Couple of days ago, I’ve published an article where I’ve discussed some good and some bad aspects of insanely popular Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu from Spring season 2016. As the article grew little out of proportions, I’ve decided to split it into two parts.
Just in case you’ve got here from Google or such, you can actually read whichever part you want first, so feel free to start here and then go back to the other one if you’re interested. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started.
Con: Lack of Main Heroine in Crucial Parts, or Why Is Rem So Popular
Have you ever wondered why Rem is so much more popular than Emilia, in spite of Emilia clearly being the main heroine? Statistically speaking, your answer is “because she’s the best girl, duh.” My answer to that, however, is a bit longer.
I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in all three arcs and I’d be willing to bet this trend continues from the fourth one onward. In all of them, Subaru’s sole reward for overcoming an obstacle is Emilia.
In the first arc, his reward is learning her real name. In the second one, he dies day before their date. And the third arc, he repeatedly fails saving her life by arriving too late. Furthermore, the series culminates when Subaru confesses his feelings to her in the last episode. This concept would have been perfect, if the audience cared for Emilia the way they do for Rem. But they don’t.
In Re:Zero, we’re treated like we fell in love with Emilia at first sight, just like Subaru did. My hypothesis is that she was on Nagatsuki‘s (the original author) mind for some time as his sort of “perfect heroine model”. As a character he already cared for he even started writing, he might have misjudged how much an average reader would be able to connect with her by the end of the first arc, where she’s fully introduced.
Consequentially, only people with similar tastes for heroines, such as myself, enjoyed this aspect to the fullest, especially the confession scene. The rest just started to care for Rem, who’s got much more opportunities to win our hearts.
Whether my theory is correct or not, I consider lack of Emilia in the show, and thus lack of opportunities for her character to develop and for us to get to care for her more, a bad thing.
Pro: No Harem, Moderate Fan Service and Believable Romance
Re:Zero sets itself apart from other shows of its genre by couple of things. Some I’ve already discussed and some are yet to be, but the one thing I’m particularly happy about is, to my disappointment, usually not mentioned. Given we’re talking about lack of something common for the genre, rather than presence of something unusual, I guess it’s just easy to miss. It actually hasn’t occurred to me until episode 20. And while there certainly is fan service present in Re:Zero, the show doesn’t rely on it to keep the viewers’ interest.
But perhaps even more importantly, Re:Zero didn’t give us protagonist surrounded only by a bunch of beautiful women, fighting to get his attention, plus one compulsory male best friend. The cast is actually pretty well balanced and most of the girls are pretty clear about not caring that much for Subaru. Not in a romantic way and quite often not even in friendly way. And not in a tsundere way either.
Considering all of the female cast one by one, there really only are two girls expressing romantic affection towards Subaru: Emilia and Rem. Former of which not even being fully in love with him just yet, or at least not being honest with her feelings, fact pretty clear after Subaru had confessed to her by the end of the series.
Which brings me to another, somewhat related topic: the way romance is handled in the show. As was already mentioned, usually we’d get an airhead protagonist and bunch of girls trying to win him over by doing all kinds of things but confessing.
Meanwhile, in Re:Zero, Subaru and Rem have got their feeling figured out. Rem loves Subaru and confesses her feelings in beautifully directed episode 18. However, she gets rejected, because Subaru is in love with Emilia. Who he confesses to by the very end of the series, a moment the show has arguably been culminating towards.
Admittedly, Subaru’s confession was left without an answer, as the series just ended there, but the bottom line is: Re:Zero managed to give us romantic relationships that feel real and not exaggerated or oversexualized with unnecessary fan service, and for this kind of show, I’d argue it’s a good thing. I can’t thank Nagatsuki enough and sincerely hope he’ll keep it that way.
…And there’s still plenty of doujinshi, don’t worry.
After publishing this article, some people disagreed with what I’ve said in this section. Admittedly, Re:Zero is not the best representation of realistic relationships out there and I’m aware of that. If you want an anime about realistic relationships, I’d certainly recommend something else, such as Clannad. Nonetheless, when watching Re:Zero, I believed that those characters actually care for each other and react mostly adequately, which doesn’t happen often in this particular genre.
Also, some of my points will apparently get invalidated in later arcs, which, assuming it’s true, is a bit shame, but I was only taking the anime adaptation into consideration when writing this.
Con: Resolution and Tension Curve Mismatch
Speaking of the ending, guess what this section will be about. When I’m presented with an ending to any piece of fiction, I ask two questions: whether it brought a satisfying conclusion to an established plot, and whether the tension curve climaxed at correct timing. Or rather, I only ask the former, since until Re:Zero it’s never even occurred to me the latter could be a problem in the first place.
As most people, I like satisfying conclusions, my personal favorite being Code Geass R2, but that’s beside the point. I can forgive Re:Zero for not having one though, as it’s an adaptation of long running books series which itself is still ongoing. What I want to focus on here is something slightly different. The tension curve.
The third arc, which takes about the entire second half of the show, revolves around Subaru trying to save Emilia and others. You can feel really strong build up throughout, and if you’re somewhat like me, for every reset in the arc, you were looking forward to that time all pieces finally snap together and everything works out for Subaru all that more.
And near the end, we’ve sort of got that, but there seems to be a weird mismatch between the final boss and climax of the tension curve. Because while the White Whale certainly can’t be disregarded as unimportant for the arc, I’d argue it’s the Witch’s Cult who we’ve been holding our grudge against. And even if you say there’s a connection between the two, when I’m referring to the Witch’s Cult, I’m talking about Betelgeuse and others who we’ve seen causing Subaru to suffer over and over again. Yet, the tension curve clearly climaxes during the fight against the whale, leaving the final battle against the Cult a little underwhelming in comparison, which is rather unfortunate, because I actually kind of liked it.
Pro: Memorable Moments and Benefits of Using Contrasts
If I’m talking about good things in Re:Zero, I can’t omit brilliant direction of certain scenes. I’m sure a lot of us could easily think of some moments from various productions, not limited to just an anime, that were memorable to us in one way or another. I’d like to bring up two of those from Re:Zero to demonstrate my point. I actually liked them so much, I originally wanted to write article just about them, but ended up with this monster instead.
The first one is from the third arc, when Subaru arrives at the mansion, holding Rem’s dead body, only to find everyone else dead as well in a frozen wasteland. The mansion is where the entire second arc took place, making it an area we, the viewers, are very familiar with and see it as somewhere safe. I mean, yeah, Subaru might have died there couple of times during the second arc, but by the end of it, it was filled with allies and could perhaps even be called home.
Yet now, to contrast that, we are presented with that familiar place covered in ominous mist, in the middle of raging blizzard. The garden is filled with dead bodies. Warm and alive is contrasting frozen and dead. Puck then in his giant form breaks the roof and looks at Subaru, with us only being able to distinguish his silhouette and glowing eyes, giving the shot its crown.
Another example of how a scene can benefit from contrasts is also present in the third arc, specifically at the beginning of the battle against the White Whale. Subaru knows when the beast is going to show up, thanks to his previous attempts, and sets alarm on his mobile phone to start ringing when the time comes.
I really enjoyed the moment right before the bloodshed started. As everything is dead silent, we are being shown all the people in full armor, ready for the battle, nervously looking around, trying to locate the enemy, fear in their eyes. All while silly sounding 8 bit music from Subaru’s phone plays in the background.
But the moment that steals the scene – at least for me – comes when the White Whale finally appears. At this point we can only see its shadow. When Crush notices it for the first time, we get close up on her face, and as all background noises fade away, the only thing we hear is the silly music. She swiftly turns her head from the shadow and towards the whale itself, fear crossing her face and the monster start to descend on the army.
Con: Reactive Plotline
I have to admit, somehow I managed to not notice, or at least think too much about this one, until it was pointed out to me. But looking objectively at it, I have to list it as negative. Everything that happens in Re:Zero to Subaru, is almost exclusively reactive.
Unfortunately, Subaru doesn’t, or rather can’t – given how the plot is structured – do anything from his own initiative. Every arc starts with something happening to him, to which he has to respond by doing something, and at no point do we learn what Subaru’s purpose is. And I’m not talking about reasons he was transported between worlds. Sadly, the end of the last episode left me in an impression of Subaru being somewhat purposeless, only adapting his behavior in accordance to his environment and not even getting a chance to find solid goal to pursue. Perhaps except doing absolutely anything for Emilia.
I have seen people taking this even further and asking what the show even was about. I personally am willing to not do so, as royal election and connection among Subaru, Emilia and the Jealous Witch seem to be central plot points, even though I feel like it should be mentioned it’s a shame they’ve got barely any chance to be explored in the adaptation. Which is definitely a bad thing, as adaptations should be able to stand on their own.
Pro: Dying Is Not a Pleasant Thing to Go Through
And lastly, to balance things out, I’d like to talk about death. The rule of going back in time whenever protagonist dies makes the show look like an RPG-esque world even more so than its high fantasy setting does. Not even mentioning fact that the return point changes every time Subaru overcomes a major obstacle. Yet, I haven’t felt like I’m watching an RPG world for even a second, as the show does really great job on showing that death is not a pleasant thing to go through.
Subaru doesn’t want to die. For once, he realizes way too well it hurts a lot, but he also showed his doubts on whether the number of times he can go back is limited or not, throwing in fear of his next death being also his last.
At the single occasion where Subaru actually killed himself just to reset particularly fucked up timeline, he doesn’t just nonchalantly jump of the cliff. Well, he does jump off the cliff, but we get to watch him doubting said decision for nearly seven full minutes before he goes through with it. And that’s in a show with just 24 minutes long episodes.
All in all, death is a terrible thing and Re:Zero, in spite of revolving around concept of resetting every action and its consequences upon someone’s death, showcases that brilliantly. It shows that Subaru’s strange power is almost a curse rather than blessing. Nobody wants to die.
“I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.”
-Last words of Richard P. Feynman (1988)
And that’s it! This particular article ended up being way longer than what I’ve originally intended. I almost had to split it up into three parts. Hopefully, someone has got all the way here despite the length. If you have, kudos to you.
Certainly, there’s more things worth talking about. One example for all, the entirety of episode 18, where Rem confesses her feelings to Subaru, has probably enough to fill an entire article on its own. But I had to cut it somewhere.
Finally, I’d like to mention I certainly hope Re:Zero gets another seasons in the future. I enjoyed the ride a lot and am hungry for more.