This Week in Anime
The Best and Worst Moments of Re:Creators

by Nicholas Dupree and Jacob Chapman,

Now that Re:CREATORS has come to an end, did the show live up to the promise of its premise? This week in anime, Nick and Jacob break down where the series soared and where it sank.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

You can read our weekly coverage of Re:CREATORS here!

Jacob
Welp, the Border World Coliseum showdown has come to an end, and after three episodes of battle prep, five episodes of FIGHTIN, and one episode of denouement, I sure am excited to talk about Re:CREATORS! Oh wait, excited isn't the right word...right, EXHAUSTED, exhausted is what I meant.

Nick D
Well I'M excited to finally get back to talking about this show Mr. Poopoo Parade. And thankfully nobody else on the site's beaten us to the punch.

Yes, it's a good thing we aren't doing two Re:CREATORS discussions in one week. I mean WHO WOULD DO THAT? It's not like this was one of the most hyped shows of the past couple seasons that all four of us watched every week anyway or anything. But I will be the grand marshall of the poopoo parade tyvm, because goddamn did I want to like this series a lot more than I actually did.

You're certainly not alone! Re:C's been getting plenty of flack in its back half and I can definitely see why. Having your climactic final battle last a full quarter of your runtime is, let's say a "questionable" choice.

and how

A little less improvisation and a little less action please, Meteora. Just because there's too little action in the first half doesn't mean too much in the second makes it better.

Okay, since I can already tell I'm going to be kind of a grouch on this one, I should clarify right now that I didn't really dislike Re:C. I liked a lot of things about it, honestly! But thinking back through how it progressed from the beginning to the end, most of my feelings are shrugs upon shrugs after a stack of weird anticlimaxes, especially in that second half. (With the major exception of the final climax in ep 21, but I'll get to that later.) So I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.

I'm actually kind of with you there. The show's got a lot of issues, many of which come to light in that frankly ridiculous final battle, but while I was watching, I found myself mostly forgiving them as they cropped up. Maybe it's a symptom of long-term Shoji Kawamori exposure, but I find I can be pretty forgiving of narrative and plotting failures if I find the characters likable and the ideas at play interesting. Both of which Re:C manages to keep up to its last moments.

Yeah, the series is no slouch in the character department. I don't think it'll come as a great shock to anyone that Re:CREATORS was a pretty unsubtle riff on making another Fate/Zero, but that's kind of its biggest problem. I think head writer Rei Hiroe is actually much better than F/Z author Gen Urobuchi at writing complicated, believable human beings. (The Booch tends to work better with larger-than-life archetypes.) So an F/Z-style mythic brawl with Creators as mages and Creations as heroic spirits under his hand could have been absolutely fantastic. But the thing Booch has, that I think an F/Z style story needs, is something that I don't think Hiroe is very good at, because it's totally missing from Re:CREATORS.

Early on in the show's run, I thought maybe the slow pacing was the problem, but the second half proved me wrong on that one because things are CONSTANTLY HAPPENING in every episode. So I'm not sure the pacing was ever the problem.


Meteora gets it. I loved its characters, but Re:C's structure is a hot mess.

Deeeeeefinitely. The series at first seems like it has a deliberate pace to establish all its rules and build up this huge cast as it introduces them, but at some point it becomes clear that it's mostly fiddling around with its dozens of (very interesting!) ideas as it tries to figure out what to do with itself. And what it ends up settling on is, well...

I don't know if anybody still remembers this section of Bleach, but does the term "Deicide" ring any bells?

HOLY SHIT, I didn't know you were going to bring that up, but I was thinking the same thing! Re:CREATORS is only a two-cour series, but it has the same structural problems as a shonen manga arc that's lost its way, which is really something to say the least. Like, I can't emphasize enough how impressed I was by the character writing in Re:C. Every little moment between individual players in this giant cast felt really down-to-earth and human. Even the most wacky anime stereotypes in the bunch had this earthiness to them that was really refreshing. But in the end, it didn't feel like much of what happened resulted from established arcs or key themes or anything that had been built up to on a deeper level.

Which is not to say that plot twists weren't foreshadowed, because they often were. But most of them didn't really lead to anything greater than "now we can use this bigger weapon to thwart Altair! no, whoops, that didn't work, how about this one?"

And every time, that mop-headed fucker just

Fake stall after fake stall, minutes upon minutes of technobabble exposition, with this giant cast of lovable characters just being wasted on swapping places in fights.

Yeah, there's a lot of strong concepts throughout the first 2/3s of the show that could have been phenomenal if they were properly tied into the overarching themes and conflict. But it turns out that the only character central to the series' biggest thematic musings is Altair herself. Though to be honest, I did kind of love how Altair turned their entire plan around on them by just being the most entertaining part of their mass-media technomagic scheme. You can throw in as much twist foreshadowing and new powers as you want, but if the villain's more engaging than your hero team, the audience is gonna want them to stick around no matter what happens. ="D

Yeah, Altair's a terrifically intriguing character, and her Holopsicon is both a fun idea (alongside the many other fun ideas in the show) and the clearest example of Re:C's biggest problem. It's really cool every time she busts out a new plot-controlling power! But it's also the most literal example of "and then this happened! why? because!" possible. It's a surprise for a surprise's sake, which means it's just explosive fanservice putting off any meaningful action by other characters that might flesh out their arcs or reinforce the story's themes, something F/Z was constantly doing.

So by the end, we get this:

Yeah dude, you were just there to make the real heroes look good:

You know, I thought Magane deserved better too! I feel like you could go through these characters blow by blow, and almost everyone except Altair, Sota by proxy, and maybe Meteora would have an arc you can sum up as "seems like this was going somewhere, but then their problems were resolved with a plot twist." It's definitely true of Blitz, Yuuya, and don't even get me started on Hikayu, who existed solely to stall more battles and give Selesia one motivational speech out of nowhere.

TBH I'm okay with most of the cast mostly just being there as interesting side-roads. Much as I like Magane, she didn't really need an "arc" other than to play the wild card. Now Alice and Selesia on the other hand...

Yeah, poor Selesia. She's sidelined for almost the entire second half until Charon shows up, and then it's just a series of jumps to emotional conclusions that weren't built up at all. Their creator literally has to stop and explain to the audience what Charon's motivation was (he's desperately war-weary) minutes before he dies so his obstinance will make sense. Then Hikayu gives Selesia that motivational speech about not being indecisive, implying that indecisiveness was her major struggle through the show, I guess? News to me.

But before we can process any of these new feelings...

Thanks for ruining everything you knockoff Kiritsugu Emiya lookin ass motherfucker.

I honestly thought there was no way she could be dead already. And it wasn't disbelief like satisfying emotional shock, it was like "...huh? that's it?" That's usually the response you would have to a crappy character going out, but Selesia wasn't a crappy character! None of them were. She just felt unjustly wasted. And as cool as Magane was, I kinda thought she was wasted too.

We got this ominous moment at the act break

but the only payoff, her only contribution to the whole second half was

Just because she really dug Sota, I guess? It was disappointing not only because I wanted to see more from her, but also because the "wild card" character probably shouldn't tell the audience exactly what they're going to do two full episodes before it happens, (sucking the tension out of that scene when it arrived), and then just leave.

Hey, Magane's the reason episode 21 happens, so as far as I'm concerned, she's the real savior of this whole shebang.

That's very true!

And for as messy as the road to get there was, damn if Altair and "Setsuna" reuniting didn't make me tear up. And only part of those tears came from me trying to wrap my head around who was talking to who during it.

Right, so I have a theory about that. Structural nightmare aside, Re:C's individual character writing is so good that it made me fall in love with an idea that I kinda hated on paper. Having Sota create a fictional version of his friend who committed suicide, partially because of him mind you, so he could defeat the monster they both created is kind of a fucked-up idea when you think about it.

But the more Setsuna speaks to Altair, I realized that it didn't really sound like Setsuna herself was talking.

It sounds like Sota's voice behind Setsuna's face, speaking to Setsuna's (totally justifiable) rage at him and the world in the body of Altair, trying to make that vengeful ghost back into the inspirational spirit she was meant to be, basically trying to convince this girl to love and forgive herself. And in that context, the apology Sota gives Setsuna and the way he praises her work is...well, it's just beautiful.

It's the kind of high concept shit I love to see, and easily the show's most poignant use of all its talk about creativity and artistic expression. You're right, it's a device that could have gone so wrong in so many ways - heck, one of my biggest worries since we found out about Sota and Setsuna's whole deal was that it would try to center everything on resolving Sota's guilt. But it's just as emotionally raw and complicated a moment as the story deserves, all delivered in a surreal but grounded sequence. (And I'd argue Ei Aoki's best direction in years but that's neither here nor there.)

I'd also agree with that! So much went right in this story, so it's a shame that the one thing that went wrong was so important to building that sense of audience satisfaction, at least for me.

It's ironic, because Hiroe proves through this show that he understands the need to make the audience believe in what's happening. I think he just overshot his own level of experience in plot construction. Black Lagoon never had this kind of chessmaster storytelling style, and it is very hard to do in general. Saying "we built this up in prequels and side materials offscreen so the (in-universe) audience will accept it" doesn't make a plot twist more emotionally satisfying. Bringing Blitz's daughter back doesn't make his arc as a character fulfilling, even if it technically gets him to swap sides, and neither does wackily spoiling Sho's story to get him to join the good guys, even if it is a funny joke. By the nineteenth time someone had described "audience acceptance" as if it was some kind of power level gauge in that final battle, I was Extremely Over It.

I kinda come at it from the opposite side. Much as the fight leading up to it was messy, the show still managed to hit me where it counts, and hit HARD. And just on a superficial level, I enjoyed finally seeing all the Creations' ridiculous powers squaring off, even if it's just appealing to the same part of my brain that used to watch Deadliest Warrior.

That's totally fair. That part of the story didn't tickle my brainmeats so much because I felt like I had been promised a more character-driven story with stronger thematic through-lines and development for everybody, so I spent a lot of the (decent but emotionally hollow) action sequences waiting for that appeal to return. But there was one plot ass-pull I really liked, which feeds back into that crackpot theory I mentioned earlier.

While I do believe that Creation-Setsuna is more like the voice of Sota speaking to Setsuna-through-Altair at first, that seems to change when Altair does this:

After they enter a new world with Altair's powers, Setsuna's demeanor changes, she becomes a lot perkier and smiley, and she addresses Sota himself for the first time, which seems to greatly surprise him. So I'd like to think that was the real Setsuna, brought back through Altair's magic, thanking Sota for standing up for her even after he screwed up the first time, and giving him her blessing to keep on creating without guilt. See, I like weird wacky plot-twists when they're made to develop the characters! :'D

It's the kinda thing that speaks to your heart rather than your logic, which is my bread and butter!

I really wish the show had done that more often, but seeing as it didn't perform well in Japan, maybe Re:CREATORS will be a learning experience for the next project. At the very least, it's an original project you can tell its own Creators cared about A Lot. I always want to see more of those, good or bad.

It's a twisted little mess of overambitious ideas and some genuinely great characters, which is kind of my big weakness. It has plenty of low points, but I think the peaks will stick with me far longer than the troughs. Which is all I can really ask for.

Now if Hiroe could just get started on that spinoff about Magane's globetrotting adventures, we'd be all set.

I'm sorry for being so mean, Aoki, Hiroe, et al. It's only because I think you can handle it.

Here's to the next Creation!


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