Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-
Parts 1 & 2 BD+DVD
Subaru Natsuki wasn't expecting to leave the convenience store and be swept away to another world, but that's what happened – he finds himself suddenly on the streets of the capital of Lugunica with nothing but the clothes on his back and the bag of his purchases. Trying to make sense of what's happened to him, he befriends a beautiful young woman named Emilia…and dies trying to help her. But no sooner has he breathed his last then Subaru is right back where he started when he first arrived. It seems that he has gained the ability to “return by death,” reincarnating to a specific point like a game's save point if he's killed. As Subaru gets more involved with Emilia and the process to select a new ruler for Lugunica, he learns to use his skill to make better decisions – even as a suspicion looms that he's working towards someone else's goal.
Before isekai stories became quite as ubiquitous as they presently are, Re:Zero, based on the light novels of the same name, took the concept of an ordinary guy being transported to a fantasy world and ripped off the plot armor. Unlike most current protagonists, Subaru Natsuki isn't perfectly protected from pain, death, and his own naiveté by his status as the “hero” of the piece – in fact, the story uses that lack to not only make its points, but to move the plot ahead. The special skill Subaru receives upon being dropped in his particular parallel world is something that he calls “Return by Death,” meaning that death is very much temporary for him. Every time he dies, he's immediately returned to a specific point before his death in order to try and relive the events and not perish. The catch is that he can't speak about it, so when he goes about redoing his actions, he sounds like a madman who possesses knowledge that he can't possibly have…because no one remembers him from the first (or second or third) go round. The deaths also aren't painless for Subaru, with perhaps one exception – so while he technically can't be permanently killed, he's also experiencing the various horrible deaths he undergoes multiple times and carrying that pain and fear with him. He doesn't have protagonist invulnerability, but he does need to build up a very strong mentality, something that we can see him developing over the course of the series.
In some ways, this is the more important piece of the story than anything specifically plot-related that happens. How the other characters react to Subaru forms an interesting piece of the whole, with Rem and Emilia being the core players at the heart of what's going on. Subaru falls in insta-love with Emilia during his very first encounter with her, but we're given very little actual reason for him to remain so utterly devoted to her. She's beautiful, yes, but she also clearly has issues trusting him (which does make sense given how odd he can seem to people who don't know about his power) and at several points in the middle of the series is, if not actually mean, incredibly discouraging to him, making it clear that she doesn't share his feelings. Rem, on the other hand, is consistently supportive, and she and Subaru help each other to overcome their own insecurities. Rem has been living in a constant state of insecurity from her deep-seated guilt and sense of her own inferiority; mid-series that's the exact same position Subaru finds himself in when he allows his anger to break free of his control. The two of them are able to understand each other in a way that Emilia and Subaru can't, and interestingly enough Subaru does seem to comprehend that. That he can't get out from under his feelings for Emilia at this point begins to seem less like he truly loves her (because we could certainly argue that he doesn't truly know her) and more because those emotions were planted in him when he was brought to her world.
All of it is less a question of which character is the “best girl” of the series and more of the underlying secrets the Witch of Envy is harboring. That she was the one who brought Subaru to this world is never explicitly stated (at least not in those words), but the implications are strong. Since she has a link to Emilia, Subaru's ironclad conviction that Emilia needs saving and that he's the only one who can do it seem less a product of his own mind and more like an imperative that was implanted within him. We see this during the arc of the story that comes mid-series, when all of the Queen Candidates assemble in the capital and Subaru gets himself into trouble with this specific notion. While it also does demonstrate his basic lack of understanding of knighthood as an earned rank rather than a random or inherited title, the extreme change in his demeanor is worth noting, as is the enviousness he evidences when other candidates have knights or when people who aren't him are close to Emilia.
While this isn't ever explained within the number of novels the anime adapts, watching Subaru learn to harness those feelings and come to understand how best to use his skill all seems supportive of the idea, if only in the sense that he's learning to overcome the witch's influence. The introduction of Betelgeuse, the final villain of the series, also adds some fuel to the theory, as it brings in the notion of other members of the seven deadly sins. Betelgeuse calls himself “sloth” (although in an interesting visual representation he never stops moving) and is trying to find the other sins – but what if the mabeasts fought throughout the series are themselves other witches? We could read the White Whale as Pride and the doglike mabeasts as Gluttony.
The anime makes a lot of interesting choices in its presentation, some of which, like Roswall's visual similarities to the Witch of Envy, may hint at future developments and others that are simply neat. That episode fifteen essentially runs like a ballet (music included) is a nice choice, and Elsa's movements have a distinctly spider-like feel, which works with the idea of her as a black widow. While the animation isn't always perfect, it's good when it counts, and the fact that the art can be brutal when the story calls for it is important. Vocal performances from both English and Japanese casts are very good, with Rem's Inori Minase and Brianna Knickerbocker both doing some excellent tonal shifts. Extras include two sets of shorts, one for each release – the first half has a series of what's basically world-building, while the second half has chibi versions of everyone transported back to modern Japan for some silly adventures. The second is a lot more fun in general, and neither of the mini-series are dubbed in English.
Re:Zero is in general simply a good story well-presented. Although it acknowledges its genre, particularly when Subaru uses language like “save point” or “main heroine,” it isn't bogged down by it, and Subaru's unique predicament really helps him to develop as a character. While there isn't a firm ending in that we still have a lot of unanswered questions, the show does stop at a relatively stable point, so there's no jarring sensation upon finishing. It's a fantasy with isekai elements rather than the other way around, and that should make fans of both genres happy.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Solid character development, heroes face overwhelming challenges, many interesting hints about the central mystery
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