I’ve made it clear on this blog that ReZero was the anime that pretty much got me back into the entire medium as a whole. Simply put, I think it is a masterpiece, an anime of the highest quality that tells an excellent story, has wonderful characters and is actually an Isekai that tries to do something different. Instead of trend chaster, it was a trend-setter, a trend-breaker.
If someone asked me to sum up why I think all of this, I would simply say this: ReZero was the anime that (to me) finally acknowledged all the stupidity and bullshit that had (at the time) turned me off of the medium. And all of that is encompassed in a single character, so after the cut let’s take a Character Dive into the main lead of ReZero: Natsuki Suburu.
Subaru is at his core, a dark and cruel deconstruction of both the Isekai hero and the standard anime shonen hero as well. In fact, the more and more standard Isekais (of varying quality) that come out, the more and more clear it becomes on what Subaru is supposed to be and it pays off again and again as the story goes on.
When we first meet Subaru and in the first few episodes he is a pretty much a standard by the numbers Isekai protagonist. A shut-in NEET who has little to no social skills and a general disinterest in the world around him. Despite this, he is portrayed as a generally nice man and an overall good decent person on the surface. Yet there is also a level of egotism and self-importance hidden underneath his character. I call this the “Naruto-factor” in how Naruto Uzumaki was a generally unbearable piece of shit character at the start of his story. Subaru has a bit of this running in his veins, but it is mostly put to the side as he learns to adjust to the new world he found himself in…for now. Is he an asshole yet? Eh probably not, but he can come off as the kind of guy you can only put up for so long, but will act like a complete dick.
Now when Subaru comes into his new world, it is with all that new wonder that most Isekai leads have, but also with a sense of expectations of what should happen. While not on the same level as Shield Hero’s lead, there is a certain belief that Subaru is expecting the same generic isekai level treatment. He expects to have god-like combat powers, he expects to be good at everything, and he expects Emilia to fall head over heels in love with him.
What happens over the following thirteen episodes however completely upends that belief.
Subaru’s deaths, and the reveal that he pretty much is caught in a time loop that resets each time is killed serves two factors. It is an excellent way for the story itself to differentiate itself from other Isekais and it serves as the gradual unraveling of who Subaru really is as a person. Dying over and over again would be traumatic for any person, but for ReZero it serves to strip away all the defenses and safeguards that society and common sense have built-in, leaving him with only the negative traits to dominate his personality. Subaru’s constant failure at trying to impress Emilia, saving her, and saving Rem quickly sand off the rosy picture of the Isekai fantasy and begin to eat away at his sanity. Furthermore, the inability to tell anyone about his ability to loop time only further raises the value he sees in Emilia and not in a good way.
Instead of just accepting that Emilia doesn’t see him the way he sees her and that he has massively overestimated his importance and strength. Subaru doubles and triples down to try and become her “rock”. Instead of realizing his place in her household and doing what he can, what he is able to. Subaru keeps inserting himself into situations where he doesn’t belong, ignoring the fact that he is an outsider in a world with social norms and cues. In a sense, Subaru is stuck in a no-win scenario. He can’t just explain what is going on (which would only solve the surface problem), and he has none of the knowledge or experience to actually be of any use in this world. So instead of a person whom he needs to understand and respect. Emilia becomes the waifu trophy Subaru believes he deserves, an all-encompassing god-like figure he just has to have, and that if he manages to get Emilia’s affection or just acknowledge, then all his suffering is worth it. He HAS to have her acknowledge and love him, because if she doesn’t, then his entire reason for being has been nothing.
This, of course, leads to the events of episode 13.
When Subaru interrupts the presentation of the candidates for the ruler of the country, after being told by Emilia to stay at home and not interfere. When he rashly and arrogantly claims himself to be Emilia’s knight and challenges Julius to a duel, you have an idea of how this is going to go. Anime (for me at least) conditioned me to expect the following outcome. Subaru would either scrape together a win because of his “main character-ness’ or would lose in such a way that impresses the powers that be. Emilia might be mad at him, but she would be happy he “stood up for her” and accept him as his knight. He would get the “you did alright kid” acknowledgment that SO many other anime leads and series have had.
Instead of the heroic victory of the main character. Instead of those “atta boys” and “well dones” so common in anime. Subaru gets his ass handed to him, and beaten to near death. Waking up later in bed, broken and beaten beyond belief. Subaru sees Emilia not there to comfort him, but instead lambaste and lecture him for his stupidity and arrogance, and it is here where the levee finally breaks on Subaru’s sanity. His angrily and ruthlessly argues with Emilia, claiming that everything he has done has been for her, that after everything he has suffered, all the pain he endured, the countless failures and deaths have been in her name, and that if she realized it, she would be thanking him on bended knee. That she should be kissing his feet (or more) in gratitude for having such a loyal admirer. Yet when Emilia asks him why he thinks this, he is unable to because of the curse.
It is then that Emilia, realizing that Subaru is a lost cause, that she cannot trust him or understand him, leaves and abandons him with words that cut to the very soul of who Subaru is.
“The version of me that lives inside your head must be amazing”
After all of this, we see that Natsuki Subaru through his experiences in this new world is not your average Isekai neet shut-in hero. Instead, he is a selfish, cruel and egotistical asshole. He is anime’s version of the incel, the neckbeard, the fedora-wearing “philosopher”, the arrogant atheist, the ideological obsessed puritan, the school shooter, the stay at home nerd who argues with people on the internet and harasses and doxes. The man who sees women not as people, but trophies to put on a pedestal, or notches on his belt. A man who, instead of realizing his own faults and limitations and trying to better himself, he will stir in his insecurities and self-hatred. The world of ReZero has stripped away all of those safeguards that both real life and anime itself had given him as the main character and shown us who Subaru and all Isekai and anime leads are when they have it ripped away from them. I fully believe that if a character like DxD’s Issei Hyoudou, Sword Art Online’s Kirito, or the vast landscape of similar isekai characters who would have ended up just like Subaru.
In just a few episodes ReZero is one of the few anime that upends the idea of the shonen and Isekai hero and throws some much-needed shade at a concept that for too long had been allowed to run amok in the medium. It to this day is one of the few Isekai shows that dare to be different, to try and do something with story beats that have been done to death. However, ReZero doesn’t rest on those well-deserved laurels and instead sets both itself and Subaru on a path of redemption. We’ll get into Part II later this week.