Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World

Season One

Alright, lemme gloss over the details for now and just get right to the heart of the matter; this show is more than worth watching. In fact, I won’t just recommend this show to you; I’m going to do you the favor of demanding that you take the time out of your busy day to watch it, particularly if—like I was—you’re on the fence about it. Now that we have a mutual understanding, I can break a few things down. First off, if you’re at all familiar with anime in general, you probably know about this one even if only in passing. Rem in particular is practically an anime icon—you know, the girl in the maid outfit with short blue hair who you’ve probably seen before even if you don’t realize it. Most dedicated anime fans have already seen the show at this point, recently released second season included (I’ve only watched the first at the time of writing). But just in case you’re not in the loop, I’ll go ahead and break down the premise; our protagonist, shut-in NEET Natsuki Subaru, is suddenly transported to an unfamiliar fantasy world in classic Isekai fashion with nothing but a bag of groceries, the phone in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Quite unlike the usual Isekai formula, however, he doesn’t seem to have been summoned with any real purpose or special power, and finds himself in the rather unfortunate predicament of having no lifelines while knowing absolutely nothing about this new and unfamiliar world he’s now trapped in. Through sheer happenstance, he meets a girl by the name of Satella who reluctantly agrees to accept his help in searching for an important item that was stolen from her, and in the process of trying to find that item, both of them are taken by surprise and killed. But wait, both the male and female protagonist die in the first 2 episodes? That doesn’t make any sense, you may ask. Well, Subaru’s close encounter with death ends up revealing that he does indeed possess a special power; the ability to return to a predetermined point in time, but only when he dies. I’d rather not spoil anything more for you than absolutely necessary, so let’s get into the meat of what makes the show so good. Firstly, despite all initial appearances, Re:Zero is not your usual Isekai, and Natsuki Subaru is not your usual protagonist. In fact, Subaru in particular almost seems to be a deconstruction and even mockery of the classic Isekai hero; a deeply flawed and interesting character whose actions are responsible for almost all of the story’s major events, with the story in particular being entirely driven by his very deeply ingrained character flaws and general imperfection. With only the power to rewind time after dying in often horrible and traumatizing fashion, he is—for all intents and purposes—a normal guy hopelessly struggling to save not only himself, but the seemingly far more capable individuals around him. With his purpose never really made clear in this new world which he’s been thrust into, he’s left to make that purpose for himself, and in doing so he not only endangers himself, but becomes strongly attached to those around him while being unwittingly dragged into their hell—a hell which quickly becomes his own. If you couldn’t tell, Re:Zero is oftentimes incredibly dark and dismal, but it’s also keenly aware that to make its constantly reoccurring death potent, it has to make you attached to its characters and sympathetic towards its protagonist, no matter how foolish he may be, especially considering his real, legitimate character growth becomes such an important part of the story later on. Despite the great many times Subaru has to face both his own death and the deaths of his loved ones, each and every one is no less haunting than the last, and Subaru is in no rush to tempt fate by going through the pain of death all over again just to turn back the hands of time. And while we’re still on the topic of Subaru’s character growth, Re:Zero isn’t afraid to show you it’s star hero at his lowest and most desperate, broken down further and further by the physical and mental trauma that he experiences, and it makes him one of the most well written and interesting characters in any anime I have seen, period. But hey, it’s not all about Subaru; what about the rest of the cast? Well, the show wouldn’t work quite as well as it does if the other characters weren’t likeable and interesting, and while some are definitely better than others, in general there’s great care taken here to ingratiate you to everyone. In fact, one aspect of the show’s constantly rewinding time is that we are constantly shown different scenarios starring different members of the cast who, in that particular timeline, are integral to the events that unfold. Subaru bonds with various different characters in different lives, and then has to figure out how to restore their faith in him while still keeping them all alive. For the viewer, there’s a constant fear that Subaru’s death—which can come at any time—will mean none of what he went through with his peers will be preserved anywhere but his own memories; memories that are impossible to fake the second time around. In general, the show explores themes of immortality being a curse—the ability to return from death essentially trapping the protagonist in a never-ending cycle of torment. Yet despite that, the payoff at the end is so worth it; when things finally go the way Subaru wants them to, it feels earned. All of the uplifting, silly and happy moments of the show feel meaningful because of the journey it took to get there, and because at any moment all of it can go right back to square one—“restart from zero”, if you will. If there was ever a way to incorporate time travel into a plot correctly, this would be it. And more importantly, the fact that the show’s most disturbing and dark moments offer meaningful context for why its lighter ones matter set it apart from its peers. Look at something like Madoka Magica, for instance, a show that intentionally turns its genre’s tropes on their head for the sole purpose of shocking the audience by challenging the status quo, never letting up on the gas pedal and completely missing the point of trying to be different. Re:Zero isn’t just trying to be unique, it actually is unique, and it’s properly utilizing the strengths of its interesting premise in order to tell a genuinely compelling story. I should give a special mention to the soundtrack, which is absolutely fucking incredible; each and every single track is used flawlessly and delivers the heart and soul of the show, cementing all of its most memorable moments in your mind; nothing would work quite as well without it (OP and ED songs aside, though those are quite good as well). The artwork is great and the animation is superb; not necessarily because it has great action, but because the characters—Subaru in particular—are so expressive and believable. The story has very interesting twists and it is almost impossible to guess where it is going or what will happen next because not even you the viewer are privy to the knowledge of what Subaru needs to do in order to overcome the seemingly impossible challenges he has to face. Though he gets quite lucky many times throughout, that luck can only ever take him so far, and more often than not he ends up digging himself his own grave. But I’ve said enough, so much in fact that I feel like I’m spoiling things for you without even divulging any real plot details, the takeaway being that Re:Zero is god-damn fantastic. And I haven’t even seen the second season yet! Now, all that said, it’s obviously not perfect. The underlying political intrigue that makes up the overarching plot itself is not hugely captivating, but it’s done well enough and isn’t even really the main focus. Despite the bigger picture happening in the background that Subaru has gotten himself dragged into, at its heart Re:Zero is extremely character driven and personal, not at all like a traditional story of nobility and political intrigue. If you are the type who is impatient with characters who make poor decisions or that are not traditionally likeable, you will more than likely be frustrated, but that was hardly a problem for me. The show takes a bit to get really interesting, though it still has a relatively strong opening, and confusingly begins at episode zero (making for a total of 26 episodes for the first season with episode zero included). The female protagonist takes a surprisingly minor role at times and is primarily important as the object of Subaru’s affections and the primary victim of circumstance of whom he desperately tries to change the fate; not to mention she’s arguably one of the weaker characters of the show. Yet despite all that and probably more, none of it is anywhere near enough to take away from the experience in any truly significant way. Anybody and everybody is doing themselves a disservice by not taking the time to give Re:Zero a chance, regardless of whether they are interested in anime or not, and if you have not already seen this show you need to, no excuses.

Season Two

So, it’s about 8 in the morning, I’ve been up all night, and I literally just finished watching the second season of Re:Zero. While I do still technically have 2 OVAs and the second season of the spin-off show to watch, I’m essentially done. After giving the first season such positively glowing praise, it’s only natural that I wouldn’t really have much more to add beyond what I’ve already expressed, except you’re wrong and that was a fucking lie because season 2 is a huge improvement and evolution on the first, using the context from what came before in order to tell an absolutely masterfully crafted story. Immediately it comes out of the gate swinging hard enough that its axe-head should’ve flown off the handle long ago, ignoring any and all pretenses of catching ignorant viewers up to speed and instead opting to dive headfirst into the immediate aftermath of the first season’s conclusion. It’s nothing short of incredible how they can take what was once such a seeming storybook ending and immediately turn it into an absolutely thrilling intro for the next major part of their ongoing story. And that’s not even the half of it; on top of having such a thrilling opening, they ride the wave of that momentum straight into the rest of the show, not only delivering on what the first season was so undeniably good at but taking the story in such a new and interesting direction while bringing characters into the limelight who were seemingly ignored or glossed over during the first season, absolutely shattering my expectation that the overarching plot itself would continue to be one of the show’s weaker aspects. Extremely personal characterization is at the very heart of the show’s entire approach to storytelling, and the female protagonist in particular is focused on much more greatly than before, becoming a crucial part of the story and a much more likeable and interesting character. Some scenes are so emotional that more than once I found myself literally crying, with my eyes so firmly glued to the screen I didn’t even bother to wipe the tears from my cheeks. I binged the entire 25 episode long second season within three days, only taking breaks inbetween to handle real-life concerns after forcing myself to stop, constantly looking for good stopping points within the show itself and failing to find ones I was satisfied with out of what seems now like an almost comically desperate need to know what would happen next, memories of the episodes I’d already seen constantly at the forefront of my mind—it’s enough to make a man feel like an impatient child. It’s such an incredibly surprising evolution on the first season that it perfectly showcases that nothing is truly perfect and everything has room for improvement, itself included—and while we’re on that subject, it is legitimately scary how almost no steps back were taken, nothing about what made the first season so good in and of itself comprised during the second. I can’t think of even a single area in the second season where the ball was dropped compared to the first, and I have to wrack my brain to come up with anything at all in the first place; extremely minor confusing plot points or seemingly missing details being probably the only thing that comes to the forefront of my mind, along with perhaps a plot thread or two that is not completely dealt with by the very end. But those are such meaningless nitpicks I might as well have not even bothered to spend my energy writing them, if not for the purpose of conveying just how fucking good this show is to you. Seriously, hear me out here; remember at the beginning of my initial review when I mentioned being on the fence about the show before watching it? That would have to do with the aforementioned Rem, the blue-haired maid who just so happens to be an anime icon. Not too long ago, all I knew Re:Zero as was the seemingly silly Isekai anime with the twin-maid girls in it, and assumed just based on that it probably wouldn’t be anything all that worth writing home about—and yes, I might as well make the confession that I’m not particularly fond of anime maids while we’re at it, heresy though that may be. Regardless of how Re:Zero might seem to you looking in from the outside, it’s quite literally the best anime I’ve seen since I became interested in the medium 9 years ago—an absolute fucking powerhouse with an all-encompassing reach defying taste in genre, a show so fucking good that if you have not seen it and you’re currently watching literally anything else, you’re better off doing a hard pivot in the other direction. Watch this fucking show.

Hajimeru Break Time / Memory Snow / Hyouketsu no Kizuna

Yo, so I just finished up the two OVAs and the second season of Hajimeru Break Time. If you’re curious about the latter, it’s got the Isekai Quartet chibi art style with very short 3 minute episodes, each its own little comedy skit, with each of its seasons following along with the events of the main show; if you watch it, do so only after you finish the respective main season for each so you don’t get spoiled. As for the OVAs, they’re actually quite long at an hour each and are essentially short movies; the first one, Memory Snow, takes place midway through the first season and has a rather light and happy tone which was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed it a lot. The second one, Hyouketsu no Kizuna, is more serious and gives context behind the relationship between two of the show’s major characters, and it too was a good watch, not to mention it had some really good action scenes which was quite the thing to see after the relative lack of any super flashy action sequences in the main show. All in all, good stuff, just make sure to watch the two movies in order—Memory Snow first, then Hyouketsu no Kizuna; and only after you finish the main show’s first season. With that, I’m totally done with Re:Zero including all side content, but I’ll go ahead and take this final opportunity to mention that the soundtrack of the show’s second season is also fucking stellar since I neglected to mention it before; the composer, Kenichiro Suehiro, is a god damn mastermind. One more thing, though; I went ahead and took a short look at the dub. After all, there are quite a few of you out there who aren’t the most partial to sub reading, which I totally get; you need to be a pretty quick reader, and even then it can be hard to digest everything happening on screen (even I occasionally miss lines and have to rewind). So how’s the dub? Well, unsurprisingly, it’s definitely weaker than the sub, but it’s actually not nearly as bad as what I expected. Subaru’s voice actor in particular manages to do the role a surprising amount of justice. If I had to pick anything that stands out as being bad, it would be the verbal ticks like “I suppose” or nicknames like “Barusu” that are endearing in Japanese but make me want to tear my ears off in the dub, it’d be like watching a dub of Shakugan no Shana where Wilhelmina actually says “Indeed” at the end of every single sentence which sounds like pure, concentrated pain. If you can, seek out and watch the sub, but if you absolutely must watch the dub then it shouldn’t totally ruin the experience for you.

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