SPOILERS UP TO EPISODE 14
You have heard this premise before. A boy finds himself transported to a fantasy world without any knowledge as to why. It goes further down the rabbit hole however. He doesn`t fit into this new society at all right away. He sticks out like a sore thumb in his track suit with everyone else dressed in typical fantasy garb. This boy gets himself into trouble with some street thugs, and being unable to defend himself, he is rescued by a silver-haired half-elf girl. He feels very indebted to her and agrees to help her find an item that was stolen from her. Over the course of the day, they bond with one another. The boy finds the person responsible and while he is attempting to negotiate terms, he is brutally murdered by a prospective buyer. He wakes up at the beginning of the day, with no real understanding of what exactly happened. It is now that Re: Zero truly begins.
What I outlined above is the two part first episode to the show that has completely ensnared me within its grasp. If you have ever seen the film Edge of Tomorrow, this premise will be familiar to you. Someone has the ability to continuously repeat a sequence of events that is only activated by death. In the case of Re: Zero’s protagonist, Subaru, the power has a lot of implications in regards to the world building the series has managed to do in the background. The world itself is one of the main reasons I am so interested in this show. Re: Zero excels in providing small snippets of information at a time. It never quite tells you all that you need to know. After the first arc concludes, Subaru finds himself living at a mansion with Emilia, the girl who rescued him earlier, and her companions. He learns about an evil witch and a dragon, the former being responsible for a lot of the discrimination and corrupt influences in the world. Subaru comes to learn that his ability is somehow connected to the witch, but has no idea how far this influence extends. A lot of the time Re: Zero will provide information, but at the same time will show you other aspects. Emilia tells Subaru that she is a half-elf, but at the same time, a fairy tale story is used to insinuate two of the mansion’s servants true identities. As the audience, we also have to wonder if the owner of the mansion, Roswaal, is a human or something else entirely. I constantly want to learn more and that craving isn`t something I experience often when watching anime. I truly respect a show that can create yearning within me.
I talked about the characters when discussing the world building, but the characters are the bread and butter of the show. Emilia is the main heroine of the show. Subaru has a very transparent affection for her. She is his knight in shining armor, and he obsesses over the idea of becoming that for her. We learn that Emilia faces discrimination because of her race and she introduces herself when they meet for the first time using the name of the jealous witch. She is important to the overarching story because she is contending for the crown of the land. The item stolen from her is her insignia that qualifies her as a candidate. As the main heroine, she is incredibly sweet and considerate. She is constantly aware of the state of Subaru’s health and checks on him frequently. Emilia most importantly wants Subaru to stay out of trouble because she understands that his personality gets him into trouble and he is also simply weak in comparison to everyone else. After all, he is not an authentic part of the world. She doesn’t truly shine until the third arc begins and we see some very interesting character development.
Two important characters who are not introduced until the second arc are the mansion’s maids who go by the names of Rem and Ram. They are a pair of twins with blue and pink hair respectively. At the beginning they have a cold demeanor towards Subaru, and it is implied because of Roswaal’s concerns, they do no trust him. Subaru finds himself dying repeatedly while he is living at the mansion and over the course of the second arc, it comes to light that the twins are responsible for his deaths. He never truly understands the reasoning, but he makes it his mission to befriend them and reach an outcome where his death does not happen. When he is first learning about them, there is a clear indication that if he grows close to one twin, he does not spend the same amount of time with the other and his death ensues. We learn over the course of the arc that the twins are demons with physical and magical capabilities and are close to each other because they were shunned by their village. Subaru relates with Rem more in the end because her struggle is relatable. She feels indebted to Ram and because of Rem’s perceived weakness, Ram loses her horn. Rem grows to be very affectionate towards Subaru. There are some parallels to be drawn between Subaru and Emilia and Rem and Ram.
There are so many other characters that could be discussed at length, but we must spend some time looking at our protagonist, Subaru. It is easy to root for him. We learn in the first episode that he is a NEET, so I am sure a large portion of the anime audience can identify with that on some level. Despite his NEET status, Subaru does not have trouble socializing with others, or at the very least that is how it appears on the surface. Subaru’s biggest flaw is his obsessive personality. He is overly attached to Emilia, and the most difficult aspect for him is that he cannot explain why is attached. Over the course of his deaths, he has made every effort to help her and ask her out on dates in the process. Their interactions are cute and it is easy to feel sorry for someone who has to experience the pain of seeing people he cares about suffer repeatedly. He is interesting because he knows that he is weak, but he is never afraid to step forward and try to find a situation. He is also clever, especially when he uses the pain he suffers for attempting to tell anyone about his power as a means to attract enemies. What elevates Subaru in my opinion is what happens in the third arc. He acts against Emilia’s wishes many times over and this creates a lot of tension between the two of them, to the point that Emilia wishes to cut the tie between them completely. Subaru is sitting in a bed and starts screaming that she should owe him. It is because of him that she is able to stay safe. Subaru only thinks about himself in that moment. It is incredibly selfish thinking and in that moment we see Emilia hurting for the first time. She believes Subaru has this ideal image of her where she understands everything he is trying to explain. It is raw vulnerability between the stars of the show and it portrays them both as realistic characters with real feelings, trying to navigate these situations. The scene is incredibly powerful.
White Fox deserves acknowledgment for the success of Re: Zero. White Fox has been around since 2007 and has been responsible for shows like Steins;Gate and The Devil Is a Part-Timer! White Fox has a solid reputation and they deliver with this show I am falling in love with. Not only is the animation well done, they make some good decisions regarding length and finding ways to extend it. The first episode is actually two episodes. Not only that, White Fox routinely skips either the opening or ending theme or both in order to provide as much screen time as possible to faithfully adapt the story from the light novels. In fact, with episode 14, the episode was made longer in order to show everything. It is very obvious White Fox cares about the quality of the adaptation, and I think it is playing a very large role in how well it is being received by the anime community.
Are you on the fence about Re: Zero? Are you looking for a show to watch? I think Re: Zero is definitely worth your time. It has an interesting premise. The world building is very intriguing and the cast of characters are unique in their own way. White Fox has a great record with its previous shows and it is showing that it has once again found that sweet spot with Re: Zero. As it continues, the arcs have gotten more interesting, and events that happened in the first arc are now taking root and playing out for the first time in the third arc. I am very curious to see Subaru’s trajectory from this point going forward as his mind is in a very fragile state, and I hope you will come along for the ride. I could not recommend this show enough.