In a nutshell: The Re:ZERO Ex novel raises more questions than it answers about Crusch and Ferris’s pasts, but Re:ZERO fans should enjoy it nonetheless. The lack of a central plot in this volume does make it weaker than the main story, however.
A note of warning: This review contains spoilers for the Re:ZERO Ex novel. Don’t read this post if you don’t want to get spoiled for the anime because I’ll be discussing the main story here as well. Also, there are no web novel spoilers here, so please don’t provide any in the comments.
Update: Yen Press released an English translation of this novel on November 21st, 2017. Please support the release!
I’ll start with the overriding thought I had while reading this light novel.
Fricken’ hell, Tappei.
This is a thought I have whenever I read/watch Re:ZERO, but man Tappei Nagatsuki sure is one hell of a tease. He dangles so much foreshadowing and vague hints related to the larger plot in front of you and addresses none of it by the end of the volume, as if to say, “I’m putting this off until a later arc.” Given that the web novel is supposed to have, like, six more arcs I don’t expect the payoff to arrive for a long while yet.
The most plot-important information in the Re:ZERO Ex story is the background behind the Lugunica royal family and the immediate context behind Crusch’s candidacy for the throne. As it turns out, she’s not a weed-smoking Ayn Rand lover as the memes make her out to be. Her reasons behind rejecting the dragon’s covenant are deeply personal – she wants to make her childhood friend Fourier’s wish come true. When Fourier died of a mysterious illness that wiped out the entire royal family, Crusch was enraged that nobody in the sage’s council cared about the royal family members as people. All they cared about was the dragon’s covenant. Crusch decided that she wanted to change that system and create a fairer kingdom.
Tappei wrote in the afterword, “I hope this novel makes you like Crusch more,” but in all honesty, the novel doesn’t tell you much new about Crusch’s personality or her convictions. We already know that she’s proud and deeply loyal to those she considers friends. She was already that way when she was, like, six years old, so there’s not much character growth to be found here.
To be fair, however, I don’t think that Crusch’s strength as a character comes from her being a dynamic character. Rather, she represents a pillar of strength and pragmatism. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is how she’s supposedly dense when it comes to romance. She can see through any lies because of her Divine Protection but she can’t work out that Fourier is in love with her? okay.jpg
Well, she probably did manage to get a clue by the very end, when Fourier literally dies in her arms mid-confession. She says, “I wanted to see the future you drew,” which seems to indicate that she had some budding feelings that never got the opportunity to bloom. There’s a consistent metaphor throughout this novel about budding flowers, and it’s pretty clear that it’s used to represent the emotional core of Fourier and Crusch’s relationship.
After reading this novel, I started to see Crusch’s interactions with Subaru in the anime in a different light. Fourier was a dumbass just like Subaru is in the main story. There’s a memorable scene in the Ex novel where Fourier challenges Crusch to a duel just so he can get her to wear a dress. He’s completely outmatched but somehow he manages to scrape a sort-of win through sheer tenacity. I suspect that Crusch admired Subaru’s reckless courage in the battle against the White Whale because she saw a bit of Fourier in his actions.
But the real MVP of the novel is, of course, Ferris, and boy the Ferris content does not disappoint. Ferris is first introduced in chapter 2, pretending to be Fourier’s girlfriend so that the prince can get out of an arranged marriage. Fourier only finds out Ferris’s birth-assigned gender at the end, so it’s an amusing (if totally conventional) skit for people who like BL ship teasing and otokonoko characters. Fourier has a dance with Ferris in chapter 3, and I liked this scene better because it felt like as if the two of them were comfortable enough in their friendship to dance together without Fourier worrying how others would perceive their relationship. It transcended ship teasing and felt genuinely intimate.
To be clear, the Ex novel isn’t explicitly about queer characters. But there is a consistent theme of defying social norms and gender-based expectations. The novel draws a parallel between Crusch’s habit of dressing in men’s clothes and Ferris’s habit of dressing in women’s clothes. While Crusch faces pushback for being a woman who wants to wield a sword, Ferris’s father looks down on Ferris with disappointment for not growing up physically strong and burly. It’s not a surprise that Crusch and Ferris, two characters who defy tradition in more ways than one, are determined to revolutionise the kingdom of Lugunica.
While Ferris’s gender identity isn’t directly explored in the novel, I do get the impression that chapter 4 “Felix Argyle’s Curse” is a metaphor for the stigma and misery that comes with being born in the “wrong” body. Despite having human parents, Ferris was born with ears like a demi-human. Because he had the “wrong” body, his parents were terribly ashamed of what others would think, and cast him away in an underground room since birth. It was only after Ferris was rescued by Crusch and received her acceptance that he became “human”.
Honestly, Ferris’s backstory is pretty over-the-top in terms of the suffering. Ferris’s dad performs a series of complete dick moves (including, but not limited to, poisoning Crusch and raising a zombie army) in order to force Ferris to resurrect his dead wife. He’s literally worse than Gendou Ikari. Yet despite the ludicrousness of the situation, the scene where father and son confront each other has genuine pathos. What made it hurt was the fact that Ferris’s father clearly cared deeply about someone – that person just wasn’t his own child. Ferris’s mental fortitude throughout this whole ordeal was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
You can probably guess that chapter 4 was my favourite chapter in the novel. I could see it working as an OVA; there’s enough gore and soul-crushing elements to match the main series. There’s one particularly striking scene that still sticks with me. After the wife of Ferris’s father is brought back to life using an incomplete version of the “Sacrament of the Undead King” magic, Ferris watches as the woman strangles the father to death and then crumbles into dust. It’s a horrifying image in itself, but the mysteries linger even after my initial reaction. Why was the father so desperate to resurrect this woman he had (apparently) stabbed to death in the first place? Why did he stab her? Did he even stab her? We’re never given a straight answer to any of these questions.
Even more aggravatingly, it’s revealed near the end of the chapter that the woman who died wasn’t actually Ferris’s mother. His real mother is actually a female attendant who watches the entire incident without interfering in the slightest. When Crusch confronts her at the end, she only says that her motivation was love, and then she vanishes mysteriously in the fire that swallows Ferris’s old home. I don’t know if this means she’ll have some importance in the main story sometime down the track, but there was definitely an air of unfinished business about the whole chapter.
And then, of course, there’s the whole matter of the mysterious illness that wipes out the entire royal family. The dragon had apparently foreseen that a tragedy like this would happen, so there’s a prophecy about the next ruler of Lugunica being one of five young women recognised as the dragon’s priestesses. None of this is explained in any detail, but to be fair, I expect that to be saved for the main story.
This doesn’t stop the Ex novel from being a somewhat frustrating experience overall, however. The novel is filled with enjoyable character interactions, but it fails to tell us much that we didn’t already know. Anything substantial is just hinted and teased at. On top of that, the book lacks a cohesive structure as a whole. While the ending is absolutely devastating and makes me cri evry tiem, the book reads less like a novel and more like a bunch of short stories that are only loosely tied together. This makes sense given that Tappei’s original intent was to publish the stories in Ex as part of the Re:ZERO short story collection.
In the end, I still think that Re:ZERO fans would get a lot out of this, though. It was worth it just for that picture of Ferris dancing, to be quite honest.
And also, before I forget, yes there is a volume 2 of Re:ZERO Ex which is about Wilhelm and Theresia’s past. I haven’t read that yet but I’ll get to it sometime. How can I say no to Theresia?
By the way, if you have any Japanese light novel recommendations, feel free to tell me!
First off, really nice article. Was a really good read, I have one or two things to remark tho.
A lot of the content and its meaning in the spin-off novel stems from ( who would’ve thought? ) retrospective story telling.
Because of this I’d like to think of the Ex Novel Volume 1 as an additional set up for certain events in the main story.
Okay I have to admit that I’m biased because I’ve read the story up to the most recent chapter in arc 6 but I strongly believe this exact knowledge is what this spin-off novel needs to fully express itself.
Without spoiling anything, there are a lot of things in the main story that give the events within this volume a meaning. As much as it leaves you with a bunch of “???” now the more “Ah, so that’s what it was” moments you will have later due to it.
On top of that the impression you get from the characters here is definitely helpful to give everything that happens in the main story several new shades.
Yeah, I had a feeling that the main story would give more context to this novel. I’ll have to read it again if/when I ever catch up with the web novel!
It’s also worth noting that the first Re:ZERO Ex volume was published after volume 6 of the main series, so I think you’re supposed to read it around then. As a result, the Ex novel is careful not to spoil anything for what happens later. Of course, that doesn’t stop you from reading it later when you have more pieces of the puzzle.
Exactly. The Ex Novel can be read pretty much whenever you want, it will always have a different impact on you as the reader but yeah after volume 6 is probably the intended time for it.
It’s interesting to note that the anime delivered various references of the Ex Novel Volume 1.
A few examples would be
– Crusch talking to Subaru about marriage in episode 14 and her somewhat regretful look she has when she looks out of the window
– In episode 19 before the assault of the whale she caresses the insignia on her sword which is that of a lion. As you might know Fourier and his family were known to have a lion as as their family crest. At that moment she thought about him and probably got her determination from it. She does the same gesture in episode 21 I think
– In episode 23 Felix says how he “has the most gentle hands in the world”. That’s what Fourier always told him.
– Again in episode 23 when Felix cried the author said himself that the majority of the reason he cried was not because of Subaru but that he reminded him of Fourier at that moment.
Man, looking back on the series after the anime finished and you’re right. There’s so much foreshadowing and subtle references to this volume! Daaaaamn.
From wiki I got the impression that his mother killed herself?
“Once that was done, the maid asked him if that was what he wanted, but Ferris simply told her that the magic was incomplete. As he left the room, the maid called him “her lovely Felix” before locking the door and setting the room on fire, which started to spread across the mansion.”
But somehow she survives that and has a conversation with Crusch afterwards… See pages 250-252.
Technically the Re Zero webnovel has 3 more big arcs that haven’t been published or adapted for anime yet (the 6th arc’s a work in progress). If you want you can read them here:
Readers say Arc 4’s the longest, which could be an entire season by itself.
I’ve hear the Bluray will come with a “what if” novel where Subaru chooses to elope with Rem and settle down with her in another nation. Perhaps you’d be interested in reviewing it?
Also, I thought I’d recommend a light novel that could properly fit the “shitty light novel” tag used, a “potentially so bad its good” one – 超人高校生たちは異世界でも余裕で生き抜くようです!/Choujin Koukousei-tachi wa Isekai demo Yoyuu de Ikinuku you desu! – by the author of Rakudai Kishi.
Basically, Danganronpa Super-level students + Isekai summoning – Monokuma’s Killing game = this light novel.
Nah. I’m not that interested in Subaru and Rem’s relationship.
“by the author of Rakudai Kishi” sold me on this one. What could possibly go wrong???
This is actually pretty interesting. When we’re first introduced to Ferris being male in the anime I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes — like oh great, here comes another otaku-baiting trap. I’m not entirely convinced by what you mention of the portrayal yet. As a general rule, a character with Gender Identity Disorder will struggle a bit on both ways; and when they adopt an off-gender persona (Ferris as a girl here) they usually leak some of their masculine traits/values/views out. The alternative is that they’re seriously, grossly, OBVIOUSLY overcompensating. I sense neither from Ferris.
Still, it’s nice to know that the author is trying and taking it seriously.
I’m not entirely sure that Ferris has gender dysphoria. Ferris has never self-identified as a girl, and the narration never refers to the character with a gendered pronoun. Ferris could be a person who likes dressing up in women’s clothes without identifying specifically as a woman, just like Crusch dresses in men’s clothes without identifying as a man. Since the novel never explores the issue directly, I can’t really say. (It’s also the reason why I refer to Ferris as a “he” for now.)
But yeah, at least the author seems to respect Ferris as a character in his own right. And there’s an underlying message in Ferris’s story about accepting people for all their differences. Like you, I was expecting much, much worse from Re:ZERO than what we got.
Here’s a real life pic of Nagatsuki Teppei, in case you’re wondering what he looks like.
I hope Ferris marries Crusch. The Web Novel has made it pretty clear that he loves loves her.