Before we begin, I should warn you that this post will liberally contain spoilers for the entirety of Re:Zero – Starting Life In Another World, so if you have not seen it yet, go watch it because you’re missing out on some fine anime storytelling right there.
I’m sure this won’t be the last post about Re:Zero that I make on this blog, considering how popular it has been over this summer and that, for me, it looks almost certain to take the place of my favourite anime TV series that debuted in 2016. It was a long journey, first with gripping and heart-wrenching twists putting a dark deconstructive spin on what initially seemed a cool but not completely original premise involving the trauma of dying multiple times, and then a second half cheering for Subaru as he worked out how to finally get past the times ahead of him with a happy ending as the anime finished. But should we have been cheering for him?
The psychological effects of experiencing intense pain that kills you many times and yet being forced to carry on with all progress with your relationships with the people you care about are deep and they are what makes Re:Zero such a compelling watch, so I may go further into those in another article. But the other point that stands out is that Subaru’s drive that keeps him going is his somewhat crazy love for Emilia, the half-elf who the plot is mostly centred around. Subaru has a few reasons, she saved him in the first episode and she is very beautiful, but it does not seem the most justified obsessive love. Subaru quickly makes her this princess and you can see that she is taken aback by this, eventually, when he goes too far and embarrasses her in front of court and much of the country, telling him to leave her alone and cut all ties with him.
It was this moment that sold me on the rest of Re:Zero. The shock factor of the deaths was beginning to wear off but this dismissal by Emilia both improved her character as more than just a passive receptacle and cut to a rather important issue that should have hit home with several viewers. Here we had a protagonist who we were not rooting for and because of the set up of the series, wanted him to go kill himself such that that moment with Emilia did not happen (something that the story wisely avoided), because we could see bits of our darker selves in it, and we did not like it. Love, or at least what we think is love, can make humans so unobjective, especially when it is unrequited. Because it isn’t love. Subaru says later that he was in love with the idea of being in love with Emilia, which accurately assesses his entitled attitude in the first half of the show, especially as something to avoid when conducting ones own courtship attempts – it went badly for Subaru, it will go badly for you.
As the main character, especially in anime, and especially in this subgenre of ordinary human (and an unemployed layabout no less) getting transported to a fantasy world, can act as the wish fulfilment for the audience, there were many of us who implanted our desires onto Subaru, only to be shocked when he made decisions of such questionable moral character. Re:Zero from the start set out to be an anime that looked like it would follow convention only to sharply break it later and this is no exception. From then on, I only began rooting for Subaru several episodes later, when he made it clear to himself that he recognised what he had done wrong with Emilia, he recognised that his attitude that Emilia, and for that matter, the world of Re:Zero, owed him a white knight-hero-story was entirely false and this world owed him nothing just like the real world did, he had to earn his happy ending. And that’s a very important lesson to learn.
Even so, I was still on edge about him reuniting with Emilia until the show made it clear that not only had Subaru rid himself of all of the poisonous attitude he had had before (through the medium of several painful deaths) but also showed concern for Emilia’s worries, and did his utmost to help her for her, not for him. That she turned out to be insecure that anyone could ever love her because of her half-elf status, which Subaru showed no concern over aided in that, by the end, it did feel like he truly loved Emilia and him saying ‘I love you’ made sense, after going through so much to say that to her. As opposed to the earlier episodes, where his arrogance made me uneasy watching him, the ending felt natural and well-earned, without taking away from the important lesson that Subaru had learned. It was a slow and gradual change with much suffering along the way. Anything else would have felt cheap and I’m glad it ended that way. If we ever get a continuation, I expect a lot more suffering but Subaru’s arc now feels complete, in case we don’t. As a note: I have not read the source material and probably won’t unless there is a confirmed no season 2 so any further changes to the story may upset this balance, in fact they almost certainly will, but I don’t want to know about them… yet.
Oh, and because I almost went through an entire Re:Zero post without mentioning Rem, I am one of the few who prefers Emilia to her. Rem seems too perfect, and has a similar weird love for Subaru that did get explained, but feels easy. She fulfilled a necessary role in the all-important episode 18 but is not the driver of events in the show and at worst, reinforces for the viewer all the ‘perfect woman’ tendencies that Subaru initially saw in Emilia. She’s very cute though, I won’t deny that, because who could? In fact, an ideal continuation would be to put Rem through something similar to what Subaru has gone through. We’ll see. Again I know the answer is out there, but I don’t want to know. Yet.