Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 09

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This week served a full plate of contradictions. The tasty morsels included: Subaru recounting the aspirations of each village child to compel Rem to participate, king of exposition Roswaal wearing reasonable clothes and flying off without any exposition, and Rem and Emilia devouring scenes bond-strengthening with Subaru. We also finally learn the source of the curse and witness some brutal combat in the forest.

Of all shows, Re:Zero has been remarkably good at packing its plates—often skipping opening or closing credits—and even though very little narrative has actually happened, the density and emotional impact has always earned it for me. Unfortunately, parts of this episode were slow, as if intentionally dragging its feet for an unearned cliffhanger ending. Additionally, many of the slower scenes were static, and the general animation quality was noticeably lower than normal.

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Focusing on the good, Re:Zero just nails Emilia’s character. She could very easily be the perfect nice girl central love interest, but the fact that she really doesn’t know Subaru’s motives—that she really doesn’t understand him at all—but accepts that he’s probably a good person anyway gives her a lot of nuance.

Her best scene this week is no different: she enters mid conversation, not even knowing what Subie’s said to Rem and Rin, gets the gist, and gives him a little prayer for safety. Their back and forth is compact, simple, but full of lovely facial expressions. Seriously—just watch how her mouth subtly changes when she’s happy, exasperated, or bemused.

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Rem gets two solid scenes as well, and while both are much more Subaru-pushed than the scene with Emilia, they are still quite touching. Also, narratively advancing, as we learn a little more about the need for barriers to protect human settlements from the creatures of the witch, and that Subaru reveals he knows she can smell the witch on him.

I greatly appreciated how these scenes are painted as less romantic than Subaru’s scenes with Emilia. Here he has a kind word, makes a pinkie-promise, and shows his trust in Rem. It’s friendship, not harem-building, and that adds nuance to the format that easily could be about getting all the girls.

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Intentional or not, the last strong scene starts and ends poorly. The animation leading up to the fight was lackluster, there was a lot of static dialog, and we still don’t know the motives of the villain. That abruptly changed with Subie’s epic kill. Like his fight with Rem several weeks ago, this had a ‘screw you I can take a beating’ vibe that makes all of the Subie fights enjoyable to watch.

Rem’s fight was decent too, for the most part. I get the sense that it ate most of the episode’s budget and the brutality was sweet but the storyboarding was weak. Call me a grouch, but having back to back ‘saved by your partner’s sacrifice’ moves, plus Rem being smashed by what looked like a dodge-able earth attack, felt generic. Eye-rolling, honestly.

The uneven quality of the fight aside, Rem’s brutality is a nice contrast. Specifically, we’ve only seen this kind of slaughter from evil characters before and…that’s kind of the point with Rem.

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Because this episode really works or doesn’t based on it’s reveals, and you will probably only enjoy it more if you’re looking at some of the details, this review has largely been spoiler free.

Technical shortcomings aside, my biggest criticism is that for all the things I didn’t spoil, a lot wasn’t answered. As Rem says, she has a lot of questions and we better be ready to answer. And hopefully soon.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 08

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Subaru wakes up, in the bed, once again, with the twin maids sitting beside him. This time, he volunteers to work at the mansion once more and spends as much time with them as he can, working his utmost to earn their trust from the start, so they won’t suspect and kill him! His second priority is finding and stopping the shaman who killed him and most recently Rem in previous loops.

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For the latter part, Subie learns from Puck that he has the somewhat rare “darkness” alignment, rather than any of the standard four elements. Excited to be able to focus his mana through his “gate” and perform magic for the first time in this world (aside from Return By Death, obv) he get’s a little too carried away and blows out all his mana at once.

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Like Explosion Girl in KonoSuba, this leaves him barely able to move, but he’s absolutely committed to continuing his tireless work with Ram and Rem, knowing his life and future may well depend on the results. Everyone notices that Subaru is simply trying way too hard, hiding his churning troubles beneath an overly chipper, caffeinated exterior. Something has to give, and it does, when he’s overcome by nausea.

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Emilia is outside the bathroom when he boots, and he can’t fool her any longer, so she takes him up on his desire to lay his head in her lap when the need arises, and it arises. Emilia is so kind and tender and matronly as she gives Subaru something he’s needed for some time: a pressure valve.

Safe in her lap, free of complications, he can let it all out, and Emilia is glad to see him not holding it in. In fact, it proves to her that he’s a truly good person, and she relays that to Rem. It’s such a lovely, calming scene, and the episode perfectly built up all that pressure and tension.

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His Emilia-aided lap pillow catharsis, then, turns out to be the means by which he achieves his first objective: earn the trust of the staff. Emilia assures Rem, who tells Ram, who tells Lord Rosvaal. I’d like to think that’s how it works, anyway!

That catharsis and its positive effects would not have been possible if Subie had been a mere houseguest and not someone doing his part in the mansion with the maids. He’s done being lazy and half-assing things; that’s how people have died in the past.

Of course, there’s still that shaman to contend with. He believes both he and Rem (at different times) were hit by a fatal spell in the village. Now he and both sisters will be going to the village together, and thanks to “Beako”, he knows there’s a way to detect a spell before it’s cast (much like a boss’s big timed attack in RPGS).

But once that spell is cast, it can’t be un-cast, so I hope to hell he’s careful and doesn’t have to go through all of this yet again. Another important thing he learned was that people who help him prefer simple thanks to elaborate apologies.

Honesty and simplicity are Subie’s tools of salvation. Cry when he has to, accept help without shame, and thank those who give it. If these people see every side of him, not just the artificial ideal, they just might not end up being the “poisonous flowers” he dreads.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 02

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In the latest iteration of the timeline the first episode ended with, Subaru doesn’t fare too well; calling Satella ‘Satella’ has the same effect as calling someone ‘Voldemort’ in the Harry Potter world. When Felt snatches her insignia, she assumes Subaru was only meant to distract her and runs off, and when he’s short with the three thugs in the alley, he gets stabbed to death and returns right back to the fruit stand.

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That quick sequence of events is enough to convince Subie of what we already know to be the case: he’s caught in a time loop, returning to that fruit stand every time he dies. He even gives it a name: “Return by Death” (which is a little plain but accurate).

(I’ll mention, I thought it was weird how the fruit vendor knew about Subie finding his lost daughter in this timeline. Did he find her again off camera, or is the vendor simply mixing up his memories from a previous go?)

Now that he knows the score, Subie initially considers simply selling his cell phone for some fat stacks and simply enjoying life, but he can’t ignore the fact he knows what happened (or will happen) to the old man, Felt, and Satella. So he decides he’ll maintain course: trade his phone for the insignia and give the insignia back to Satella.

The next time he meets the 3 Stooges, he tries something different: calling emphatically for guards. A distinguished swordsman named Reinhard answers the call, and rather than being a hardass, his “nice guy index” goes off the charts. I imagine we haven’t seen the last of him.

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In committing to this plan, Subie is naturally hoping to bypass the whole everyone-gets-killed-by-Elsa scenario by making the required transaction as efficient as possible, but it doesn’t help matters when he bumps into Elsa in the street and she can smell his fear and anger…and even compliments him by using humor to conceal his aggression (taking note of her dark beauty)

It also doesn’t help that he starts snooping around Felt’s hut, provoking her into attacking him before he can explain himself. I will say he hangs in there pretty well in the fight with the nimble thief—right up until her hut collapses on him.

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He does eventually sort out his intentions with Felt, who can’t be too careful, as she doesn’t intend to spend her whole life in the slums, and means it when she says “Live Strong.” She admits were she not a successful thief she’d probably have to sell her body.

It’s a small detail, but Subie does seem to know how to talk to women after a fashion, first by appealing to Elsa’s beauty, then mentioning offhand that Felt does pretty well for herself in the looks department despite not wearing makeup.

That being said, he pushes his luck a bit by being empathetic to Felt’s situation and petting her head, which she does not like and responds by biting him…after giving fair warning, of course!

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Subaru is intent on getting the phone appraised by Rom and making the exchange before Elsa shows up, but Felt is suspicious of the hurry he’s in, and doesn’t want to close a deal without letting her other client make an offer. Subie thought he could sway Felt by getting Rom on his side, but Felt won’t budge, and when a knock comes at the door, she opens it without reservation, even though Subie warns her they’ll all be killed.

But something very different happens than happened before. It isn’t Elsa at the door; it’s Satella (or whatever her real name is), having apparently asked around and tracked the thief who stole her insignia to the loot house.

That doesn’t mean Elsa isn’t far behind her, ready to kill them all…nor does it mean Subie will be able to form the same easy rapport with this Satella as the first one, but the important thing is, everyone is still breathing, and the episode ends without Subie back at the fruit vendor. …Progress!

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P.S. I liked the OP, which features some backwards percussion and a beginning that’s the reverse of the end. Vocals aren’t bad either. Likely a future Monday OP.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enjoyed the simplicity of Natsuki Subaru’s transition from one world to the next: after buying some food at the Mini Stop, he rubs his eyes, and when they open, he’s simply there, in a medieval-style fantasy world filled with humans and demi-humans. Being a shut-in NEET, Subaru rolls with it, confident he’s seen this kind of world in games he’s played and can thrive if he plays his cards right.

And it’s a lush, detailed world. Like Grimgar, Re:Zero takes its time building out the world and its rules, but in a different way. Instead of providing long pauses in dialogue or action for us to admire the world and become attuned to its slower rhythms, Subaru is in the middle of a bustling city and bounces from one strong personality to the next.

Subaru also makes no bones about the fact he’s dead broke and lacking in magic or other skills. All he has is the physical training he put himself through to guard his home back in his own world, and that only takes him so far. He expects a cute girl to save him, but it’s not the first one (a tiny, fleet thief in a hurry), but the second (an silver-haired ethereal maiden with a spirit cat).

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The girl—a half-elf who calls herself Satella (and voiced by Takahashi Rie, a favorite here at RABUJOI)—and her spirit-cat Puck are looking for the person who stole her jeweled insignia (probably the tiny thief), and Subaru decides to help her on this mission after she stayed by his side until he woke up from his injuries.

The insignia hunt gives Subie and us the chance to explore the world further, and as the sun goes down it only seems to get more and more beautiful, especially when Satella entreats with a mass of lesser spirits on a bridge. We’re in firm Final Fantasy territory here, stylistically speaking.

But as the sky gets dark, so does the show, as Subaru enters an apparent loot house and finds a bloody corpse, then he and Satella get run through by a killer in the shadows.

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Then…things reset. Subaru is back where he started when he first arrived in the fantasy world. Instead of trying to locate Satella again, he continues his search for her insignia without her, ending up at the tavern where he was killed and meeting Rom, the man he found dead there before.

It isn’t long before the thief, Felt, shows up with the insignia, and Subaru offers to trade his cell phone for it, demonstrating with its camera that he can “freeze moments of time with it, to their amazement.

Then the planned buyer of the insignia, Elsa, arrives, and it’s clear from her voice and face that she’s the one who killed Subaru and Satella. Subaru manages to win the insignia in negotiations with Felt and Rom, but when he says he’ll be giving it back to its owner, Elsa turns deadly once more.

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She dispatches Rom, Felt, and Subaru without much difficulty—she’s just too quick and stealthy for a novice like Subie—and he returns to the street vendor once more, as if a reset button had been pushed. That being said, he has the memories of the last two times he was there, but not knowing what the heck is going on, he passes out from exasperation.

Shortly after awakening, he spots Satella passing by, and calls her out by name, apologizing for getting himself and her killed before. Satella, to his surprise, reacts with hostility to Subaru calling her by the name of an infamous “witch.”

A lush alternate fantasy world, a fish out of water and a clash of cultures, a pleasant friendship seemingly domed by murder most foul, and mysterious time looping—Re:Zero serves up quite a bit in its ambitious double-length debut, and even though it wasn’t even on my list initially, now it’s at the top of it.

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