Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 18 of
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- ?
The creative staff for the series felt so strongly about episode 18 that they actually advertised for it specifically – something that almost never happens with individual anime episodes. They also gave it an additional 80 seconds of run time in addition to cutting both the opening and ending themes, giving us nearly a full 26 minutes of content. So what does the episode do to merit all of this special treatment?
It systematically tears apart Subaru and forces him to start over again as a person, in much the same way that he has been starting over again in his actions. In other words, this is Return By Death applied to his character rather than his life (although he does come back in the standard way too at the start of the episode). And instead of the Jealous Witch being behind this change, Rem is the active force here.
Frankly, this is a brutal episode to watch, even though it has no graphic content past its first four minutes, where Puck has some particularly interesting things to say before freezing both Betelgeuse and Subaru to death. Almost the entire rest of the episode is a conversation between Subaru and Rem, nearly all of which happens in a single location. Turning the whole episode into talking heads is a gutsy move, but given what the series has been doing for the last few episodes, something like this nearly had to happen. A simple conversation isn't going to right the dark path of missteps and self-loathing that Subaru has gone down, and he needs to spit it all out to someone who can listen and take it unflinchingly so he can truly understand how deeply he has come to hate himself. He hates that he cannot seem to do anything on his own, he hates that he is so utterly selfish that his motives are always called into question, and most deeply and importantly, he hates what he was before coming to this world, which probably set him up for such a fall. Some of his most powerful lines involve him spewing out his realization that he was just pathetically wasting his life being a NEET. In other words, this is a process very reminiscent of what Shinji goes through during the famous (infamous?) last two episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series.
However, there's one key difference. In that sequence, Shinji eventually comes out of it by learning to like himself. Here, Rem – in one of the most impassioned speeches I've seen from an anime in years – adamantly refuses to let Subaru completely self-destruct. She is the one person Subaru has encountered in this world who can understand a lot of what he's going through because she's been there herself. Most of what Subaru has accomplished in the series has been because he served more as a motivational force than the person actually taking action, but convincing Rem of her own self-worth was the one place where he irrefutably accomplished something himself, something whose importance to both himself and Rem he does not appreciate at all. Rem does, however, and now with the roles reversed, Rem understands that returning the favor is of paramount importance. Her most powerful line – and the episode's pivotal moment – comes when Subaru insists that she doesn't know the real rotten him, and that he knows himself better than anyone. Her brilliant reply? “All you know is yourself!” He's become so invested in his failings that he can't see how someone else could legitimately see him as her hero and love him for it. Rem makes him understand that running away with her isn't the answer, that he can overcome his base nature and accomplish something, even if that means starting over from zero (both the name of this episode and probably the inspiration for the name of this series as a whole).
At times I wasn't sure that the episode was going to pull it off, because some of these exchanges are wordy enough that they threaten to run overly long. In the end though, I think that all of the wordiness was just right. Being so thorough leaves no stone unturned, no “buts” that can be raised as objections, no need to qualify anything at the end. It leaves Subaru with no path for resistance against Rem's efforts to redeem him because he laid everything out that he could – every ugly detail – and she still took it in stride and didn't budge from her insistence that she hadn't lost sight of the good in him even if he had. It's a potently emotional experience to watch, and doubtless some kind of potent message aimed at NEETs was intended here too.
The outcome of all of this is Subaru getting the reset that he most needed, and also quite probably Rem endearing herself to anyone in the audience who didn't already adore her. It all feels very, very satisfying. Even for all of that going on though, there were still other important details in the mix. Easily lost in Subaru's reconstruction were some things that Puck said at the beginning of the episode. He spoke to Betelgeuse as if he was personally familiar with the Jealous Witch, seemingly referred to the White Whale as Gluttony (which makes sense, given that it eats a person's very existence), and ended that loop with one of Betelgeuse's lines: “You are truly slothful, Subaru.” This proves that Puck knows a heck of a lot more about what's going on with the Jealous Witch than he's let on so far.
So the writing comes through, as do the artistic and musical efforts; this actually had a surprising amount of animation and expression given how little action was actually going on. All-in-all, the episode lives up to its hype and sets a strong path forward – even if we don't actually know at this point where the path is going.
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