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Revisiting Re:ZERO: Some Observations in Retrospect

re-zero-yay

Re:ZERO was one of my favourite anime series of 2016. I remember being kind of skeptical about the series at first since it seemed like your cookie cutter isekai anime, but I ended up loving it by the end. It had some interesting things to say about the hero’s masculinity, and plus it had some of the most memorable side characters I’ve seen in this subgenre.

Now that the Memory Snow OVA is finally just around the corner, I found myself revisiting Re:ZERO and falling in love with it all over again. I read the first two volumes of the short story collection (短編集), which focus on the slice of life antics of Subaru and co. that occur between episodes 11 and 12, and was surprised at how much I liked it. I thought that most of my fondness for this series comes from the side characters, worldbuilding and the harrowing adventures, but somewhere along the line, Subaru and his friends have grown on me. At least, I wasn’t bored reading two volumes worth of stories about them where nothing much happens.

I’m not going to bother summarising what happens in the stories themselves, as those details don’t matter much to me. Some other dedicated fans have probably already summarised all the books anyway. What I am going to do is list some things I thought about as I was revisiting this series for the first time in two years. Spoilers for the anime to follow.

Subaru was never supposed to be a loathsome character

subaru

Back when Re:ZERO first aired, I remember a bunch of people talking about how Subaru represented The Entitled Male Otaku. Those people praised the anime when Emilia rejected Subaru and when he suffered in the most gruesome ways for trying to be a hotshot hero.

For a while there, it seemed like the show was trying to make an example of Subaru and everyone who thinks like him. I guess it was kind of cathartic to see Subaru get kicked to the curb when that kind of character would normally have girls swooning over him left, right and centre for no good reason at all.

Even at the time, however, I thought it was too simplistic to see Subaru as that kind of loathsome figure. He’s a deeply flawed human being, but he’s also an earnest kid, and it’s that earnestness which marks him as “a good person” in my mind. He doesn’t deserve a harem (no one does), and he sure as hell didn’t deserve the suffering that was heaped on him just because dudes similar to him got harems in a different show.

In other words: Subaru Did Nothing Wrong.

liliana

There’s a short story where a minstrel named Liliana predicts that Subaru will become a great hero. Notably, she said that not because he made any grand gestures of saving her, but because he empathised with her when she made a decision that seemed selfish. Even before Rem gives Subaru that famous pep talk in episode 18, I think we’re supposed to see Subaru as a person who has the potential to become a hero. And it’s not power that defines the hero, but the ability to inspire others.

Rem is cute. So is Emilia.

The short stories really emphasise the “cute” aspects of the heroines. This is especially the case for Emilia, whose clumsy traits are accentuated more than usual. It’s revealed over the course of these stories that Emilia is tone deaf, cannot hold her liquor, is easily frightened by ghosts, and doesn’t know her way around a kitchen at all.

To think that this clumsy girl is the one who constantly treats Subaru like a child. The “gap” is hilarious.

Rem, meanwhile, hero worships Subaru to an extent that is also hilarious. Subaru points out that the sky is blue? “Wow, Subaru-kun! You’re so astute!” But the best parts are when she says things that could be interpreted meanly in an incredibly earnest way. (“You’re so cute when you fall into the palm of my hand, Subaru-kun!” “Th-That’s not a compliment!”)

In the main series, I found Rem’s devotion to Subaru touching but thought her character overall was kind of flat. It’s those little moments of ribbing where you don’t quite know if Rem is being straight-faced or not that add more charm to her dynamic with Subaru.

rem subaru

The worldbuilding is still the best part of the story

The worldbuilding in Re:ZERO is some of the best I’ve seen among fantasy literature (not even just isekai). There are few exposition dumps, and any exposition that does happen occurs naturally within the flow of the story. There are many, many aspects of the world that are mysterious, but you gradually come to piece things together.

This strength of Re:ZERO still remains in the short stories. You find out little snippets about the physiology of powerful spirits like Puck. Because he has too much power contained in his body, there are times when he basically bleeds magic. Subaru compares it to being on heat because the kanji is so similar (発情期 vs 発魔期). Colorful little details like this spice up the story, even in the slice of life episodes.

This remains my favourite part:


Overall, I really enjoyed revisiting Re:ZERO this past week. Now to hope that the OVA is good and that they’ll eventually give us a continuation of the main story! One can only hope.

What are your thoughts and memories of Re:ZERO? Feel free to share in the comments!

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Posted on October 5, 2018, in Anime Analysis and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. It’s good to see Subaru getting gradually more recognition as the basically decent person he is. Re:Zero is among my favorite anime largely because of him being a protagonist I could deeply empathize with, and seeing so many people dismiss him as nothing more than an avatar of male otaku-ness (or flat-out despise him for reasons I still don’t fully understand) is disconcerting and oddly painful for me, despite not being terribly similar to him myself.

    On a different note, I’ve only recently began following your blog, and I must say I’m glad I did. Your perspective is not one I’ve seen elsewhere, and often inspires me to think about things from different angles. Also as an aspiring translator I certainly look up to you and your translation philosophy. I can’t agree on shipping Reinhardt and Felt though; the power dynamic there makes it more than slightly creepy for me XD

    • Thanks! I think of Subaru as one of those characters that’s hard to like as a person (especially at first) but is very well-written.

      I’m also glad that you like my blog! Now I feel bad that I barely update.

      And hey, I don’t ship Reinhard and Felt romantically! I like them as a combo but not as a couple, if that makes sense XD

  2. I agree Subaru ought not to be loathed, but he absolutely does stuff wrong!

    At the same time, like I said in my blog post a ways back, I think the awful ways he is “punished” for his mistakes are poor substitute for more subdued, relational ways of growing his character. I agree he doesn’t deserve the suffering he gets, and I didn’t enjoy seeing it, which is why I dropped off with following the show.

    That said, despite his earnestness I still think he’s kind of annoying ^_^” Not actively malicious, but kind of self-centered at times & prone to active out of ignorance. That annoyance may be why I’m less inclined to totally forgive everything he does hmhm.

    • Yeah, that’s a really understandable reaction too. Death is Subaru’s only gimmick. He’s like a reconnaissance scout that experiences the unknown, and each time he goes out he brings back more knowledge. But that aspect of the setting is definitely not used in the most tasteful way. Even for the fans, it wasn’t the gruesome deaths that made Subaru’s personal failings clear. There are plenty of occasions in the story where he dies horribly, is shaken about it, and then goes back to his usual self. It was only when Emilia told him that enough was enough that his character really started to change.

  3. Subaru is certainly some of the regular Otaku entitlement. But he is not meant to be hated.

    One of the best things of Re:Zero is that it recognize the otaku entitlement but is not a “OMG, you are the worst of the world and you should change into a totally different person!”.

    Which is the way of how I think that Otaku criticism should be. Because honestly? The “you are the absolute worst” is far from helpful.

    • Yeah, I agree. Re:ZERO is Subaru’s story, not a parable. It’s not something that should reflect on all otaku. It would have been extremely out-of-place in the context of the story for the conclusion to Subaru’s coming-of-age story to be “you should change into a totally different person.”

  4. Hmm? I already wrote a piece about it but I think Subaru is just a regular dude who happened to get trapped in an isekai. But boy, our boi makes horrible decisions especially in the midparts of the series. Who the hell barges on the middle of a ceremony for choosing the future queen anyway?

  5. Stian Farsethås

    what i love so much about Re:Zero is that it doesn’t just look at the negative aspects of Subaru, but also the positive ones. he can be an entitled, obsessive, selfish person, but he can also be heroic, selfless and earnest. he is easily the best isekai protagonist

    you should also watch Subsonic Sparkle’s video on Re:Zero:

    Satou Kazuma is also a good isekai protagonist

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