Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World - TV Series


Re:ZERO - Life in Another World

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World - TV Series

The 2016 anime Re:Zero is often regarded as a one of the best isekai to be produced in past decade, with many fans raging for the recently announced sequel that has yet to be assigned a concrete release date. Originally a series of light novels by Tappei Nagatsuki, the first nine volumes of the series were adapted in 2016 by studio White Fox, the same studio responsible for anime like Steins;Gate and The Devil is a Part Timer. As of February 2020, Re:Zero has an 8.33/10 rating on MyAnimeList, ranking 23rd on the global popularity list. As a fantasy, isekai targeted towards young adults, Re:Zero matches the viewing criteria for the vast majority of anime viewers, but unlike many anime in the isekai genre, Re:Zero does extremely well because of its unique world building, high detailed cast of characters, and the intense character development they undergo.

Plot, Story, and World Building

The isekai genre, for the uninitiated, refers to the common anime trope of a series where the main character is lifted from the real world where they possess little to no familial connections or friendships, into a new world, generally fantasy themed and possessing elements of magic and otherwise non-existent monsters, demons, and fantastical structures. In recent times, several anime have taken to critiquing the isekai genre, with anime like Konosuba! actively undermining the genre by using its most common tropes as comedic fodder. Re:Zero remains fairly traditional in this aspect by playing the isekai genre quite normally. The protagonist, Natsuki Subaru, is a very normal teenager, heavily immersed in video games and manga, just like the viewer would. Almost instantly however, as Subaru exits a convenience store after a late-night run to purchase some snacks, Subaru is lifted out of our world and into a typical fantasy world, filled with part-humans, magic, knights, medieval-level technology, and everything everyone expects from a fantasy world. He encounters a mysterious half-elf whom he is instantly enamored with, but during his first day of exploration, and in an attempt to help the half-elf recover an important possession, he is killed.

And from here comes Re:Zero’s titular mechanic. Not only is Subaru restarting his life in an alternate universe, but he also returns to life whenever he dies in a fashion similar to that found in films like Edge of Tomorrow and even Groundhog Day. Using this mechanic, Subaru is able to alter the course of his future and avoid death, with his “save-point” moving ahead a few days every time he survives a life-threatening event. Subaru, having saved the half-elf Emilia, is hired at his request to work as a butler in the manor of her sponsor, the Margrave Roswaal. In the spirit of not spoiling any major events, Subaru is quickly embroiled in the mass prejudice of the public against Emilia as a silver-haired half-elf and a variety of magical threats somehow linked to his own ability to return to life after dying. His power is the only thing that lets him struggle through, and it takes immense strength of will and as he fights his way every step of the way in his goal to protect Emilia and help her accomplish her goals.

To be very honest, when I first started watching Re:Zero, it was a struggle for me not to just turn it off and watch something else. The premise of an isekai, and especially one taken unironically is definitely overdone, and anime like Steins;Gate have also done the restarting mechanic quite well. Combined with my initial impressions of Subaru as a very generic protagonist, and the fact that the first episode was very reminiscent of someone constantly dying and respawning during the tutorial of an RPG. However, as the plot unfolded, what seemed like generic and fairly normal fantasy elements slowly began to unveil more complex, mysterious backgrounds. Normal seeming characters like Subaru’s fellow maids Rem and Ram in Roswaal’s manor turn out to have an incredibly dark and brutal backstory, and the fleeting hints we slowly amass overtime about Subaru’s power connect horribly with the details we painstakingly gather through each of Subaru’s deaths. Re:Zero is in no way a horror anime, but it is both incredibly brutal where it needs to be, and incredibly realistic elsewhere, reminding both the viewers and Subaru himself that the new world he finds himself in is a real world with all its complexities and dangers, not a video game where consequences don’t exist.


To be fair though, not every part of Re:Zero’s world is perfect. I would have preferred a bit more information about the socio-political background of the world, especially in the beginning, although I later realized it wasn’t as important as I’d thought. The magic system in Re:Zero could also use with some decent development, since a lot of major characters seem to be magic users, and Subaru himself wields a magic spell once or twice. Having a bit more information on the exact mechanics and the weaknesses of the magical arts portrayed in the anime would definitely add to the watching experience, especially since some that began to appear with Emilia teaching Subaru the basics of magic early on in the show.

Cast and Characters

And herein lies the best Re:Zero has to offer. It’s nearly impossible to avoid major spoilers when discussing character development in Re:Zero, but it has to be discussed to get a proper overview of what makes Re:Zero such a fantastic anime. Although the world building and backstory form quite a strong background for the story, and the plot is pulled along fairly well (fear of death and a teenager’s desire for romance together form quite strong motivation for plot progression), Re:Zero would be just another normal anime if not for it’s spectacular character development, mostly in Subaru. Side characters like Rem and Emilia see some significant development over the course of the show, with Subaru’s future-like knowledge and sharp wits saving the group from several disasters, and their personalities are quite deep and layered, but it’s Subaru himself that receives the most development. In a show where the main mechanism of progression is the main character witnessing his comrades die repeatedly, be exposed to torture, turn against him, and pretty much every traumatizing event ever, it’s impossible for a well-written main character to remain static after so many experiences. Subaru struggles, and cries, and fights until he’s spent, and then fights more and more, until only true self-understanding and a desire to improve himself help him solve the problems and dangers that running away and pretending couldn’t.

I find it almost impossible to put into words exactly how well this turning point was executed during the latter half of the show, but it definitely marks the high point of the second cour of the anime, with the first half being marked by an excellent climactic battle in the woods by Roswaal’s manner resolving Rem’s character arc.

Art, Animation, and Sound

The art design isn’t particularly notable in Re:Zero. It’s good enough that it doesn’t detract from the events going on in the show, and the style definitely fits the fantasy theme, although not holding to a specifically unique aesthetic; a generic feel can be considered a fair assessment of Re:Zero’s art style, although I will note that I am partial to Subaru’s facial expressions and trademark tracksuit. A lot of the other character designs are fairly bog-standard, with not much to comment on. The animation, on the other hand, while helpful and fun in bringing to life the eccentric personalities of Subaru (and later, Petelguese) was especially jarring when it came to some of the moments of 3D animation. The land dragons, for example, had quite underwhelming walk-cycles, generally feeling they were just padding around and sliding across the world while, and the White Whale also had some similar problems in terms of movement and weight. Still, it’s good that the focus was usually returned to normal 2D animation quite quickly, although I appreciate the attempt at variety. As for the sound, I have to admit that both the opening and ending themes are spectacular, and the sound design is incredibly good. The haunting wails that come up whenever Subaru tries to tell someone about his Return By Death power give me chills every time, and the screams of the White Whale echo in my head long after the Whale leaves. Most of the time the music and sound is quite subdued in the background, but when it's there, it really does its job quite spectacularly.

Conclusion

If there was ever an anime that could speak directly to the soul of an anime watcher, it would have to be Re:Zero, a dark, grim adventure into the depths a fantasy world where you have to watch your loved ones die by the hands of unknown forces while you struggle to save them anyway you can without any particular talents or abilities would shake anyone to the core, especially when considering a protagonist similar in interests, talents, and age groups to most viewers. Re:Zero is a fantastic piece of fantasy anime and the ending left me hungry for more, as I hope the second season holds up to the promise of the first.


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