The Summer 2020 Preview Guide
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- 2
How would you rate episode 1 of
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (TV 2) ?
What is this?
Those devastating words from Emilia to Subaru open up a terrifying truth: that matters with the Witch's Cult are far from over. The party containing Rem, Crusch, and the head of the White Whale is beset by two new Sins: Sin Archbishop of Gluttony, Lye, and Sin Archbishop of Greed, Regulus. Together they devastate Crusch's forces and, despite Rem's defiance, eat the memories of both Rem and Crusch and the name of Rem as well, which causes almost everyone to forget her. When Subaru finds out upon everyone's return to Crusch's mansion, he tries to Return by Death so that he can stop this, only to discover that his save point has advanced past it. Felix, worried that further association with Emilia will draw more danger from the Witch's Cult, seeks to annul the alliance, which Crusch, despite her memory loss, will not have. Subaru, meanwhile, finds himself comforted by Emilia, though he cannot fully appreciate it with the comatose state Rem is in.
How was the first episode?
After a truly upsetting finale to the re-done version of Re:Zero's first season, we at last have our answer: Rem isn't dead, but she's very nearly as good as. This in itself is the confirmation that Betelgeuse calling himself an Archbishop of Sin wasn't a positive sign, because while he may be gone, there are six more of his ilk, one of whom is responsible for Rem's current state. Lye, the representation of Gluttony, isn't just a guy with a big mouth, creepy shark-teeth, and a blood-soaked outfit, he's an eater of what's inside your mind rather than the body that houses it. His name is an indication of what he does, too – lye is a caustic substance requiring the use of PPE to handle it and it can, among other things, burn and dissolve bodies. Only in this case, Lye is doing that to the memories of a person, which means that if they awake from his ministrations, they have no idea who they are…and if he eats their names, too, neither does anyone else, making their existence a lie for all intents and purposes.
Unless, of course, you're Natsuki Subaru. His memories of Rem remain intact by the same mysterious means as his memories of other timelines, which makes it an even harsher blow when “return by death” does not take him back before Lye munches on Rem's memories. This is the first time we've seen him essentially miss a save point in his new life; previous to this episode (listed as episode twenty-six, which makes sense; you really can't jump in here) he's always been able to go back and correct course. But this time when he tries it by stabbing himself through the throat (yes, this show is still brutal), he only goes back to after Emilia's forgotten Rem, meaning that he's missed his chance. And that indicates that there's no easy way out here, not that using his power is ever “easy.” But it has been a surefire way to keep trying until a solution is found, and that may not be a luxury Subaru has this time – and with Lye still out there and his buddy Regulus (greed) kicking around with the ability to basically blow anything up, he may not be able to reach any meaningful save points at all.
It's also very concerning that Puck popped in to ask Subaru to take care of Emilia before fading out again. Does that mean that Puck's spirit nature is in danger with the emergence of Lye? Puck doesn't have a physical body, so if Lye eats him, does that mean that Puck is just gone for good? While Puck may have just been speaking about the moment, Lye and Regulus are still too unknown for us to take that for granted. The alliance with Krusch is also in danger from Lye's attack; with Krusch's memories (but not her name) gone, Felis doesn't see any point in sticking around to see what the Witch's Cult will try next and they're very convinced that the Cult is just after Emilia. Being in an alliance with the half-elf is therefore a risk they don't want to take, especially since Krusch was mostly dead all day. There's even a real question of whether or not she can remain a queen candidate without her memories, since her political savvy and skills were what she had going for her before.
Re:Zero's second season is really throwing us in at the deep end, and it absolutely works. Emilia and Subaru's relationship is already starting to look more mutual and her kindness as he grieves Rem's
comatose state is beautiful. It's a peaceful moment that can't last, but its inclusion in an otherwise fraught episode is a good reminder of why this series succeeds on multiple levels.
Subaru just cannot catch a break, huh? Not 5 minutes after his euphoric victory at season 1's end, he's got a whole new crisis involving one of his closest companions. Only now he has TWO powerful Archbishops of Sin to contend with. It's almost enough to make you feel sad for him, if only his turmoil weren't so compelling to watch. But thanks to the returning and expert direction of Masaharu Watanabe it's just too engrossing seeing this guy spiral into desperate fear.
That element becomes key during the latter half of this season premiere, as after the quick and bloody fight between Rem, Crusch, and the new villains, Re:Zero returns to its trademark gradual and deliberate pacing. Much of this episode is just characters sitting around trying to make sense of the newest magical threat and figure out where to go from here, which could be absolutely tedious in different hands. However Re:Zero's adaptive team have always showcased a knack for making its slower set-up portions engaging through strong direction and effective pacing. The other key is that much of the exposition comes packaged with strong character moments, with Felis' attempt to break off the alliance to protect a now amnesiac Crusch being the standout. While it's ultimately resolved with the alliance remaining, it's a strong reminder that these are all characters with their own priorities that won't necessarily align with Subaru's conflicts.
Overall this episode feels like Re:Zero picking up like it never went away. Direction, design, and writing are all so in line with the first that you'd never believe it's been four years since Season 1, meaning expectant fans likely have little to worry about with its return. Personally I'm not thrilled to have an arc where the emotional stakes revolve around Rem – I felt her story and character were the weakest of Season 1 – but Re:Zero has been able to subvert my expectations often enough that I'm going in with an open mind.
Rating: If I had to choose my favorite “new school” isekai series right now, the decision would come down to a close battle between Saga of Tanya the Evil and Ascendance of a Bookworm, with KONOSUBA as an honorable mention. However, if I had to choose the best of the “new school” isekai, it would unquestionably be Re:Zero, the series which, by any measurement, was one of the biggest smash hits of 2016. The long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated episode 26 clearly shows why: compared to other isekai series from the past decade, this one operates on a whole different level of writing and storytelling.
Those who did not watch Winter 2020's Director's Cut version will not be left out in the cold, as the episode starts by repeating the new four minutes it tacked on at the end, leading up to Emilia's confusion about Rem when Subaru admits to her that Rem has confessed her feelings to him. We then get to see what really happened: two new Sin Archbishops appeared on the scene and either massacred or memory-wiped everyone, and apparently Gluttony in particular has been causing problems around the capital as well, with a “sleeping sickness” almost certainly attributable to him. He proves to be nearly as much of a freak as Betelgeuse was, but with different powers: memory and identity-eating instead of Unseen Hands. The more composed Regulus, meanwhile, has some power that works on both offense and defense; something wind-based, perhaps? Either way, they will be a force to be reckoned with for the new season, though whether they are part of the Ordeal mentioned by Betelgeuse, or are operating on a different scheme, has yet to be revealed.
The qualitative aspect shows up more strongly once events return to Crusch's mansion. The conference scene shows that Crusch, memory-wiped or not, still retains enough of her personality to assert her will: she might not know who she is or what's going on, but she understands that the Witch's Cult is a threat which they must stay united against. I was ambivalent about Crusch during the first series but have to give her new respect now. Felis's fierce loyalty and protectiveness is also touching.
And of course Re:Zero wouldn't be what it has become without causing mental anguish to Subaru. While I write that a bit flippantly, Subaru's convincing emotiveness – arguably greater than that of any other isekai protagonist – is one of the factors which elevates the series. The animation of him crying over Rem could easily have come across as exaggerated, but the writing sells it. Rem may not hold his heart the way Emilia does, but she's still very dear to him, and the first season clearly showed us why. The ending scene of Emilia taking him in her arms to comfort him is also a great one; if embraces could heal the troubles of the world, Emilia would be unstoppable.
On the whole, the production values are not top-rate, and my one quibble with the episode is that Gluttony comes off looking too cartoonish. However, returning director Masaharu Watanabe has not lost his touch in putting it all together. The scene selections, the framing, the script writing, and especially the stellar use of music all combine the intensity and potency of the content. Like the first season, it also scatters throughout little details to watch for. The most obvious are that Puck also seems to remember who Rem is and knows about Gluttony, but there are smaller touches, too, like how the two quickly-flashed frames right before Gluttony eats Rem are images of her having a family with
Subaru. I do have to wonder about the strange emphasis on the knife on the table by Rem's bedside; perhaps this will be important later? Also, like the first season, the episode eschews both and opener and closer to get its full story in and runs a few minutes longer than normal. The return of Re:Zero was my most-anticipated title of the season – and maybe the whole year – and it does not disappoint. We could be in for another great run.
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