Re-Dive: ReZero: Starting Live in Another World: Damn Fine Work

If there is one anime that can be credited with getting my to start blogging, or frankly to start watching anime seriously again. It would be ReZero. I’ve told this story before, but for those new to Shallow Dives, let me explain once more. Around 2016 I was pretty much ‘done’ with anime. I had watched it all throughout my childhood, but at that point I had fallen off pretty hard. Most of my favorite series were wrapped or close to wrapping, and I had long come down from my Gundam kick. There was no bad blood, but I felt I had gotten ‘my fill’ from the anime world. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that I check out this show, that the dominos starting falling once more. The rest, if you’ve been following this blog for close to three years now, is history.

And so last month, I actually sat down and re-watched the entire first season front to back, the first time I’ve done it since the original airing. Did it hold up? Was it as a good as I thought, or had time worn off some of the shine? Well after the cut let’s re-dive into one of the most beloved Isekai series of the last decade: ReZero: Starting Life in Another World

Check out my original thoughts here!

The Suffering of one Natsuki Subaru

Like Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show like ReZero is something that everyone has an opinion on. While not a ‘thinking man’s anime, there was enough character work and time spent on the journey of Natsuki Subaru that could fuel a dozen think pieces. While I too have indulged in examining his and other characters (which you can find here, here and for Rem’s case, here). I always tried to keep things in perspective, and not allow my personal views and ideals to color my work. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t. For ReZero it is hard, because it was Subaru’s journey in this first season that really brought my back into this medium.

I won’t re-hash what I’ve said (and others have done better) before. What I will say is that looking back at this season with fresh eyes, and the information gleamed from the shows enjoyable (but in hindsight probably too long) second season. Is that much of what is on display here holds up well.

Emilia is probably the ‘weak point’ of the first season, because it can be hard for viewers to see why Subaru simps for her so hard. She is just kind of there.

Everything I have said in my character dives on the character still stands. Natsuki Subaru, and his journey through these twenty-five episodes is a masterwork of character development. Going from the deluded boy who believes he is living the Isekai dream so many viewers expect. The arrogant fool who can’t respect tact, grace or the methods of the world, the person who clings to a self-realized vision of a girl to satisfy his own selfish hero complex, to the eventual humbled man who earns respect through his cleverness. Anyone who has grown frustrated with the usual bevy of anime heroes, especially in the Isekai genre will see Subaru as I did, a welcome breather and a more honest look at how some people might act in this world. And while the second season does shed more light on his attitudes (he wasn’t really the shut-in Incel NEET, that one could think he was), it doesn’t damage what is probably one of the best character journeys done in the last decade of anime.

Image result for Subaru vs Julius gif
Subaru’s massive beatdown by Julius and tongue-lashing by Emilia remains wholly unique in anime, where such actions are usually rewarded.

The use of return by death, and the constant shifting perspectives also make the story gripping. While upon second viewing there are moments of the first season that drag (The second arc does feel like a step-down when sandwiched between the excellent pilot and masterful final one). ReZero and it’s clever plot device of having Subaru stuck in time-loops always keeps things fresh. The moment you start getting use to what is happening, the table is wiped clean and you start again. It gives the show an air of mystery and you are rewarded for paying attention to small details and facts that may seem innocent in one loop, but are crucial keys in the second. And while I have criticized the series for making the viewer always ‘be on’ when watching this show. It is rewarding when you put the pieces together.

There is also some fantastic worldbuilding, and ReZero, probably banking on further seasons and light novel sales, takes its time to introduce things, people and ideas that may not be paid off for years. It is clear through Subaru’s own journey that he is just a pebble in a big pond, and thankfully the world makes that feel true. Many isekai, even the good ones, often feel like the entire world structure revolves around our hero and his gang, but ReZero doesn’t fall into that trap. The episode or two dedicated to Wilhelm and his quest to kill the white whale is an example of this. Emilia’s own struggles, the other ruler candidates, and Rem’s backstory also help fill in the corners of the world. Though thankfully they don’t pull away from the central point of the first season.

Image result for rezero episode 18
ReZero (both seasons) is at its core, a story about self-reflection and personal growth, and Subaru’s journey can strike a cord with many people.

However, despite all of the VERY good things done in the first season, my re-watch has rubbed a little bit of shine off it. While the pilot episodes, and the final arc are both downright excellent, the middle part of ReZero is a step down in terms of quality. Not bad by any means, but it does feel like it is one or two episodes too long. The massive introduction of new characters, some who may never get a proper explanation in the anime, can be a bit overwhelming. Emilia, for being such an important character is woefully underdeveloped, Petelgeuse is a ALOT to handle for someone introduced so late in the story, and Subaru’s reaction to Rem’s heartfelt confession (the series singular best episode) will probably infuriate people who don’t understand the meaning behind it. These aren’t things that cripple the show, but I won’t deny that upon this second viewing, removed from the hype and trying to keep my fondness for this show controlled, they are things I can’t ignore.

Wilhelm’s battle with the whale is a great example of the show having a bigger world than the one we see. His final declaration remains a series highlight.

Still, ReZero: Starting Life in Another World became as popular as it did, beloved as it did, appreciated as it did for a reason. This is a well told, wonderfully crafted story that attempts to work within the often constrained views of what an Isekai is, and ends up creating something that is entertaining, thought provoking and compelling all at once. It is a show that earns every accolade it got back in 2016, and can wear it’s crown with pride. It is the show that brought my back into anime, and frankly it was the perfect one to do so. There are only a handful of shows that I have ever given a perfect 10 too, and ReZero is one of them. While, if I was being purely objective, I would probably knock it down to a 9.5, it’s effect on the industry and what it means to both myself and many viewers more than makes up that last half a point. If for some reason you have not watched this show and love Isekai, I would suggest you start on it as soon as you can. It lives up to (most) of the hype, and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a damn fine work.

And man, the dollar signs the company must have seen when these two were embraced by the viewership.

8 thoughts on “Re-Dive: ReZero: Starting Live in Another World: Damn Fine Work

  1. I think those middle parts/episodes would’ve benefited from actually being longer, not shorter. The amount of new characters might’ve felt overwhelming because the second cour especially adapts A LOT of volumes, so everything was condensed. In the source material each royal candidate is fully fleshed out, Otto’s introduction has much more memorability and weight to it (unlike most people who think he was introduced in S2), etc.

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  2. Great post, Dewbond. I also felt disillusioned by anime until Re:zero came along and instantly became one of my favourite anime in years. I like the aspect of requiring one to “be on” to make sure you catch all the details to make sense of what is happening.

    I have my own analysis of Priscilla’s scenes with Subaru if you’d like to read it.

    My interpretation of the scenes in which Priscilla had an extreme reaction to Subaru considering licking her foot and her decision to grab Subaru’s arm and say to Emilia, “Is there a reason you stare at my manservant, half-wit?” is that Priscilla actually found Subaru to be attractive and possibly a potential lover after he had the moxie to show her that appas have red skin even though probably nobody has dared to contradict her on that in all her years of living and because he stood up to the thugs even though he was a weakling. To me, Priscilla saying, “It seems you really are just an insignificant man!” shows that she thought Subaru was more than just a loser before he made a fool of himself at the castle because it’s the sort of thing you say to someone who made a good impression on you but then did something to make you question your initial good impression of that person, and her challenging Subaru to lick her foot was an attempt to see if he actually had any dignity left and to see whether he’d show the same kind of attitude he had when they first met, which was one that didn’t show deference to her and even in that incident taught her something new. Basically, I believe Priscilla was shit testing Subaru to see if he was worthy of her after her initial positive impression of him contrasted with his ugly outburst at the castle.

    On the surface, Priscilla may have been calling Subaru a jester and a clown, which would give reason for people to think she isn’t attracted to Subaru, but I didn’t take Priscilla’s words at face value because of just how offended Priscilla actually was by Subaru deciding to actually lick her foot. She lectured him about what he displayed not being an act of loyalty or devotion but more akin to a pig’s greed, leading her to say she would strike down any camp he was a part of, and this tells me that Subaru’s decision to lick her foot was something that was the complete opposite of what Priscilla wanted even though on the surface she made it sound like favouring his miniscule pride would lead to an undesirable result. I believe Priscilla decided that she would make a weak pathetic Subaru her mortal enemy because he did something that insulted her to the core, and for someone as extremely proud and confident in herself to the extreme as Priscilla is, it would be to show that she was wrong about her judgement in some way, and that would be that Subaru showed that he was pathetic and not worth her time after she would go as far as to try and make Emilia jealous by grabbing his arm and suggesting that Subaru was her (Priscilla’s) manservant at the Royal Palace. Showing that she was wrong to think more of Subaru was shameful to her, so much that she beat the hell out of him, lectured him, and threatened him to strike down any camp he was a part of. In my opinion, her wanting to strike down any camp he is a part of shows she wants Subaru to be humiliated as much as she had been or even moreso because it was a personal humiliation for her that she misjudged Subaru, and for a guy who is struggling through his way in the world and wants to be a hero, what greater shame could he face than to have his ambitions be thwarted by Priscilla, the one who had him on his knees and asked him to savour the humiliation of licking her foot, every time he tried to make something of himself? This interpretation is backed by Priscilla saying, “Your careless behavior and attitude have lead me to that decision!” It shows that she thought that Subaru would think over the reason for that particular interaction leading to the way it did and that she expected a better response from him. I do note that Priscilla might also have been angry because Subaru abandoned his pride, and for someone who values her pride so much, seeing Subaru lower himself to that level probably disgusted her, but I believe the main source of her anger that bordered on rage was a sense of humiliation due to her pride being wounded. If Subaru was just a little ant or clown to her, she would not have reacted the way she did in my opinion as deciding to strike down any camp he is a part of is far too punishing for just being disgusted at Subaru. Even Priscilla messing with Emilia, calling Subaru her (Priscilla’s) manservant and pressing Subaru’s arm against her breasts indicates that perhaps there was something more to the interaction and that she wouldn’t mind actually having Subaru as part of her camp given that she called him her appa handler, meaning it was somewhat of a power move, and Priscilla was trying to assert her dominance over Emilia. I believe this shit test showed to Priscilla that Subaru does not value himself and is a low-value man given that only someone who is low-value would agree to such a request, which went against her initial impression of him, leading to her being furious at herself and at Subaru for defying her expectations. This interpretation is backed up by Priscilla saying, “It seems you really are just an insignificant man!” That comment showed that Priscilla’s test was a direct reaction to her initial positive impression of Subaru being called into question because of his behaviour at the castle. Subaru botched up the interaction completely and should have tried to turn the tables on Priscilla somehow, such as by ignoring her completely and leaving the room, by saying that what she described is completely unacceptable and insulting, by openly saying he would never stoop to doing something so lowly and that she should be ashamed of thinking that he would or by suggesting that Priscilla must be flirting with him if she’s describing a scenario that ends with him licking her foot. I’m sure Priscilla sees herself as a very high value woman who has no trouble finding a man for herself, and this results in her putting men through shit tests to root out those who are unworthy of her affection because she doesn’t want just any man but someone who is confident and self-assured, not someone who would comply with everything she asks no matter how degrading the request like a loser. Ideally, she’d want someone with healthy boundaries that can stand up for himself who would not tolerate something like being asked to lick her foot in return for a favour. I know that last option I mentioned out of the 4 might seem way out in left field, but if Priscilla really was testing Subaru to see whether he’d be a fitting romantic partner for her, it would probably be the best possible response in that situation since it could further their interaction in that direction.

    I know it might be a tough sell since it’s just one scene from a character that has only showed up in 3 episodes so far, but Priscilla’s outrage along with her body language during the scene which included her playing with her hair as well as uncrossing and crossing her legs before she approached him says to me that she thought of Subaru as being more than just a clown or jester. I have seen some people say that the author has a mean streak with that Priscilla scene and was being nasty to Subaru for the hell of it, but I think that that scene had a lot of care and craft in how it was presented based on Priscilla’s tone of voice and also the music and tension and that it might be relevant to the endgame of Re:zero. I do acknowledge that it’ll be extremely difficult to convince Re:zero watchers that this particular interpretation is correct barring the airing of additional unreleased content that might be on the longer side of several seasons away, but I try my best to put myself into the shoes of the characters and see whether their interactions made sense, and coming to the conclusion I did was the only way I could make sense of Priscilla’s outrage in that scene. Her reaction changing from disappointment initially (judging by the voice acting and the line, “It seems you really are just an insignificant man!”) to that of righteous indignation is why I believe what I do about that scene. Priscilla’s reaction showed that what she proposed to Subaru wasn’t just some game for her amusement in which either response from Subaru would have provided entertainment for her as Priscilla had indicated before he decided to bite the bullet and lick her foot. I believe Emilia herself knew that words can be deceptive, which is why she couldn’t believe it when Subaru kept confessing to her over and over and needed something more substantive like an actual kiss after Subaru broke a promise to her, a spirits arts user for whom promises are very important, for the second time. Actions speak louder than words after all. Thus I conclude Priscilla never intended for it to be a trivial game but an assessment of Subaru’s value and character given her outsized reaction to what he did. Subaru letting Priscilla emasculate him infuriated her in every way, leading to him being such an eyesore in her eyes that she promised to strike down any camp Subaru was a part of, in effect denying him the chance to stand firm and proud, meaning Priscilla had decided in that moment to make sure that Subaru never made something of himself, forcing him to never live down that moment for showing that her initial impression of him was incorrect. That she decided on such a spiteful action to Subaru’s decision to lick her foot shows that her exuberant confidence in herself had taken a hit for thinking there was more to Subaru than being a loser.

    I do think that moving forward that Priscilla will eventually be a love interest for Subaru. However, I do think Priscilla will very likely try to knock him down a peg whenever they meet each other and attempt to see whether Subaru really is a confident as he would like people to think he is when he’s trying to get people to help him out and such. She will try to ascertain whether he really is the type of man she would deem to be worthy of her just like she did in episode 16 and won’t settle with just accepting his accomplishments based on the value society has given them. I believe someone as prideful as Priscilla will largely determine Subaru’s value herself, largely through social situations given how she denigrated Felt for only being able to manage tedious conversation as the reason Felt was confined to the slums, which shows she places much value on conversational aptitude, and she will do this to see whether Subaru’s confidence is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

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    • That’s a damn lot of stuff you pulled out of only a few scenes. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to her character, mostly because she gets her time in later novels, and she serves the point of showing how low Subaru would go at that point to get what he wants. Who knows, maybe you are right,

      But I would advise caution against reading into things too much. Such things can lead to unrealistic expectations, which can to disappointment that can turn into bitterness when the author gives you answers to those questions.

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      • I understand your cautioning of me to avoid reading into things too much. It’s just that I look at things with a holistic approach to better understand why a character behaved a certain way, and that scene in Episode 16 was the only scene in which I felt taking someone’s words at face value didn’t jive with that person’s reaction, and that’s why I believe what I did since I felt that Priscilla’s apparent reaction, including the close-up of her looking like she was furious to the point of wanting to kill somebody before she called out Al, was disproportionate to what Subaru had actually done, which led to me seeking an alternative explanation. This approach is also why I did not find Emilia’s mind breaking in Episode 36 to be implausible. Whether I end up right or wrong at the end of Re:zero, we’ll probably see in roughly 20 years, which is when I expect the series will be fully adapted.

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      • I’m friends with a novel reader, and he tells me Season 3 will have a lot of fight scenes, which makes me concerned considering animating things well is probably the weakest aspect of White Fox, and Season 2’s animation was notably a step down from Season 1. Given that Tappei worked with Wit Studio to produce Vivy, which has very high-quality animation, I hope Tappei can call in a favour from Wit Studio to have that studio animate all the fight scenes. I do believe with the staffing troubles White Fox has now (many former staff work exclusively for Studio Bind now) that outsourcing the animation of the fight scenes is the best way to move forward with Season 3 as otherwise, viewers might be forced to see a lot of still shots in fights, which would not be an ideal experience.

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  3. And I meant “one of the scenes in which I felt taking someone’s words at face value didn’t jive with that person’s reaction”. Of course there were other scenes in which someone’s words couldn’t be taken at face value, such as when Subaru was telling Emilia that she would not be able to save anybody in Episode 17 when those words were actually directed at himself.

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