AKA The Dissection of Subaru
What’s the Story?
Subaru was just an ordinary high school student (supposedly) until he’s transported into a strange land straight out of a fantasy. There he meets a beautiful silver-haired half-elf who he instantly falls for and everything looks like a dream come true for Subaru, you know, until Subaru and the elf lady end up dying horribly. Luckily (or unluckily depending on how much you like mental torment) Subaru discovers he has a special power that lets him redo the last day or so when he dies, like going back to a previous save point. And so begins Subaru’s long and torturous journey to find his happy ending and win the love of Emilia the half-elf.
Warning, to watch this anime is to watch the fragile mind of a young man crumble and fall into an endless pit of despair before attempting to piece himself back together again. I know that’s kind of a spoiler, but I think this series needs it as the show doesn’t give any impression of just how dark and sometimes awesome it’s going to be. The concept for this show isn’t that original, there must be a thousand shows about some kid waking up in a fantasy land, making pop culture and genre-savvy remarks to the bemusement of the locals and gathering a harem of girls to live the dream life with and the first couple of episodes certainly give the impression that this is where the show is going, but it’s a lie. Even the little twist about Subaru getting a do over every time he dies isn’t that original, but I’ve said it before it’s not necessarily the concept, but how you use it and this series uses it’s concept very effectively.
A lot of what makes this anime something different comes down to our lead, Subaru. Now the character can get a lot of hate and I can certainly understand why, Subaru is very much a marmite character. He can be very, very annoying at times, his jokes and poking fun at familiar tropes aren’t all that funny and sometimes he can just be a bit of an arse. Also he’s arrogant, selfish and has this sense of entitlement about him like this world owes him something, which is precisely why I think he’s such a great character, not always a likeable one, but still great. Subaru is human and comes complete with a myriad of flaws like any normal person. Unlike a lot of shows that feature someone ending up in a fantasy world, he’s not some idealised hero that the audience can use as a placeholder for themselves so they might escape into this world. Subaru is probably a more accurate account of what would actually happen if someone did find themselves transported to another world.
Part of Subaru’s problem is that he has expectations for this world even though he’s never been here before. It’s his genre-savvy nature that holds him back more than anything else, he expects to be the chosen hero here to save the day and get the girl and acts according, which often ends up backfiring on him. It brings in that arrogance and sense of entitlement I mentioned before, he saves Emilia and expects her to love him for it because that’s the way these stories work and it’s kind of a smack in the face when Emilia admits she doesn’t feel that way about him, at least not yet and not with the intensity he’s expecting. It also doesn’t help that Subaru is kind of pathetic, he’s in good physical shape but that doesn’t really mean much when he’s going up against curse-ridden dogs, knights and a giant flying whale. He spends most of his time getting his behind kicked across the screen and I do have to applaud the show for never giving Subaru any kind of amazing power to save the day with, he gets a little bit of magic but most of the time he has to rely on others to get the job done.
Subaru’s story is a really touching one, though at times it can be tough to watch. We see Subaru getting torn down again and again and the constant dying and coming back to life doesn’t help. He goes through a mental implosion as he realises that he can’t do anything by himself and his constant struggles to get things to work out as he wants just end up blowing up in his face. I know if I had to go through anything like this I’d have cracked long ago. It’s a testament to Subaru that he’s able to put himself back together, recognising all of his flaws and moving forward to save the love of his life, just this time without the need for any hero-like gratification (though clearly he’s an idiot because Rem is so the best girl in this series). The story is spoilt somewhat by the fact that Subaru does end up as the hero and gets the girl, but that’s kind of a necessity of a narrative having a happy ending.
I know I’ve spent most of this post just dissecting one character and not talking about much else, but that’s just how interesting his character is to me, though there are a few problems with him and how the story uses him. For one, the show can’t seem to make up it’s mind whether Subaru is an idiot or a genius, he wavers between the two depending on what the plots needs of him. One minute he’s taking two to three episodes to work out that he’s actually redoing the same day after dying, the next he’s able to negotiate between a bunch of people and come up with clever strategies. It’s not that consistent and it does dent his ‘realistic human’ image. Another thing that dents the realistic side of him is that fact that the show wants you believe that Subaru is your typical shut in nerd, but he’s way too physically fit and full of self-confidence to be that, I’ve certainly never met a nerd like him before.
Okay, there are other characters in this series, most of them fulfil one archetype or another, but most of them are fleshed out enough or have just enough personality for you to like them. Some characters get brief appearances and are made out to be really important only to never appear again, but that’s only because the source material is still ongoing and I image they’ll have a point there (Heck season 1 ends with the defeat of one of the bad guy’s generals with another six waiting in the wings somewhere). The fantasy world they inhabit is also pretty interesting, even if we might not get that much detail on it and it could do with another season or two to explore. It’s at least very prettily animated.
In the end, Re:ZERO is a series that’s definitely worth a watch. It might not be to everyone’s taste and the main character can sometimes be a pain to deal with, but it’s worth it just watch the level of torment Subaru goes through and watching him fall apart and put himself back together again (I just realised, I’m a sadist aren’t I?). The series is beautifully animated and has a rich world and some fun characters, they may not always get the attention they deserve but hopefully some future seasons can fix that. This series is one worth starting a life with.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.