Second chances at life are something we all wish we had, but there have been shows this year such as ERASED and ReLIFE which gave us their own unique spins on that very concept. Back at the start of the Spring anime season, we were treated to another show that took that concept and gave it a rather morbid spin on it. This is Re:Zero: Starting Life Over from Zero.
Natsuki Subaru is a teen boy who doesn’t care much for the life he has. He skips school and is seen as a delinquent. One day, he goes to the convenience store to buy some food for dinner when he’s suddenly swept away into another world. Without any local currency or any sort of clue to guide him, Subaru must fend for himself in this world. After running into some common thugs, he finds himself being saved by a silver-haired half elf who goes by the name Satella (for the time being.) Satella saves Subaru and he is indebted to her so he offers to help Satella track down an item stolen from her by a thief named Felt.
While tracking down the stolen item, Subaru ends up dying. While all hope seems to be lost, Subaru reawakens in front of an apple stand he was at previously and everything around him seems to have reverted back to how it was before he met Satella. Subaru slowly realizes that every time he dies, he gets sent back in time to a “save point.” Subaru calls this ability Return by Death, but the problem with this power is that every time he tries to tell someone about his ability, he is stricken with intense pain and cannot mutter another word on the subject.
That is the gist of how this series starts out and the story, at first, is pretty campy and average. The series does take a while to really hook the viewer, but by the time we get to the mid-point, everything you thought you knew about this series gets turned upside down and flipped on its head. There is a lot more I could say, but the story also ties directly into Subaru’s development so I’d rather save that aspect for the next section.
The big gimmick of Subaru dying and returning does set up some interesting facets to the show. Yes, you are seeing the same scenes over and over again, but with Subaru needing to figure things out, it keeps you hooked in order to see just how he will overcome the situation and advance to the next save point. That’s one thing that never got explained, though. What actually determines where a “save point” is? It seems a little too convenient that his “save point” updates after major incidents. Since I’m not a light novel reader, I don’t know if it is built into Subaru’s ability or if the person responsible for it is just doing it on a whim. It makes you wonder where it’s all going.
The big question that never did get answered by the end of the series is “Why?” We understand that the witch placed the curse on Subaru and it is this curse that prevents him from talking about Return by Death, but why did the witch do it? Why was Subaru summoned to this world? Those questions are never answered and, according to readers of the light novel, a certain much-anticipated scene with Rem was omitted from the final episode and many are feeling that White Fox didn’t adapt it for a reason… which would be due to the possibility of a second season. Sadly, no news about a second season has been announced just yet, but if we were to get one, mayhaps we’ll get the answers we are looking for.
All in all, the story of ReZero had its highs and lows. In the beginning, it felt kind of flat, the middle was epic beyond anything I have seen all year and the back end was a mixed bag, but it still had its own epic moments, except for this one part where best girl gets rejected. I’ll touch on that in a bit!
There was a lot of character development in some key areas of ReZero, but a lot of characters just felt flat or came into the show pre-established. By pre-established, I mean that they’ve already reached the peak of their development so all that was needed was to introduce them, tell some quick backstory and set them free among the ReZero universe. I’ll hold off on talking about those characters in detail as the ones who got the most development should get the spotlight here.
I could write an entire book on this guy’s character development.
He starts off as a loud-mouthed obnoxious and annoying character. You really just want to punch Subaru in the face to get him to shut up, but once you hit that turning point, you really begin to feel for the character. Losing your life and being forced to relive some of the most painful moments of said life over and over again can really take a toll on, not just Subaru’s, but ANYONE’S mind. You see Subaru begin to realize the seriousness of the situation he’s in… that this world isn’t just his plaything nor an escape from his responsibilities from his own world back in Japan. He begins to mature and then his mind just gets completely broken. You see a man lose himself to madness only to snap out of it and become this righteous hero, but the hero part doesn’t happen right away. Subaru still has to find himself and he slowly begins to realize what has become of him and what he has done and it finally sinks in as to what he must do to make everything right. It’s a pretty amazing transformation to watch over the course of 25 episodes and I have a feeling we haven’t seen the ending to Subaru’s development at all.
Then there was the moment I REALLY wanted to punch Subaru in the face. Of course, I’m talking about the moment where he rejects Rem when she pours every single ounce of her heart and soul into her confession. I think a huge problem with this is not because Subaru loved Emilia from the start of the show, but because we didn’t see enough of Emilia. Rem took center stage for the majority of this series so it was only natural that people would ship Subaru and Rem, but had we seen a lot more of Emilia, if we had seen more of Subaru trying to connect with her.. to have just much interaction all around with her, then maybe I could buy Subaru’s rejection, but Emilia was absent for a lot of this series so it didn’t make any sense whatsoever for Subaru to reject Rem, especially after everything she has done. So I guess to explain why, let’s talk about Rem.
Just be warned that there will be some SPOILERS in this section.
Rem has been dubbed by the internet as the best girl in all of anime. Yes… every show has a best girl… the one who you want to see the main protagonist end up with, but Rem was awarded the title of best girl in all of anime. Which means if Rem showed up in a show like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Astro Boy, or even Ghost in the Shell, she would still be the best girl.
What makes her the best girl?
Well, Rem is the twin sister of Ram. The two of them are maids working at Emilia’s mansion. After Subaru is brought there after helping Emilia find her stolen badge, Subaru asks to work at the mansion. Rem and Rom are very emotionless and treat Subaru like garbage until one night Rem murders Subaru using poisoned tea. Of course, Return by Death kicks in and Subaru works on the mystery of who killed him. He discovered it was Rem and by using Return by Death he keeps changing the scenario until he actually gets close enough to Rem to allow her to open up a bit about herself. Thing is, Subaru is a bit too nice to her and Rem because to fall in love with Subaru. Not just a sweet crush or anything, but to the point where she would do ANYTHING for Subaru…. Including throwing her life away to protect him.
Part of Subaru’s breaking point is seeing Rem die… especially when Subaru is captured by Betelgeuse and Rem puts her body through hell in order to come rescue him, only to see Rem mortally wounded in front of his eyes. Then, after another Return by Death, we end up in a situation where Rem spent the better part of ten minutes pouring her entire soul into a love confession only to have Subaru reply that he loves Emilia instead. Then… instead of being soul crushed and running away like any girl in anime would, Rem STILL WISHES TO BE BY SUBARU’S SIDE! She still agrees to help Subaru with whatever he needs! If that doesn’t award you best girl of all time, I don’t know what will.
Satella / Emilia
As I said before in the story section, Emilia originally tells Subaru her name is Satella, which is the name of the witch that everyone fears. She figured that if she told Subaru her name was Satella, he could get scared and run away in fear, but Emilia didn’t know Subaru isn’t from this world and he had no idea who Satella was so it kind of backfired. Emilia ends up being able to use magic through her spirit Puck. Puck is a cat-like spirit animal who empowers Emilia with ice magic.
Emilia is also a candidate to became the ruler of the kingdom and the badge she had stolen was proof of her candidacy, so it was pretty important for her to get it back. Outside of this, her personality is rather timid and shy. She’s used to being shunned because her appearance reminds people of the witch. She has no friends in this world aside from Puck, Rem, Ram and the master of the mansion, Roswaal. Her relationship with Subaru is really, really awkward and it is mainly Subaru’s fault. In the early part of the story, Subaru was still an obnoxious dick of a character so he just came across as this loud-mouthed immature kid and Emilia didn’t really know how to react to that. Also, the whole not being able to talk about Return by Death REALLY complicated things between Emilia and Subaru. This is where you started to feel for Subaru because he wanted to tell Emilia about everything, but he just couldn’t do it for obvious reasons.
Then Emilia disappears for about ½ of the show, only to resurface here and there in enigmatic ways towards the end. It isn’t until the final two episodes where we get reacquainted with Emilia. It’s because of this lack of time and development that Subaru’s confession to Emilia at the end just seemed so forced and unnatural. It was really hard to get behind this character just because of the way she was presented throughout the show. I really didn’t care about Emilia AT ALL after the initial story arc. Her involvement (or lack thereof) throughout the first season really was that bad.
Wilhelm van Astrea
Okay, so his character development came late, but this guy right here became one of my favorite characters in the entire series. Wilhelm was introduced during the second story arc where Emilia was unveiled as a candidate for royal selection, but outside of his introduction, nothing was truly known about him. It wasn’t until the White Whale arc that we got to know this wonderful character.
So Wilhelm was a man who disliked flowers as a young boy. He met a girl named Thearesia who rejected him at first, but then Wilhelm realized that she was the legendary Master Swordsman. He trained until he was able to beat her in a duel only so she didn’t have to wield the sword any longer. Then, one day, Thearesia was eaten and killed by the White Whale and Wilhelm swore to make it his life’s duty to slay the White Whale and avenge the woman he loved so much. Subaru, thanks to Return by Death, learned of the White Whale and realized that he would need to get rid of it in order to save Emilia, Rem, and Ram from the Witch’s Cult. When Wilhelm heard of this, he put his trust in Subaru. They marched into battle and Wilhelm was finally able to take his revenge. After being able to close this painful chapter on his life, he indebted himself to Subaru.
Wilhelm is about as honorable as a man can get. You’ve seen his type in anime before, though. The old gray-haired man who has a kind personality, but is very wise thanks to the things he had experienced in his life. The one who is the voice of reason and will always be true to their word. There have been many characters throughout the history of anime like Wilhelm, but I think Wilhelm is up there with the best of his character type. They played off his role beautifully and it caused the viewer to have tremendous respect for him.
Known as worst girl (at least by me)… Ram is Rem’s twin sister. The two of them were born as demons with Ram being the more talented of the two. However, during an attack on their village, they had to escape. Ram paved the way for Rem, but Ram lost her demon horn in the process. Rem felt that it was all her fault and has carried that burden ever since.
Ram’s personality doesn’t really change throughout the show. She’s still pretty cold and emotionless, but she does show some flashes of compassion in her own sort of way. Ram doesn’t really do all that much throughout the series; however, except help Subaru overcome a misunderstanding towards the end of the season. If there is going to be a second season, I’m sure we will see more of Ram as I feel there is a lot more story to tell with her.
Outside of these characters, there wasn’t much involvement or development. I mean we do get characters such as Beatrice, Roswaal, Reinhardt, Felt, Crusch, and many others, but they get involved for a few episodes and disappear. While their character development is rather shallow, they all play key and pivotal roles within the series. As far as supporting characters are concerned, they do their jobs very well so it’s not like they are tossed aside like cannon fodder. They all serve a purpose and that’s a good thing to have in a show with a cast as large as this one. Kind of makes me wish Yusei Matsui took notes for Assassination Classroom.
Art, Animation, and Sound
The artwork here was pretty nice, the animation was kind of hit or miss with ReZero. While the character designs stood out and popped, there were just some instances where things felt a bit flat and you could tell which episodes received more budget than others. The final episode definitely received the most budget as a lot of the scenery and special effects were absolutely gorgeous. White Fox certainly spent most of their money there, but the rest of the series it was quite hit or miss.
Big battles like with the White Whale have some impressive moments while other moments in that battle just seemed average. It was kind of all over the place, but the music, the story and the characters made it forgivable because it drew you in more than the artwork did.
Speaking of the soundtrack, it was rather amazing. From the background music to the little touches, such as Subaru’s ringtone right before the White Whale showed up, made this show simply amazing. Of course, the most covered song from this show had to be “Elegy for Rem” at the end of Episode 15. The entire scene of a headless Subaru holding Rem being covered in snow over time as that amazing theme played created one of the most powerful moments in anime this year. I cannot wait for the OST to experience everything from this show as there were other standout pieces from it as well.
I was honestly thinking about dropping ReZero at first because of its slow start. I felt like this was going to be a medieval rip off of ERASED at first, but there was something about the show that kept me coming back and watching it. Then when the mid-point hit, I saw this show for what it truly was and it went from mediocre to something I needed to watch every single week. When the end of an episode hit, I cried out in pain because I knew I had to wait a week for another episode.
However, despite having that rare feeling, it subsided and went away right around the time where Subaru rejected Rem. I honestly didn’t want to see another episode badly. In fact, by the end of the series, I was a week or two behind on episodes just because I didn’t have that urge to watch them. Shows like D.Gray-man, Steins;Gate and Higurashi made me regret the fact that it wasn’t next week with almost every single episode. This show cooled off in the back half and I felt it cooled off a bit too much. A lot of fans kept saying “this is where it gets even more real” and I just didn’t see that out of this show. Maybe my standards of shock value are too high? Maybe I was expecting the show to trump what it had previously done and get better and better, but it just never happened. It’s like Episode 15 was the pinnacle and amazing moments and then it began to slide downhill after that.
I’m not saying that this show was bad at the end as it still had some great moments, but nothing really compared to Episode 15. Maybe that episode hyped me up too much? I don’t know… I just felt that the show dwindled after that moment.
Oh well, still was an enjoyable series and if there is going to be a season two, you bet that I’m going to watch it!
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Despite its slow start, ReZero kicks into high gear halfway through the series and simmers into a story that can still hold your attention and make you want to see more!