Well it’s certainly been a little while since I last made my existence known on here. Not that I haven’t written anything, but the quality of my writing tends to decrease dramatically when I spend an entire summer bombed out on unexpectedly good Domino’s pizza/booze/a combination of the two. Anyway, here are some thoughts on why Re:Zero is good, but has occasional moments of drunken stumbling when it comes to characters acting like actual human beings. Or cat people. Or whatever.
At its heart, Re:Zero tries to be something of a character study both of and for Subaru, with him learning exactly what he needs to do in any given situation in order to proceed with life and limb intact, which mostly means not being a headstrong dick when he shouldn’t be a headstrong dick, and being a headstrong dick when he should be. Taking a cue from a number of similar premises, roadblocks along the way include dismemberment, decapitation, exsanguination, impalement, and good ol’ fashioned shanking. For the most part, this works to develop Subaru as a headstrong, almost irritatingly chivalrous individual, without making him appear as borderline suicidal as he could have been. It really feels like his dalliances with dead ends contribute toward honing his personality and abilities, rather than being small blips on the radar of his character development.
Where the show shines is in the way that it has Subaru accomplish great things, while laying his lacking capabilities on the table. He stumbles dick-first into success on a regular basis, but he very rarely does so without somebody more competent to clean up after him, and that success more often than not comes after numerous grisly failures. It eases what could have been an irritating case of Touma-ism, where a character’s incompetence is turned into something that can singlehandedly save the day, and makes Subaru an easier character to palate than he would have been had he been in less capable hands.
At first, Re:Zero is fairly restrained in its delivery. It’s heavy on the fantasy elements, with humans coexisting alongside elves, cat people, different cat people, and even dog people, but it doesn’t get bogged down in explaining the mechanics behind its world. The only things that Re:Zero want you to know is that there’s dark magic, that it’s dangerous, and that the majority of practitioners want Subaru dead one way or another. Even when its different elements start to feel a bit tacked together, Re:Zero doesn’t suffer much for it, thanks to almost invariably using them for reasons explicitly linked to the greater plot.
Unfortunately, as in the Silent Hill series, Re:Zero suffers from making the ultimate evil of the show an evil mystical cult. Now, were the cult more of an explicit part of the show, its usage as a stand-in for a more menacing threat could have worked. After all, in theory they’re plenty menacing by themselves—these are people who get off on massacring innocent villagers and inadvertently ending the world with roughly the same frequency that Subaru loses a limb. The problem is that the show careens from the politics surrounding royal succession to Subaru saving a village from the machinations of the evil cult with little in the way of transition. Especially since the business with the cult occupies the almost entire final third of the show, it makes the political part of the narrative feel rushed, and the cult-related part feel unnecessarily drawn out. The wonky pacing contributes to Subaru somewhat stagnating as a character when he isn’t flip-flopping. Thankfully, the eccentric cult leader Betelgeuse almost interesting enough to carry the narrative through the dull bits.
There’s also a strange dissonance between Re:Zero’s insistence on matters of grave importance, and its equal insistence on having Subaru fawned over by a bevy of elves, demons, and librarians. His interactions with them, particularly with the twin maids Rem and Ram, do provide some much needed levity to the otherwise ominous goings on in the show, but they fall flat when Re:Zero tries to build on some of the relationships as more than friendly. This is exemplified by a rather rushed, unsatisfying ending, where Subaru’s unhealthy attitude toward Emilia comes to an unchallenged head. It’s not enough to undo what’s done well, but it’s a crystallization of everything that the show does clumsily.
With all that said, I found Re:Zero to be imminently enjoyable despite its flaws. Even at its worst, it never descends to the inexplicably moist depths that light novel adaptations usually find themselves relegated to.