Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
by Kim Morrissy,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (TV 2) ?
I will admit I was a little worried about whether Re:Zero would have the chops to pull off the episode like this. From a production perspective, season 2 has been a more conservative effort so far than season 1; a number of key figures from White Fox have left the studio in the four-year gap, meaning that the season so far has had to pace itself with more limited resources. Also, as I mentioned in last week's review, Subaru's parents haven't been a plot point in the series up till now, so I was unsure about whether an episode about them would really land emotionally.
Turns out this was one of the best episodes in the entire series to date. It might even be on par with the "From Zero" episode from season 1. What those two episodes have in common is that they laser-focused on Subaru's mental state and delved into the kind of person he was before he went to the other world. In "From Zero," Subaru admitted to his self-loathing and despaired about how he hasn't changed, but in "Parent and Child" it becomes apparent that he actually has grown up and is able to move forward. These two episodes complement and bookend each other, and I'm sure a lot of people watching them will find parts of Subaru's character arc intensely relatable.
I've always maintained that the strength of Re:Zero is in its extended cast. Every character, even the ones that don't seem so important at first, has the potential to be the main character in the larger narrative. Yet episodes like these show why Subaru has earned the right to be the main character in this story. He's just so terribly human, with so many common foibles. The most significant one is that he hates himself so much he'll never give himself any credit and will go out of his way to lower other people's expectations of him. But in truth, he always did have it in him to be a hero in someone else's life—we all do.
I think I can understand now why Subaru hasn't really thought about his parents until this trial, not even in the light novels which are meticulous in their foreshadowing. It's because if he does think about them, he'll be confronted with the reality that he has left them behind for good, and he never did exchange a proper farewell with them. In the liminal reality of Echidna's trial, Subaru is able to find that closure, but in the real world none of that probably actually happened. The scene where his mother says "Take care!" and he finally gets to respond with "I will" hits different when you know that, according to a Q&A with Re:Zero's author in 2014, Subaru's parents have no idea where he is.
In a story that hinges so much on Subaru dying over and over again, it seems very significant to me that what drives his biggest character moments is love from other people. Despite being summoned into a harsh world, the world itself isn't out to get Subaru, and there are genuinely people who love him and care about him. Experiencing love in the other world is what makes Subaru able to truly appreciate the love and kindness from the people in the old world. It also helps that the parents are very quirky and charismatic in their own right, especially Subaru's buff dad, and you can totally accept the consistent refrain of "He's his father's son, alright."
Once again, I have to praise the storyboards in this episode. Series director Masaharu Watanabe personally storyboarded this episode. It's typical for series directors to only storyboard the first and last episodes as a way of setting the example for the other storyboarders, but even in season 1, Watanabe was storyboarding some of the most significant episodes of the series, like episode 7, one of the emotional climaxes of the mansion arc. The warmth in the Natsuki household is portrayed keenly with a single shot of their family table. Every emotional moment is perfectly paced as well, proving yet again that Re:Zero's biggest strength as an anime isn't the animation but its confident directorial hand.
Finally, some miscellaneous notes about the episode: Subaru's mother makes a big deal out of mayonnaise and interestingly mentions that Subaru doesn't actually like it that much. However, in one web novel chapter, he went out of his way to recreate it in the other world. (This story is partially adapted in the Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Memory Snow OAV announcement video and is mentioned in the OVA itself.) I think that was Subaru's way of indicating that, for all of his ambivalence about his old life, he misses home. Also, it is pretty funny that the posters on Subaru's bedroom wall are all of silver-haired girls. Incidentally, these are all Easter eggs from MF Bunko J light novel covers. From left to right: Tantei wa Mou Shindeiru (The Detective is Already Dead) volume 1, Absolute Duo volume 5, and The Asterisk War volume 2.
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