Subaru is your average homebody gamer. One day, he goes shopping and on his way home he suddenly finds himself in another world, with nothing except his clothes, his mostly-inoperable phone, and his groceries – which primarily consist of some potato chips. Taking everything in stride, he treats things like a video game and sets out to try to find the event that will lead to his, to him, inevitable glory. Of course, things don’t exactly go that way, as the world seems to not know he exists. In his first half hour, he is shooed away from a store for being broke, mugged, and nearly killed…. but he also meets a beautiful half-Elven girl…
This review will contain some very minor spoilers to the show’s overall concept, as well as the show’s first episode. There will be no spoilers for specific events beyond the first episode.
The catch to this all is a unique ability that our protagonist is blessed – or afflicted – with: when he dies, time rewinds back and he is given, essentially, a second chance. He recalls the events, as well as what it feels like to die… This ability forms the core of this show, as he continues to die over and over again. What felt vaguely nostalgic and really interesting to me is that he always ‘respawned’ at the same point for each miniature arc of the story. It gave me a distinct RPG feeling that I really enjoyed… any RPG gamer can all relate to loading the same save over and over to try new things to achieve the intended goal.
By creating some subtle variance in the story, they ensured that it never felt like you were just stuck in a loop. They even managed created a sense of mystery as we tried to figure out – alongside Subaru – what he needs to do in order to move onwards to the next section. It built this layer of intrigue on top of what would otherwise be a pretty standard fantasy plot. It also allowed for tragedy to happen without weighing the show down. What was so impressive to me, above all else, was that despite this assured restart, the events still stirred feelings. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Subaru was going to be okay… yet I still worried for his life, and this story’s big moments still had great emotional impact.
Fair warning: Re:Zero is a harem show, but it’s a harem show that had some of the best characters of the season. While most of the cast are strong characters… there are four who truly stood out during these first few arcs of the show’s story. One of them is, surprisingly enough, our harem lord. Subaru has this hilarious tendency to look at his story in game/anime terms. He often refers conversations and day-to-day stuff in terms of the ‘events’ from a dating sim, he comes up with the name for his ‘special ability’ himself, and he is able to (mostly) separate himself enough to think things through in the context of playing a game. He also has this fantastic sense of scale to his dreams… it’s great to watch him work things through in order to survive – and get the outcome he’s hoping for out of – the show’s events.
To provide a bit of background… Amelia is the beautiful half-Elf mentioned above and Puck is her cat-like elemental familiar. And this hilarious, adorable little elemental is the next character I wanted to highlight. His exchanges with Subaru are some of the best the show has to offer. They have this strange relationship of trust built off of Subaru’s love of touching soft animals (ie. Puck) and Puck’s empathic abilities. It provides much needed levity amid events that can get heavy at times. Our final pair of characters that I wanted to spend some time on are the show’s maid twins Rem and Ram. The way you’re introduced to them is simply fantastic, although at first they seem to be primarily there as comic relief. Fortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth long-term as they develop into some of the series most unique and intriguing personalities.
Blood, Sweat, and… Laughs?
Re:Zero is very cleverly designed. You see, it spans the border of a lot of genres… there are elements of the more traditional fantasy anime, harem shows, mysteries, action shows, character dramas, and comedy in here. The show can really be described by any of the above headings somewhat accurately, depending on which elements you focus on. Courtesy of its many strong elements, this anime is able to turn what are normally weaknesses of certain genres on their heads and make them highlights.
We don’t get a ton of action in Re:Zero, but what is there is used to great effect. And, as we progress deeper into its varied plot, the action has been on the rise through the arc that just concluded. Some of the battle scenes had really cool effects and overall design, and were a joy (or a horror, depending on the intent of the scene) to watch. Just a bit of a note, while the show is not particularly gorey, it’s not exactly tame – so if you’re not prepared for a few scenes that are a bit on the gruesome side, you might want to prepare yourself before stepping in.
The key, to me, is that the action never felt too light, because there were always other things to be engaged with, such as its amazing sense of humour. Re:Zero is never afraid to make fun of itself or its characters, but never crosses the line into which the show feels like a joke. The levity is always used to good effect to help develop relationships or build tension. There were numerous moments where you’d get a sequence of comic gold… but amidst it would be a few key gems building characters, developing the plot, or revealing subtle storylines to come.
This is hardly uncommon these days, but this show is damned pretty. The visuals are simply amazing. There are certain scenes that are literally breathtaking, and the scenes that are meant to be unpleasant are extremely so. Amelia is usually involved in Re:Zero’s most stunning moments, understandably enough, but some moments let you just simply bask in the beauty of it all.
The other thing I wanted to mention is how incredibly fitting the opening and ending sequences are. They really put some thought into how best to represent the show, and it worked out spectacularly.
Re:Zero – Starting Life in a New World is a complete package. It’s one of those anime that the more you think about, the more you appreciate… especially as a gamer who has been playing RPGs his entire life. They make use of action, humour, and fantastic characters to tell a story that has me incredibly curious as to where it is leading. Because it’s leading somewhere… and I am so glad I’m not going to have to wait too long to see where that is.