by Theron Martin,


Novel 1

Re:ZERO Novel 1
Subaru Natsuki is an ordinary teenage NEET who finds himself in an otaku dream scenario. For inexplicable reasons, he's suddenly been transported to a fantasy world. Never mind that vague dream he had about dying; he sets out to figure out what his special power and purpose might be. He finds out the hard way that he does indeed have a special ability, but it is especially onerous and unpleasant to use. When he dies, he loops back to a set point in time, and there are a lot of things in this world that can kill him! If it isn't a sexy female assassin, it's a recurring group of common street thugs. Eventually he starts to use his power to figure out a way to survive a situation involving a young thief girl, a silver-haired half-elf spirit mage (who he becomes smitten with), and the aforementioned assassin, who all want a certain badge for their own reasons.

The Re:Zero anime has become a low-key hit over the past two seasons, so naturally the first of its source novels is now being released in the States. Given the timing, the novel was probably slated to come out regardless of whether or not the anime version was successful, and it isn't hard to understand why. After all, American audiences have hardly been averse to stories about time loops over the years. (See Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect,” among many others.)

The first print volume of Re:Zero comes across as fairly typical light novel fare of the isekai (transported to another world) genre. It has magic, pretty girls, danger, and a protagonist who seems destined to do something great. It even has the now expected amount of genre-awareness, with the protagonist operating on what he believes to be a meta understanding of his situation, making all sorts of grand, sometimes silly proclamations and gestures as if he is deliberately trying to mimic grandiose heroic behavior. This also introduces a problem for Subaru that separates Re:Zero from the rest of its genre: despite his notions to the contrary, Subaru gets repeatedly and rudely reminded that he isn't fit to be heroic. Sure, he's in better physical shape than the typical NEET due to his exercise regimen, but he can only stand up to thugs if he gets lucky, and he's certainly no match for a talented assassin, a spirit mage, or her Great Spirit partner. That does not necessarily mean that he's useless, as he does successfully save people (albeit sometimes at great personal cost), and he has a more substantial indirect impact by encouraging other people to get involved, but he ultimately has to watch other people save the day. It's an intriguing angle to take.

For those who have seen at least the first few episodes of the anime version, the anime directly adapts this novel into its first three episodes. It follows the novel pretty closely, with the only significant deviation being a scene where the spirit mage shows off her power, which happens much earlier in the novel with less useful results. One crucial scene in the novel's epilogue shows the reason for one character's behavior much more clearly than in the anime, which unfortunately left out one critical visual detail. The anime also trims down some of Subaru's prattle – so if that annoyed you in the anime, it will annoy you even more in the novel. In fact, all of the characters show a greater predilection to prattling in the novel than they do in the anime.

This brings up the main weakness of the novel: author Tappei Nagatsuki is simply not that good at managing the timing and flow of character dialogue yet. Too many exchanges run overly long, especially the ones that take place in the middle of fight scenes. While some of it is clearly designed to make Subaru convincingly come across as a dork, it's still overdone. Nagatsuki also has a bad tendency towards redundancy; he needs to start trusting that readers will accurately interpret the tone and purpose of dialogue without needing it explained afterwards. The writing style in general also comes across too casually, though this seems to be a common characteristic of light novels in general.

Yen Press's release opens with several glossy art pages: one featuring a reproduction of the cover art, two more featuring scenes from the novel, and then four pages of character profiles. It closes with a three-page afterword, where Nagatsuki explains that the original version of the story was serialized as a web novel and makes it quite clear who his favorite female character in the story is. (This may explain some things that happen later in the anime.) It's followed by a page of concept art for Subaru and the spirit mage, along with a two page introduction to the next novel narrated by a pair of characters that fans of the anime will know well from the second story arc, though they do not appear in this novel at all.

Some hints dropped throughout the novel suggest that a much bigger and beefier story is just getting underway, and the end of the novel makes it clear that this is not intended to be a standalone read. Taken independently, it's a satisfying but not spectacular start to the story. Taken as a complement to the anime, it offers a little additional insight but not enough to be a must-read.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B

+ Somewhat fresher take on the “transported to another world” concept, better-than-normal extras
Bumpy and awkwardly timed dialogue, redundancy tendencies

Story: Tappei Nagatsuki

Full encyclopedia details about
Re:Zero (light novel)

Release information about
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Novel 1)

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