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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.