|Excellent adaptation effort, good visuals, emotional storyline, some compelling leads, good action
|Death and gore can be a bit much, some manipulative/sadistic writing, a few poor story decisions, questionable handling of a main character
There are a handful of anime in any given year that leaves a significant mark after their last episode. Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-) is one of those series. I did not expect when picking this show up that it would be such an impactful series and one that would bring out strong feelings from me. Now those feelings ended up being both positive and negative which does make writing this review all the more interesting. I can’t say that Re:Zero is a show that I entirely enjoyed, nor one that I hated by the end of its run. What I can say is that it was a strong series that did a lot of things right, some things wrong, and was an outstanding adaptation by studio White Fox.
This is a series I can see being really divisive amongst viewers. Some people will and do really love this show. And some people will really dislike this show. For me Re:Zero is a series that managed to do a lot of things really well. How it was adapted is something I feel is deserving praise. The story itself does have emotionally charged elements to it and I think skill is there in making you care about what happens. There is a great deal of personal suffering by some characters in the story, but I do think a fair amount of the time that suffering has value to the story. However, I do think the author of the source material does make some mistakes and choices that are detrimental to enjoyment of the series.
The setting for this series sounds like a standard kind of “transported to a fantasy world” setup. The MC (Natsuki Subaru) is just buying some things from a convenience store and quickly finds himself suddenly pulled into a completely different world. It is very sudden and we do not get more than a couple minutes of Subaru in our world. The story doesn’t really go back to how Subaru got to this world. Instead the story focuses more on how he has to adapt to his new situation. Subaru himself is a bit caught up in the early going with what he expects to see happen when someone is pulled into another world, but it doesn’t take too long before the reality of his situation settles in.
This is very much a kind of fantasy world with elves, magic, knights, and monsters. Subaru is very much a normal (though in good shape) human with very few special powers that some people in his position might possess. The only real supernatural element to Subaru is the ability he gains to “reset” after he is killed. A power that could easily make the story boring or make situations feel less threatening. The story though manages to use this power to a very effective level. The point being made in the show that dying is often extremely painful and not something you’d want to experience. There is nothing special about Subaru’s ability to endure death, simply that he’ll go back after expiring.
The story follows Subaru as he tries to deal with whatever immediate crisis he is facing. Any given crisis almost always involves Subaru dying several times before he can begin to find a way through it. What makes the story a lot more intense than expected is that Subaru is just human. It is hard for me or anyone to really wrap their heads around what it would be like for a person to experience deaths dozens if not hundreds of times. Not only the agony and fear of death, but having to go back in time and lose all the connections you built up. Subaru knows he can revive after death, but others don’t know this. So Subaru is left hurting when others he considers friends don’t remember anything that they’ve been through. A deep connection remains within him, but no one else.
I do think the strength of the story is those early and middle points. It is these parts where we see Subaru truly struggle with these issues. He has to fight against the natural desire to simply turn and walk away. If no one else remembers you…is it wrong to just leave a bad situation? The person you are turning away from wouldn’t even know you and certainly wouldn’t feel betrayed.
Another problem would be just dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We have people who suffer from this who have been through unbelievably difficult situations. Subaru lives through being attacked and murdered on multiple occasions. It is hard for someone to simply ignore that and have to continue struggling against a situation that actually did kill him before. And he’s just a teenager (18) who is having to carry unbelievable burdens. That part of the story is what really pulled me in, because the story often handles it so well and makes you care.
There are parts of the story though that I didn’t care for. The story can go too far in terms of the killings and the twisted situations that Subaru ends up involved in. Some scenes can be called outright torture scenes that are more about shock value than actually advancing the plot. The author, who can be sadistic at times, often puts characters through unbelievably painful situations either physically or emotionally. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I feel the story goes too far and is trying to be emotionally cruel for its own sake.
An easy example comes well into the series so I won’t spoil anything on the specifics. But, the show seems to do a really good job developing the characters and making you care. It does such a good job, but then seems to utterly waste its potential for the sake of emotionally sucker punching the audience. It wasn’t necessary to advance the story. In fact you could have actually done a better job advancing the story by having it unfold in only a slightly different way. And then the author decides to be a true jerk by flaunting the bad decision in the viewer’s face for several episodes. Re:Zero does a good job making you care, but for me it did lose something past that point. I lost some respect for the story which made the rest of the series less enjoyable as a result.
I wanted to simply talk about the special efforts made by White Fox in this adaptation. It isn’t often that a studio goes this far to adapt a show as best it possibly could. The first episode is an hour long. Very rarely have I seen stories start out with basically a double-episode, but this show uses that to the fullest. Some series really do need a couple episodes before they show off what the strong points of the series are. Re:Zero is one of those series and I think if they had gone the standard route of a single episode to start things off that it wouldn’t have been as effective.
Another special effort made by the studio was how much time they used for the story. Often series will stick to their OP/ED combinations for every single episode no matter if the story actually needs more time to flourish. White Fox didn’t get caught up in this and that made for a much better show. Whenever needed they would cut the OP and/or the ED in order to cram more story into a given episode. Whatever it took in order to tell the story they wanted to tell was the route they went with. Sometimes the show did have both the OP/ED, but there was several episodes in a row when one or both were cut in order to adapt the story the best they could.
Honestly, I think this is a really good looking show. The characters look great, the setting looks good, and the animation holds up really well. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of action throughout the show, but it does a great job when the story gets to those parts. It does some interesting things during the early conflict (in terms of point of view shots) and the various types of magic and abilities get to shine during the later arc in the show. White Fox did not skimp on the budget in terms of the cast and showing the adventure.
The show has a nice visual style and the standard level of animation is really nice to look at. There are moments (especially with some female characters) that the show steps it up to another level and that usually pays off nicely. There isn’t a ton of fanservice in the show and that thus doesn’t turn into a distraction. You simply get a lot of well animated smiles from the female cast which I think is a nice kind of fanservice in its own way.
There is actually a pretty large overall cast so I won’t try to break them all down in this review. I’m simply going to talk about how good the cast is in this show without delving into any spoilers.
Once again Subaru is the main character of this series and overall I think he’s a good one. This is a pretty normal person who is thrown into unbelievably unnatural situations. He doesn’t gain many particularly useful powers outside of his reset ability which doesn’t really help him stay alive in any given situation. I think Subaru shows how a fairly normal person would struggle in this kind of situation. Just the emotional stress and the constant potential to lose progress really hits him hard and I think most would suffer the same way. He is sometimes made a bit dumb for the sake of not solving things too quickly, but I think he’s a character people can understand.
He is absolutely not a perfect person and his flaws pop up at different parts of the story. The flaws in Subaru might sometimes push people away and make them dislike the guy. But I don’t think his flaws go beyond the level of believability for a guy in his situation and he often manages to rise up past his weaknesses. I can’t say Subaru always makes decisions I agree with, but he’s a good lead character.
A character I find it hard to really judge is the technical female lead. A character who actually doesn’t reveal her true name until the end of the first arc. So let’s go with the summary and call her Satella for now. This girl does have a strong presence….in the first arc. The real problem for Satella is that she is a key person to Subaru and even to the story…but she often isn’t around. The story does an effective job of sidelining her, keeping her busy, having characters try to keep her out of harms way, etc.
She does get some good moments to shine in the first couple arcs. However, often she feels more like a side character elevated to main character status. The story past the anime might do more with her, I don’t know. But I found myself losing an attachment to her as time went along. She is a good and kind person which I can appreciate. But I think the efforts by Subaru and technically the author to keep her away from danger leaves her unable to shine or grow as a character.
The last character I really want to mention specifically is Rem. The blue-haired maid with a twin sister named Ram did turn into a really good character. The story introduces her slowly and actually gives her a lot to do. The benefit of a story where the MC can reset allows her to have great moments and moments of weakness. She has one of the better character arcs in the show and a nice series of flashbacks that really builds her up. While Rem does kind of disappear from the spotlight at times, I feel like she got the best treatment from the story.
One negative thing I’ll say on the character side is the habit of the author to try and shock and awe the viewers. We will see characters do or say terrible things that make them look really bad. Then a reset will happen or we’ll get additional information and be expected to just like that character again. It’s something that did annoy me at times. Terrible things don’t vanish just because a character then does something good. And there are some things you simply can’t brush over. While Subaru often gets to overcome his flaws, others just….forget they ever had flawed moments.
I would say the voice acting was really strong for this shows. The villains had some actor choices that I didn’t expect, but really worked. I like it when people are willing to go beyond the normal or expected types of characters you expect to hear them voicing. The main characters were all handled really well and had I think ideal casting choices for them. A lot of credit to Subaru’s VA (Kobayashi, Yuusuke). This guy had to do a lot of yelling and cries of agony due to Subaru’s situation.
The music often fit the scenes and I think was overall strong in this show. I do think the first OP/ED combination was better than the second songs, but they weren’t bad songs. Although it was easy to forget those songs since White Fox would cut them whenever they had to.
Re:Zero is a show that did a lot of things right and is one of the top shows of 2016. However, for me it also made some errors that took away from the overall experience. A lot of the problems aren’t related to the adaptation but rather choices made by the original author. It does have an objectively strong ending, though I did lose some attachment to the angle the story was going with for a conclusion. I would be shocked if this show didn’t get another season down the road. It clearly was a show that White Fox was willing to put in a lot of effort for.
Whether a person should pick up Re:Zero is a tough question. I think watching the first jumbo episode would be a good way to test the waters. This is a show with a fair amount of death (though often not permanent). You watch characters go through some emotionally painful scenes, endure almost torture levels of physical pain and agony and not see certain story elements play out as they should. But if you want to see a fairly likable cast, a main character that grows, stumbles and deal with an incredibly emotional journey then it is worth a look. Re:Zero isn’t a perfect show, nor is it one for everyone, but it is a good series.
Tags: Re:Zero, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Review, Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Screenshots, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Anime, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Anime Blog, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Blog, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Review, Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Screenshots
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