Every so often, you get a show that’s airing which ticks all the right boxes to get a majority of the anime community extremely invested within the first few episodes. It happened with the extremely popular Shingeki no Kyoujin back in 2013, it happened with One Punch Man earlier this year, and this season it happened with a series from animation studio White Fox that I don’t think many people even knew about prior to the anime adaptation. White Fox, responsible for the extremely popular Steins;Gate, managed to hype up everyone when the first episode of a show that wasn’t about school girls named after café drinks featured something from that extremely popular show I mentioned just a second ago. That, of course, being time travel. Fantasy, an interesting concept, a small but lovable cast even within the first double length episode, and something White Fox had become known for doing collectively caught everyone’s attention. Even if you didn’t watch it, you heard of it. Even with me dodging the name of the show I’ve been describing, everyone already knows what it is (and totally not because this post has a title). Let’s take a look at Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, otherwise known as Re:ZERO.
What if one day you found yourself not in the normal world you’ve grown into but in a world of magic and fantasy? Rather than put into instant despair, you having seen so many different anime, read so many different manga, and played so many different video games aren’t shocked by this sudden transportation, but rather get excited and automatically assume that you’re here to play some part of the greater future in this world. I mean, duh, that’s what happens in all the fantasy stories like this, so that must be what’s happening here. So you get mugged but saved by a silver haired elf girl and that’s whatever and you help her out a little but in the process you find yourself stuck in a situation where death is the only possible way it can end. Crap. But then, after you get your guts sliced open and you bleed out on the floor, you find yourself back where you were when you first got sent to this new world. What exactly is going on here?
That, in short, is the set up that so many people loved for Re:ZERO. In my opinion, it’s an opening that’s extremely lacking in some parts, but it gets the job done in a way that grabbed my attention instantly. The introduction to Re:ZERO quickly does everything it needs to in order to show off our main character Subaru’s power as well as put us in his shoes right very quickly. It wastes no time showing us the kind of character Subaru is by the way he acts when he realises he’s no longer in Japan, to the way he acts whenever he has absurd expectations of the world he was taken to. Subaru as a main character is very interesting originally and can’t really only be placed in one trope. The show does an excellent job of presenting his personality, but it never really gives us any information on the lead of this show. This brings me to the problems I have with the first steps we take into Re:ZERO.
My biggest problem is that we are told nothing about Subaru at all. His character is given zero background and in a way this leaves him as a blank slate with a random personality. He still grows as a character and develops as he pushes through the challenges presented to him later in the show, but we never learn anything about his old life and I feel like this introduction to the show would have been a perfect place to do it. After the extremely short time we see Subaru in Japan, there’s no connections back to it aside from one small scene that was so disposable that I forget when it even is in the show. What was our character’s life like before the narrative began? Those are questions we shouldn’t have no answer to, not even a “I guess he was…”, after the first episode let alone after the entire production.
My second big issue with the first episodes of Re:ZERO is how long it takes Subaru to understand his ability in it’s most basic form. For him to be confused after he dies several times but then comes back again and again is a little bothersome and to some degree feels like a waste of time that could have been used to address the problem I just mentioned. Dies one time and doesn’t understand his power? Alright, that’s fine, I guess. The audience needs to have a chance to catch up to what twist they just witnessed. Dies two times and doesn’t understand his power? I guess that’s alright. We need to let Subaru develop as a character and I suppose this is one way to have him react to what’s happening. Eventually it becomes a bit much, though. I appreciate that the show used this opportunity to show different outcomes of the same events, but I feel like this was just back up as a defence against how long it was taking. This is something I feel is wasted time when you have something that direly needs at least approaching sitting on the sidelines throughout all of it.
While my initial biggest issue with the show stays tacked on the side throughout the entire production, the second problem is eventually solved in a way I love the use of throughout the second (I think?) arc of the show. The power is explored to it’s fullest and the story supports this beautifully; in my opinion this is the part of the show where the writing shines the most. After helping the elf girl named Emilia, Subaru is brought to the mansion where she lives so he can recover from the injuries he got while helping her. The cast of characters that work at this mansion, the mansion itself as a setting, along with the conflict present during this arc all work amazingly well together and in a way like a murder mystery. In fact my favourite scene in the entire show is from this arc (Adding that opinion to the reasons why I’m eventually getting crucified by the anime community) because of how it was built up to and how it effects the story immediately afterwords.
The story of the show is pretty strong at the beginning but has a phase in the middle where it weakens pretty horribly in the same way that the Endless Eight killed another anime that tried to put an emphasis on the fact that one of their characters was suffering. In arc three of the show, Subaru is broken into so many pieces that it’s a wonder this hasn’t happened before this point. Death after death while we see Subaru break more and more and more, just like it did in the first episodes of the show, quickly gets tired. I understand the point is to show us that Subaru is suffering and that you have more episodes than you know what to do with, but in a lot of ways this weakened the production in the eyes of a ton of people.
Granted this lead to a majority of people’s favourite scene and a final arc that I honestly enjoyed a ton, but it was preceded by something that I see as really overkill and pretty unnecessary. Re:ZERO in general has a real problem with keeping not only it’s pacing consistent but trying way too hard when it wants to drive a basic point home. I’m not sure if they’re trying to make sure even the slowest members of the audience understand what’s going on, trying to fill the extra air time they had, or trying to stay very faithful to the source material that also spend the same amount of painful time detailing things that were previously made pretty glaringly obvious, but it doesn’t work out as well in execution compared to the moments that shine so well that it manages to make everyone think they might as well stick around for the awesome parts of the show.
While the story of Re:ZERO can be pretty hit and miss at times, the show’s cast of characters is pretty consistently amazing across the board. Each character, whether or not they have a creative character design, stands out from one another in a unique way. Each character not only is open for room to develop more as they interact with our extremely strange main character, but are very clearly different from each other and each have different ways with treating and reacting to the same conflict. This makes the moments in the story that aren’t repeated a trillion times in a row rather interesting depending on what character is told what secret and how they react and help the show progress, even if Subaru ends up dying soon afterwords.
From Beatrice who stays pretty consistently cold except for the one time she helps Subaru not matter what the cost, to Felix who seems cute and harmless but is actually a guy (wait what?), even to Felt who has a “Fuck the whole world and everyone who runs it!” kind of mentality that I love, every character is unique and amazing in their own ways. The only character I really have a problem with is Subaru almost exclusively because of the issue I talked about earlier. The problem with having such a stellar cast of characters and a lot of them, is that there’s no way you have the time to explore each and every fantastic character while progressing towards the resolution, whatever it might be, because of the type of show this is.
Re:ZERO isn’t a harem. It would be going against the very nature of the show if it were to take its time fully exploring each of the girls (and boy?) and it would be wasting time when there’s a clear conflict that needs to be solving. Ignoring that there is no clear conflict for a moment to make my point, when you have a cast of 48 supporting characters alone and only 25 episodes of air time that makes me wonder why the hell you have so many goddamn characters. Before writing this review I didn’t even think Re:ZERO could have more than 30 supporting characters, which on top of that shows how forgettable and disposable each one is. I flagged Mayoiga for having too many main characters but this is equally ridiculous. I don’t remember over half of these characters. I remember the ones that slightly grew before losing all their screen time, but 48? Really?
What makes this even more over the top for no reason at all is that 25 episodes later and I’m still not sure what the main conflict was. What exactly was Subaru trying to get done? Re:ZERO introduced several possible conflicts at once and even one was solved at the end of episode 25, I still felt like that wasn’t the overarching conflict the show was trying to get resolved. Is the conflict Subaru’s relationship with Emilia? Is it defeating the witch that may or may not be using Subaru as a pawn? Is it getting Emilia to win the royal selection? The show does a horrible job in narrowing down on one and rather than try to make it clearer what the main conflict is, the cast just keeps multiplying as if trying to distract people that there isn’t really any point to the story at hand.
Sound wise, the show is alright. It doesn’t do anything special with it’s soundtrack, as no tracks really stand out or are memorable. The background tracks do their job in the long run but aren’t special. I can’t really say anything about them other than that. The opening and ending themes, on the other hand (the openings being “Redo” by Konomi Suzuki and “Paradisus-Paradoxum” by MYTH & ROID, the endings being “STYX HELIX” by MYTH & ROID and “Stay Alive” by Emilia [CV: Rie Takahashi]) are really great. “Stay Alive” in particular being such an amazing supporting track and so fitting for the show that it gives me goosebumps whenever I listen to it, and “Paradisus-Paradoxum” fitting the mood the show was trying to give off in the second half extremely well. It feels like the theme songs for the show had a lot of thought put into them and that benefited the show for the better. It’ll be hard to forget any of the four tracks. Also special shoutout to the track “Wishing” by Rem (CV: Inori Minase) for making episode eighteen that much more impactful when it hit and being my personal favourite song from the show.
Visually, this show can be gorgeous. For as throw away as some of the characters are, each one has a memorable design. You can see every character and at least tell what part of the show they were in even if their name doesn’t ring a bell. The settings and scenery in the show look fantastic as well. As the show goes on you get a very clear idea of how the world works in terms of where everything is and no two locations feel even remotely similar. This works in favour of Re:ZERO as if this makes the world of fantasy Subaru is in feel somewhat like a real place. After watching the show I bet some people could even give me rough idea of how they feel a map of the world would work with what information we were given.
The animation is epic when it needs to be and always feels nice and fluid. It shows that even the fights were given a little bit of choreography, which made them feel less repetitive and more like real fights, and I always respect when a studio puts even the tiniest amount of effort into choreographing their fights. The weight of every weapon as it strikes something feels real while the movement of every character is logical and refrains from being jarringly fast.
Is Re:ZERO worth the hype? No. Not in the slightest. Is it a really enjoyable show for the audience it’s aimed at? Yes. The flaws the show has bother me and over half of the cast is kind of irrelevant which bothers me, there is no apparent conflict which makes the adventures Subaru go through really feel pointless, but there was very clear effort put into some parts of this show and because of that it payed off. I only wish they made the entire production go as far as the parts they really put everything into. If you like fantasy adventure stories, you’ll definitely like this show.
7.66 out of 10
Reviewed by Tsuyuki.
All of the images from this post were from the anime Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, including the featured image for the post. The show in question is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll.