Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Re:ZERO Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu: Hyōketsu no Kizuna
A prequel story set seven years before the beginning of the Re:ZERO series. Emilia lives in a secluded forest covered in snow with the spirit Puck. The forest holds a secret: the elves who once lived there have been frozen into ice. Emilia is feared by the people living on the outskirts of the forest, but makes a humble living selling magic stones and warding off Magic Beasts. One day, however, her peaceful life is disrupted when the Great Spirit of Fire Melakuera decides to lay his judgment upon her.
After watching this OVA, it became very clear why the Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- series received two OVAs. Memory Snow and Hyōketsu no Kizuna complement each other and provide an effective bridge to the upcoming second season of the TV anime. Where the Memory Snow OVA was essentially a breather episode, Hyōketsu no Kizuna delves into Emilia's cruel and lonely past. Taken together, the two OVAs represent the tone of Re:Zero as a whole: fun banter between the characters interspersed at times with strong violence and personal drama.
Although I recommend watching the two OVAs together because they reference each other, if I had to say which OVA is more essential viewing, then Hyōketsu no Kizuna would be it. Throughout the TV series, Emilia was always somewhat of a cipher, despite her nominal status as the main heroine. It turns out that her backstory is quite complicated, and although this OVA raises more questions than it answers about her origins, it's still the first taste you'll get of the trials Emilia went through before she met Subaru. The story was originally written as a bonus novel for those who purchased the Japanese home video release of the TV anime, but it's such an integral part of the overall lore of the series that I'm glad that it was adapted - albeit in abridged form - as an anime.
Hyōketsu no Kizuna takes place seven years before the beginning of the series. Emilia lives in a secluded forest covered in snow. She busies herself by polishing the frozen people of the village that used to exist within the forest. Although she tries to be helpful to them, the living people on the outskirts of the forest fear her because of her resemblance to the much-reviled Witch of Envy. Her only companion is the ice-wielding fire spirit Puck, who takes on a cat form and treats Emilia like a surrogate father. Emilia knows nothing about herself and has no memories of her life before she was released from the ice. Throughout the course of the OVA, she learns snippets about herself but nothing too substantial. The big revelations about who the frozen people are or why only Emilia was saved are evidently being shelved for another day.
For now, Hyōketsu no Kizuna is the story of Emilia's relationship with Puck. Although Puck doesn't reveal much about himself, it's clear that his desire to protect Emilia from harm is genuine. This culminates in a decision which he indicates was made at a significant but unknown personal cost. Taken on its own, it's a heartwarming tale, but the lack of elaboration here is unsatisfying, because it's hard to be completely sold on a story that relies on future revelations for its emotional beats.
Despite the serious tone throughout Hyōketsu no Kizuna, this OVA never quite reaches the dramatic highs in the main series. The villain talks a big game but ultimately comes off as a "monster of the week"-type throwaway villain, who is only really there to make Puck show off the full extent of his abilities. Also, without any of the other characters in the series for Emilia and Puck to bounce off, there's a kind of stifling feel to this OVA that would have made it difficult to watch as a full-length feature.
By herself, Emilia isn't a particularly charismatic character, and although she is sympathetic, it gets repetitive watching her continuously suffer as a heroic martyr because of the prejudices others hold towards her due to her appearance. At the end of the OVA, Emilia is exactly the same gentle and emotionally vulnerable person she was at the beginning. Anyone who came out of the TV anime thinking that Rem's character development overshadowed Emilia will probably not have that impression overturned by Hyōketsu no Kizuna, even if it was nice to see Emilia handle some fights by herself. It's frustrating because Emilia is clearly a capable person who has the potential to drive the plot forward, but even in her own OVA, she's stuck in a largely passive role.
In terms of the production values, Hyōketsu no Kizuna is a step up from Memory Snow, although it may just stand out more because it's more action-focused. Like with the main series, however, the appeal of the visual presentation is less in the animation itself (although there are some neat fire effects when Melakuera shows up) and more in the direction and pacing. Hyōketsu no Kizuna also features an insert song by Emilia's voice actor Rie Takahashi, and I felt that it was executed better here compared to Memory Snow, although the song itself isn't too memorable.
In short, Hyōketsu no Kizuna has all the issues present in a typical flashback episode. It's interesting to see a glimpse of the characters in different circumstances, but it doesn't have the appeal of the main course. I think it's best to watch the two OVAs together, because the recollections shown in Hyōketsu no Kizuna are bookended by Memory Snow. In addition, the snow festival that Subaru organizes takes on new significance once you watch Hyōketsu no Kizuna. Although each OVA is not going to satisfy those who want to see a continuation of the main plot, they're both important to the canon of Re:Zero when taken together. If you want extra appreciation of some of the events that will be shown in season 2, then you owe it to yourself to watch them.
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Reveals tantalizing aspects of Emilia's past, complements the Memory Snow OVA very well
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