When Subaru Natsuki leaves the convenience store, the last thing he expects is to be wrenched from his everyday life and dropped into a fantasy world. Things aren't looking good for the bewildered teenager; however, not long after his arrival, he is attacked by some thugs. Armed with only a bag of groceries and a now useless cell phone, he is quickly beaten to a pulp. Fortunately, a mysterious beauty named Satella, in hot pursuit after the one who stole her insignia, happens upon Subaru and saves him. In order to thank the honest and kindhearted girl, Subaru offers to help in her search, and later that night, he even finds the whereabouts of that which she seeks. But unbeknownst to them, a much darker force stalks the pair from the shadows, and just minutes after locating the insignia, Subaru and Satella are brutally murdered.
However, Subaru immediately reawakens to a familiar scene—confronted by the same group of thugs, meeting Satella all over again—the enigma deepens as history inexplicably repeats itself.
Re:Zero truly wanted to be something. It shoots for the stars, it tries new things and throws the characters through so much torture and misery that the fantasy-world they are living in resembles more a hell. They boil in this hell, fuming with anger and regret, any shred of happiness they find fading almost immediately to nothing.
But Re:Zero isn't something. It reaches for its dear, dear life, but remains in the end wholly unremarkable shounen fare interested more in shocking the viewer with gore and theatrics than in telling a genuinely meaningful story. Re:Zero may not be terrible and irredeemable, but it certainly struggles
throughout most of its twenty-five episodes to demonstrate that there is more to it than this. What is there in Subaru's tragic story that the audience can take with them at the end? What does it want to say? Not a whole lot, to be sure. Re:Zero is ambitious in mediocrity, notable only for its perverted sense of drama.
(Minor spoilers will follow from here, as it is near-impossible to discuss an anime like this without revealing anything.)
I have seen many people compare Re:Zero to Steins;Gate in the months since its airing. This is a great disservice to Steins;Gate. Where Steins;Gate spent nearly half its runtime developing the setting and its characters before asking the audience to empathise with and feel for them, Re:Zero does so immediately and does not ever ask for consent. It never develops its setting in any meaningful way-- about all you know for the duration of the story is that it is generic fantasy-land where people hate witches and bad things happen all the time-- and it throws death and gore at the viewer from the very first episode, when nobody even knows or cares about who Subaru is. It is shocking to see major characters die within the first episode, to be fair, but it no longer feels shocking the second, third or eleventh time.
If there was any consequence to these events, it is immediately brought to nothing by the show's contrived gimmick of rebirth and time-travel. It doesn't really matter if someone does die, as time will conveniently bend backwards for Subaru's sake-- never to the beginning, and always to the last major event in the story. There is no cost and no meaning to anything that happens. Subaru's mistakes are immediately erased upon rebirth, and he can go on about his day with nothing but his own guilt holding him back. He is the God of his story and the world is his playground.
What Re:Zero does to compensate for this is killing its characters off in increasingly brutal ways. They will lose their limbs, be hacked to death by chains or tortured to the point where they no longer resemble a human being. It is violence without meaning, as artificial as can be, extreme and over-the-top to the point that it can almost at times resemble satire. Everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong for Subaru and friends, long before you are given any reason to care about their fates in the first place. The fifteenth episode is easily the biggest offender in this regard as it is nothing more than one massive slaughterfest, intent on making you feel bad for Subaru and his many waifus, him screaming in rage and gurgling on blood like it is some sort of torture porn. It is entirely possible for fiction to contain elements of death and gore without it negatively affecting the story, and in some cases it is even necessary, as it is for stories focused on issues such as war. Death is an entirely natural phenomenon, and humans are evidently not above committing acts such as murder. The issue with Re:Zero is that its death and gore exists for itself. It exists to shock and enrage the viewer, rather than serving as a product of the setting or as a vehicle for more substantial themes. For some people, this works, and throwing a character through a hurricane of awfulness is enough to instil sympathy. That's great, and I don't hold any ill will against these people. If anything, I am envious of how easily they can feel emotion. What actually bothers me is how effortless this method of storytelling truly is, and the audacity Re:Zero has to pretend it is something profound and on-par with film, as it did in the credits of the fifteenth episode. Re:Zero is visceral and sensually striking, and yet ever so empty.
"Empty" can easily be used to describe the characters as well. Emilia, for example, exists as little more than a personification of the average anime fan's ideal woman, similar in many ways to Asuna from Sword Art Online, and lacking in any meaningful characterisation besides her occasionally getting upset at Subaru. It's even more baffling that Subaru chooses her in the world of romance when she has done very little to win over his affection or help him, aside from giving him a place to stay for a couple days. She may as well not even exist-- the only reason she even does is to create more senseless tragedy for Subaru.
Rem and Ram are much better characters, as they actually have legitimate characterisation, backstory and development over the course of the story. The issue with them, particularly Rem, is that this development occurs so suddenly that it feels more like a complete change in character than an extension of who they really are. Rem goes from hating Subaru's guts to being so completely in-love with him that she is willing to follow him to the ends of the Earth and sacrifice anything for his sake. To be fair, there is reason for this abrupt change in personality: Subaru is one of the only people who has ever shown her kindness, and he did so selflessly, on several occasions, without regard for his own safety. He does a great deal to win over her trust and respect. But the extent to which she loves him, especially when she was still cursing his name just a couple short episodes before, is so extreme that it feels less like a natural progression of her feelings and more a way to instil feelings of love in the viewer, to make her palatable to otaku, an ideal girlfriend of sorts, a "waifu" much as Emilia is. It is very hard to convince me that her feelings are anything more than a fleeting puppy-love when merely showing her a bit of kindness is enough to immediately turn Subaru from her most-hated person in the world to her most-cherished one. It feels fake-- it feels like a lie, as many things in Re:Zero are revealed to be.
Betelguese, as creepy a bastard as he is, is by far one of the most obnoxious presences in the entire show. He is there, presumably, to create a sense of horror, as he will bend his body in unnatural ways, chew off his fingers in anger and bleed from his creepy little eyeballs, among other things. In reality, he is so loony and ridiculous that anything he says or does feels immediately silly, destroying any of the supposed horror he was supposed to generate. See, the thing most anime get wrong with horror (and indeed even most fiction in general) is that a truly terrifying character is not a raging lunatic, but rather someone totally ordinary and conscious of their actions. Hannibal Lecter is scary. Betelguese is anything but. If you want me to feel scared, do so in a way that resembles a reality humans can actually relate to, rather than a fantasy made of the likes of ghosts and goblins and bowl-cutted priests who eat their fingers for no reason.
Most of the side characters are weak and one-dimensional as well, as they either serve as more empty harem material (with flat-out catgirls and lolis), are defined by a single-trait or catchphrase (as Beatrice and Roswaal are), or are there as a weak attempt to instil more horror, like the stupid kid on the carriage (whose name I forget because I was too busy being angry at his annoying voice and how dumb the scene was) who completely breaks character and turns into a raging lunatic in another shallow attempt to push the story in a dark direction. The one main exception is Wilhelm, whose backstory and motivations truly do feel meaningful and justified. It is just a shame that he is immediately thrown to the benches again once this backstory reaches its quick end, serving afterwards as little more than some old dude who is skilled with the sword.
This leaves our buddy Subaru. I think, without exception, he is the factor that determines one's enjoyment of Re:Zero. If you can put up with his utter stupidity, you will find it possible to empathise with the trauma he goes through and his mental breakdowns that follow. If you are annoyed and disgusted with his presence (as I regularly was), it will be virtually impossible to care about most of what occurs. Subaru is the difference between being a fan of Re:Zero and being someone who actively dislikes it.
In many ways, he resembles a typical shounen hero. He is hot-headed, makes frequent out-of-place jokes (which I never once found funny, by the way), and refuses to ever think things through in a logical process, preferring instead to jump into battles he cannot win or to lash out at innocent people merely because his pride and fragile ego are called into question by his own mistakes. He thinks he is the coolest dude in the world, that he can save everyone through his own power, and the mere presence of someone with more skill than him offends him right to the very core. He yells and cries on a regular basis and seems incapable of having a normal conversation with anyone. Subaru is a child, and without any doubt one of the more infuriating characters I have witnessed in perhaps ever. There were points in the story where his characterisation legitimately made me angry and made me want to stop watching the show. Some moments were honestly baffling, too, such as how he switches from being completely mind-broken during the events of the fifteenth episode to being totally normal (albeit with a desire for revenge) in the next.
I say all this, but the eighteenth episode is actually one of the best episodes of anime I have seen in quite some time.
Let me explain.
Where the first two thirds of the anime spent its time showcasing unnecessary gore, Subaru's stupidity and empty characters who exist for little more than space on hug pillows and other creepy merchandise, the eighteenth episode redeems the anime and gives meaning to all that has happened, even if it doesn't erase its mistakes. It is an episode dedicated entirely to characterisation. It is a single conversation where Subaru shows remorse for his actions, recognising all the mistakes he has made and why he kept making them. He understands that he is a deeply flawed, broken person incapable of saving anyone or indeed even himself. It is at this moment that Subaru becomes aware of who he is. And you know what? I stopped hating him as a result, even if I still fundamentally disagreed with his actions and his character. He showed himself to be a human being for the first time in the entire story.
I have great respect for scenes such as these. It's not often we get entire episodes dedicated to something as ordinary as a conversation. Re:Zero didn't need to use gore and death to identify its characters or make us care - it did so merely by giving Subaru a stage to speak. This leaves just one question: why didn't Re:Zero do this from the very beginning?
It's a bummer, as there was actually potential for a great anime. The pieces were there, and the writer and the staff behind the anime demonstrated that they had the talent to execute things in an effective and honest way. The music is excellent, complimenting Subaru's struggles without ever going overboard in sappy piano pieces and cacophonous orchestral pieces as many shows of its type tend to. Its visuals look totally fine, maintaining a consistent quality despite the longer-than-average episode count and abundant battle scenes, while the facial expressions, if occasionally a bit excessive, are undeniably effective at demonstrating the characters' pain and anguish. Re:Zero is very much a well-produced anime; you can tell that the people at White Fox truly wanted to create something special.
I think this is why, even if I was bothered by most of the things I witnessed during my viewing of Re:Zero, I don't think it is a truly awful anime. It may not be a good one, not by any means-- its mistakes cannot be so easily erased-- but I do think its consistent effort and its eighteenth episode do at least redeem it to the extent of being a passable anime. It's why you see me giving Re:Zero a mediocre rating in my review rather than a poor one. I dislike much about Re:Zero, but for that one episode, I was a fan.
I have a feeling I am in the minority here, as opinions on Re:Zero almost seem to be split into a dichotomy. It is the best anime ever made for some, a life-changing adventure packed with emotion, and for the rest, it is a pile of irredeemable refuse aimed at the lowest-common denominator. To be perfectly fair, I am far more critical of Re:Zero than I am supportive of it. Its issues are certainly more numerous than its good points, and having one great episode can only take things so far when the other twenty-four vary from terrible to merely OK. But I'll be damned if I said it wasn't worth putting up with all the nonsense to get to that one point in the story. I just don't know if others are nearly as patient as I am, and I do have my doubts that future material will ever come close to that level of quality again.
Chances are, you'll have a better time with Re:Zero than I did. Many anime fans aren't looking for anything especially profound or complex in their entertainment, and I do not say that to be arrogant or dismissive. It is perfectly valid to watch anime for its entertainment value-- I do it as well, and so does just about anyone who is honest with themselves.
But this is a review and not a fan-piece. I am here to share my opinions and to judge the anime with a critical, yet fair eye. Re:Zero has a great deal of issues when viewed under these lenses, and none of them are insignificant. No matter how emotional its copious amounts of death and suffering made you, it would be quite hard to argue there is much more value to Re:Zero than its spectacle. It is a master at manipulating the audience's feelings, and while it succeeds at entertainment and has one special little moment, Re:Zero fails at making the case that it is anything more than lavishly produced, yet cheap theatre.
From my perspective, we are living in a time where well crafted anime with a myriad of originality and detail are unfortunately being released at a frequently declining rate. Because of this, many in the anime community are constantly on the lookout for something new and creative. So naturally, when an anime like Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu airs, a show that boasts morbidly unique twists on the popular but overused fantasy/game world genre, it gains a lot of popularity and is generally well received in the anime community. However just because something is innovative doesn't mean that it is a
good show overall. No, there are other characteristics, such as a detailed plot and a well developed cast, that can elevate a show from being simply different to something great. So is Re:Zero a great anime? I honestly believe that it is.
And not just because there's a totally badass adorable maid in it who fulfills the desires of every man's heart (besides the romantically challenged main character who blatantly rejects her feelings for him. What a heartless monster).
I never thought that any anime would be able to effectively combine dark psychological elements with an upbeat fantasy setting. However the genius behind Re:Zero, Tappei Nagatsuki, was able to expertly mix the two seemingly incompatible genres together, and the results are quite impressive. The show begins with our protagonist Natsuki Subaru getting suddenly transported to a fantasy world after leaving a convenience store. Being an otaku who has probably dreamed about something like this happening to him for years, Subaru is naturally excited to be in this new world. However, to his dismay, Subaru quickly learns that he doesn't have any special abilities or powers. Or so he thinks...anyway, he encounters the beautiful half elf Emilia when she saves him from a group of thugs. Thus the two of them start their adventure. This beginning seems quite clichéd, however everything changes dramatically when Subaru soon finds himself dead.
Well, that was unexpected. The protagonist dies before the first episode even ends? Really? Well we soon learn that Subaru actually does possess a magical ability, called return from death. However this power only works when Subaru dies. When this skill activates, Subaru essentially travels back in time to a certain checkpoint to relive that part of his life in order to change it to a future in which he successfully completes a certain objective and lives. Being a fan of shows involving time traveling, I was excited to see where Nagatsuki was going with this, and I wasn't disappointed with the result.
I was initially worried that Re:Zero would end up getting boring with the protagonist constantly failing and traveling back in time to relive the exact same scenarios over and over again. However with each new life, the progression of the story alters, sometimes dramatically, and many new elements are revealed to Subaru which were previously unknown that help him to solve the problems he faces and move on. This kept the anime fresh and exciting since something different happened with each life. Also, with every passing arc, Subaru's situation seemed to become substantially more dire, which lead to an increased intensity in the anime that kept me constantly entertained.
One negative aspect of the show that I've noticed is that Re:Zero seems to rely and focus on Subaru's ability a bit too heavily. This consistent emphasis on return from death takes away from other things, such as the detail revolving around the royal selection. This is seemingly an important plot point, but it is significantly overshadowed by the constant focus on Subaru and his continuous retakes at life. The anime spends an episode or two describing the royal selection and emphasizing its importance in relation to the characters only to practically drop it and hardly mention anything about it throughout the rest of the anime. There are some other similar occurrences present in Re:Zero as well. This resulted in the loss of plot points that could have made the anime more well rounded.
The character designs are very lovely. They are usually rather detailed, especially their facial expressions and features during moments when their faces are zoomed in on. Vibrant colors also help to bring the characters and scenery to life. Unfortunately, like many other shows in the industry, the animation dipped in quality as the anime progressed. The most notable example would be the fight scenes. Those showcased in the anime's initial episodes were highly detailed and well executed. However some of the later battles seemed more sloppy and not as well animated. Also, the CGI used on some background characters was utterly appalling. Luckily the use of CGI is very limited in this show. But hey, at least the female characters still maintained their lovely features throughout the entirety of the anime, and that's what really counts, right?
I was excited when I learned that Konomi Suzuki and Myth&Roid would be performing the theme songs for this anime since I enjoy music produced by both of them. Overall, I think that the theme songs are rather good, with my personal favorite being the first ending, Styx Helix, by Myth&Roid. The soundtrack was successful; it played upbeat and relaxing songs during lighthearted scenes and transitioned to dark and distorted themes during psychological moments. Subaru's seiyuu, Kobayashi Yuusuke, does an excellent job at vocally expressing the character's utter pain and misery through his voice acting talents.
At first glance, many of the characters in Re:Zero appear to fall into generic character categories. However as the anime progresses, the cast seems to evolve from their seemingly average state into much more dynamic, unique, and sometimes even lovable characters.
Subaru surprisingly isn't some overpowered MC who can unexplainably beat every other character at practically everything. In fact, his only ability worth noting is return from death, which, while being extremely useful since it gives Subaru multiple chances at life, is the main source of his psychological trauma. Although he initially acts positive, Subaru slowly cracks and falls further into despair and insanity as the anime progresses. He is one of the few characters I've seen that, for the most part, actually acts like a real life human would in the dark situations that he finds himself in. Of course, this may mean that you'll want to punch him in the face sometimes when he acts all cowardly, stupid, and obnoxious, but you have to understand what the poor guy is going through. Plus he redeems himself in the later portion of the anime.
Emilia is a beautiful, kind, and lovable girl; in other words, the type that many view as great waifu material. However the thing that I like most about her is the fact that she, unlike so many other female characters like her, can actually live WITHOUT the male lead. During one point she actually decides that it's best for her and Subaru to go there separate ways. I find this to be rather admirable, since it shows that Emilia can be an independent person who doesn't need to rely on others. There's not much else to say about her since she hardly gets any screen time in the second half of the anime.
Rem surprised me the most out of all of the characters. In fact, I believe that she's much more developed than the "main girl," Emilia, and is simply a superior character. The first few times that we see Rem, she humorously makes fun of Subaru with the assistance of her sister Ram. However as the story progresses, we get to learn so much more about Rem. I don't want to spoil any particular moments, but I will say that she has a badass yandere mode where she slaughters practically everything with her spiked mace in an epic fashion. Rem also develops feelings for Subaru, who she becomes admirably loyal to and saves numerous times, that lead to some really adorable moments between the two. Rem is also super cute and she just looks stunning, especially when she smiles. The sexy maid outfit is also a plus. Re:Zero really showcases a rare gem in Rem, who is the best anime character that I've seen in awhile.
Re:Zero also boasts a strong supporting cast. This group of characters includes the cute and sarcastic maid Ram, the adorable and magical loli Beatrice, and the utterly insane and slothful antagonist Petelgeuse. While obviously not as much as the lead cast, many of these characters receive adequate development and possess unique personality traits that make them more likable and entertaining to watch.
This show combines the best aspects of different genres to create something that is very entertaining to watch. It has fun characters and settings that kept me entertained. I was constantly on the edge of my seat in excitement hoping for Subaru to succeed and tensely waiting to see the repercussions of his failures. Cliffhangers were effectively used at the end of multiple episodes that left me craving more, though they were a bit excessive. While some episodes focused on dialogue and lacked any "excitement," I still enjoyed watching them because they helped to flesh out the characters and gave me valuable insight on the characters' emotions, thoughts, etcetera. My main issue is that I feel like the anime peeked at around episode 15, and while the latter half of Re:Zero remained pretty good, it didn't quite reach the level of greatness that the mid episodes had. Nonetheless, this was definitely an entertaining anime from beginning to end.
Re:Zero impressed me. This anime wasn't afraid to take an overused idea and combine it with a myriad of originality that resulted in a very well produced show. While there are some minor errors (then again, what show doesn't have any flaws?), Re:zero managed to succeed at being both an unique and a well executed anime. This is a show that I would most certainly recommend watching.
Ahh, the reviewer. The first line of defense to quell the flames of irrational thought and often the bearer of bad news for those of the general public. They're the Buzz Killingtons that take it upon themselves to blow the "no fun" whistle and send the partygoers back on the hype-train that they rode in on. It's a thankless job, one that doesn't reward anyone besides the smug satisfaction of the man with the whistle, tipping his top hat and waving "adieu" at the fanbase, outraged that someone had the audacity to bring an analytical lens to the "totally bitchin party, bruh!"
And as the seasonal
lineup ends and the hype-train chugs on to the next destination to start the cycle all over again, the reviewer, Mr. Buzz Killington, slaps his final verdict in the form of a nasty wall of diatribes, as he carries on his endless crusade to educate would-be viewers, one party foul at a time.
Now, before I go any further, I'd like to put all my chips on the table. I don't plan to campaign for Re:Zero's public standing, nor will I bastardize its name for the sake of winning the appeal of dissenters. What will be written from here on out is simply one man stating his viewpoint. If that means dispensing the full-range of my vocabulary like a snobby know-it-all, then so be it. As long as my assessment is clearly understood, whether you choose to sling mud at my remarks or practice diplomacy is of no concern to me.
And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, weeaboos and pseudo-elites, I, ZephSilver, will serve as your Buzz Killington for the evening, as we take a tour through anime's latest mistake, Re:Zero, or as I like to call it, Re:packaged goods.
Writhing in pain it doesn't understand, with paint-by-number personalities that desperately try to express it, Re:Zero is a gaudy, yet entertaining, blowhard that stumbles upon an ingenious formula for mainstream success. In a cynically calculated ruse, Re:Zero combines snippets of set-pieces from other works to create a Frankenstein that's built to be a surefire hit, regardless of how much manipulation is required to keep the circus act up. By capitalizing on the ever-increasing demand for MMORPG inspired settings, time-travel narratives and well... a gratuitous amount of shock value, it captures the general populace's attention with ease. And really, who could fault it? The anime industry has within its grasp a foolproof method to gain the public's ear. A method that's figured out, down to a science, thanks to countless trial and error. It just so happens that this 'foolproof' method is predicated on sales and popularity, and whether it receives critical acclaim or not is secondary. Dangling its bait right after the success of works with similar setups, it was inevitable that many would bite. Re:Zero offered many fan favorite arrangements all in a convenient, one-stop package: a smorgasbord of goodies to satisfy a wide range of palates. And if that wasn't enough to seal the deal, it marketed a premise that potentially subverted the MMORPG formula into something dark and decrepit, capturing any stragglers that might have avoided the bait in disinterest with the promise of something "re:freshing."
The rest was simply a matter of word of mouth. The match was lit, and all that was left was to sit back and watch the wildfire burn. With viewers exalting Re:Zero as "smart," "bold," and "enthralling," ignoring this show's existence became nigh impossible. An anime that was built to be popular. An anime that was predestined to become the centerpiece discussion of every anime-related thread during its run. A wonderful monstrosity concocted in a lab by a board of executives, perfecting their latest endeavor to siphon money out of people's pockets, without so much as making the intent noticeable. I know we all want to hold an optimistic view on this situation but I advise that we take a step back before purchasing the snake oil.
Re:Zero is to White Fox what Kabaneri was to Wit studio: a proven investment, disingenuous or not.
Seriously, think about it for a moment. What were White Fox's most successful outings so far? Akame Ga Kill, a show about gruesome deaths in a medieval fantasy world, riddled with the underpinnings of political intrigue, a setup that deviated from typical shounen fodder, and a broad range of colorful personalities that inhabited its universe. And Steins;Gate, a show about time-travel being used to save your loved ones after a conspiracy was discovered, forcing the protagonist to revisit key events to find the best path to save everyone. Putting aside how you may feel about those shows individually, the fact remains that Re:Zero meshes these two appeals in a fashion that seems far too perfect to be simply a case of coincidence.
When you look back at the shows that garnered the most attention in the last handful of years, how could you not feel that Re:Zero is a product of the machine? There's being at the right place at the right time, and then there's simply casting your fishing line after analytical charts and focus groups indicate that the waters are ripe with hungry prey.
So after stating all this, it may surprise you to know that I fully recommend this show to anyone that confronts me about it. Why may you ask? Well, to be honest, it's pretty entertaining. Whatever my stance may be regarding the title, it cannot be denied that the show is easily digestible. With plot twists at every turn, bloody fatalities being dished out at a moments notice, and cliffhangers guaranteeing your return for more, Re:Zero is a binge-worthy viewing experience. However, my reasons for full-heartedly endorsing the show are probably not the reasons that the creators would probably like. For now, just hold on to that thought, we'll discuss why later.
And with that long-winded preface out of the way, it's time to continue our tour.
Stepping out of a convenience store in modern day Japan and being transported to a medieval fantasy world for no more reason than the writers saying, "We need to start the story somehow," our main protagonist, Suburu, enters Capital City; the epicenter of commerce for this foreign land of Lugunica and the place that would mark his burial ground on several occasions to come. After he comes in contact with a mysterious silver-haired girl named Emilia, he finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, hidden mysteries behind every corner and a bad case of groundhogs day that's marked with the end of his life.
And so goes the rest of his journey, constantly being respawned at key locations similar to game save checkpoints until he conquers a life-threatening obstacle. Death, birth, repeat. A rat churning cream to avoid drowning and hoping its efforts would create butter, allowing for solid ground to escape its entrapment. Some might refer to this as "torture porn" or a snuff film in animated form. And while I might find these sentiments to be a bit overstated, I still can't help but feel like there's an underlying truth to that way of thinking.
There's always a feeling that gnaws away at your subconscious when you watch the show. Something that many viewers may not be able to pinpoint but that they know is there, like the nuisance of a small object stuck in the sole of your shoe or a lingering thought that's just out of reach. I believe this feeling derives from the way the show presents its ideas. Themes that are supposed to be profound but end up taking on a whole new meaning when highlighted in neon lights and announced over a loudspeaker.
Suburu doesn't just die; he's butchered in the most gratuitous way imaginable. A newly gained tactical advantage isn't just implemented; instead, it's buffered through excessive expository dialogue. Character arcs don't just happen naturally; they're highlighted with drastic presentation changes and streams of confetti. In the words of Urban Dictionary, Re:Zero has no chill.
Re:Zero falls victim to sensationalizing things that it thinks would be considered poignant, as is the case with most shows that are said to 'subvert' the formula they're a part of. And by doing so, it indirectly counteracts that notion. A narcissistic protagonist being humbled by the realization that life doesn't revolve around him isn't a great revelation if the show goes out of its way to constantly point it out. Being mentally exhausted from the toll of dying constantly isn't eye-opening if the show literally has to tell you it is. Subtext ceases to hold meaning if the creators have a habit of making its intent obvious. This is the problem that many high-strung shows have, where they don't trust the viewer to pick up on the clues themselves. 2001: A Space Odyssey wouldn't be praised as a sci-fi classic if it had its ideas being pointed out with Blue's Clues paw prints. Se7en wouldn't be a great mystery/thriller had Dora the Explorer show up as a movie guide. Point being, good subtextual content is only good if the creators don't over-extend their control over how easy it's discovered.
Like Erased from winter 2016, Re:Zero's attempts at something far beyond it only backfires when this issue plagues every facet of its existence. It's trying to be symbolic; it's trying to interweave motifs; it's trying to create intrigue; it's trying to tinker with psychology... but, it's doing so in the most ham-fisted way possible. It fully rejects the idea of subtlety in every aspect imaginable, instead choosing to holler everything in an ostentatious display that's borderline masturbatory. A premature celebration of its accomplishments that's mired in the stench of hubris.
Setting tone and forcing tone aren't the same thing. You can't give birth to natural reactions by simply pumping your content full of steroids to make it blossom faster. Anything worth having should come to fruition on its own merits through the course of the narrative. Re:Zero is simply too impatient for proper grooming, and as a result, we get villains that are essentially godforsaken hybrids of the Joker, Batman V Superman's Lex Luther, and the wacky waving inflatable tube men located outside of used car dealerships, snacking on their fingers like crispy chicken tenders. We get characters that deviate from common anime tropes to simply fall victim to yet another trope instead. Re:Zero's biggest enemy is itself, a show that can't be subdued even if it comes at the cost of its own integrity.
But what about the people that don't see these issues? What about those who are genuinely enthralled by Re:Zero's efforts? Those who, despite the obvious blare of ‘trying-too-hard’ fireworks, don't pick up on the show's underlying meaning until further inspection? What about the people who push the agenda of the show being "smart," "bold," and "enthralling?" The foot soldiers that perpetuate the show's self-worth, finding depth where others see beyond it? Surely they're not mistaken. What do they see that others don't? As it turns out, the real question isn't what they see, but what they choose to give the show credit for.
It's the interesting themes that Re:Zero flirts with throughout its narrative. The outer shell that masquerades as in-depth concepts. If there's no prior contact with the ideas that Re:Zero presents, this kind of perception is easy to understand. First exposure to something that insinuates a deeper layer could cause any viewer to wax philosophical. And there lies the difference: those that have seen the laminated copy, as well as the genuine article. When the same concepts are seen done right, suddenly that laminated copy starts to become all the more noticeable. And so is the case with Suburu's supposedly "broken psyche."
Like the case for Gakkougurashi of summer 2015, another show proclaimed as a 'deconstruction' of its genre, Re:Zero also takes pleasure in tinkering with delirium, but refuses to dive truly into it. It glorifies the main character's mental breakdown, turning it on and off at the whims of the script writers. With something as easy as a pep talk and hug from LoveInterest#2 being all that's needed to make things better, it's really hard to justify the "psychology" that Re:Zero boasts about.
Want to truly show a mentally broken state? Then have the line between past existence and current life be obscured with each reincarnation, and don't fix it. Just imagine how amazing it would be if the memories of all respawned events were compressed upon each rebirth, to the point where Suburu is no longer aware of the difference between them. It would truly demonstrate the anguish that Suburu suffers through by making the consequence something that's not only visual for the viewer but also something that implies that deeper layer that the show so desperately seeks to obtain. Instead of simply being the laminated copy, it could have been like other animated works that truly dive deep into this concept, such as Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue. Both featured films containing women who slowly lose their minds and grips on reality as they descend further into a fever dream of delirium and jumbled memory. It didn't just carry around psychology like some fashion accessory, but it made it a very real thing for the viewers looking on and the characters that took the plunge into the never-ending spiral of irrational flatlining.
See that the protagonist suffers a loss that he can't simply fix with a jump off a cliff. Have stakes. If respawning to checkpoints is the only way to advance the narrative, the very least the creators could do would be to place Suburu at the crossroad of a decision that would allow advancement only if someone else were to perish. Let there be permanent blood on his hands, not just a never-ending clean slate. Don't resolve psychological trauma like it's just some phase people get over after a few days. Don't just wave around psychology like it's a toy. People don't simply undo damage because the plot demands a rational mind in a given scenario. This shouldn't change even for Suburu. Embrace it fully. Let go of safety nets if you truly want something that's "deep" and not just another copy of something other creators (Satoshi Kon) have proven is possible to achieve.
And really, this is just covering one aspect the show chooses to claim as its own. The same level of commitment is expected for every aspect of Re:Zero, not just some half-assed effort. With these nebulous concepts about redefining a protagonist's importance and exposing inner truths that felt entirely too heady for something as simple-minded as Re:Zero to muster up in any meaningful way, the only chance that the other half that doesn't see the show as "smart," "bold," and "enthralling" could buy into it, is if the show stops trying to find compromise that's easy to live with. It may seem "smart," but it does so with an air of smarminess while also over-pronouncing its efforts. It may seem "bold," but it never takes any risks that could be seen as irreversible. It may seem "enthralling" for advocates, but for everyone else on the other side of the aisle, it's just dumb schlock-entertainment.
And if there was anything that made this half-ass commitment more apparent, it would have to be the presentation that it was given.
Re:Zero is that kid that just learned a new 3-syllable word and just spews it out at every opportune moment in a sad attempt to appear intellectual. There're some elements here that demonstrate some semblance of writing chops, I would give the show that, but the way the writers flaunt their ability to come up with said ideas comes off as conceited, especially when these moments wallow in content that's tantamount to idiotic orchestral displays. It's a proud peacock, flaunting its ideas, while strutting around with toilet paper stuck to its ass. As it navel-gazes, everyone else looks on in amusement.
When I said it points things out with neon lights, this is what I mean.
“Hey, the camera is shaking excessively. Hey, we're giving Suburu a manic expression, one step away from having him foaming at the mouth. Hey, we literally added a 10% darkness opacity filter to Suburu's color scheme. Hey, all of these scene compositions literally bathe Suburu in a constant shadow. Hey, his eyes are big and bulgy. HEY, HEY, HEY!! Do you get it yet!? Hey, are our actions to paint him in an obscure light after a big altercation with Emilia not made clear yet? Please reward us. Please tell us we're smart. I learned a 3-syllable word today! Please applaud my efforts!”
Evil can't be expressed without outlandishly warped expressions. Happiness can't be felt without copious amounts of animated tears, a gust of wind, and painted on blushes. Insanity can't be expressed without darkened eye bags, manic expressions, and rape faces. Everything is calculated. A stage play executed with no blemishes. A play that remains a play. Art that imitates the art of others. Re:Zero wants to be a real boy, but its growing wooden nose tells the truth it doesn't want to admit to itself. If the warped face of anger looks forced, then guess what: it's forced. If the happy moments felt a bit too inflated with random rose peddles flying around and kawaii-level faces, then guess what: it's inflated. If sadness felt unauthentic with instantaneous water works and elastic expressions at the drop of a hat, then guess what: it's unauthentic. You're not interpreting it wrong. That pang in the back of your head that tell you this is kinda overkill isn't "just you." Deep down you know what you're seeing is over exaggerated, and after time has settled and you reminisce about key events, that would become clearer than ever. Re:Zero is a novelty act that blinds you with flurries of action and plot twists, but the moments the spectacle is over, what would remain is the realization that what you held dear was nothing more than snake oil sold by a quick-witted businessman.
Even things like auditory cues can't help but feel like the show signaling excessively to get your attention, an example being a high pitched hum, like angelic beings from a choir taking a laxative-laced shit. It could be seen as "chilling" to some, or you could be like me and think it's the angels of heaven passing a kidney stone in orchestic unison. Point being it's played only to signal a disturbance. And seeing that the show is all about disturbances, it just ends up exacerbating a problem that didn't need any more highlighting than it was already getting.
What needed more attention, however, were the characters and environment that the story took place in. For a show that's supposed to be genre defining, it does very little to prove it.
We get characters whose defining personality trait is being a loli with a speaking habit, I suppose. Beatrice and the rest of the loli cast could fuck off, I suppose. But I suppose since half of Re:Zero's main cast is lolis, getting rid of them would leave very little, I suppose. Stereotypical roles don't suddenly become better by simply switching them to another stereotypical role. A visual novel maid character doesn't gain depth by making her “waifu-bait” contestants. And this extends to every other character Suburu comes across on his journey. They're all just there to fill in expected roles, like a bunch of NPCs that are brought to life.
There's no sense of culture. No ethos to pull from. Nothing that defines the world that Suburu is tossed into. Just snippets of ideas cobbled together to serve as yet another medieval fantasy world that draws from the same well as any other. Were Re:Zero the only anime to tackle high fantasy, this wouldn't be a problem, but sadly for it, Escaflowne exists. Rage of the Bahamut exists. Berserk(1997) exists. Moribito exists. There's nothing here that defines Re:Zero. Even trainwrecks like Akame Ga Kill had a better-thought-out universe. And for whatever it does try to establish, it's either extremely overbearing or missing things that could be attributed to half-assed resolve. To go into specific cases would require spoiling some events, so join me in the spoiler section to go over them if you've already seen the show. As for everyone else, skip past for final thoughts.
**** brief spoilers****
(scroll down to avoid)
Naita Aka Oni (The Red Ogre who Cried), is a popular Japanese children tale that teaches kids the cost of assimilation and what it means for love ones left behind to gain it. This is shown with a red and a blue ogre. Re:Zero attempted to use this story to insinuate the relationship shared between Ram and Rem. But like everything else that the show highlights unnecessarily, this parallel drawn was also made blatantly obvious, with Ram and Rem's hair color being pink and blue, which obviously alluded to the red and blue ogres, respectively. This wouldn't have been a big deal had they kept it at just that, but like I've already stated, the show doesn't trust its audience to pick up on the subtext implied. Instead, we get the arc with the inclusion of both sisters being superimposed with a symmetrical balance of pink and blue at every turn. It beats you over the head with the symbolism it's trying to present. This also included Suburu stating to the sisters that they're “fanatical like demons” with their reactions indicative to their origin as literal demons. It's this kind of obviousness that shows like Erased demonstrate when they highlighted everything in red to insinuate danger. Attempts at cleverness that's just painfully juvenile. And now this same kind of forcefulness is being carried over to Re:Zero.
And 17-minutes into episode 11, Suburu states, "You know, Rem, you keep putting Ram on a pedestal and undermining yourself—," while the camera unapologetically focuses on blue and pink flowers, both literally sitting in a vase (pedestal) of equal height. These are the kinds of things that Re:Zero does repeatedly that demonstrate its lack of restraint. Constantly drawing attention to your symbolism only defeats the purpose of it to begin with. Symbolism and motifs alike are supposed to be discovered, not spoon-fed. And this is the problem with this show: it can't simply let things be without intervening with forceful resolve.
And then you have ideas that are used only to add detail to the universe or serve as a new plot reveal to keep the story exciting, but that are never properly thought out.
Like the battle against Moby Dick, a beast with the ability to erase the memory of people's existence consumed by its fog. We get an example of this when Rem sacrifices herself to save Suburu and is immediately forgotten by everyone who knows her. But yet, when this incident occurs again during the heat of battle against a battalion in episode 20, the powers don't work the same way. Where in the case of Rem her very presence and existence was erased, in the battle, soldiers only forgot the names of the soldiers lost in the mist but are still aware of that people are missing. So how do people remember a whole platoon going missing during battle when they're consumed when prior cases of the whale's mist made it clear that you wouldn't even be aware of the lack of anything missing? This is just one of many small plotting issues littered across the show, and the only conclusion is that the creator needed another plot twist to hook viewers, but fell victim to a plot hole later on when it no longer served a purpose.
Suburu is said to smell like the witch to a few people, yet, from all accounts, no one has ever encountered the witch face to face, so how do they know this assessment to be accurate? So the statement:
"Do I smell like the witch?"
is no better than saying:
"Do I smell like the thing you've never seen or come in contact with in your life?"
The entire show is just built on one unanswered question after another. How did he arrive in this world? How does his respawning ability work like a save point? In episode 24, he was shown to restart after getting past the whale and into the mansion, but then he could conveniently go back to the point where he defeated the whale as a save point after he dies at the village? It's obvious that this was done only to bypass having to reset the progression he made with Rem in episode 18. A moment where the show bends its own rules by going beyond simple retconning, instead, rewriting the very nature in which the resets work. How could he speak their language and be understood but not write their assigned text? It's minor things like this that demonstrated that they wanted to appear insightful, but in actuality had only half-baked ideas… half-baked ideas that gave way to a show riddled with plot inconsistencies.
And then there're just scenes that are supposed to be tragic but just come across as ludicrous. Episode 15 contains the biggest culprit that comes to mind. This is where we met joker-inflatable-tube-man, who proceeded to break Rem's neck and limbs, and yet, somehow, she crawls over to Suburu and uses magic to free him… and this is supposed to be tragic? Nothing about this moment makes any sense whatsoever. And to top it off, it also demonstrates a moment where the writers switch Suburu's mental breakdown on and off whenever it suits the story. This isn't some "deep" moment; it's bullshit.
Re:Zero doesn't know the difference between mental anguish and parading characters around for personal amusement, nor does it understand that tossing ideas and lifting entire passages from other folktales don't mean it would work as a cohesive piece. There's a reason there's no cohesiveness between arcs; all it does is pattern storylines from works that proceeded it. A fairy tale whose identity can't exist without leaching off of others, and whose attempts at something different result in the aforementioned problems.
*******end of spoilers*******
When Hayao Miyazaki said that people "don't spend time watching real people" with industry, in-house anime creators being "humans who can't stand looking at other humans,” this is what he's referring to: shows that can't find inspiration outside of their own anime tropes because the people working on them don't see anything beyond anime. Re:Zero is a self-indulging anime with no worldly influence to speak of. Shinichirō Watanabe, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Yoko Kanno. What made these industry giants well-known was their ability to draw inspiration from influences outside of anime. They brought something new to the table, a claim that shows like Re:Zero can't prove. It's a product of its environment. Anime feeding into anime. It's Ouroboros incarnate.
Remember that thought I told you to hold on to, as to why I still suggest this show, regardless of how I feel about it? Well, this is the reason why. This is what it all boils down to. Re:Zero is an embarrassingly pompous try-hard that's fun to gawk at. It's a show that has proven to be a source of entertainment for those unconcerned with the finer details and who simply want to be amused for 20-minute intervals, as well as a comical mess for those who do see beyond the smoke and mirrors and enjoy dissecting silly shows for purposes of discussion. It's a show that takes itself dead serious while being oblivious to the fact that it's anything but. It's the Elfen Lied, the Mirai Nikki, the Akame Ga Kill, the [insert your own example here] of 2016. A show that could appeal to everyone, regardless of how they view their entertainment or how much thought they place into the pixelated images flooding their peripheral. It's the "M. Night Shyamalan" of animated works, a name big enough to fill in seats on opening night, but consistently funny enough for critical thinkers to jump in knowing they'll experience something amusing, even if unintentional.
Everyone wins. The studio heads make their profit; the majority get to be entertained; and the critics get a new punching bag for their inner circles. The world needs titles like Re:Zero. Titles that everyone will see. Cynical cash grabs will always come and go, but if I'm given a choice in the matter, I at least want my price of admission to be a show that's still entertaining. And with Re:Zero, that's what I got, a good ole dumb time (with a huge emphasis on DUMB).
Re:Zero is a great show if you don't care for subtlety, think 2-D waifus are laifu and are impressed by characters emoting in boisterous ways. But in terms of actual quality, this is an anime that puffs its chest out, holding its breath for as long as it can, with the slightest release exposing it for what it truly is: hot air.
I could count on one hand the amount of shows I've ever used the forbidden "pretentious" word on without so much as second guessing my stance and I would unequivocally state here and now that Re:Zero became one of them. A show that strong-armed me into using a buzzword that I promised myself I would use only as a final ultimatum. And in a way, I guess that could be seen as an achievement. So congratulations Re:Zero, a show where only the cheapest blow every self-respecting critic dare not to resort to, could be the only appropriate response left available. But in this case, it's worth it. No other shows I've seen in recent years deserve the rare honor more than this. Take the mantle Re:Zero. You’ve officially become the most conceited MMORPG-inspired anime to date.
Re:Zero is spray-on tan psychology with peel-off sticker-tattoo themes. It's the kid on internet forums who’s constantly saying "90's Baby," with a 1999 birth certificate. Its out-of-touch executives googling anime-related search results in an attempt to assure their product is "totally dope.” It's an anime that's rallied in on a stage sponsored by corporate suits, with "best waifu" pillows and other merchandise already pre-made upon launch date. Re:Zero is shallow, plain and simple. A skim off the surface of whatever topical events stick their noses out far enough to be noticed by those too busy counting the zeros in their bank account to dig any deeper.
But you know what? That's fine. I watched it, laughed and had a good time. And if people could cherish the laminated copy with the same vigor that others do the genuine article, who am I to stop them? Shows like Re:Zero will always come and go; you could either fight it or say "fuck it" and simply kick back and enjoy the nonsense on screen.
"The only thing worse than dying once is having to die again."
That was the title of a wonderful email from Crunchyroll I received about a month and a half ago to advertise "Re: Zero - Starting Life in another World -". I ignored it at first, and simply carried on with my two shows of the season, Jojo Part 4 and Mob Psycho 100 (both of which I heartily recommend you watch). However, after a little while of my friends pestering me to watch this series, I sat down and put the first half of the first episode onto my TV.
Re: Zero starts off somewhat
stereotypically. A somewhat clueless teenager is mysteriously dragged into a parallel world through means unexplained whilst browsing a convenience store. My initial thoughts were similar to that of Sword Art Online, which made me immediately assume that this series may go in the same direction, with pointless character arcs and questionable writing.
Oh my was I completely wrong.
Our main lead is the endearing Natsuki Subaru, a teenage shut-in with initially very little character. Upon arriving in this new world, he comes to meet the silver-haired girl "Satella", who claims she is looking for something she recently had stolen from her. After Subaru agrees to help her, they wind up at the city slums... Where they are both brutally murdered.
It is at this point, Subaru returns back where he started. Initially believing he dreamt up the scenario, he runs back towards the slums to meet with Satella, where after certain events... He is murdered again.
Here is where Re: Zero starts to really shine. Subaru has the power to, as he names it, "Return by Death", where upon dying he returns back to a previous point in his time where he is safe to try things over again. Everyone he met during his last "life" forgets him, and only what he has achieved before he "resets" remains. However, Subaru remembers. He remembers all the times he's been killed, everything he may have experienced and everything that everyone he's met has no memory of.
Re: Zero looks in-depth at the effect this has on his mental state, which can lead it into the realms of being a psychological thriller. And it achieves representing Subaru's mind absolutely perfectly, in such a way that it's hard to sum up in words. The viewer feels everything Subaru feels, his shock and awe, his confusion, his sudden realisations, as well as his happiness when eventually, everything turns out just OK.
The show presents Subaru as more than anything else, being very human. He reacts to situations in a way you'd expect, and to some viewers, in that way that they would. That's not to say Subaru is the only character that gets developed. Other characters that are met later in the story have their own short arcs that link in with their backstory, even if it's one moreso than any of the others.
Re: Zero absolutely nails it's presentation of each episode. Each episode flows naturally, sometimes not including the show's OP and ED for extra effect (which on a side note helps to make the show very nice to marathon). Each episode ends with a "title screen" as such, of the episode's title, and why this may not seem like a big deal, it's small things like this that help to keep the show's atmosphere working, whether it's a happy sigh of relief, or a grim potential future rearing its head.
The show has two Openings and two Endings, all of which work well with the arc they air in. The first OP "Redo" by Konomi Suzuki is a visual spectacle, with flashy effects and hidden meanings that become more obvious as the show continues, all while giving a good grasp on what exactly Re: Zero may contain for people going in with no prior knowledge of the show's events. The second OP, "Paradisus - Paradoxum" by MYTH&ROID, while not as visually stunning as the first OP, has a chaotic nature to it that perfectly captures the feel of the arc it airs in. The first ED, "STYX HELIX", also by MYTH&ROID works well when played during an ending scene, however has little effect for the viewer when played by itself (though it's still a great song). The final ED, "Stay Alive" is performed by Rei Takahashi, the VA for "Satella", and like the ED before it, works far better when played during an ending scene. The show's two insert songs, "STRAIGHT BET" and "theater D" (both my MYTH&ROID) both work FABULOUSLY with the scenes they play in for bonus points.
If there is anywhere to fault the show, it is on it's character development "priorities" so to speak. A few of the side characters introduced appear to be getting developed at some stages, however never seem to get the equal treatment that some of the other side characters do. Aside from this, at times the character animation can seem somewhat sloppy, however thankfully this is very rare and never during prominent moments.
To end things off, Re: Zero - Starting Life in another World - is very much a spectacle - one that will keep you on your toes, make you smile, make you cry in despair and most certainly, one not to miss. Special mention for the show's main villain, who while being animated perfectly for his kind of character, also has an undoubtedly wonderful VA (that being the wonderful voice of Yoshitsugu Matsoka) who really nails the "insane" feel around the character.