill out of nowhere that ends Subaru’s first loop, to the longer
but still hopeless fight alongside Felt and Old Man Rom, to the final showdown, where
Subaru’s muscle memory of the assassin’s attacks just BARELY doesn’t quite save his
life but it’s okay because he bought enough time for the real heroes to save the day.
If you scrutinize the animations, you can see the characters planning and reacting to
each other’s attacks. And it’s super cool how the fight spills out into the entire loothouse.
It’s really good shit. And I’m honestly not sure whether I should cover that, the
white whale, or the fight with the ma-beast pack on Animelee.
Lemme know in the comments. I might also, maybe, have to bring back what’s
in a scene to talk about the camerawork outside of the fights. Because there’s a lot of
subtle visual storytelling going on there. Masaharu Watanabe should direct more shows.
But what really ties these action scenes together, along with all the quiet character beats and
tense, pulse-pounding thriller moments, is Jin Aketagawa’s impeccable sound direction.
From Anohana to Toradora To Re:Creators, Aketagawa’s masterful soundscapes have brought many of
my favourite anime worlds to life, and I’ve gotta say, this is some of his best work.
Many subtle environmental sounds help to give characters a real sense of presence, while
not so subtle weapon effects make the action pop.
The deadly whistle of Elsa’s blades whipping through the air. The rattling chains of Rem’s
morning star. These sounds have a way of sticking in your mind long after you watch the show,
and it makes use of them to often chilling effect.
And that’s not even taking into account the PHENOMENAL score, composed by Kenichiro
Suehiro. The standout piece – to the point that it kinda overshadows the rest – is
clearly the call of the witch. It’s a near-perfect accompaniment to the
heights of the show’s horror – and a great song to listen to if you’re feeling constipated.
That terrifying wailing is every bit as iconic as any of the show’s characters, and the
piece brings together many of the series’ most impactful scenes.
But it’s far from the only great song in this track. No matter the tone of a scene,
be it happy and upbeat, sad and heartfelt, or somber and foreboding, Suehrio nails it
with a beautiful blend of gentlepiano, mournful strings… and when it’s needed, more eerie
chanting. The battle music especially is delightful and varied, ranging from playful and tense
to properly heroic and triumphant There are few parts of Re:Zero’s production
that I can really fault. White Fox is a really good studio in general, and they clearly prioritized
making this show as good as it possibly could be. The only thing that really stands out
as bad – or at least jarring – is the CGI used in big crowd scenes. And even that’s
impressive in its own righ. There’s a wide range of character models with clothing and
designs that fit the setting, and they do a lot more than just stand around to fill
space. A clear effort’s been made to make the capital of Lugunica in particular feel
lively and lived in. And the makeup of the crowds even serves to
reinforce the worldbuilding. We see a mix of humans and demi-humans out in the city’s
shopping district, while the rich parts of town have mostly human inhabitants, and the
dinger areas are filled with more beast people. None of this makes the CGI compositing or
animation any better – a lot of that’s really awkward – but it’s at least used
well in service of the story. And that is, of course, what all of this is
for. Re:Zero looks and sounds mad pretty, in a brutal, chilling kinda way. But none
of that would matter if it didn’t tell an absolute banger of a story.
To this point I’ve spent a lot of time – seriously, a LOT of time, thanks for making it this far
– talking about the things that make me love Re:Zero. Rich character psychology, supernerdy
lore, and complex political intrigue are my jam, but they’re hardly everybody’s. And
Re:Zero has such a broad appeal not because it’s smart, but because it’s EXCITING.
This series is a thrill ride, built end-to-end from unpredictable twists and turns, gut-wrenching
drops, and exhilarating crescendos. Above all those layers of hidden meaning lies
a rock-solid Hero’s Journey narrative that just… works on a fundamental level. screenwriter
Yokotani Masahiro paced out the adaptation deliberately to end on the most satisfying
point possible early in the light novels. It’s an inordinately happy ending for a
series this mired in human misery, but it’s what the audience needs – and desperately
wants – after all of that. And Subaru, to his credit, REALLY earns it. In part by learning
another basic adulting lesson – that sometimes you need to listen to other people and do
things that you don’t want to for them in order to get them to help you.
But also, he works really hard, and – especially toward the end of the series – does a lot
of truly heroic, courageous stuff to make it happen. He doesn’t lead the charge in
the fight against the white whale, but he sticks his neck out multiple times to save
others and create openings to attack the beast. And while Petelgeuse does manage to best him
a couple of times, he gives his all to that fight, and eventually strikes the decisive
blow against the villain with his own hard-earned strength.
Something else the timeloop gimmick is good for, by the way. Instead of just isekai-ing
language and swordfighting skills into Subaru’s brain, the anime is able to use his first
stays at roswaal and crusch’s estates like… hyperbolic time chamber training sessions
with Ram and Wilhelm, basically. It really adds to the feeling that he earns his victories
– which makes those great action scenes that much more exciting.
And while it’s earning those crazy set piece climaxes, it also manages to set up powerful
emotional story beats – more than one of which straight up made me cry. Whenever they
break out the bloom and soft line art, I know it’s time to break out the tissues
The series ends with Subaru saving Emilia from imminent danger entirely on his own – something
the guy who barely bothered Elsa and got eaten alive by Ma-beasts could never manage. In
doing so, he finally pays her back properly for saving him in the very first timeline,
and earns the confidence to confess his love to her as an equal. It’s downright poetic,
classic fantasy adventure shit, and even though there’s more story to tell, if Re:Zero never
got another season, it would still feel complete. Much like Re:Zero, I could keep going from
here. For, like, a LONG time. Until not even my mom likes me anymore. As a writer, I sit
in awe of Tappei Nagatsuki’s craftsmanship and obsessive attention to detail. Given what
re:zero accomplishes as a work of fantasy, a work of horror, and a work of social commentary
– and that it manages to pack all that into a tightly plotted adventure without detracting
from the thrills… I can think of no more fitting word to describe
it than “masterpiece.” I hope I’ll be able to say the same for
the second season when it drops, but at the very least, I know I can say it for the light
novels. And if you’d like to read ahead in those, Bookwalker has you covered.
Right now,they’re running a “Winter 2020 Anime” kickoff event, highlighting all the
great manga and light novels that have been made into anime this season.
from January 28th to the 30th, If you buy the first 3 volumes of re:zero, Konosuba,
Overlord, shield Hero, Tanya the evil, Yuru Camp, Infinite Dendrogram, In/Spectre, Interspecies
Reviewers, Toilet bound Hanako kun, Drifting Dragons, Somali and the forest spirit, Madoka
Magica, Nanatsu no taizai, Chihayafuru, or raildex, you’ll get 50% of your purchase
back as “bookwalker coins” that can be used to buy anything else on the store.
And if you use the promo code basement when you check out, you can get an additional 600
yen off any purchase, making that great deal even better.
I think I’ve already made a solid case for why Re:Zero is worth reading, but Drifting
dragons is also a personal favourite of mine. I love stories about fantasy careers, and
“dragon whaling” is a pretty damn interesting one. It features an immersive fantasy setting
with airships and cool monsters, rendered in a gorgeous, crosshatched illustrative style.
And lots of tasty looking anime food, if you’re into that.
Click the link in the dooblydoo to check out the full sale, and then go read a book, you
nerds. I’m Geoff thew, Professional Shitbag, Signing
out from my mother’s basement.