*This review contains light spoilers*
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.