Re: Zero – 43 – Run Lia Run

From last week’s cliffhanger with Regulus we take a brief detour to a weakening Ryuzu Shima tell Subaru & Co. a tale about her progenitor, Ryuzu Meyer, who lived in the Sanctuary before it was a Sanctuary. There, she met Echidna, Witch of Greed, and her daughter, a young Beatrice.

Meyer endured Beako’s unyielding haughtiness and the two went on to have “quite a heartwarming friendship”. Meyer also met a generations-young Roswaal, whose eyes were the same color back then. Getting down to brass tacks, Shima says the former Sanctuary “collapsed”, and then the true reason for the Sanctuary’s existence came about.

Just when Shima’s story is getting good, we shift back to Emilia’s trial. Considering the trial isn’t even done introducing people, I would’ve probably preferred to pick up where we left off, since Shima’s story and Lia’s past don’t really connect (at least not yet). New to the stage and flanking Regulus is the Witch of Vanity, Pandora, who—surprise, surprise—resembles Echidna, Satella, and Emilia.

Pandora wants the seal, so the Witch’s Cult can “fulfill its long-cherished desire.” Regulus seems to be her muscle, but as always has his own agenda and is an exhausting stickler for “authority” and “permission”. As Fortuna runs off with Lia, Geuse stands his ground and whips out the Witch Factor he was holding onto for just such an occasion.

Apologizing to someone named Flugel-sama, he presses the factor to his heart and undergoes a painful transformation. Pandora grants him the title of Sloth, Geuse uses Unseen Hands to fight Regulus (and puts extra emphasis on “desu!” For the first time).

The resulting stalemate enables Emilia and Echidna to shift to young Lia’s perspective. Fortuna gets her as far away from the fight as she can before entrusting Archi to her care, but not before giving her a loving, tearful goodbye, insisting she loves her like a daughter. Indeed, present-day Lia comes to believe Fortuna is her “real” mother after all, though it’s still not crystal clear if she means biological.

Archi carries a weeping Lia, aiming to leave the forest as Fortuna commanded, but he’s tripped up by the Black Serpent, a plague-bearing mabeast. The wound quickly spreads across his leg, which he amputates and freezes, but the spread doesn’t stop, it only slows. With what time he has left he orders Lia to head to the field of flowers and keep running straight and forward.

Fortuna reunites with Geuse, and the two have a very lovey-dovey moment that tests Regulus’ already virtually non-existent patience for being ignored. When Pandora gently asks him to remain calm, he turns her into a bloody mist.

She returns without a scratch moments later, drives Regulus into the ground, and then uses her ability to rewrite reality itself.  The purpose for Regulus entering the forest has been achieved, so she returns him to his mansion, which also undoes all the wounds he inflicted on Geuse. It’s as if he was never there!

Considering that there’s nothing stopping the witch from turning that terrifying, reality-altering power onto Geuse and Fortuna, their chances feel so much more hopeless against her than Regulus, and yet they won’t run. Protecting Emilia and the Seal is everything, and if they have to die, they’ll die together. Of course, as we know, only Geuse ends up living to encounter the likes of Natsuki Subaru—albeit in a profoundly twisted form.

As for Lil’ Lia, left to her own devices, all the thoughts about everyone hating her and not wanting her around flow back, and she soon becomes lost. This despite the fact that Fortuna, Geuse, and Archi never stopped telling her how loved she is or how good a girl she is. She believes the only way to fix things is to give the pretty witch what she wants: the key. The lesser spirits guide her to the Seal.

When she arrives, Pandora is already there, which indicates not only that Fortuna and Geuse didn’t last long, but that Emilia is the key to the Seal (duh). Moreover, Pandora was expecting Emilia to come to the Seal. The shit has officially hit the fan in this trial…but it’s not over yet.

Re: Zero – 42 – Memory Spring

Echidna accompanies Emilia into her recently unsealed memories, ever ready for stinging vitriol (she really is notably more hostile to Emilia than Subaru…but that would be Envy, not Greed!). After a literally cold open in which a naked young Emilia first meets Puck, Emilia and Echidna begin the journey in earlier, warmer, happier, and distinctly more fairy tale-ish times. Lil’ Lia, we find, is often cooped up in the “Princess Room” within a tree, but is otherwise lovingly cared for by Mother Fortuna (Tomatsu Haruka).

Fortuna is not her actual mother but her aunt; her brother’s younger sister. One day, while particularly bored, a lesser spirit—Lia actually refers to it as a “fairy”—leads her to a loose stone in the room. Takahashi Rie does a masterful job making her sound not just like a higher-pitched Emilia, but adopting the speech patterns and weird little sounds of an actual little kid. No one does that better than Kuno Misaki, but Takahashi is pretty damn good here.

The space behind the stone leads out of the tree, and the spring Lia revels in being able to stretch her legs. It’s while she’s sneaking around the margins of the elf village that we non LN readers receive the first genuine shock of this flashback: our boy Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti, back then a humble bishop, not only looked normal, but seemed like a pretty nice guy!

“Geuse” and Fortuna go back decades, and you can sense that long history in their effortless chemistry and gentle flirtation. Whether of the Witch’s Cult or some other order, Geuse and a group acolytes apparently make regular visits to the village in Elior Forest, both to deliver supplies and so Geuse can receive confirmation from Fortuna that “the seal is intact.”

Lil’ Lia knows she’s not supposed to be out and about, so even after the fairies help clean her up a little, she spills blue ink on her outfit to hide the dirt and grass stains. If Fortuna doesn’t buy it, she doesn’t tell Lia, instead hugging her and telling her she missed her even in the brief time they were apart. Lia, even back then someone quick to comfort others, places her little hand on Fortuna’s head.

While this is a helpful introduction to the places and players of the past, this initial stirng of memories isn’t yet enough for present-day Emilia. Fortuna and Geuse mentioned a seal, so Lia needs to keep soaking up these memories. They include the elf Archi giving Lia some nuts to snack on, and another visit from Geuse, who inadvertently flirts more with Fortuna. They really do make a cute couple.

Geuse also mentions that affairs outside the forest are “dubious at the moment”, so it’s more vital than ever the seal remain intact. He mentions Emilia, but also “the two of them”—her mother and father, perhaps. Emilia and Echidna follow Lil’ Lia to the famous seal itself, an ornate black door in a glade carpeted with snow all year long. Lia pushes the door, but it won’t budge…which is probably for the best at that point!

Outside, Subie cries about Gar having seen his supportive etchings for Emilia before she did, but both Gar and Otto tell him to buck up. As they wait outside the Graveyard for Lia to return, Ram comes by to tell Subie that Ryuzu Shima wants to talk to him about “a subject that is unavoidable if you wish to liberate the sanctuary”. Wait, Lia passing the trial won’t be enough to do that? What am I saying; of course it won’t be…

Back in the flashback, Lil’ Lia is sneaking around the woods when she’s spotted by Geuse, who I thought was about to say something that would reveal that he’s actually evil, but nothing ever comes of that. Instead, he acts more “Geuseian” (at least as we know him) than he had to that point when he spots Lia and realizes who she is.

His face contorts just a bit as he sheds tears of joy for being granted “salvation like never before.” Is this because of Lia’s resemblance to more than one Witch of his cult, his regard for Lia’s importance to the seal, or both? In any case, Lil’ Lia learns from him that people can cry out of happiness too, and because she’s such a good girl, she gives him a hug and strokes his head, telling him it will be okay.

It’s at this point Echidna tells Emilia she’s quickly approaching the end of the “warm-up round” and the beginning of the part of the trial that utterly broke her before. While Emilia knows Subaru wouldn’t think any less of her for depending on him, and she’s scared of what’s to come, she won’t cower any longer.

She’s going to take this as far as she can. Rather than voice her esteem for Emilia’s determination, Echidna tells her she’ll “find satisfaction” in her “suffering”. Looking every bit like a dreamlike fairy tale for its entire runtime, the warm pastoral greens of the beginning shift to a cooler, moodier, more foreboding purples and blues.

Emilia insists that Fortuna and Geuse play chase with her. Geuse is out of breath, so Fortuna snatches her up and imparts in her the importance of making and keeping promises. Emilia then summons her fairy friends, which identifies her as a future spirit user. Geuse tells her they’ll be her strength when no one is by her side, but Fortuna would just as soon not think about such scenarios, promising she’ll always be there for Lia.

When Geuse accidentally lets slip something about Lia’s parents (mentioning the days they were “well”, implying they aren’t well now), Fortuna has Lia run back home to the Princess Room…but before she can go, someone approaches, wearing a fancy white cloak. He gets pissy and verbose about Fortuna asking who he is before introducing herself, but he eventually tells her.

He’s an Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult, representing Greed: Regulus Corneas. This marks his second appearance in the anime, but his first since he attacked Rem and Crusch’s wagon back in this season’s first episode. As Echidna warned, the tough portion of this stroll down memory lane has arrived in earnest.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 26 (S2 01) – Sleeping Beauty, Weeping Hero

Allow me to indulge in a brief tangent: I’m playing Final Fantasy VII Remake at a more leisurely pace than most. I knew, as with Re:Zero here, it would be a while before we get the continuation, so I’d best savor what I’ve got, right? Anyway, I had just managed to defeat the much ballyhooed Airbuster boss at the end of Chapter 7, after which with Cloud falls through a church roof and lands on Aerith’s flowerbed.

Coming off such a long mission at the Mako Reactor culminating in a stressful, protracted boss battle, I expected a little respite to catch my breath. No such luck: within minutes Cloud is locked in a very tricky one-on-one fight with Reno. I went at him much the same way I’d fought Airbuster—and had my ass handed to me to the tune of four Game Overs before I got used to his patterns and found his weakness.

The point is, FF7R wasn’t ready to let me rest just yet, or even spend any time celebrating what had felt like a significant victory. It was immediately time to deal with the next crisis It’s the same with Re:Zero’s second season. Turns out watching the director’s cut wasn’t necessary, as the only unique scene it had—Emilia’s infamous “Who’s Rem?”—is the cold open of this first episode.

What we didn’t know is why exactly Lia suddenly forgot Rem. Was there another whale? Did the teleportation back from Isekai Quartet‘s “Chibi High School World” cause the amnesia? Re:Zero 2 wastes no time answering that question: Re:Zero’s Airbuster (the White Whale) may be defeated, but there’s no time to celebrate, because now its Reno is on the scene.

“Reno” in this case refers to not one but two new heretofore unseen Sin Archbishops of the Witch’s Cult: That of Greed, the smug Regulus Corneas, and Gluttony, the manic Lye Batenkaitos. The convoy that includes the wagon carrying Rem and Crusch is suddenly ambushed by the bishops, resulting in a huge amount of carnage.

Lye is a lot like Betel in his goofy over-the-top spiel, but Regulus is the more fearsome one to my eye and ear. He’s so calm, well-spoken, and put together, wasting no movement in his horrifically violent attacks. He looks more like Reinhard or Julius than a Sin Archbishop, which is somehow more unsettling.

When Crusch fights force with force, interrupting Regulus’ monologue, he is insulted by her lack of manners and relieves her of her left arm. After administering first aid, Rem breaks out her flail, but it’s telling that she makes it absolutely clear that she’s not the one they need to worry about, but the man she loves, her hero, The Hero, Natsuki Subaru.

That turns out to be a bad move, as neither archbishop considers Rem to be much of a threat, and as we saw what happened when she fought the Sin Archbishop of Sloth Betelgeuse, this battle was going to end about as well as my first tussle with the slippery Reno in FF7R. Emi’s question to Subaru meant the battle had already been decided, and Rem lost.

As steeled as I was to witness it firsthand, I was still not prepared for the devastating flashes of Rem and Subaru’s future before losing consciousness: sitting on a bench with their newborn second child; their firstborn standing nearby. Welcome Back to Re:Zero, where there is no limit to the amount of times your heart will get stomped on!

Once the convoys arrive at Crusch’s estate, Subaru is on the edge of panic as he restlessly searches the scores of dead and wounded for Rem. First he spots blue hair, but it’s not her. Finally, he finds her, unconscious. The healer doesn’t know who she is, and can do nothing for her. After lashing out at the man in anger, he quickly descends into crippling despair, grabs the nearest broken sword, points it at his throat, and kills himself.

Of course, Return by Death doesn’t take him back to a point in time before Rem is attacked; only to the back of the wagon with Emilia just before he mentions Rem. He’s too late to stop Rem’s attackers. He’ll have to save her after the fact.

Puck informs him that Gluttony literally devours not just memories, but someone’s very name. This is what was done to Rem, which means the girl lying in bed is an empty shell. She won’t wake up unless her name and memories are restored. I imagine killing Gluttony will do the trick, but who knows?

Meanwhile, everyone else has indeed never heard of Rem, while Crusch, the last person she was with, also had her memories eaten, to the point she doesn’t even know herself. At an impromptu meeting between Subaru, Emilia, Wilheim, Felis, and Crusch, Felis puts Crusch’s welfare first and proposes an end to an alliance with Emilia that no longer serves a benefit, only a burden.

Subaru bristles at that, and at Felis’ misplaced blame and selfish caution. Even though Crusch doesn’t really know who she is, she sides with Subaru, as does Wilheim. Gluttony, Greed, and the Witch’s Cult are threats to all (there are reports of others throughout the land falling victim to Gluttony), and so all of them must stay together to determine the proper path to defeating them.

Moving forward requires that Subaru accept that Rem is out of the picture for now, that there’s nothing he can immediately do about it, and going without sleep to stay by her bedside helps neither of them. Emilia comes to Rem’s room to say as much, and while she has no memories of Rem, she can tell she’s Ram’s sister. She’s also come to tell Subaru that she wants to help Subaru carry the weight of Rem. He saved her, and now it’s her turn to save him.

This causes Subaru to politely ask her to turn away so he can cry, but soon after bawling big sopping sheets tears, she wraps her arms around him in a hug of support. And so we start with the Hero at his lowest point (so far, at least…it can always go lower!), unable even to put on a Tough Guy act, and the Heroine promising to save him, starting with helping him process the situation so that they can begin to find a solution.

It’s a strong return to form for Re:Zero, which at this point is a known quantity in terms of how it operates and to never expect things to work out too soon without significant hardship and suffering on the part characters. Two new sniveling supervillains are here, and their Emilia-lookin’ Witch queen still looms.

Hopefully no one is starting their Re:Zero journey with this episode; that would be…interesting. Suffice it to say, if you enjoyed the first season, the second picks right up where it left off both in story, tone, and style. I’m eager to see and learn more. Thankfully, the wait is over.