Why You Should Be Watching Re:Zero

Maybe it’s just the small portion of the anime community that I’m capable of observing, but it seems like the show getting the most attention this season is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. I mean, I can’t say that’s too surprising seeing as it’s the Attack on Titan team and Tetsuro Araki’s staple over-the-top directing is natural at drawing people in, but I think there are plenty of other shows airing this season that deserve the attention more. One of those obviously being Re:Zero.

To be fair, Re:Zero is probably the second or third most talked about show this season, but it’s easily the best out of the approximately twenty shows I’m watching this season, and I want it to be the most talked about show, not the almost most talked about. So I’m going to give spoiler-free reasons for why you should watch the show if you aren’t, but also try to explain why it’s so good to those that are watching it or dropped it early on since they weren’t entirely convinced. Though I will explicitly mention some stuff from the first episode.

For reference to those who might see this late, I’m making this after having seen eight episodes of the show. So there could be even more reasons down the line I could give, but just haven’t seen them yet.

It’s actually a bit hard to discuss what I like most about Re:Zero without going into things that happen in later episodes since each has been better than the last, but I suppose I can start with how the show handles its use of time travel.

While most time travel stories use the mechanic for the same purpose – namely to change something and get a different outcome – there are multiple ways it’s actually implemented. The two most popular anime examples would probably be Steins;Gate where it was technological, and Erased where it was some supernatural force. For the former, Okabe’s texts travel through time and therefore modify history through a butterfly effect as a result. In the latter, it’s some power that’s not quite explained, but which seems to desire the main character fix something bad from happening if it’s close enough in proximity for him to do anything about it.

Re:Zero‘s approach on the other hand is different than those, but could also be seen as a combination of the two, though it’s personally my favorite. It’s a magical power that causes Subaru to reset to a sort of “checkpoint” whenever he dies.

At this point I assume the people who dropped the show early on are wondering, “Okay, so he’s stuck in a loop until he doesn’t die or get killed, it’s neat, but what’s so special at the end of the day?” The answer to that is the way it’s intertwined with the rest of the story and even the world itself.

Shows lately have been turning the fantasy world setting somewhat meaningless, it’s being done just for the sake of it or because it’s what’s popular. Just something to add some spice to the story. Re:Zero actually has a reason for being set in a fantasy world. Well, actually, it has two.

The first is that it gives an explanation for Subaru’s ability to reset when he dies: it’s a magical power in a world where magic actually exists. The second and more important reason is that his power can then be used as a vehicle to explore and learn more about this new world.

Subaru is just as much a fish out of water in this world as the viewer is, so you learn about the world as he does. The resetting mechanic allows small changes to be done each time based on what he does, and figuring out why those changes happen allows you to infer even more without the show literally telling you.

So when Subaru, say, mentions that he wants to give a specific item to a specific person and as a result someone starts slaughtering everyone in the room, it tells you a bit about the characters’ motivations and the state of the world without someone having to literally explain it.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t things the show explicitly tells you, but they’re things Subaru would naturally want to know about at the time and even reading between the lines and connecting the information you get to previous or future events can result in answers to completely different questions.

For example, you eventually learn about how magic works in the world and various things characters have noticed about Subaru, which lead to hints about how he gained the ability to loop in the first place, and in turn opens up its own massive can of worms to think about.

It both serves as a hook to keep watching because you’re constantly learning things which gives a sense of progress  – which is satisfying despite it being the same chunks of time repeating – but also gives off the impression that the world is very lived-in already. The world really comes across like the author wrote the history of this place for the fifty or so years before the start of the show, then plopped Subaru in to the middle of this fantasy story they were writing and just sort of let things play out from there.

I know people often push for the “show don’t tell” mindset for shows, but I’ve always found that approach to be easily overbearing if not handled carefully. Honestly a lot of the time you need to be obvious anyways in order to not completely lose the audience with what you’re trying to get across. If you hold your cards too close to your chest, your audience may just decide it’s not worth the effort and lose interest.

Re:Zero perfectly encapsulates the approach that I think works best with shows: hand out the general information bluntly to feed the audience a steady stream of information and keep their attention, but make it so that the they can also form connections and get ideas on their own if they look into it. Plant the idea into the viewer’s head that there are dots to be connected and they’ll be willing to do the digging and theorizing themselves.

Though honestly even with how well-handled the story aspects are, I actually think Subaru himself plays a large part in how much I enjoy the show. Yes, he’s very bombastic and over-the-top which isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s actually another way that the fantasy world setting was the right choice for this show.

A lot of the characters in the show – especially later on – are very formal. There’s a very clear hierarchy, and Subaru’s almost overbearing informality works as a great contrast to the other characters, and spices up his interactions with them a lot. Though if you’re one of those people I mentioned before where this type of personality isn’t one you’re fond if, you should still give the show a shot, because it may just change your mind about it down the line. The show takes Subaru’s characterization in logical but very interesting directions.

The meta-awareness aspect of Subaru is another that’s divisive, and it’s one that I actually normally don’t like, but I enjoy the way it’s done in this case. A lot of time characters that are meta-aware use their knowledge to do or think of things that others don’t in the show and it’s used as a way to put them on a pedestal almost. Typically a “man, they’re so smart” sort of way, which often ends up just making you roll your eyes. But with Subaru, it almost always ends up backfiring on him and gets him in trouble or makes him look like an idiot.

When he first shows up he tries to save a kid about to get run over by a carriage by casting a spell since “naturally” he can do that now that he’s in a fantasy world. Instead some knight saves the kid and Subaru just looks like an idiot while everyone ignores him. When random thugs in an alley are mugging him, a cute girl runs towards them who Subaru assumes will save him from the situation. Instead she just runs right past them and he has to fight them on his own. His meta-awareness is used for comedy rather than to have any inherent upper hand in anything. Rather it does the opposite: it typically just puts him in a worse situation.

There are tons of other aspects that I’d love to go over that also make the show so great to watch, like the directing, but I can’t do it without going over spoilers. At least not to the degree I’d like to go to. Maybe after the show’s ended.

Honestly the only possible negative I could think of for Re:Zero so far is something that’s not even in the show. People who know what happens in the source material are saying it gets really dark later on, which could actually be a problem depending on how it’s done. I should say really quickly here before going on to not give spoilers, I’m just going to talk hypothetically here, but it’s very possible to be dark to the point of being overbearing. It’s where accusations of “edginess” tend to come in. It’s something that can only be judged as the show goes on, but so far the show has been doing a remarkable job of balancing it’s light tones with its heavy ones. If it continues in this vein I doubt there will be any issues.

Ultimately I feel like Re:Zero is a show that has been made or broken for various people simply by the time in which it’s airing. It’s entirely possible this show could have had the same level of insane buzz that Attack on Titan did if shows like Steins;Gate and SAO hadn’t aired, though that might just be my bias speaking. Which isn’t to say that any show is better or worse than the other, but simply that people love to compare shows to each other.

People see time travel and they either like that it reminds them of Steins;Gate, or they get annoyed because people like to see new things rather than stuff they’ve seen before. Which is understandable enough, but unfortunately often ignores how well (or not well) those elements are used in each work.

Here’s a good test, raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a synopsis for a show that was about someone being sent to a fantasy world and instantly decided to not watch it because you thought of SAO. I’m willing to bet a fair amount of people. Hell, I’m not entirely innocent myself. But just because that “teleported into a fantasy world” aspect was in a show that you didn’t like, doesn’t mean another show can’t use that same aspect in a way that works really well.

The point that I’m trying to get to is that while I certainly can’t claim that Re:Zero is the most original thing you’ll watch, so far it’s a perfect example of knowing how to use all of its elements in ways that work really, really well. Unfortunately it seems like a requirement for a smash hit is that it has to be unique. Sure you could argue that SAO wasn’t exactly original when it came out, but it had been a long while since something of its kind had any real attention.

I’ve always argued that how something is used is infinitely more important than how new it is, since “newness” alone won’t stand the test of time, and Re:Zero is the perfect opportunity to be that hit show that breaks the mold.

Or at the very least let its popularity and viewership overtake Kabaneri. I’m fine with baby steps.

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