Review: Re:Zero ‘Just Keep Dying’

Re:Zero is just another addition in the list of divisive Anime that I find myself on the side of hating. While I don’t hate it as much as something like Sword Art Online, I feel that it’s still necessary to keep updated on the hottest shows people are watching and finding great. And whether or not you think so Re:Zero is defiantly a hit. I’m not here to downgrade its success but I am here to tell you why I watched it and why I think it failed on an emotional level for me when it was so intensely satisfying for others, and all the other things I hate about it. I’m not one to ignore the merits of a show just to make it seem like more of a piece of shit. My feelings about Anime usually are more complex than that, and with such a divisive show like Re:Zero I think there are too many people who are hating it but ignoring the good things (There aren’t many). Let’s just say I have a lot of feelings about Re:Zero and want to express all of them, good and bad.

The biggest thing Re:Zero has going for it is its lack of a self-insert character in Subaru. Most light novel adaptations will have a main character who is ostracized but totally bad-ass in ways that the “normal” people just don’t understand. Subaru is a fully realized character (regardless of how badly the story uses him). I can’t really say that anyone else is seeing Subaru is the main focus of the show 100% of the time. So why would people get behind a character like Subaru? Well he is an Otaku and that pulled a lot of people in. They see themselves in him because they relate to his feelings. BUT WAIT! I just said that he wasn’t a self insert character and then said people like him because they insert themselves onto him. Yeah its confusing. Subaru isn’t meant by the story to sit back and react to things like a self insert would. He takes action’s that are in-tune with his developing character. However his character is very relatable to a specific kind of person who likes Anime. People aren’t inserting themselves onto Subaru, they’re seeing themselves in him. He encapsulates an “honest” representation of a specific kind of person and his feelings are so genuinely portrayed in the show that people latch onto him even more. This is where my problems are provoked. Not start because my problems actually start with all the alternate fantasy world, otaku transported, trying to be meta by calling out tropes that are happening, and overall fixing situations by being “nice”. Basically my initial problem is the premise of the show but I’ll get into that later because it’s not the most important thing.

Anyway I don’t have an inherent problem with the kind of person Subaru is. He’s a goofball for sure. An otaku definitely. I give the show kudos for not glorifying his behavior in any way and just making his character seem bare, that is to us the audience. The way the entire world reacts to him is a different story. I feel like almost all of Subaru’s conversations have missing dialogue. Meaning that Subaru will say something completely awkward and in tune with his character, but no one ever really reacts to it or gets grossed out by him. Rem and Ram do sort of but more in a joking manner, like witty banter not actual disgust. He says things that someone sane would just think, but he says them out loud instead. But it’s weird because everyone acts as if he didn’t say it at all. They’re either just ignoring him for sake of the conversation or the writer just wanted more ways to cram how eccentric Subaru is down our throats. It makes this character that I should have some relate-ability with get annoying, which is the opposite of what you should be trying to do. I don’t care about people who say annoying things. But people who say annoying things and don’t face any repercussions from them sort of defeats the purpose of showing how much of a weirdo Subaru is.

To make a comparison, the main character of Watamote, Tomoko, is constantly doing and saying awkward things. However everyone in the real world is acting like normal people would. They get grossed out, they call her out and they don’t interact with her if they can. To be fair Watamote is specifically about Tomoko and her neurosis. But the fact that Subaru is so eccentric and weird with little to no consequences make’s the wish-fulfillment mentality that this show is trying to fulfill so pandering it feels gross. I’m not so much blaming Subaru as a character, I’m blaming the creator for the lack of mental opposition he’s putting Subaru in. But other than his eccentricities, Subaru deals with plenty of other shit. This is going to be a small part of a big issue so lets move onto the big hook of Re:Zero, Death = Time Travel.

I’m not gonna get into why people like the time travel story so much. There are shows that make it work great, like Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and even Haruhi Suzumiya. Then shows that incorporate time travel which almost break a show for me, like Erased and Charlotte. Most of the reason it works from a narrative perspective is because it isn’t so much time travel, its more like time reversal. Subaru isn’t going back in time, he’s re-setting time. So there isn’t need to worry about paradox’s or any Back to the Future bullshit. So what could my problem possibly be with the way Re:Zero uses time travel? For one I hate the mystery box formula that comes before Subaru dies and goes back in time. Its sort of like Sherlock Holmes on easy mode. He only finds out important details when he dies. Then he goes back and fixes them, or dies again and finds out another piece to the puzzle. This is a way to get away with intricate writing, while not being a good writer. Its like looking at a scenario in retrospect and figuring everything out backwards. We can do that as viewers but to have a character who can do that, it feels like cheating. Also the stakes always feel inconsequential, I mean every time something bad happens I immediately think, “well he’s just gonna die and reset everything”. The emotion is cheap and unearned because Subaru will more or less get it the way he wants eventually. He learns from his mistakes but doesn’t have to deal with the consequences. He does however carry the emotional burden of failing over and over again. Whether you agree with this type of reaction is sorta irrelevant, the show sells his feelings and that is probably the best part of the show. Sure you want him to man up and keep going, but you can’t really argue that it would suck to fail and die and see other people die because of your failure. Also not being able to tell anyone just makes you feel more alone (Funnily enough I hear complaints about this from most people who hate the show, while I think it’s the most redeeming aspect of it).

But getting back to the narrative use of time travel, most of Re:Zero is boring because I’m just waiting for the route that will be the one to lead him to another checkpoint. And by the time we get there it doesn’t feel satisfying because I’ve been through these plot points four or five times already. If the plot was about an emotional dilemma to get his ideal outcome it would be engaging, but it’s not. The only fun thing is the cliffhanger’s when he dies. Which doesn’t appeal to me because it doesn’t feel earned like a mystery should. Then there’s the whole snuff fest that the show is constantly jerking off to. Since the consequences of actions are meaningless for the most part, Re:Zero decides it will gruesomely maim and murder its characters. This is super edgy and I hate it. I understand that it’s somewhat important because it has to break away at Subaru enduring these dramatic events, but it isn’t handled well enough to not come off as edgy snuff material. Sometimes you need to make things emotional for the viewer, as well as with the character. I feel Subaru’s emotion towards seeing his friends die. But when it happens I don’t care. I should be able to feel bad for other characters dying apart from being empathetic with the main character. That’s why its bad to put the whole emotional weight of a show on a single character, because otherwise there’s nothing investing us into other characters, except what ties to the main character they have (I’ll get into this more when I talk about the supporting cast). So basically the show moves at such a sluggish pace because of the time travel and the emotion isn’t impactful enough because of the mechanic of time travel, this is what we call a catch 22. If it were handled by a better writer maybe it could work, but it doesn’t here.

Now believe it or not there are other characters besides Subaru. But their back stories sand characterization is all heavy-handed and said in a “matter of fact” way that is doesn’t feel real or personal. It feels like something that Subaru can react and fix, rather than something a character would be dealing with. Emilia doesn’t feel like someone who’s been dealing with discrimination since she was born. She just accepts it which doesn’t seem like something she would do. The reason unfortunately relates back to wish-fulfillment. You see no guy wants a helpless girl, that’s sexist. But you can have a strong girl who has problems she “could” fix on her own, but as the main character, you’re gonna do it and win her affection because of it. That way you don’t look down on her and still get to be the hero. Here’s your cake, now eat it. Emilia’s discrimination isn’t to build her character, its to build Subaru’s ego. It’s so he can get close to her by fixing what’s wrong with her. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea, but having a worthless and incompetent character (whose portrayed by the show this way mind you) solve those problems is insulting. I guess I just like the idea of a man actually having to work for love rather than having it be dropped in his worthless lap because of circumstance. The same thing happens with Rem, she has an inferiority complex towards her sister but tries to be brave despite of that. Seems legit right? Wrong! As far as the show’s concerned she just exists to validate and be by Subaru’s side when Emilia isn’t around. A girl with inferiority issues, trying to console someone who’s learning how inferior he actually is. Are you seeing the contradiction here? However Subaru is seen as the one who can handle it more even though there is “somewhat” of an arc of Rem coming to terms with her inferiority. The show wants to portray them as two people being dependent on each other as something admirable and a way to heal. That’s not how you fucking get better! If you want to deal with emotions that’s fine, but don’t make them a tool for your fucking power trip fantasy. There’s a difference between being nice and being empathetic. Subaru isn’t empathetic at all, he just reacts to tits and feels justified in helping because they’re girls. That’s not empathy, that’s hormones.

I could go on all day about things I hate about Re:Zero. The edginess that stretches all across the second half, with characters like Beetlejuice. Or the inconsequential plot of the throne election. Or the way Subaru uses the honorific “tan” for Emilia almost right away. Frankly I don’t even feel like mentioning their relationship because its so baffling to me why it is even a thing (what I said before pretty much can equate to their romance). And all the escalated reactions of Subaru towards the knights or political figures. It’s like this dude is pure ID and has no sense of living in a society and never knows when to stop. But again he somehow knows how to handle everyone’s problems because he’s nice. Its out folks, we can get rid of all the Psychologist and Psychiatrists and replace them all with nice guys, because all it takes it a dick and good intentions to solve your problems. Re:Zero succeeded in wasting my time and offering me a unique character analysis without any real analyzing. Without Subaru its just another boring over realized fantasy world with meta commentary that further solidifies the wish-fulfillment perpetuated in otaku culture. Honestly the rest is inconsequential since the story doesn’t finish and feels too spread out to actually get invested in. I’m sure I would have been intrigued by the witch and the dragon lore, or the politics of succession and what it means to different people, or the struggle Emilia would face getting elected. Or the actual emotional difficulties that are tied to the characters, that are not Subaru. The story doesn’t care about these things unless they are relevant to Subaru, the ultimate entitled experience, gentlemen. I guess being a superman in nerd clothes takes the cake again. Fuck me.

Logan Peterson
Logan Peterson
My names Logan and I love writing about Anime. Other art is guchi too. When I'm not writing gonzo reviews I'm writing books. *If interested look up The Dream Sequence on Amazon.* I usually write more editorial stuff than just plain reviews. I like my writing to be more big picture. I feel consumer reviews are a thing of the past and more personal reviews are the most valuable nowadays.