Japanese Title: Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 25 episodes
- Hooks like a whale fishing pole.
- Some moments of greatness.
- Many moments of arse gravy.
- Convenient stupidity from protagonist.
- Crazy for the sake of crazy villains.
- Body pillow sales first, character design second.
- Overuse of shock twists.
- Explain, anime, explain!
Re:Zero, the hotly requested review of the spring and summer 2016 seasons and the latest attempt at guy-trapped-in-fantasy-world story. Re:Zero distinguishes itself in the oversaturated market by using a respawn mechanic, where only the ‘player’ is aware of the death as it rewinds to the latest checkpoint. The player repeats the ‘level’ until he succeeds. No one could possibly fail with such a strong hook, yes? That’s a bold assumption we make, dear reader.
Subaru is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and avid fantasy fan teleported to a fantasy world. However, after he stumbles onto a murder scene and dies, time rewinds to the previous checkpoint, giving him another chance to survive and prevent the murder. He resets to zero. The incident centres on Emilia, a half-elf spirit caster in search of her royal insignia stolen by a thief, who is also murdered in the same incident. The plot thickens.
He goes through several ‘lives’ as he figures a way to save Emilia and others. Seeing the same events from different angles was engaging, for Subaru tries convincing people to change their actions. Problem is that only he remember the events of past lives and can’t mention his power (it kills him if he does). Friends see him as a stranger upon respawn. Outside the empty episode 1A (hence why they made the premiere a double episode to reach the hook in 1B), the first arc has all the promise of a great series. Then the second arc starts.
First, we are treated to the ‘body pillow’ scene with the introduction of twin moe maids, Rem and Ram, designed to ensnare the NEETs in the audience and sell body pillows. Their suggestive poses and moe trash behaviour is inconsistent with their behaviour outside these scenes when they matter. Later, a cat-knight “meows” as it paws at the air for another demographic. (Kill…! Me…!) Downtime episodes have to complete that marketing checklist!
Instead, why not, I don’t know, explain how Subaru got to this world – he blinks and is there, that’s it – or how he acquired his power? Maybe build this world.
Once past the maid advertising, there’s another murder involving Emilia with a new checkpoint. The arc initially feels repetitive – same progression, different murder – but Re:Zero keeps it fresh by diving deeper into the effects of Subaru’s power. For example, Subaru and Emilia grow close, until the murder resets him back a few days and she no longer remembers their intimacy, as she technically hasn’t experienced it. Seeing Subaru go mad at these differing realities is great – Re:Zero’s best element. It also brings good humour as he speeds through familiar scenes – “Yeah, yeah, I know that already.” “But I’ve never mention this to anyone before.” Shame they forget the psychological scarring when convenient. Only at major events do the writers suddenly remember this guy has lived through dozens, possibly hundreds of variations on current events, suffered and died each time.
Unfortunately, the second arc’s twist – the murderer’s identity – is garbage, purely for shock value. Thus Re:Zero introduces us to another of its major failings. As if to one-up itself all the time, each twist tries to be more shocking, no matter the believability of said twist or consistency of character, and always at the end of an episode to force you to watch the next. One or two would be fine, but this often is tiring, lazy, and breaks pacing.
Arc three doesn’t want to let the garbage down when it finally shows Re:Zero’s overarching story – the ascension of the next monarch. Five prospective princesses marked by their insignias (hence the theft earlier) meet in the palace to vie for the throne. This may be one of the worst episodes in all of anime.
So, we have a candidate that openly declares she wants the kingdom out of greed, another who says she deserves it because everyone must grovel before her, a third who hates the kingdom and everyone in it, a fourth who wants freedom from an ancient dragon, and one who wants equality and prosperity for all (Emilia, of course). With this whole affair treated childishly, how are we supposed to take any of it seriously like the shoe demands us to? This is supposed to be a world with hierarchy and royalty, yet none of the societal decorum is respected in favour of tropes (princess pressing boobs into guy’s arm), so what’s the point? How much more interesting would it be to have complex and competent opponents?
Only one princess has competence, which is used for some weak conflict over several lives. Not that it matters, since Emilia leaves the plot at this point until the final episodes. The maid Rem takes her place of importance (was only a matter of time before the Sword Art Online harem bled into Re:Zero).
Like these “eccentric” princesses, all villains are crazy for the sake of being crazy. “Hey, if we make them crazy, then we won’t have to develop personalities.” No opponent is memorable, not even with the violent murders and intense conflicts.
Re:Zero’s dilemmas are interesting enough to grab your attention on premise alone and the tension keeps you seated, but the navigation of these dilemmas is pants-on-head chopsticks-up-the-nose retarded. Despite the acknowledgement of Subaru’s fantasy experience from games and manga, he is an idiot in this world. There are so many better ways to succeed. Need to beat someone who will kill you all? How about, and I know this will sound crazy, you learn magic and combat through your many lives?
The story gets worse with each arc or ‘level’ – most praise falls into the first arc – until all steam evaporates for a limp ending. What Re:Zero gets right is great. However, the many elements it gets wrong are utter garbage. There’s no middle.
Art – High
Bit kiddy in the art style (what’s with the trend of specular ‘boils’ on girls’ cheeks?) despite all the blood, but Re:Zero has lots of detail. Every house in the packed city has detail and many people populate the streets. Good animation and camerawork in combat.
Sound – High
Good acting makes the major characters sound natural, even in the face of fluctuating script quality. I never say no to ethereal OP and ED songs either.
Story – Low
A NEET teleports to a fantasy world where he respawns at checkpoints upon death, and uses this power to prevent others from dying. Moments of greatness cannot make up for the plethora of character and story problems in Re:Zero.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fantasy game anime fans. Unless a fan of Sword Art Online and its ilk, Re:Zero is only worth watching to know what everyone is talking about this season. Years down the road, few will mention it, like Aion.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)