Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Re;Zero - Starting Life in Another World (2016)

Re;Zero - Starting Life in Another World is based upon the light novel series.  It is 25 episodes long with an extended first episode at 50 minute, while the others are the normal 25-ish minutes.  It stars Natsuki Subaru, who was randomly transported into another world while he was purchasing items from a convenience store.  He suddenly finds himself in a fantasy world with beasts and other races walking around and going about their business.  Subaru finds himself a proud unemployed, who plays games all day and have no notable skills.  He is as normal as they come.  Needless to say, based on his game experiences, he expects some sort of superpowers and having an easy life meeting the heroine or whatnot in this world.

Unfortunately for Subaru, he doesn't gain the overpowered magical abilities that he wants.  Instead, eventually, he gets on skill, "Return by Death".  That is, every time he dies, he travels back to a specific point in time.  As the series goes on, this "checkpoint" also moves along, thus he doesn't have to repeat everything all the time.  Subaru inadvertently uses this skill again and again in the first arc and you can feel the same helplessness and horror at the situation.  How can you fight against something so powerful and so many leagues above you even if you could keep repeating the same moment again and again to try and avoid the encounter?

It can get a bit screamish what with the way that Subaru dies and how the villain explains what's happening to him in detail as he lies there dying.  With Subaru's only ability being to go back in time by death, you wonder how it is going to carry the rest of the season and it does so quite innovatively.  This is especially true when you realize what it means when he wakes up with a sense of deja vu (i..e he died).  Re;Zero has more than a tinge of horror that will send chills up your spine.  As Subaru fails again and again, you will feel the same helplessness and despair that he must have felt.

It's made worse when both you and Subaru do not know where to even start on deciphering the events that causes his deaths in the first place and knowing that he is going to die the same way again.  There are a few characteristics of Subaru's ability that isn't explained such as the fact that each time Subaru dies and reverses time, events may not progress exactly the same way.  There's a passing comment here and there but even Subaru himself haven't nutted out fully how it works.  Subaru as a main character just isn't likable in the beginning and throughout most of the season since he does not have many redeeming features.  He is not charming, he has no extraordinary abilities and isn't particularly clever.

Subaru comes off as extremely selfish and arrogant, without anything to back it up.  He is weak and extremely cringeworthy in his actions, he doesn't think through things before he does them and it shows.  It gets frustrating when you see the main character do something so stupid and get crushed int he process.  It is painful to see Subaru make the same mistake even when you're screaming inside to get him to think rationally and set proper priorities, you'd have think he would have learned by now.  While it is also a byproduct of the fact that he can just go ahead and redo events when he dies, a significant part of it lies in his social ineptitude, pushing others away.  Thus it is a surprise that various other female characters are attracted to him...

With that said, straight after one of Subaru's displays of extreme selfishness, we are shown just how much of a toll it takes on him and what he has to experience especially when many of his achievements will never be known by anyone else.  Needless to say, this can easily mind break anyone.  Despite the colorful setting, the anime is quite dark at times with some twisted events that make you feel hollow inside.  The word brutal can be used to describe all the things that happen to Subaru.  Straight after the peak of frustrating at Subaru, you end up feeling sympathic for him.

A lot of the characters in the series are selfish themselves (just like in real life, I'd suppose), requiring their own advantages in order to help.  These characters pretty much insult and destroy Subaru and while their points are valid in terms of his flaws, the way they do it is too vicious and cruel.  Through Subaru's actions, we are shown the difference in mentality between humanity and the world of Re;Zero.  Subaru will often try to make motivational speeches to inspire other characters and to show that he isn't as useless or wimpy as initially seemed.  While it works on the characters in the series, to the viewer however, they don't quite make sense and doesn't give the same sense of accomplishment, satisfaction or motivation that it is supposed to.

The cast gradually expands.  We are immediately introduced to Subaru's love interest, the half-elf Emilia.  However, the spotlight is stolen by Rem and Ram, the twin sisters who are introduced early on.  They are both charming and funny, with a dry sense of humor, keeping a monotone face and voice.  The storytelling can be messy at times since character motivations are tough to decipher.  There will be times where you are not sure why some characters have acted the way that they have.  Resolution of story arcs are also a little bit anti-climactic.  You'd think some sort of big revelation is going to take place and what ends up being revealed doesn't quite live up to your expectations and hype.

Due to all the above but mainly Subaru's selfishness, while the first 18 episodes does a lot to defy the conventions of the genre and does a lot of deconstruction, it feels average.  However, once Subaru breaks time and time after, there is a scene where Rem helps motivate him.  Despite confessions to Subaru, he still picks Emilia which is confuddling.  Barring that, after this scene, the last seven episodes are amazing and raises the bar dramatically.  Subaru massively develops as a character, building on what he had already experienced and using it to his full advantage.  He actually lives up to his potential.  Then comes the exciting fight scenes, twists and revelations that finally hint at Subaru's powers.  This all culminates into what is a predictable ending but still emotional and fantastic.

The anime is beautifully animated with stunning scenes and strong character design.  Overall, Re;Zero - Starting Life in Another World starts off slow.  You have to consider that the first 18 episodes are pretty much a prologue and a necessary journey to build Subaru's character.  Once it passes that point, the series rapidly ramps up the pacing, reaching a epic finale that makes up for all of the shortcomings and leaves you craving for more.


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