Why Re:Zero is the Best Anime That Has Aired in YearsPosted: October 18, 2016
I’ve watched a lot of anime in recent years that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot. Some were more low-key that I enjoyed on a personal level, usually because I got more out of them than I expected, like Chivalry of a Failed Knight. Others I loved for their character writing, like both seasons of Silver Spoon. Then there are the ones that fascinated me with their specific character arcs and themes, like both seasons of Tokyo Ghoul (though I seem to be the only person for that one).
But it’s been ages since I’ve seen a show that was so good at being a show, something that’s thrilling on a basic level. Re:Zero manages to be entertaining in a way that’s easy for a general audience to enjoy, but without sacrificing the depth and attention to detail that make it so good. I feel like it’s an approach that isn’t appreciated as much as it used to be, which is a shame. People are more than willing to praise shows that handle complicated themes, but for some reason it’s made people lose sight of how focusing on being entertaining is also an art. There’s a lot of nuance to almost any approach, the more quote-unquote “mature” shows are just easier to view as good because of the way they carry themselves.
So, as I am wont to do, I’ve decided to go over everything that makes Re:Zero stand out in meticulous, excessive, and probably annoying detail. Mainly because of the positive reception, surprisingly. I’m tired of seeing people say the show is great but then not actually backing it up with anything other than “it does neat things with Subaru and it’s dark”. I mean, yeah, it’s nice to see a protagonist that bucks the current trend of “I can do everything on my own because I’m the best at everything and the world rewards me for being that way” protagonists from light novels that are getting adapted lately and I’ll absolutely go over him when I get to that part, but that’s not what elevates the show so much. Subaru is just kind of a neat side show, he’s not being developed 24/7, it’s really only a few episodes that focus on it.
If you want to know my thoughts without being spoiled since you haven’t seen it yet, this intro should have already made my feelings obvious. Re:Zero is the perfect example of not only how to do a “stuck in a fantasy world” story the correct way, but is also a fantastic show in general. For everyone else, strap in because we’ve got a lot to go over. Feel free to take this in multiple sessions, I won’t be surprised if this ends up being absurdly long.
That being said, this is a very different show to cover than, say, ToraDora. For that I was able to point out all the ways the show managed to reinforce the main theme it was going for and build on the character relationships, which is something I can’t really do for Re:Zero. There’s nothing that thematically heavy about the show, because it focuses more on just making you interested what’s happening and pulling you in so you just want more and more and need to see what happens next.
The closest thing to a theme that’s present would be something simple like never losing hope, or perhaps learning to trust and rely on others rather than doing everything on your own. I’ll cover both of those throughout this, but the point is that this is going to be much more about how the show pulls you in to its general events rather than any underlying theme permeating it all.
Case in point, there’s already things going on in the opening scene of the show. Subaru is shopping at a market interspersed with ominous footage of his and Emilia’s impending deaths. The idea is basic, but effective: hook you in with little teaser images of something big happening, because starting with just shopping would have been a tad too dull. Subaru even directly comments on what the show’s doing; as he’s checking out a manga he literally says, “Ah, I see. This is where they suck you in.” It doesn’t add much other than some slight winking from the staff, but it’s fun and also serves as foreshadowing to Subaru’s imminent pull into a parallel world.
As for the point of showing us Subaru’s shopping habits, we’ll get back to that later. You’re going to hear that phrase a lot throughout this, by the way. Re:Zero really enjoys both foreshadowing events and setting up things that get payoff at a later point.
While I’m on the first episode, one of the popular complaints some people had after this show’s airing was Subaru’s self-aware otaku jokes and whatnot. I get why conceptually it’s something that would set off red flags, but the usual problem with this type of thing is that it’s portrayed in a positive light. A very, “See? The main character is a cool dude just like you!” sort of way. But with Subaru all it does is make him look like a moron. There’s the scene where he tried to save a kid from being run over by casting some magic that he was “supposed” to now have, which he obviously didn’t and proceeded to look like a complete dolt. Other times he throws around terminology which just confuses everyone else or they treat him like he’s an idiot for it.
It just doesn’t have that self-indulgent aspect that makes that sort of behavior groan-worthy. If anything it’s mocking how socially awkward it is to act that way. This isn’t convenient interpretation either, this is entirely intentional, but it’s something else that I’ll have to come back to later.
We also meet Emilia, who introduces herself as Satella on her first meeting of Subaru. This was probably the scene that most piqued my interest in the show when I saw it. You don’t entirely have a clear idea of what she’s doing, but you know it’s more than just giving her real name or a fake one because not only does Subaru look surprised, but Puck does too.
This is the real main appeal of the show: the story of the world itself and piecing it together. We don’t understand the weight of Emilia saying her name is Satella – at least not yet – but we’re conveyed the idea that there is weight, that the world has history. That there are threads to be noticed and connected.
A… not necessarily a problem, but a common thing with a lot of stories, especially fantasy ones, is that any major events of that world only moves forward through the actions of the main character. It can have the most interesting explanations for how things work, but progress is only made due to the main character being just so special or so strong.
It makes Re:Zero really stand out in comparison because Subaru doesn’t know anything about the world, he just learns as we do, nor does he really change much about it. Obviously he can stop himself and other important people from dying because he can reset, but he can’t actually take care of it personally, he always has to rely on other people. Not to mention none of the arcs really actually revolve around him at all. He’s not the primary target in the first arc, he’s just some random suspicious dude in arc two, and he tries to force himself to be more relevant to proceedings in the third and gets his shit kicked in for it.
There’s a real feeling that he’s just a random factor that got introduced to the world against its will and it will carry on with what it was doing regardless of his presence. It makes everything a whole lot more interesting to learn, because characters will say things that they view as obvious, but you have no clue what it means until you get more information later on. It not only helps with the immersion of making the world feel genuine and alive, but it allows you to invest some actual involvement into the story and think about what things could mean. Theorizing about how something or even someone works and then having that proven right or wrong is way more fun than a show that would just tell you everything outright.
Drip-feed the viewers information before you expand upon it so they can actually engage with what they’re watching by considering possibilities. That’s literally “How to Draw People into a Story 101”. We’re naturally curious creatures, so we when we can smell there’s more information to learn, we want to find out what it is. The show actively encourages this, it’s almost testing you to see if you can figure out connections and such before it confirms or denies them. It’s almost the same way you’d consume an outright mystery story.
Nowadays writers are so desperate to get your attention they’ll just throw everything they have at you as it comes to them. Re:Zero‘s author actually has the smarts to plan out this world with its own history and characters having motivations specific to them but then not actually outright tell you any of it. It’s not an easy approach to pull off, you need to slowly reveal just the right amount of information to get people’s minds working, but not be too blunt or vague, and also keep character actions and dialogue internally consistent. Shit’s tough.
By the way, this is a perfect example of how to do “show don’t tell” through dialogue. Which yes, is an actual thing. “Show don’t tell” just means convey information without outright stating it. You can convey ideas through dialogue outside of what the characters are literally saying.
Anyways, back to the actual show, there’s also the question of why the first episode is twice the length. Other than the obvious point of at least briefly introducing the major characters for this introduction arc, it was incredibly important for it to end where it did. I just went over how great the scene of Emilia giving a fake name was, and this is the part where it first starts paying off.
You not only get confirmation that it was a fake name, but who the name actually belongs to and what people think of that person. Not only is Emilia pissed about being called Satella, but the townspeople look toward Subaru in shock as he starts yelling out the name. You’re able to tell not only that this “Satella” person is a big deal, but opens up a bunch of thought-provoking possibilities as to why someone would actually give that as their own name, when she’s such a hated “witch”.
That’s the hook. End the first episode on this tease of there being more to the story than you know. A rabbit hole to be explored and experienced. Kind of important to end the first episode on that note, especially given that Satella is kind of a huge factor in the story the entire way through.
If you made it to the end of the first episode and wasn’t curious in the slightest, odds are nothing afterwards will change your opinion on the show. There are people who prefer to just passively receive this kind of information rather than do any kind of theory-crafting. Seeing as the show actively encourages you to think about this sort of stuff, as I mentioned before, if you pass it up then there’s not much else to engage you with.
Scenes seem planned out in pretty meticulous detail to give you just the right amount of nudging to ponder connections between different details you’ve learned. “Why?” is the name of the game here. Why does Subaru have looping powers anyways? Was someone responsible for it? Did that person also pull him into this parallel world? And why on earth would they want him specifically to be able to do such a thing?
Also, I mentioned at the beginning that Re:Zero was the perfect example of how to do these “stuck in a fantasy world” stories the correct way, and that’s because his looping power is the perfect device to actually explore and learn more information about this weird new world which is the main draw. Subaru is the “x-factor” who is the only person that can change events, so seeing how characters and events change depending on even his smallest actions is what’s so fascinating and how you learn. You just want to fill in all those little gaps of knowledge that you constantly have because each answer just raises more questions.
Speaking of, there were also complaints that the whole reset mechanic ruins tension and whatnot by it’s nature, which is absurd considering everybody adores Steins;Gate, which has the exact same mechanic. Yes, it’s slightly different in that Okabe sends a text and a butterfly effect situation happens, but he’s trying to stop a specific event from happening by modifying what he and others do in a timeline. Steins;Gate uses time travel to explore its characters, Re:Zero uses time travel to explore its world. Not to mention the show goes out of its way to show just how shitty dying is. Getting to reset is not a free pass, it’s painful both physically and mentally.
While I’m on the whole looping situation, the second episode is when Subaru figures out he has looping powers, which brings up another complaint early droppers had: Subaru taking too long to figure said ability out. It’s a complaint I’ve never understood, because the only way it could feel that way is if you think characters should learn things at the same time as you. But as an omniscient observer with access to plot synopses, you tend to learn things before the in-universe characters. Especially if that information is the entire premise of the show.
There are also people who say he just takes too long in terms of real-world time, but that doesn’t really make sense either. It would if the entire point during those parts was explicitly to get Subaru to learn he has it, but that’s not the case. While he takes the time to come to that realization, we get to follow Felt around for a bit and see their side of the story. You also meet the nice lady who slaughtered everybody, who actually seems to be leaving peacefully until Subaru makes a comment about who he’s retrieving the emblem for. Again, feed vague information so the audience wants to watch more to get a better understanding of the overall picture going on.
The final and most common reason is simply the number of times it took for him to get what was going on, which makes the most sense since he dies three times. People don’t mind him not getting it the first time, obviously, but having it happen twice and still not understanding is when people started groaning a bit. However, the reason I’d say it’s still fine is that the first two times he died in the same place in a very similar way. His second reset was so much like his first it still makes sense that he’d be confused. The third death is also so hilariously pathetic that I just like that it’s the one that knocks some sense into him.
We also get to meet Reinhard, who is a perfect example of how to do an overpowered character in a show. They’ve gotten a lot of flak lately because both Sword Art Online and Mahouka use them in completely the wrong way – namely self-insert power fantasies – but there is a way to use them without horribly derailing everything. For one, make them a side character rather than a main character. Main characters that can’t be beaten can’t struggle and therefore can’t develop. As side characters, they can help out in certain circumstances which lead to what’s known as “Fuck yeah!” moments.
You can’t use them to solve problems when you’ve written yourself into a corner and there’s no other way out, mind you, but with the right setup an extremely powerful character showing up to help is one of the most cathartic moments you can have in a story. Reinhard’s in specific was also to show you the sheer power of the nation’s knights after you already got to see how proficient Elsa is at murdering folks. Not to mention it’s another example of teasing a deeper story without revealing much.
These random thugs know Reinhard by name, mention he has the title of Master Swordsman, and also comment that the scratches on his sword are from a dragon. Within seconds of the character being introduced, you know there’s a lot of history to be explored. You also find out during his fight with Elsa that he has a sword that can only be drawn whenever the fuck it decides it wants to be. There’s a bit of a story to be found there too, but mainly it’s just one of those universally cool concepts.
The first arc also ends on a hook, with Reinhard being quite shocked by something and sort of kidnapping Felt. This is largely just a normal cliffhanger situation, but I was incredibly thankful it happened. A lot of light novel authors tend to put out pretty cool first volumes, and then everything afterwards is just awful. It’s usually because they get a really cool idea, write a volume out of it, then when it dawns on them that they need to actually write more volumes, they realize they’re out of ideas.
Re:Zero on the other hand ends its first part with a pretty blatant sign that there are grander schemes at work. Knowing that the questions swirling in my mind were probably going to be answered did a lot for selling me on the show.
At this point you might be thinking: “Holy shit does this guy ever shut up? All this time and he’s still on the first three episodes.” Don’t worry, I covered a almost all of the general concepts of Re:Zero that make it tick, so now it’s a matter of primarily pointing out scenes that reinforce those concepts.
Well, except I need to cover just how perfect the second arc is. Seriously, say what you want about the third arc, but the second is structured so well it’s unreal.
The fourth episode shows of the new setting, all the new characters who we get very brief information on, there’s an ominous conversation between Roswaal and Ram about spies, and there’s some nice progress with Subaru trying to get closer to Emilia. Then he wakes up to find out he got reset to the beginning of the episode. Not to mention it was done with the neat trick of him noticing that the injuries on his hands from working were gone, which lined up perfectly with the background music.
Immediately there are questions flying through your head, “Wait, did he die? If he did then how did he not even notice it? Or does he not need to die for a reset to happen???” Not to mention this is when the decision to show the episode titles at the end starts paying off. There are quite a few episodes where it’s just a neat touch but doesn’t have much impact, but having all these questions shooting through your head as the realization dawns on Subaru just to get a title as sarcastic as “The Happy Roswaal Mansion Family” is so menacingly perfect.
By the way, I’m going to start pointing out these small little directorial decisions quite a bit in this second arc, and that’s because as I was saying at the beginning, the entire point of this is that Re:Zero doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it is extremely well-crafted and that’s not appreciated enough nowadays.
So the reason the second arc is so great is because it plays out like a murder mystery, which compliments the mystery nature of the show itself quite well. Most of the early episodes are a single loop attempt where each one gives you just a bit more information. You think most of the questions are answered when you see Rem torture the shit out of Subaru, but then he decides to just save himself on the next loop and she ends up dying in her sleep instead of him. Suddenly a whole new can of worms has been opened about the possibilities of what’s going on, such as an unknown third party screwing with things.
Also, it’s important to note that there’s a direct correlation between how hard Subaru tries to solve the problems of the loops he’s stuck in and how dark it gets. Sure, maybe he fares better in regards to his own physical person, but the situation at hand tends to spiral into chaos. Remember how I said at the beginning that one of the themes was never giving up or how there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to be found? This was what I was talking about.
Which is what makes it extra hilarious when people accuse the show of being “edgy”. Then again it’s yet another word people have used to the point that it doesn’t even really have any weight or meaning anymore, so who’s really surprised? It’s just thrown out whenever a show that someone doesn’t like does something that’s dark. You don’t see people accusing Berserk of being edgy, now do you? Though as I mentioned at the start, fans aren’t exactly helping when they say the show is great because of how dark it is.
Claims used that aren’t entirely thought out just because they sound good and line up with someone’s opinion is hardly new, they just really come to the forefront if the show is popular enough. It’s like the complaint that the second arc is bad because it’s “ten episodes in a mansion”, as if that actually means anything. People who don’t like the show just hear, “oh there’s no change in location for a long time” and take it as a bona fide issue, despite the fact that taking a second to actually think about it exposes how silly of a complaint it is.
Thousands of shows take place in one or a couple locations, a change in it is just simply the easiest way to feel like something is happening in a story, but it’s not dependent on it. All that matters is if you are actually learning new information, which you are. Plus it ignores the giant elephant in the room telling you that this is a show about repeating the same chunk of time over and over again until death has been avoided. Not very shocking about being in the same setting for a long period of time considering, huh?
Context is absolutely up for interpretation, but sometimes it feels like people are just outright allergic to it.
As for edginess, intent is what’s important: something is actually “edgy” when it’s dark because that’s what’s “cool”; or it can be the loner approach, where being a lone wolf is the way to go because people just don’t “get” you or something. The idea is that the dark aspects are implemented for incredibly shallow reasons. Re:Zero gets darker at times to make a point. When Subaru tries to run away from problems rather than fix them, he gets punished for his selfishness.
It’s kind of tragic when you think about it. He literally has to try his hardest to get the best outcome for those who deserve it because if he doesn’t shit will get way worse. If Subaru wasn’t intentionally designed to be a somewhat off-putting character, you’d almost feel bad for him. I still kind of do, honestly. I mean, dude can’t even tell anyone about his looping abilities because some weird shadow hand shows up and almost crushes his heart to pieces. That’s rough.
This is the part of the story where you start making some big connections. Rem had just tortured him at the beginning of the episode because he had “the smell of the witch” on him, and the only notable thing we can place about Subaru is his special ability. Seems the witch has some kind of interest in our main character, which would answer where the ability came from, but now there’s the big, fat question of “why”. Rem also makes a comment about how the witch caused her sister “agony”, which is yet another connection to ponder.
This episode, number seven, and the following episode eight were the ones that started getting people talking about the show, because it’s the start of the show exploring Subaru’s character in an interesting way. There’s nothing really “deconstructive” about it – or anything in the show, really – but it’s more of the show taking directions that actually make sense, as opposed to shooting your story in the foot.
The resets take their toll on Subaru, both physically and emotionally, and the stress of trying to not fuck anything up gets him to the point where he overworks himself to a breaking point. The maids get suspicious of his odd behavior, but Emilia, kindhearted as she is, worries about him. She sees through his act and is able to get him to open up about his struggles. It prevents him from getting any more work done that day seeing as he passes out, but it saves his life in more ways than he’ll realize.
I mentioned before that Subaru doesn’t actually solve any of the arcs on his own, he has to rely on others, which can be considered somewhat of a theme. The first arc is the weakest example since it’s Reinhard just happening to hear what’s going on and shows up to kick ass, but Subaru only survives the wrath of the maids in the second arc because Emilia tells them that he’s a good person after he confides in her emotionally.
It’s no different in the third arc, it’s a recurring pattern that when Subaru is most emotionally open with what’s going on with himself and can either vent or talk it out with someone those tend to be the most successful loops.
Yeah, Re:Zero is real edgy. Uh huh.
It’s just nice to see a character able to make mistakes and learn from them. It makes them feel more human and therefore relatable, even if you’d never make those specific mistakes yourself. As long as it’s logically consistent with the character, it’s good stuff. You can’t force problems that conflict with what you know of a character, otherwise it just comes across as irritating.
Just to branch off of that heartwarming aspect of confiding in people, the eighth episode also has the best directing for a bit of conversation ever in the form of Subaru talking to Beatrice about what happened. You probably didn’t think anything of it as you saw it, but it was fantastic.
Beatrice has her face buried in a book as Subaru moans about how he made himself look like a fool. She pays him barely any heed and lets him know that his whining is silly and his choice of directing it at her even more so. He unflinchingly fires back that they’re close by giving her the nickname “Beako” on the spot. As Beatrice begins to retort that they’re not even close, the fact that he gave her a nickname dawns on her as she stops mid-sentence and looks up from her book. She angrily asks what he just called her as she looks to her left, sees he’s not there, and immediately switches to looking to her right.
That bit right there at the end, that’s absolutely perfect. She wasn’t paying any attention to him, so when she actually has her attention forcefully directed towards him in anger, she looks at the last spot she heard him walking, which was to her left since he’s pacing in circles around her. When she sees he’s already gone, she switches to looking the other way.
There’s so much personality conveyed in that little visual direction, it’s so good. What better way to show how little she was paying attention to him than for her to look the wrong way at first because he had already moved to another spot? Honestly a lot of Subaru and Beatrice’s interactions are great, but that one is the most fun visually.
There are other nice little bits of directing in the episode, like when Puck demonstrates Shammoc on Subaru and there’s a shot of him regaining his composure since it was so similar to when the shadow hand grabbed his heart and he’s trying to be extra cheerful on this loop. Or how there was a rumbling noise continuing to get louder and louder as he put on his eccentric act to try and make people happy until it peaked by having him puke. And the bit where you could see the one visible eye of Subaru flinch as Emilia plays with his hair when she calls him out on his craziness being all a weird act.
Obviously none of these are going to sell the show in and of themselves or anything, but there are a lot of these kinds of touches in the second arc, and I love them. I find it’s the most clear way for the staff or director to convey their passion for what they’re working on, and that really elevates a show for me. But I’m going to skip a good chunk of the more obvious ones for the sake of time because otherwise we’d be here for fucking hours knowing me. It’s time I covered the big one.
The third arc is the biggest of them all, it takes up the entire second half of the show. It’s also the arc where it’s pretty clear the author decided where exactly he wanted the story to go from here on out because the scale and mystery expands pretty damn massively. We started with a small group of people in specific areas, but now we have a ruler election thing going on with a murderous witch cult that has really ambiguous goals. All you can tell is that they’re obsessed with Emilia for reasons that may not be as obvious as they seem.
Subaru himself also gets the most focus here. Previously we saw him struggle, but it was the kind that would work for a lot of different types of characters. While he certainly has his own style of how he shows and tries to solve it, the stress and mental anguish of dying repeatedly and having to repeat it isn’t a very personal struggle. That changes real fast when he makes a complete ass of himself because of his defensiveness of Emilia.
Of course it’s natural to be defensive of someone you have feelings for, but the problem is that he repeatedly goes against her wishes in order to do defending that she didn’t ask for. Then in a display that just puts an absurd amount of anime to shame, Emilia actually sticks up for herself and tries to get answers out of him about why he acted the way he did. When he sees he’s losing the argument and attempts to basically emotionally blackmail her, she doesn’t fall for it and pledges to break ties with him. Then the checkpoint for the arc is after this argument, so Subaru has to learn what he did wrong and actually become a better person rather than just avoid the problem. A lot of shows wouldn’t have the balls to let their female characters stand up for themselves, especially if it put the main character in a bad light, but Re:Zero doesn’t have a problem with making use of a knowingly imperfect protagonist and forcing him to grow.
To be fair, Emilia doesn’t cut ties purely out of her own interest, she’s the type of person to blame herself for Subaru acting the way he does, so she likely saw separating herself as a way to help him as much as herself. Still, it’s a powerful move. Especially when the episode titles do their thing and come up at the end. “Self-Proclaimed Knight, Natsuki Subaru”. Ouch. If that was at the start of the episode, it’d have a much different tone, wouldn’t it? The context changes a lot by leaving it until the end, and it’s brilliantly scathing as a result, especially since it just displays in dead silence.
I said back at the start that Subaru is largely a side show while the world is the real point of interest in the show, but that doesn’t mean that he’s unimportant, it’s the opposite considering he is the main character we follow around and is our vehicle to explore said world. His character was also an extremely smart choice considering it works the best in this type of repeating time loop story.
Getting transported into a fantasy world is the exact kind of otaku wet dream that Subaru wanted. He hated himself and was just going through the motions of life, so getting transported into a new world gave him a chance to start over. The point of showing him shopping at the start wasn’t just to show his boredom, but his completely dead eyes. There was absolutely no light in them, but as he realized he’s in a new world, they suddenly lit up because this is exactly what he wanted, completely unaware at the reality that awaited him.
Once you find this out all his actions before make sense. At first you might assume the frantic energy he has is a coping mechanism for all the misery he goes through – which it partially is – but the reality is that he’s trying to erase his previous, apathetic self. At the same time he has no real social experience, which is why he just tosses around random in-jokes constantly that nobody in the new world actually understands. Subaru isn’t exactly an expert communicator, which he displays time and time again.
But while this new shot at life doesn’t turn out to be the freebie that he wanted, it also manages to be exactly what he needed. Subaru may be nerdy and possessive, but he has a good heart. He wants to have people he can be close to and can mess around with, and the other characters can eventually see that in him. The point of the story isn’t to reward Subaru for his selfish desire to start over at no expense to himself, it’s to bring out the good that was already in him but is bogged down by self-loathing and the silly acts he puts on.
Again, Re:Zero is real edgy you guys.
I know I’m arguing about how the mystery of everything is the real draw to the show, but I totally get all the people who love it just because of the way it tackles Subaru. He’s a massive breath of fresh air compared to the typical protagonists in shows lately. If anything I’m surprised that people liked him so much, usually characters that are intentionally irritating don’t go down well with viewers. If you look up staff interviews, one of the most explicit instructions the director gave to the script writers was that they weren’t allowed to let Subaru look good. Then again the popularity did explode during episodes seven and eight, which were the “Subaru Breakdown” episodes, so maybe it was just seeing an interesting psychological side to him that was enough for people.
Speaking of characters, I suppose this is also the time to cover Rem. God I hope I don’t get skewered for this.
Look, I like Rem. Too many stories nowadays will introduce a character for an arc and then outright abandon them after it’s over. I appreciate one that’s willing to keep its characters relevant. She also gave a great, heartfelt speech to Subaru about why he shouldn’t give up when there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel to be found, even if the directing for it got a tad overly corny. I entirely get why people would like Rem the most out of the female cast.
But the utter fanaticism she’s garnered is absurd. I mean, I get that around half the people that are being crazy about her are really just having fun and aren’t being entirely serious, but there are people that mean it, so this is directed at them.
She hampers the story more than anything after the eighteenth episode. The whole draw of the arc is that Subaru is trying to get back to Emilia and reconcile with her, but the show is so hung up on Rem that you can be forgiven for completely forgetting she even exists. The show is too busy showing off her appeal to remember that Emilia is the primary focus. Once she’s forced to stay behind, everything gets right back on track to where it’s supposed to be. For some reason the show is incapable of focusing on more than one female character at a time it seems.
Although something I’ve been thinking about is that this problem might be alleviated for people who marathon the show. Waiting each week for an episode where Emilia is nowhere in sight is different from two or so hours of not seeing her. It’s still a problem, but outside of the cliffhanger endings really keeping you anxious, the best way to watch the show might be all of it at once. Albeit due to the waiting I often watched each episode more than once and a lot of the time I often liked them even more on the second viewing. So maybe the best experience is a marathon after having already seen it.
Anyway, back to the point I was making, the real kicker is that people got upset when Subaru chose Emilia over her, and they didn’t get why in a perfect example of hilarious irony. Subaru has feelings for Emilia for almost the exact same reasons that Rem does for him, the only difference is that he didn’t make a big dramatic speech about it (yet). To be fair it’s mostly a recency bias issue, all the focus on Subaru developing feelings for her was in the first eight episodes. He was initially attracted to her selflessness, which then changed to a much more personal attraction after she forces him to take a break and gets him to open up. She saved his life; more than he even realizes.
Plus, it was incredible for a show to actually have the main character reject someone. Not the literal act of rejecting Rem, I mean most stories would be too scared to alienate fans so they’d just dodge the situation and string them along forever even though you know it won’t actually go anywhere.
I think the disparity is that people feel more for the “purity” displayed from Rem, as opposed to Emilia who was actually going as far as to break ties with Subaru altogether because of his actions. Which is kind of hilarious, because there was a timeline where Rem tortured him brutally. Very pure.
It’s also important to remember that we as omniscient viewers see all of the loops Subaru does, but the characters aside from Subaru only know of the one where he succeeds. Rem has only seen him at his best and rescuing her, whereas Emilia has seen some extremely radical sides to him. He’s gone from knowing more about her than he should, to having an emotional breakdown in her lap, to telling her there’s trouble outside the mansion but he can take care of it. If anything, it’s surprising that it took breaking multiple promises for her to confront him about it all.
Though that reminds me, another angle people had for not liking Subaru’s decision and Emilia’s character in general is that we don’t get to see and learn all that much about her besides her physical similarities to the witch. Though this is odd, because that’s the point.
We aren’t supposed to know much about her, at least not yet, because for all we know she could be Satella, or possessed by her already or something. We find out later that Puck knows the witch, after all. We’re supposed to have a balance between wanting to like her and being wary at the same time. Dislike the approach if you want, but the vagueness is intentional to add to the theory-crafting.
The point is that liking Rem the most is fine and perfectly understandable, but then in turn saying it makes no sense for Subaru to have feelings for Emilia is ridiculous. Then again we live in an era where two similar things means one has to be the best and that makes the other one automatically shit for some reason. Just look at console wars.
Besides, best girl is actually Patrasche, so you’re all wrong anyways.
The other major character introduced this arc – outside of the candidates – is Betelgeuse. I don’t think I’ve ever flip-flopped so hard on whether I like a character or not. I like what he’s supposed to be: a genuinely insane villain as opposed to the usual one that’s actually entirely predictable despite the label. It works extremely well because he gets introduced in the episode where Subaru pretends to have lost his mind in order to garner sympathy. At first you probably aren’t sure what’s going on with him, but when the utterly psychotic lunatic Betelgeuse calls him out on his act, you know he’s right.
On the other hand, his portrayal visually is a mixed bag. Some of his antics are genuinely creepy and work well in the later episode when he possesses Subaru’s body, but other times it’s just too much and comes off as humorous instead. To be fair, some are supposed to be, like when he smashes his face into a nearby rock for not finding a “devoted follower” like Subaru sooner. Other actions that are supposed to be creepy just come off as funny, but that might just be because I can have a pretty dark sense of humor. I genuinely laughed at his mocking “Subaru-kun~” that he made after wreaking havoc on Rem’s body, and I’m not entirely sure I was meant to.
I probably lean more on the positive end when it comes to him overall however, if mainly because it was great to see the overuse of “desu” at the end of sentences which is typically used to make characters seem cuter than they actually are get reworked into making someone come across as really mentally unstable. That’s Re:Zero‘s real greatest contribution to the anime world.
If anything I ultimately like him because his vocal performance is absolutely spot-on 100% of the time. By the way, you know how people like to dismiss shows that have the main character voice acted by the same guy who did Kirito because that’s all they can think of and they equate their feelings for a character equally with their thoughts on how good a vocal performance is for some weird reason? Guess who voiced Betelgeuse.
Yeah, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, same guy who voiced Kirito. While I’m one to prioritize actual acting talent over vocal range, I will give credit for both when it’s on display. Hats off, Matsuoka.
While this is all good stuff, the real meat here is how the mystery of the world expands in this third arc. This is what I waited each week for with baited breath, and it didn’t let me down. There’s too many to go over every single one, so I’ll just highlight a few.
The first major episode to kick things off is fourteen, as Subaru tries to make his way back to the Roswaal mansion. As he walks through the forest, the background music is nonexistent as a witch cultist suddenly appears in front of him. Before long, he’s completely surrounded by them. Nothing happens for a few seconds, before they move. Not to attack, but to bow. Then they vanish as quickly as they appeared, with a creepy fantastical giggling sound effect to see them off.
A large part of what carries that scene is the sound effect – it’s fucking creepy – but the implications of the scene itself are enormous. We already had a good feeling that Subaru and Satella are connected, but we didn’t know to what extent. For witch cultists to show up and not only refrain from attacking him, but to bow, opens up all kinds of questions about a possible hierarchy of sorts with the cultists. Or even the possibility that Subaru may have the same standing as the witch herself to them.
Also, is it just me or does those guys look an awful lot like the ones that attacked Rem and Ram’s village in the past? What was the motivation behind that attack? Hmm…
This carries over into the fifteenth episode, which the Internet fell in love with for good reason. The witch cult is trying to pull off something called the “Ordeal”, and they’re lead by an archbishop named after each of the seven deadly sins. Betelgeuse is Sloth, and seems to think that Subaru is Pride. While it’s easy to pass this off as a misunderstanding due to Satella’s connection with him, it may not actually be.
We don’t know anything about how these guys came to lead the witch cult, or why she gave Subaru the ability to loop on death. For all we know the whole plan Satella has is to develop Subaru into Pride. I mentioned that he’s only able to get past each hurdle due to the help of others, what would happen to him if that help wasn’t there? He’d probably become quite the lunatic, maybe a bit like… Betelgeuse?
What if these archbishops all had the power Subaru did, and they lost their minds until they devoted themselves to this mysterious entity who “loved” them enough to free them from death over and over again? It’s a pretty out-there theory, but that’s the point. This is the kind of story that encourages these kinds of theories because it loves to foreshadow so much.
For example, did you notice in the very first episode that there was an archway with Emilia’s emblem design on it? You could guess she had to do with the upper echelon of society before it ever actually revealed it. You got an extra hint in her interactions with Reinhard, too.
The fifteenth episode ends on a really morbid note, with a strange, gigantic creature emerging from the Roswaal mansion and killing off Subaru, telling him to “sleep, along with his daughter”. What is that thing? It kind of sounds like Puck, and he’s referred to Emilia as his daughter before, so it fits. But why the hell is he so huge and menacing now?
Questions, questions, questions, and answers that lead to more questions. Keep the viewer thinking and pondering, which in turn keeps them invested.
This is also another episode where the choice to put the title card at the end works perfectly. If a title like “The Outside of Madness” was at the start, you’d probably remember it long enough to assume it’s referring to Subaru being weird, or perhaps Betelgeuse. Since it’s at the end right after you see Subaru’s face contorted in rage, there’s a much more likely possibility of what the title is referring to.
There are a few interesting questions brought up by a different giant creature in the seventeenth episode, mainly how losing a fight with it seems to erase your existence in its entirety, but the real head-scratcher is later in the episode, when Subaru’s punishment for revealing his ability isn’t to hurt him like usual, but kill Emilia. Admittedly, this is more of a “figure it out yourself” thing rather than actual theory-crafting, but it’s nice that the show expects you to be smart enough to realize why it happened.
Subaru isn’t allowed to tell people about his power, so normally he gets severe pain to shut his mouth because he would fear for his life. But in this situation, he had already abandoned himself to possible death, and pain wasn’t going to be enough to stop him, so the power did the one thing it could to make sure his words wouldn’t be heard: kill anyone within earshot. This does however open up an actual theory as a side-thought: maybe this punishment isn’t some automated system, perhaps those hands are being manually controlled.
After all, you see at the end that Betelgeuse has some hands of his own that come from his body which he controls. The hands that have hurt Subaru just seem to spawn from some black void, we don’t know if they’re attached to anything at the end of it.
This was also another episode where the writing and directing show their chops, with Subaru giving another scathing rant towards Emilia about how she’ll fail at everything she tries to do and it’ll just get everybody killed. Her first word in response is “why”, which at first you expect to lead into “why would you say something like that”, but instead ends up being “why are you crying?” before you see Subaru reflected in her eyes with tears streaming down his face. He was talking about himself.
It’s another example of the show being smart enough to not directly explain certain things to you, it just expects you to get it. It’s your first little teaser at things to come in the following episode, but the scene itself is also just a fantastic, proper use of emotional manipulation. You’re pissed at Subaru initially for being such a jackass, then when you realize who the speech is really directed at, you’re just left with maybe your first genuine shred of sympathy for the guy.
Also the show really likes the “see people reflected in others eyes” shot. Mainly because a pretty big part of the show is how the characters view each other. Simple, but makes sense.
I could go on and on about all the thoughts going through my mind at each major scene and even from reading between the lines of character’s dialogue. Puck makes a comment about how strong Satella is, mentions a contract about destroying the world, and seems to know about the other sin archbishops. We start seeing glimpses of who is probably Satella behind Subaru as he tries to talk about his power. Betelgeuse’s Fingers act in a very similar way to him after he’s killed off and are afraid of spirits. We find out the goal of the witch cult is to test if Emilia is a good host body for the witch. Betelgeuse comments that he hasn’t forgotten “a single moment of the things Satella’s done for him, even if she has”, which you could take as more than just the metaphorical ravings of a madman considering we know someone else who can remember things others don’t. That out-there theory doesn’t seem so crazy after taking that scene into account, huh? There was also the scene where Satella knocks Betelgeuse out of Subaru’s body after saying he’s “not the one”, which has some big implications beyond just the obvious literal meaning.
Actually, I want to go over that one a bit. I don’t want to undervalue just how insanely massive this scene is. Not only is there a vague statement about Subaru being “the one” for something, she basically denounces the witch cult all at once. You could take it as the cult having formed due to their own insanity, but what if they had actually been Satella’s Plan A, and now with the introduction of Subaru (presumably by her own hands) she’s switched to some Plan B that only she knows of? Betelgeuse did make those statements about “even if she forgot everything”, after all.
It isn’t hard to guess that she’s the one in charge of Subaru’s checkpoints, and there’s always been this constant air of uneasiness about the connection between the two of them, but now you have to look over everything he has and will accomplish and wonder: is this all just part of her plan? There’s no way to know, at least not yet, so it’s hard to take almost anything that happens at face value, it keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing.
Again, this is how you fuel investment in a story through the world itself: get the audience pondering, get them involved.
There are so many scenes and lines of dialogue to just get you thinking and thinking, we’d be here for hours if I went over every single one in detail.
I have a lot to say about how the show ended, but I want to highlight the ending of the twenty-third episode before that because it was so fucking perfect.
Subaru has made a lot of progress on this loop, it’s been going since the eighteenth episode and he didn’t die to the White Whale despite how monstrous it was. The end of the episode has Subaru possessed by Betelgeuse, which confirms the theory that he was taking control of each of those Fingers after each death. As Subaru fights for control of his own body, he begs Julius and Felix to kill him.
Not only do you not know if his checkpoint has been updated, but the ending song for the second half which is called Stay Alive and sung by Emilia’s voice actress is playing as he’s begging for death. Just for a sword to be swung down as the camera cuts away and the song ends, with the title card “Nefarious Sloth” to pop up.
Do I need to cover just how utterly perfect that is? The song almost echoes the audience, desperate for him to not die as so much progress has been made. Then as his death is all but confirmed, the title card also echoes the rage at Betelgeuse for screwing up such a great timeline. Everything about the ending of that episode is just perfect, including Yuusuke Kobayashi’s performance managing to keep up with the insanity of Matsuoka’s.
As for the ending of the show itself, it’s not perfect, but a lot of the complaints it gets are misplaced. The biggest one being people just upset that it’s such a happy ending, or that it was a standard “get the girl” style ending (even if that’s not 100% accurate). I think the problem there is just people that took the show as some kind of deconstruction or satire, which it isn’t. Re:Zero certainly has things to say about the genre, but the point is that it’s an example of how to do it right, not a scathing damnation of it or something. If you were surprised the ending played out the way it did, you probably missed what the show was going for.
Did you notice that the title card for the episode for the finale had a white background as opposed to the usual black? Do you think it was unintentional that I constantly used the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” throughout this? That’s about as literal a visual representation of that as you could get. At least through the use of title cards.
To be fair, some people were upset at the happy ending because they know of things that happen in the source material. I won’t say what since I wouldn’t dare spoil people, but I did look up what it was for the sake of covering my thoughts on the show’s decision to end where it did. All I can say is that the show 100% made the right choice. The whole theme of eventually finding hope through solid effort would have been kind of ruined if it didn’t. Not to mention the show wouldn’t have felt complete if it didn’t end there, despite it being clear that there is more content to be covered. That’s all I can really say without being specific.
By the way, can you novel nerds stop fucking spoiling shit so much? In the process of checking out other people’s thoughts on the show so I could know what tone to write with and what parts to address, I’m pretty sure I got spoiled on a pretty major plot point. Thanks for that, dicks. If you know the source material but have the common sense not to say anything, you are an unsung hero.
Back to the ending, the only real issue I had with it is that Emilia was a little too forgiving. I get that Subaru just saved her and the kids’ lives and he can actually communicate his feelings properly this time, but it would have been nice if she had brought up at least a tiny little bit of anger about what happened before since it was such and empowering scene for her as a character. I get that it’s just in her nature to be upset about what she did, I did cover that angle when I went over the episode, but it just feels like they could have handled it a tiny bit better considering she seems to drop almost every drop of anger she had about the whole thing.
Although the show did do a great job of establishing just how big a deal it is for Emilia to have someone unabashedly say they love her, and Subaru made a pretty good speech. It was just unfortunate that such a strong scene got almost erased in the process.
Also there was too much bloom. I appreciated the atmosphere they were going for, but sweet christ did it get hard to see at times.
But ultimately the end to the show was bittersweet. I knew the ending wouldn’t be entirely complete and some of my theories would remain unanswered, but watching each episode and being able to consider possibilities about what every little thing meant was a blast. Not enough shows do it (mainly because it’s so damn hard to pull off), but when you get a show that can keep up with your crazy predictions and sometimes even outdo them, it’s just magical. Though like I said, the writing for Subaru is good enough to watch for that alone, it’s just that a show that builds a connected story that encourages actual active involvement as opposed to just passive reception is an art that needs to be more appreciated.
The music and animation are also superb, however the former is always up to personal taste – though the director asking for music typically heard in a drama rather than anything specifically anime is a nice change of pace from most shows – and the latter tends to be specific scenes rather than a constant factor. I’ll never get over the cut where Elsa is fighting Reinhard and it’s in first-person as she crawls all around the inside of the building.
This might be unfair to say, but I think a lot of the negativity towards the show, especially at the start, was largely due to bad blood from other shows. Re:Zero is a bit of a victim of the time in which it aired. People are so burned out by these types of shows and there’s a stigma against light novels so people just inherently assume there’s no worth and just don’t see the point in getting invested.
With these kind of stories that want your involvement, you’re a lot less likely to give it if you aren’t expecting anything from the show in the first place. In turn, certain developments can come across as lackluster despite there being enough set up for them to actually work quite well.
This is a really biased argument to make, but it’s all I could think of when I saw people passing off the show after the first episode as “just more self-insert otaku wish fulfillment” when I was able to get something so different out of the show. But maybe I’m just too optimistic.
But if that means I get to enjoy a show like this as much as I did, I think I’m okay with that.