This has easily been one of the most frustrating anime that I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. You can see all the makings of a really great anime in Re:ZERO (and from what I can tell, most of the anime community would tell you that it is a great anime), but it always seemed to just fall short of greatness in many areas, while completely missing the mark in others. This might actually be one of the more polarizing anime that I’ve seen, and I now understand why. Turns out, it isn’t just because Rem is best girl (and let’s be clear, Rem is best girl). Spoilers ahead.
If you’ve paid any attention to the newly added Twitter feed on the sidebar, you’ve probably seen that I have been watching this one and posting impressions here and there. You may have also noticed a lack of my usual optimism in those tweets. To put it bluntly, I think the major difference between those who love this anime, and those who do not, will all boil down to a single character: Subaru Natsuki (most of what I have to say will revolve around him). Personally, he all but ruined this anime for me.
Subaru Natsuki is billed as your every day protagonist. He’s unremarkable, physically weak, and struggles to understand the world he’s been pulled into (did I mention this is an isekai?). He’s meant to be a character who is against the trend for isekai anime. He doesn’t just come in with working knowledge of the universe, he doesn’t possess magical abilities that give him god-tier combat status, and he isn’t immediately liked by everyone he meets. We are meant to be watching him struggle to survive as he figures out his purpose. The only supernatural ability he possesses is the power to go back to a sort of “life checkpoint” if he dies, giving him the ability to try again until he finds a path that doesn’t get him (and others) killed.
To be clear, the idea of an isekai protagonist who doesn’t just click and begin to function efficiently in their new world isn’t what I don’t like. Actually, I like that concept; it feels much more realistic and natural. The issue I have with Subaru is that his level of ignorance and stupidity (not to mention pride), go far beyond what any normal human being would possess. In fact, I’d argue that, in a sense, he isn’t the normal character that he’s initially billed as, because his skull is thicker than most harem anime male protagonists.
Time and again, Subaru demonstrates an inability to grow and learn. Between breaking promises and doing things such as arrogantly declaring himself to be worthy of the title of knight (to satisfy his pride), he is a constant weight on normal plot progression. Even with is ability to reset at death, rather than learn from mistakes and grow, he doubles down on his arrogance, convinced that everyone but himself is the problem (even when they bluntly explain to him that he is the problem). Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t something that normal people don’t do; every main character needs flaws to overcome so that the audience can identify with and cheer for their growth. However, this is essentially Subaru’s central flaw, and it takes a full seventeen episodes before it’s resolved.
Folks, after watching a parade of Subaru pride, arrogance and ignorance for seventeen episodes, I was worn paper-thin. More than anything, they needed to just let him grow. Once again, it had gone on much longer than any normal human would have let it. On top of this, because they had introduced this character flaw so early, it was already difficult to empathize with Subaru. They still hadn’t given me a reason to really care about what happened to him, and by not letting him grow, he had become the wall that I could barely climb to finish this anime.
Enter episode eighteen. This episode isn’t just the best episode in the series, but it’s also one of the best episodes of anime that I’ve ever seen. Here, Subaru finally spends an episode on self-reflection, with the aid of Rem. Subaru finally slows down long enough to have a rational conversation that helps him mature as a human being. He’s able to recognize his glaring character flaws and terrible decisions. Rem keeps him from total despair, helping him see that there is also good in him through her confession of love and admiration. This episode should have taken place long before it did (at least five episodes).
While that redemption didn’t erase all of the garbage behavior that was already portrayed, it did a lot to redeem his character, and for the final episodes, he was actually tolerable. Before, it was almost irritating to even see him on screen. Now, he was still weak and still working to save his love interest, Emilia, from destruction, but he was able to do it in a much more rational fashion, finally learning from mistakes that he made and improving his strategy.
Honestly, I didn’t mean for this entire thing to turn into a review completely focused on Subaru, but he was by far the most irritating thing about Re:ZERO. That isn’t to say the rest of the characters didn’t have any issues and it would have been perfect otherwise. Apart from the twins Ram and Rem (who are given real backstory and motivations), Crusch, and Welhelm van Astrea, the rest of the cast is, for the most part, cookie cutter and uninteresting. Some of the more interesting characters are introduced in the first few episodes and are barely heard from again (such as Felt and Elsa “the Bowel Hunter”).
I’m not going to pretend this show has no redeeming qualities. As I said in the beginning, you can see the makings of a great anime in here. Episodes 18-25 are fantastic, showcasing struggles against impossible odds and overcoming them (rationally….). My biggest complaint lies with basically the entire middle of the anime, where we spend countless episodes watching Subaru make mistake after mistake without learning anything, feeling more like filler episodes. But, in the beginning and with episodes 18 and beyond, you can see something that carried a lot of potential. My hope is, if they continue to make this one, that it will learn from these exhausting mistakes and give us something truly wonderful.