The Horror that is Re:ZERO -Starting Life In Another World- Season 1

A review/discussion on the character that is Subaru and the horror elements that make Re:ZERO iconic.

Aired: Season 1 Spring 2016

Studio: White Fox

My Score: 10/10 Masterpiece!

Introduction: A few years back I came across this gem of an anime, kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (found on Crunchyroll) because I had watched SAO and was looking for a new VRMMO to burn my eyes with. Unfortunately, the VRMMO list today is expansive, and like many, the first episode starts out typical of the genre and just didn’t catch my attention; protagonist is living usual boring life routine but one day suddenly dies and wakes up in a sort of virtual reality/ fantasy world. His life is put in danger again and he is saved by a mysterious girl who becomes his instant crush and decides to help her on an errand that leads to another and another, yadda yadda yadda.

I put it on hold for a few months, until one day my buddy Cody was like “Dude! Have you been watching Re:Zero? It’s freaking sick bro!” … ok maybe he didn’t sound like that, but it got me thinking I should pick it back up. And I’m happy I did, because wow, the protagonist Subaru goes through so much sh*t in the series of unfortunate events that happen to him and the people around him. What’s really unique about this gem of an anime is how Subaru has the ability (or rather curse) to go back at a fixed period of time upon death and rewrite events that happened in the story.  I’m looking at MAL right now and I’m seeing ‘thriller, drama, psychological’ and ‘fantasy’ as genres, but obviously they forgot to put body horror, gore, and a sprinkle of romance. Grab some popcorn or whatever tickles your fancy and join me as I describe why this has to be one of my favorite anime of all time.

Spoilers Below. Beware!

Synopsis: When Subaru Natsuki leaves the convenience store, the last thing he expects is to be wrenched from his everyday life and dropped into a fantasy world. Things aren’t looking good for the bewildered teenager; however, not long after his arrival, he is attacked by some thugs. Armed with only a bag of groceries and a now useless cell phone, he is quickly beaten to a pulp. Fortunately, a mysterious beauty named Satella, in hot pursuit after the one who stole her insignia, happens upon Subaru and saves him. In order to thank the honest and kindhearted girl, Subaru offers to help in her search, and later that night, he even finds the whereabouts of that which she seeks. But unbeknownst to them, a much darker force stalks the pair from the shadows, and just minutes after locating the insignia, Subaru and Satella are brutally murdered.
However, Subaru immediately reawakens to a familiar scene—confronted by the same group of thugs, meeting Satella all over again—the enigma deepens as history inexplicably repeats itself.

Story: 10: If the video game franchise ‘Dark Souls’ was an anime, well… It probably wouldn’t be Re:ZERO… but! The idea of trying to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles that results in your death over and over again hits very close to how the plot of Re:ZERO plays out. Our ‘hero’ (more like ‘zero’… heh) Subaru awakens in a fantasy world and is saved by a mysterious white-haired girl and her talking feline named Puck (interesting name choice) from a trio of bandits. Her trinket gets stolen, and Subaru decides because of that single nice gesture she did for him, he’s gonna go all the way to the end of the Earth and back for her, no matter how many times he has to die absolute brutal deaths to get there. Little does he know she is the worst person to randomly fall for. And that’s pretty much the plot. Did I miss anything?

Of course I did. This plot has been done before, the one where the hero goes back in time to save everyone. So why is it any good or any different than the last? Because our main character Subaru is different. He is not all-powerful like so many goddamn anime protagonists are, who get all the love and attention and support from the supporting characters.

No, instead, he is weak. He grows as a character certainly, but he stays weak. He is alone; he is ugly (according to some characters *cough*Ram*cough*), he smells awful (from the curse of a certain witch), and he has a shallow, selfish personality (as he has told himself this). He loses all hope and resolve at the sight of others’ deaths as well as experiencing his own death, and while it may seem like dying makes it easier for him to experience the next death, it still takes a part of him to grasp the reality and magnitude of the situations he gets himself into. But through all the pain and suffering, he somehow finds the courage to keep going.

These traits are exactly why Subaru is such a memorable anime character. He stands out from the rest, not because we aspire to be like him, but because we sympathize with him. I’ve never experienced my own death (obviously), so I cannot empathize with him on that aspect, but whenever he does experience death, I try to imagine what his character must be thinking and feeling in those moments. Subaru sometimes reminds me of myself, how I feel weak and beaten down by reality sometimes, and like him something gives me the courage to keep going in the face of melancholy. But enough of the sad stuff, let’s talk about the juicy bits (of flesh).

In Re:ZERO, Subaru goes through more trauma and heartbreak than many anime characters I’ve seen. In some of the most intense moments such has death or someone else’s, White Fox has crafted some of the most memorable death sequences I’ve watched to date.

For example, in episode 14 of season 1, Subaru discovers some cultist activity planning to sacrificing Emilia (Subaru’s love-interest) and when he first arrives in the village near the mansion, he’s exposed to a grisly sight of a massacre of bodies. He presses forward only to find Ram (the maid) butchered on the lawn, and when he goes to enter Emilia’s room, the ice on the doorhandle freezes Subaru’s fingers clean off. The terror of this scene is enhanced further at the visuals of Subaru freezing to death and his face cracking open at the last moment.

A second example of White Fox’s well-crafted animation is in the next episode 15, where again, Subaru is desperate to save the damsel in distress and this time is instead caught by the leader of the cultists of sloth. He’s tortured by the madman, and is shown a disturbing display of body horror as Rem (Ram’s better twin and Subaru’s second love choice) is lifted into the air and her body is twisted and contorted beyond recognition. After he is freed and gets to the mansion holding Rem’s lifeless body, a menacing Puck towers over the mansion claiming he’s too late to save Emilia. And then Subaru freezes to death in that moment and his head rolls right off, something I was not expecting to see happen. What was especially interesting about this scene was how the credits for the episode start rolling while the scene is left up on the screen, perhaps establishing a long passage of time.

There is so much that could be said about this anime, and this is only season 1 we’re talking about. One other feature of the anime I have to mention is the terror that is the ‘White Whale’ in episodes 19 – 21. Never before have I felt scared by a whale, especially one that is white and flies. There’s been other shows and video games that have featured flying whales, and I’m curious if this is supposed to represent anything. I wasn’t expecting much to happen in that scene, but it delivered a unique action packed episode nonetheless, and I love how Subaru played the bait for the whale.

In the end and after many deaths later, Subaru manages to save Emilia, and they have an adorable heart-felt moment. I’m personally glad they made it up to each other after that cringeworthy little fight they had back in the city (his facial expressions are a wonder of the world). I cannot wait to start watching season 2!

Art: 7: The art is fairly average in Re:ZERO, and it stays pretty consistent for the duration of the episodes. Where its quality shines however, is when Subaru finds himself in the face of death, and the animation quality of the suspense is deepened, such as a close up of an eye of a monster, or his face in agony from a stab wound, or any time Emilia or Rem smile.

Again, there is so much I could say about this anime, I’ll dedicate another post to the characters as well as a review on season two. Stay tuned!

Written By: The Shy Otaku

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