This Week in Anime
Is Re:Zero Better Without Subaru?

by Nick Dupree & Michelle Liu,

The further adventures of our death-defying hero Subaru Natsuki are delayed until July but Crunchyroll is currently streaming Re:ZERO - Starting Life in Another World - The Frozen Bond, the OAV that benches Subaru in favor of focusing on Emilia's murky past. Can one magic elf girl and her super-powered cat carry the show?

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.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Nick
Micchy, in preparation for today I watched the entire Director's Cut of Re:Zero in the span of maybe 4 days. And let me tell you, that is entirely too much concentrated Re:Zero for one man to handle.
Micchy
Look, I watched the entire second cour of the first season in one sitting this week, and even knowing beforehand how frustrating Subaru is as a character I still found myself losing patience a few times. But I can tell you, sitting through way too much of Subaru's Hero Complex Adventures was very relevant background for the new Re:Zero OVA, in which he has a whole fifteen seconds of screentime.

Wait, I mean why the hell did I sit through that much Re:Zero for a prequel story about an entirely different character?
Subaru is a character I can respect from a writing standpoint. He's a flawed, layered, consistently written personality that works for the story Re:Zero is trying to tell. But good god did I cheer when The Frozen Bond opened with these magical words:
Not to get too caught up in the question of whether Subaru's character arc is worth putting up with his grating personality, but those words made me even happier than when I first heard the title of the OVA and my mind instantly went to "Hyouketsu no Judgness" of Mayoiga fame. Anyway turns out Re:Zero minus Subaru is a lot less frustrating an experience, but is also less interesting to talk about for that same reason.
I do think having the context of Re:Zero's 2nd half is actually pretty useful, and possibly worth a rewatch for folks who haven't touched it since it aired. Because one of the most (purposefully) frustrating things about that whole stretch of story is that there's a huge wealth of character to be mined from Emilia, but it just sits there never being scratched because Subaru is...Subaru.

Which works when the point is to poke at his deep lack of curiosity towards the person he supposedly loves, but also means something like this OVA is desperately needed to flesh her character out. Like wow, can't believe she never mentioned her hobby of making ice sculptures!
That's a pretty consistent problem with/feature of Re:Zero itself - a large part of the second half is about how Subaru makes an absolutely lousy hero and sidelines the people around him to feed his ego. I do think the show's writing undercuts itself pretty hard by continuing to let Subaru suck even after he realizes he's an absolute chump, but that contradiction at the core of the show is still interesting to discuss.
That's fair. Personally what I latched onto was the depth of characterization even its side characters got, so I was more than happy to delve into Emilia's past and learn more about her and Puck and what the hecks up with all the Elf Racism going on.
You could look at Frozen Bond as a missing piece of sorts to the series proper, I suppose. Its strength in character writing highlights how Subaru's huge presence/focus in the series crowds out equally interesting stories about characters who aren't him. It just frustrates me that this (perfectly solid) OVA exists in relation to a series that's so fundamentally lopsided in focus.
For sure, which is why I'm going to embrace this short reprieve where I get a conventional fantasy anime where there's no potato in a tracksuit who needs everything explained to him. Just an elf girl, a cursed forest, and her floating fuccboi cat-dad, the way Tolkein intended.
Alternately, you might describe it as Frozen 2 without the corny '80s love ballads. Which, now that I think of it, is a really strong argument in favor of turning all fantasy anime into musicals. But I digress.
Frozen Bond is basically all I could ask for while we wait for the delayed season 2. It puts focus on arguably the most pivotal character in the larger story, and does a LOT to contextualize Emilia's feelings and actions during the TV series. Also this was just adorable.
Subaru may be a dipstick but I can't fault his taste in anime wives.
Yeah, Emilia always mentioned fantasy elf racism as a reason for her aloofness, but this is the first time we've seen what exactly that entails: struggling to make small talk because she was raised by fairies in the woods, for one.
I mean she was basically raised by Puck right? Dunno how she didn't become a social butterfly.
Well, there's growing up as the town social outcast, and then there's literally living in the woods with snowmen and yeti. Frankly, considering her background, I'm surprised she's not even more awkward.
Really though, it was pretty effecting to see Emilia's earnest attempts to make even the most distant of acquaintances. Sadly it doesn't go well because the people of Re:Zero world are lame-os who don't appreciate rad ice magic brutality.
On the contrary, I can't imagine it's very fun to have icicles puncture your skin from underneath, even if it does look hella cool.
Philistines, the lot of them.
The universe apparently prefers a herd of Rapidashes to perfectly hexagonal ice patterns. A shame, I know.
Granted Emilia's not a big fan of her Sub-Zero skills. She spends pretty much the entire 70-odd minutes of this OVA trying not to hurt anyone despite every aspect of the universe working to foil her.

Like hey, the spooked villagers who barely tolerate her and constitute 100% of her non-magical interactions? Turns out they sold her out to some slavers. Whoops.

Yeah, that's awkward. Girl just wants to clear a pacifist run of the game called life but some fools gotta make it harder than it needs to be because they're all scared of some vaguely-defined witch threat.
Thankfully she has one (1) friend in the world, who answers the question "what if Bugs Bunny were an extinction-level threat?"
The giant kitty-cat just loves his daughter, okay, cosmic orders be damned.
I love this adorable murder kitten.
Important to note that Puck's not just contracted to Emilia, but he also said "screw you" to some god or its equivalent when they told him he wasn't supposed to get personally involved with her. Like yeah, as the mascot character he's contractually obligated to be on screen, but last I checked it's kind of a big deal to flake on deals with fate or the universe or whatever he's beholden to.
But that's what makes their bond so meaningful. A lot of the origins of their relationship is still shrouded in mystery - there's implications their father-daughter shtick is more true than Emilia realizes for one - but what matters is that they care for each other in a world seemingly designed to keep them apart. And not in the "oh circumstances keep them distant" way. More of a "the universe wills a hellish executioner to burn them to death" way.

The universe is just full of cowards who don't want to admit a family can be a feline beast of old and a socially awkward elf.
For real though, on top of the way it informs their relationship, this whole sequence with the bastard fire horse is integral to better understanding Emilia in the tv show. This bit is heartbreaking on its own, but it also shows us just why and how deeply it hurt her when Subaru kept fanatically idolizing her.

She just wants to be acknowledged for her person - not what she represents, what species she happens to be, or who she reminds people of, but for Emilia. That's something nobody but Puck has ever given her.

Heck, even her other allies in the show mostly seem to see her as useful chess piece in a larger game. So it makes sense she'd be hurt to find out the first person who seemed to want to help her without ulterior motives was actually just suicidally devoted to an imagined version of her he made up in his dumb, dumb head.
It goes pretty far to humanize her! She never asked to be either "the witch" (as most people see her) or an all-compassionate madonna (as Subaru sees her); she's just a person like anybody else, elf lineage aside. She may not love Subaru unconditionally like Rem does (who is, might I add, a made-up cartoon maid), but she's all the more 'real' for her refusal to be slotted into a role.
And honestly it's Subaru's loss for not getting to know Emilia better as a person (so far, anyway). Like sorry dude, maybe if you asked her more about herself on your not-dates you'd have gotten to see her rad snowboarding skills.
Meanwhile he's probably out there wiping out on the beginner ski course. Get owned Subaru Natsuki.
The Frozen Bond is basically exactly what I needed after 9 hours of watching Subaru save scum his way through developing basic social skills. And it makes me hope that whatever season 2 has in store it'll let Emilia really shine as her own character.
It'd be a nice change of pace after she spent half the show sitting in a mansion and not being relevant. Emilia's a good character, and she really deserves more focus than she got in the first season - even if her absence was deliberate. And I guess the mascot can come along too if he and Emilia come in a package deal.
I mean why wouldn't you want the Kaiju Kitty along?
Pouring one out for the analog digimons.
So hey, if you were somebody put off by the TV series this OVA may actually be worth your time. And if nothing else it's helped me relate to Subaru a little better too, as I also Love Emilia.
Agreeing with Subaru, imagine that.

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