Greetings! As those of you who follow me on social media are well aware, I have been talking a ton about about a particular series of late. I am not alone in doing this as this series has become an phenomenon over the last few months. This series has taken a worn out anime trope, turned it on it’s head and has served as a template for how you tell a fantasy story. This series is likely the best series of 2016. Of course I am talking about Re:Zero- Starting Life in Another World.
The main protagonist, Subaru Natsuki is suddenly summoned to another world after leaving a convenience store one night. With no sign of who summoned him, he soon befriends a silver-haired half-elf girl named Emilia. When Subaru and Emilia are mysteriously killed, Subaru awakens and discovers that he has acquired an ability he names “Return by Death”. This enables him to reverse time by dying, although only he remembers the events of the previous timeline.In addition, Subaru soon discovers that by befriending Emilia, he has put himself in the middle of something much larger than he first realized. Armed with only his wits and the few items he carries on him, Subaru must learn to survive in the new world.
For a summary of my thoughts you can check the Review Summary section at the end of the post.
Like many others, this series really took me by surprise. Based off of the initial premise and descriptions given, this series didn’t look like anything special or original. Characters getting trapped in another world is a pretty common concept. However, Re:Zero takes this genre and turns it on its head. It does what other similar series don’t do- provide a rich world, a fascinating story, and showcase characters which are more realistic than what we typically see.
Re:Zero contains one of the most interesting group of characters that I have seen in any medium. (A bold statement I know.) It all begins with the main character Subaru. Subaru is a complex character. He is not an overpowered bad ass but has the overconfidence of one. To put it bluntly Subaru is an unlikable ass hole at times. There are plenty of cases where his character is really off putting. He can be loud and obnoxious which are traits that can make it difficult to support him. His ego in many situations prevents him from making the right decision and in some cases, he brings on his own misery. I can understand where people would be turned off by watching him. In many cases such a character would ruin a story. How can you support a character who possesses these traits? For one, it is refreshing to see a deeply flawed protagonist. In any form of entertainment there are too many main characters who are immune to make mistakes.
In addition there is more to Subaru’s character than just those negative traits.Subaru possess loyalty, determination, and persistence which are all traits that we can get behind. The story of Re:Zero is essentially Subaru’s journey and it is one where we see the character grow and adapt to the situation he is in. What makes this transformation so great is that it is not instantaneous and still has some work to do at the end of the series. In addition his initial off putting demeanor is actually pretty cool to watch because this makes him human. He reacts to his troubles and successes the way that many people would. He makes mistakes (big ones) and pays the consequences for it. It is a rare thing to find a character like this and the series certainly benefits for it.He may be the least likable character in the series but his transformations is one of the cruxes that make the series great. You just have to wait a bit to see it.
Emilia is another character which I found fascinating. Emilia is a perfectly capable heroine who really doesn’t have the characteristics of one. Reserved, humble, naive and determined to achieve her goals, Emilia is a character that you can certainly root for. Despite the hatred that she experiences at the others, she is always willing to put others before herself. She doesn’t possess any anger towards the people who think ill of her, she only has sadness for the fact that the world doesn’t accept her. Instead her goal is to help those around the best that she can. Emilia performs an act of kindness when no one else would and that act is what endears her to our hero and to us the audience as well. She also isn’t one of those typical helpless heroines either. Emilia is adept with magic and certainly capable of saving herself if needed. The only thing which stops her is slightly naive nature. She is just kind almost to a fault. This is also part of her charm though. Emilia possesses a bit of a child like innocence to her as well which you can’t help but smile at. Typically characters like Emilia can usually hurt a series but in this case, having a character like her really helps. Having a voice of peace in an otherwise tension filled environment is necessary. Also knowing that she isn’t helpless but maybe just needs a hand from time to time puts Emilia in a different class than many heroines. Emilia certainly has her moments where she steals the spotlight. The nature of the plot kind of takes her out of the second half of the series for the most part and it is a shame. I really would have liked to see more of this character and if it weren’t for the next character that I will discuss, Emilia would be the best character of the series.
Rem (aka best girl- sorry Emilia) is another prominent character which steals the show. Just like Subaru, Rem undergoes profound changes as well. What makes Rem great is the way her character evolves as the series progresses. Rem is initially the opposite of Subaru, she possess a lot of skill but really doesn’t feel like she has any worth or deserves to have anything good happen to her. At first it seems like she is more than willing to take a back seat to her sister Ram and is someone who comes across a humble individual. Rem and her sister Ram experienced a tragedy during their childhood and that influenced how Rem views herself. Even before she changes to the character that everyone fell for, there are still glimpses of a kind character early on. After being one of the few characters who saw Subaru at his best moments and is unquestionably loyal to him afterwards. Once this happens, you get to see her true character. She is kind and extremely loyal to those that she cares about. On multiple occasions as well, you get to see how much of a bad ass Rem is.Despite her soft and quiet demeanor, Rem also is an insanely powerful and skilled warrior. She is someone that you don’t want to be on her bad side. She risks her life to save others repeatedly , takes many beatings while doing so and still manages to keep fighting. Her disregard for own safety is a very admirable trait and it is both cool and sad when she does this. This dual nature to her character is what makes her so great. She is more than just some mindless bad ass, she is a powerful character with a distinct personality. Rem steals every scene that she is in and when gets the opportunity to shine, she takes it. It is hard to disagree with the fact that Rem is the best character in the series.
The supporting characters are another highlight of this series. I am amazed that a story could make you care about secondary characters in such a fashion. Unlike most series, the supporting cast are not just throw away characters which give the main characters a purpose or just fulfill a limited roll. These characters all have some roll to play whether it is to provide some insight into the world, be key contributors to the main characters objectives, or to provide a nice counterpoint to our main characters themselves. I would certainly be interested in reading watching spinoffs just focusing on these characters. (A Wilhelm spin off would be very interesting.) These characters help the world to be incredibly fleshed out. Yes some of these characters do fit “stereotypical” fantasy roles but many of them are just so likable that you really don’t care.
Re: Zero faces a challenge with the type of story it tries to tell. Time travel/ time loop stories can be quite difficult to pull off. You are faced with the issues of coming up with a reasonable/interesting mechanism for the time travel to happen, you have to keep a story where similar plot points happen fresh and entertaining to the audience, and you have to tell a story which focuses on the character’s journey. Re:Zero is a series which does these things. The time loop story telling element really works in the series favor. Each time loop plays out in a drastically different with the main character and the audience learning new things along the way. The series does a masterful job of using the repeated time lines to bring out different aspects of the same character. A character you may have hated in one timeline becomes much more fleshed out and likable the next. In addition this story telling mechanic allowed the writers to introduce more characters to the world making it feel like a more complete world. This also allows the world to be considerably more fleshed out than other series.While there are still many questions which were left unanswered, the audience still gets a lot of information concerning the kingdom and its inhabitants.
Finally, the time loop element allows for additional tension to be added to the story. You would think that the opposite would be true- knowing that the main character has a way out usually lessens any conflict or danger which would occur. The fact that Subaru resets only by dying changes that however. Subaru like anyone else wants to live and can remember every way which he has died. He doesn’t want to die nor do we as the audience want to see that happen to the main character. The constant cycle of death and restarting would torture anyone and that is one of the focuses of the series. Each time the story gets progressively darker and makes us wonder – will this be the time that they succeed? It proves to be very entertaining to find out the answer to that question.
One other thing which really stands out with the way that the plot was executed was the fact that they squeezed every last minute out of many of the episodes. For many episodes, the opening and closing credits were bypassed to give us an extra couple minutes of story. In addition, there were multiple extended episodes as well. By this action, it is clear that studio and the writers cared greatly about telling as much of the story as they could. This all translates to the ending of the series. The ending of the series while leaving many questions unanswered, does an excellent job of finding a satisfying stopping point for out story. Because they squeezed every minute they could out of the series, there is ample time to set up the story for a conclusion.
On the flip side of this though, it can be argued that at times they tried to fit too much into the series and at other times not enough. The pacing suffers at times as a result of this. Some story arcs progresses faster than others, sometime leading to a miraculous conclusion which seems to come out of nowhere especially when it comes to our hero Subaru who at times seems to come up with an answer without any real explanation as to how he did it. Also while the ending did leave us with a pretty satisfying conclusion, there are plenty of questions left unanswered and plot threads unresolved. These are minor gripes however and don’t kill the overall quality of the show.
It was clear that the animation studio invested a lot of the time in this series because Re:Zero looks and sounds amazing. The studio did an amazing job of giving the world it’s own unique feel while at the same time keeping the animation crisp and clear. You don’t necessarily need to give a fantasy series a weird aesthetic to make it distinct and Re:Zero doesn’t try to do this. The overall feel of the animation also changes based off the events which are occurring. Scenes where the characters are in a desperate state are dark and depressing which scenes filled with hope are bright and vibrant. Both extremes are done extremely well especially those upbeat scenes which are just gorgeous to look at. This difference in feeling is also transmitted extremely well in the characters themselves. The character expressions are incredibly dynamic but no overly exaggerated where they are not believable. With both of these factors, just from the aesthetics the viewer is able to not only get a strong sense of the mood of the scene but you also felt what the characters felt being in that setting. Also of note too is the fact that the action sequences were superbly well animated. I never felt that I needed to pause or re watch any of the sequences to figure out what was transpiring.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to episode 18 which is one of the most brilliant episodes of anime I have ever seen.I never thought an episode which is primarily one conversation between 2 characters could be interesting and entertaining but somehow the writers managed to pull it off brilliantly. This episode contains a scene which is a major turning point in the series and they did not shortcut it at all even giving us extra time in the episode to do the scene justice. To rely on a conversation to be a major turning point is typically a gamble because such scenes can be drawn out and contain a lot of needless dialogue. The dialogue comes out at a lightning pace and there isn’t a single line which doesn’t have meaning or is wasted. It is also not so heavy or full of exposition that it feels like a burden to watch. This is all of course aided by outstanding performance by the actors in this episode. They delivered this dialogue perfectly, didn’t overact or make the scene seem sappy of corny. Also this was the episode which left no doubt that Rem was best girl, so it gains points because of that as well.
The soundtrack is certainly a work of art in itself. The music is one of the things which stick with em the most from this series. Just like with the animation, the music does a superb job in helping to capture the mood of the series. The music can be very jarring at one moment and very calm and soothing at other moments. They also didn’t recycle and reformat a theme like many other series do.Some tracks are repeated but these were cool tracks anyway. The theme songs for this series are all amazing. with other series but this one too sounded like a big budget Hollywood movie score. They all are very fitting for the tone of the series (which is a relatively rare thing). My favorites though are the ending themes- “Styx Helix” by Myth and Roid and “Stay Alive” by Rie Takahashi (the voice of Emilia). I also really enjoyed the song “Wishing” by Inori Minase (the voice of Rem) which played at the end of episode 18.
In addition, the Japanese voice cast did a superb job with this series. They had a difficult with the range that was needed for some of the characters and they nailed it. They really did an amazing job in humanizing the characters especially for characters which weren’t human. The characters really felt complete and the major reason for that is the voice cast. Honestly, I would be perfectly happy if they never did an English dub for this series as Re:Zero really doesn’t need one.
Re:Zero is a series which demonstrates all of the factors that make anime a great form on entertainment. The series does everything right from it’s compelling and complex characters to a story which keeps you guessing at every turn. It is a phenomenon and for for good reason. Because of this, I give Re:Zero a ranking of Platinum and give the series my highest recommendation. This is not a series that you should miss out on. Also don’t forget to check out the Re:Zero shorts, those are great as well!
Pros: –The premise is a nice twist on a tired anime trope.
– Superb class of characters (including the secondary characters) which has depth beyond the standard character types.
– Main character is deeply flawed and does not automatically win every battle he participates in.
– The world of Re:Zero feels like a lived in world with an economic and political system and events which affect more than just the main characters.
– The time loop plot device is extremely well executed.
– Superbly well done cliffhangers.
– Episode 18- enough said.
– Gorgeous animation and music
Cons: -Subaru can be a difficult protagonist to get behind.
-The plot pacing can be inconsistent at times. Some episodes/arcs advance faster than others.
– The ending while satisfying still leaves plenty of unanswered questions.
This concludes my thoughts on Re:Zero. What did you think of the series? Please comment below with your thoughts. If you enjoy my content, please follow me on Twitter (@Railgunfan75) and Facebook (Railgunfan75’s Geek Blog) for news and updates. So until next time, this is Railgunfan75 signing off! See ya!