Re:Zero from Spring season 2016 has got to be one of the most talked about shows to come out last year. So it’s not all that surprising that I‘ve seen numerous people talking about it. Yet, a lot of discussions I’ve witnessed left me disappointed somewhat.
Not to say there are no good analysis of the show out there, there certainly are, but I’ve noticed tendencies to do one of two things. Either talking about how good it is, without addressing a lot of its flaws, or, perhaps even more frustrating, throwing it into the same pile with other shows of the world-transcending-fantasy subgenre we’ve seen to rise in popularity during last decade.
I’m not going to pretend Re:Zero goes milestones beyond those, or that it’s as deep as some try to make it to be, but I’d argue it does go one solid step beyond your usual show of the genre. A step long enough to say it serves injustice to Re:Zero to be crippled by bad reputation of the genre among certain otaku circles.
Thus, I’ve decided to write my own analysis. I will not attempt going too much in depth. You certainly could do that, and no doubt it would be an interesting read, but instead, I’d like to focus on just a couple of things that stood out to me, commenting on what the show is, what it tries to be, what it did right, what went wrong, and my personal opinions on why.
I’ll try to toggle between pros and cons, elaborating on each. As usual, I’m going with my suicidal strategy of commenting an opinion going against the majority, which in case of Re:Zero is definitely a positive one. So let’s start with some negative, shall we!
Con: The Introduction And First Impressions
I’m not going to lie, when I first started watching Re:Zero, I was almost convinced I’ll drop it before long. I gave it a chance mainly because everybody kept talking about how good it is, and because I actually happened to be a fan of the genre ever since I’ve watched Zero no Tsukaima years ago.
If you’ve watched Re:Zero, you’re aware that later on it’s trying to be very realistic in terms of psychological struggles one would go through in various situations. An aspect which is handled exceptionally well in my opinion. Yet, at the beginning, Subaru doesn’t even bother to question how did he get to a different world or what is he going to do now. I presume Tappei Nagatsuki (長月達平), the original author, tried to go for a realistic world, where nothing is for free, with naïvely optimistic protagonist who’ll have to learn cruel reality the hard way. An idea I not only don’t intend to criticize, I actually liked it a lot and will talk about it more later in this article.
My problem comes with how Subaru was portrayed during the introduction. One thing is to have a naïve protagonist, but to have one whose first reaction after being mysteriously teleported to a different world is wondering what his new super power is and saying how he can’t wait to become a hero, is just silly and felt really awkward. If it was supposed to be a parody with intention to shock the audience later in an unexpected twist, I’d argue it could have been handled way better.
Another idea that’s occurred to me is it almost feels like Nagatsuki wanted to get to the “real stuff” as quickly as possible, rushing things through the introduction, and it just didn’t work out that well. Which might be the case, I certainly can’t say for sure, but let’s save my weird theories on how Nagatsuki thinks for later.
I originally wanted to talk about some more things from the introduction, but this section is getting way too long already, so let me just give you one example for all; how artificial the introduction of Reinhard seemed. Sure, let’s ask this totally random guy you just met to deliver a message to a girl he most likely doesn’t know, in a capital city filled with people, just because he asked whether there’s anything he could help you with after he saved your ass. Because he totally didn’t say that just out of politeness. Except he actually didn’t, because he accepts immediately without questioning it. Like, what?
And just one last remark from future editing me; this all might be just an issue of the adaptation, so maybe I shouldn’t have been pointing finger at poor Nagatsuki all the time, but… oh well.
Pro: Protagonist And Character Development
It’s challenging to talk about character development in a story which revolves around time loops. But as much as I complained about Subaru’s illogical behavior in previous section, credit has to be given where it’s due.
Over the course of the show, we get to watch Subaru, a hopeless optimist who thinks he’s going to become a hero, to gradually realize not only he’s no hero, but he’s mostly powerless and more often than not makes things around him worse rather than the other way around.
I keep hearing people calling Subaru lame, because he keeps crying in the later arcs, or even suggestions that he’s just bad attempt at Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but honestly, I dare to disagree with those claims.
Subaru is flawed character, who’s being crushed by cruel reality of the world around him being different from what he’s childishly imagined initially. Frequently, it seemed as though he’d discovered the right solution; only to learn shortly thereafter that he was, once again, wrong. In my opinion, everything considered, he reacts adequately to events around him.
At many occasions I cringed quite a bit at some of his actions and at many more I’ve thought to myself that he can’t possibly be in his right mind doing that or that. But at the same time, at no point throughout the entire show was I unable to understand his actions at least at some level. To an extent where I’d dare to say by watching him I might have learned something new about myself. Definitely not something I expected from an anime commonly thrown into the same pile with Sword Art Online just for its fantasy world elements.
All in all, Subaru’s character development is one of the best I’ve seen recently and breeze of fresh air among awfully lot of protagonists with either no character development, or no character at all.
Con: How Long Does It Take To Realize You’re In A Time Loop?
And now that I’ve said something nice about Subaru, let’s turn to something so frustrating it deserves its own section. It’ll be a short one, but I’m sure it’s something we all can agree on.
I can sort of live with protagonist who doesn’t question one bit the fact that he suddenly appeared in a different world. I can even understand if said protagonist doesn’t exactly get he can return back in time when he dies after just one death. But how many times does he have to die in order to realize he is in a time loop?
After his first death, Subaru is confused and tries to get back to the cabin where he died, only to find everyone alive. But that’s not enough. He lives through the day and is killed by the end of it for the second time. Wakes up in front of the same seller as last time, but that’s not enough.
He sees Emilia, embarrasses himself by saying stuff that doesn’t make sense to anyone but him, but that’s still not enough. I takes him getting brutally murdered for the third goddamn time to at least start suspecting something.
I have nothing more to say other than it was almost painful to watch. Combined with my complaints about the introduction to the series, it did not exactly help raising my opinion.
Pro: The Jealous Witch, Her Introduction And Presentation
So with that little section about what I disliked the most about the introduction out of the way, let’s get to the other side again and talk about a thing in the first arc I’d argue was handled nearly perfectly: introduction of Satella.
If you have the kind of villain who is super powerful, but unfortunately got defeated/sealed/nearly killed a long time ago, it’s difficult to properly introduce him to the audience, since you can’t exactly make him do anything. An information dump is a way around it, but that’s boring and unmemorable.
What we get in Re:Zero are hints that something’s fishy about Emilia, but not nearly enough of them to get the whole picture. During the first arc, she introduces herself as “Satella”, then is shocked for seemingly no reason when Subaru comments on that as being “a nice name”. Later she points out that she’s silver haired half-elf, then stress it out again when it gets no reaction from Subaru whatsoever. Hints that can easily go glossed over or misinterpreted the first time around, but can give the viewer fun time watching the show for the second time when we know what they mean.
But most important part is that the first iteration gives us solid glimpse on what kind of person Emilia is. Kindhearted, always helping others, a good person at heart. When we see her for the second time, it’s after time was reset, but before Subaru realizes his newly acquired ability. And as the ending theme kicks in, not yet being aware it’s not her real name, Subaru calls Emilia “Satella”.
Everyone looks at him in shock. Pretty much the kind of shock you’d get after calling random Hogwarts student or professor “Voldemort” out of the blue. Emilia turns back, her expression contrasting everything we know about her; she’s angry, furious. And then, she says, “How dare you calling me with the name of the Jealous Witch?” A sentence that tells us all we need to know without long dull exposition.
I personally found this moment quite powerful and memorable, giving me a solid glimpse at who is presumably going to become the main antagonist of the series. This is how you introduce a mysterious villain who is supposedly long gone.
Let me also just throw in a few words about how I like the concept of the Jealous Witch itself. While not necessarily the most original, I always liked mysterious villains who you just know are out there somewhere and are more powerful than anything else, but you really only get glimpses of them there and there. Such as the book with the creepy illustration Subaru reads in the second arc. Especially if the villain in question is called “witch”, a word strongly associated with evil, mysterious and powerful.
I quite honestly can’t wait to learn more about her and her connection to Subaru and Emilia, which was strongly hinted several times. But talking about those would probably (yet again) be enough material for its own article, so let’s leave at that.
You’ve made it through the first half of the article! This one blew out of proportions way too fast and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
The second and final part of this article is already written and only needs some extra proofreading and editing, so it should be ready within few days, or a week, depending on my school responsibilities. Anyway, look forward to it and feel free to subscribe if you don’t want to miss it!