Re:Zero is a must-watch for any anime fan, not just fantasy-action fans. It is one of the most compelling TV shows I’ve seen in years.
|Studio||White Fox, Studio Puyukai (shorts)|
|Genre||Fantasy, drama, action, romance, horror, mystery, seinen|
|Number of episodes||25 (main), 25 (shorts)|
Some gamers and otakus dreamed of waking up one day in a fantasy world. A world of swords, magic, unique races and medieval-style towns. I mean, yeah! Wouldn’t that make life a lot more interesting?
Alas, be careful with what you wish for, because the cold reality is that a world of swords and magic is still brutal. There’s escapism, and there’s not being cut out for living this kind of life.
Or hey… maybe you can get used to it… if death is just a minor inconvenience to you…
The Dangers of Lugunica
Subaru Natsuki is your typical adolescent shut-in and a night owl who loves video games. But in a very abrupt manner, a mysterious force summons Subaru into the fantasy kingdom of Lugunica. At first, he seemed totally stoked about this idea—to the point of not freaking out that he just got abducted.
I mean, look at all this! The town he was in had a fantasy medieval theme to it. People used a different kind of currency from yen. They speak the same language as him. There are half-human, half-animal people walking about.
…He can go peep at furry chicks in the lady’s restroom.
…Wait, is that supposed to be a perk?
But soon, Subaru realizes that this fantasy world isn’t made for him. It’s like the real world, only it sucks even more. Some demihumans are prejudiced against humans, it’s easy to get mugged out in the streets without no one helping you, and people in general are more apathetic towards you—especially when you look and behave weird.
…In Sword Art Online. Kirito stole it from you. Have fun, lel.
But Subaru comes across a beautiful half-elf mage girl named Emilia, who lost an important insignia to a wily thief girl named Felt. Since Emilia saved him from a group of muggers, Subaru developed an attraction to her and desired to get close to her as a friend. At first, Emilia seemed like a cold and uncaring individual, but this behavior turned out to be a facade to mask her kind and caring nature.
But because Subaru possesses no special strengths of his own, he is weak and vulnerable compared to everyone else in the kingdom of Lugunica. And so at one point or another, he dies a slow and excruciating death.
Spoilers: he dies. A LOT.
But then, time mysteriously repeats itself and Subaru restarts from a certain point, as if starting over from a save point in a video game. He learns that this unique ability is called “Return by Death.” But whenever he tries speaking those words, a mysterious force gags him and his body produces an odor of the infamous Witch of Jealousy—an enigmatic figure despised by everyone in Lugunica. This odor attracts monsters called Witchfiends towards him. And by extension, people are less likely to trust him because of his connection to the Witch.
The kingdom of Lugunica is a dangerous place. Not only some of the citizens have no qualms in killing strangers, but there are assassins lurking everywhere—many of which are targeting Emilia. Because Subaru literally can’t mention his ability to anyone in Lugunica, he has a tough time gaining the people’s trust whenever he has to solve problems in a very specific way.
So Subaru took it upon himself to prevent disastrous events from ever happening while learning more about the people and the world to save his own skin. But he has to do it in a way where he doesn’t draw suspicion from others.
But so far, the consequences of Subaru’s failures are uncertain. As time moves forward, he will come across certain “save points.” But he doesn’t know what constitutes as a save point in Lugunica, so he has to race against time as well. There’s no knowing WHEN it will be too late to undo the consequences.
And what are some of the consequences?
- People he came to know and love end up dying.
- Subaru ends up dying from a mysterious force or an assassin, with a good possibility that he pissed someone off along the way.
- Because Subaru restarts from a certain point, the people around him behave as if the events never happened. Only Subaru knows the true horrors of what happens to those people in the future, and it’s absolutely frustrating for him to try to get those people to listen to him.
- Subaru’s deaths vary from quick and painless to slow and painful. He has a strong fear of death.
- He has no one to blame but himself for his inaction.
And that is Re:Zero in a nutshell. From here on out, I’m not going to give too many spoilers about the story, because it is best to experience the anime blind. There are many unexpected twists and turns, and quite a few of them can get dark and tragic. It’s a story that touches upon genuine friendship, trust, courage, political intrigue, racism and the frustration over loss of progress. With that said, I strongly recommend the series if you would love a good fantasy story with a time travel element.
But if you’re not convinced and want to learn more, keep on reading.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Easily the most polarizing element of Re:Zero is its protagonist. People love him. People hate him. And I can understand both sides.
Subaru Natsuki… has flaws. Well, okay, a LOT of flaws. But I don’t think he’s that bad of a character, because he does eventually learn from his mistakes and becomes a better person for it.
From the get-go, he’s a teenager who’s doing nothing with his life. He’s not in school, doesn’t have a job and wastes his life away on video games. But that changed when he entered Lugunica. The prospects of a fantasy world excites him and he wants to adjust to this kind of life.
Subaru’s actions eventually allowed him to stay over at Emilia’s home, the Roswaal Mansion. There, he meets quite a few colorful characters: Ram and Rem, the twin maids; Roswaal L. Mathers, the flamboyant lord of the mansion; and Beatrice, the grumpy loli spirit. The great thing about these characters is that they all have a dark side to them. They can be kind and softhearted in the right circumstances. But if you dare piss them off, they will mess you up beyond repair.
And this is where Subaru can get aggravating.
This coming from a guy never seen without his makeup, even during bathing.
The thing about Subaru’s character is that he has a tendency to take the easy way out of situations, resulting in many heartbreaking situations. And it’s pretty easy to hate him for it. Even though he has a powerful ability that grants him a certain degree of immortality, he’s often too much of a coward to use it because he’s afraid to die. He can be a real baby sometimes.
We’ve seen that Subaru’s own death is inconsequential, which allows him to start a period of time all over again and gives him more time to prevent a series of tragedies from happening. But because of his fear, he had to go experience those tragedies anyway, to the point of driving him insane.
It just makes you want to say, “Goddamnit, Subaru! Just grow a pair and get this over with already! Stop tripping over the same pitfalls!”
Now thankfully, he isn’t always like this. As an average person, he’s an easygoing and likable fellow. He can be sarcastic and witty. And his Engrish lines can be funny. He can get overly enthusiastic at times and be poor at reading situations (sometimes to the point of stupidity), resulting in bad blood between him and the people around him.
It’s not that he means to upset people, but that he can be a real clueless dumbo with no concept of restraint sometimes. But once he does enter a more rational mindset, he becomes considerably braver and smarter. He cares about his new friends enough to the point where he’s willing to put himself into dangerous situations for their sake, even when he’s clearly out of his league. Even this kind of behavior can be bothersome to others around him, though—in fact, he has a tendency to make Emilia worried sick about him because of his eagerness in trying too hard to help her.
But little do his friends know, most of Subaru’s actions (orthodox or not) happen in order to protect them from danger. Sadly, he literally can’t mention ‘what’ and ‘why’ to them.
Which makes that one conversation with Emilia (you know which one I’m talking about, fans) pretty hard to watch. You can’t help but feel he can be a real asshole sometimes—belittling others—, but you do understand why he acts that way.
While the “Return by Death” ability allows Subaru to build better timelines, it’s also a curse to him. A curse that often hurts his relationships with the other characters.
Say what you will about Subaru, but our demoniacally possessed hero did manage to pull off some universally glorious feats…
He got Rem to smile. She went from this normally taciturn, self-loathing yandere to one of the sweetest cinnamon rolls to ever grace anime.
Which brings me to another point…
SUBARU, YOU IDIOT. WHY DIDN’T YOU GIVE REM A CHANCE?
Yeah, I know. Subaru had his heart set for Emilia, who he claimed to have saved him. And yeah, it’s real sweet for Subaru to always be there for Emilia, even when no one is on her side. Because lord knows that being hated by 90% of the people out there for what you are rather than who you are makes you a very lonely person.
But would you really pass on Number One Waifu Rem for a girl you had to go constantly save from danger?
Subaru… get out while you still can. You can still be Emilia’s knight and friend, but she’s still the Princess Zelda in this fantasy world. Get out before you end up being a Link. No one likes the Friend Zone. NO ONE!
As for the rest of the characters, they’re complex and some of them even receive character development by the end of the season. It’s to the point where even the secondary characters make a strong impression on you. Characters like Pack, Felt, Reinhard van Astrea, Ram and Rem, Roswaal, Beatrice, Crusch Karsten, Wilhelm van Astrea… all of these characters are distinct and memorable. It really helps make the setting feel alive.
So thus far, we have a solid plot and solid characterizations. I’m hoping a season 2 is coming soon, because I NEED more of this story in my life, man!
The art looks quite nice as well. It can be bright and colorful in one scene, and then dark and atmospheric in another. The character animations are pretty good, especially during the fight scenes. Man, the fight scenes do satisfy—they can get pretty gorey too.
One of the biggest highlights for me is the battle against the Witchfiend known as the White Whale (Hakugei), both before and during the battle. Before the battle, we’ve seen what it’s capable of. It’s an enigmatic but terrifying monstrosity that attacks people during a foggy night, so we know that we’re expecting one hell of a battle coming up.
This battle is one of Subaru’s biggest accomplishments, because he was the main diplomat who helped form an alliance between the rival queen candidates of Emilia. This is a very smart move on his part, because this demonstrates his ability to establish trust between rival groups. And by extension, he’s helping Emilia gain more respect and allies.
And even though he is technically working for Emilia and that he’s pretty much helping her rivals for the crown, his act of goodwill would actually benefit Emilia as well. At this point, Emilia is probably the least likely candidate to become the new queen for Lugunica, because of the prejudice she receives as a half-elf—and also because she resembles the infamous Jealous Witch known as Satella. And while Emilia can put on a brave face when speaking out to the people, she is unable to build up her charisma.
Subaru, as a representative of Emilia, gathered enough willpower to form an alliance to quell a powerful beast that terrorized Lugunica for hundreds of years. This weak kid who barely has any fighting aptitude managed to earn the respect of thousands of soldiers that day—including the queen candidates and their knights—, all in Emilia’s name. In a sense, he pulled off a Joan of Arc. It is because of the will of a single teenager that this alliance was able to get together and slay the White Whale.
As for the battle itself, it’s epic and creative. The White Whale is an extremely dangerous foe who uses mist as a method of attack. And one of those attacks includes erasing someone from existence, including people’s memories of that missing person. And that leads to one of the show’s biggest memes…
WHO IS REM?
You sick bastards. That was… diabolical…
We also got a showcase of the secondary characters demonstrating their fighting abilities and the fantasy army siege weapons, which are awesome. The whole fight does feel like trying to take down an enormous battleship. A living, breathing, unpredictable battleship that can take a LOT of abuse.
It’s a lengthy and surreal battle, but awesome nonetheless.
In any case, Re:Zero is a brilliant series that encompasses the frustrations of losing progress in JRPGs, but also that wonderful feeling of making progress. By adding the twist of making the JRPG world real to the point where the characters feel real, the stakes felt even greater and the conflicts felt grander. This is what you get when the setting of a JRPG becomes real, with real-world problems still intact.
I guess another way to describe Re:Zero is that it’s the Dark Souls of anime.
Aside from that, Re:Zero‘s narrative is very compelling with its strong characters, engaging plot, and excellent pacing. I couldn’t find a single major fault to the show, as much as I tried. As of now, this would be one of the top five anime I would recommend to people. I just love it that much. And I’m hoping its popularity will continue to grow so that a season 2 will see the light of day.
Re:Zero ~Starting Break Time From Zero~ + Re:PETIT ~Starting Life in Another World from PETIT~
Accompanying the main series are 11 anime shorts called Re:Zero ~Starting Break Time From Zero~ and 14 anime shorts called Re:PETIT ~Starting Life in Another World from PETIT~. These are more or less comedic shorts where Subaru interacts with the characters from the show, through a more lighthearted tone. True to the name, these miniature episodes are like a break from the drama of the main show.
And well, I don’t recommend skipping them. The shorts in themselves are pretty funny. Re:Zero ~Starting Break Time From Zero~ consists of events that directly occur after the episode continuity, meaning they’re technically part of the main story—though it doesn’t mean you will lose out a lot. These “breaks” are usually some trivia about the fantasy world or retrospectives by the characters, to help them reflect on the events.
Re:PETIT ~Starting Life in Another World from PETIT~ has a more random premise to it. It’s like a series of out-of-universe shorts where the characters adapt to a more realistic modern world—while still wearing their outfits from the fantasy world. Needless to say, I recommend watching one of these after one episode of the main series to get your dose of comic relief.
Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another WorldDVDs not yet available
- The unique take on the time travel aspect of the plot.
- Plenty of twists, therefore please don't look up spoilers if you want to get full enjoyment of the show.
- Subaru received some great character development.
- Distinct and memorable characters with good character development.
- Great art and animation, especially the fight scenes.
- REM IS BEST GIRL.
- Subaru is a polarizing character for some. Despite that, I think he's better than your typical teenage every-man protagonist. FYI, this is the closest thing to a