Re:Zero Review — Sympathy For Mister Bullshit

If you don’t get that subtitle reference, you obviously live in a cave with no electricity.

You know, for all the shit I give visual novels, I’ll say this about them: at least they have the decency to fucking end when it comes time for them to expire. Light novels, on the other hand, never seem to be written with an end goal in mind. Every single one I’ve seen tries to be the otaku pandering version of a Shonen Jump manga (well, more otaku pandering than Shonen Jump already is) and as I’ve made it very clear before, I’m not into on-going stories, especially when they’re as straightforward as learning how to use tissue paper to wipe your butt. I grew up on movies and novels my school made me read, so I’m used to things having a beginning, middle, and end, especially when said end give birth to a bunch of shitty sequels that make you want to castrate the entirety of Hollywood’s population. And it’d be one thing if they had the substance of a (really good) live-action drama, but I’ve yet to see Hannibal: The Light Novel version come from Japan, let alone be as successful as that show.

Sitting through Holo and Lawrence flirting with each other whilst mostly ignoring the reason why they started traveling together to begin with might be your idea of a good time, but there’s only so long a bunch of Tales skits are going to entertain me when you rely on them for substance. Oh, but these interactions are what allows us to care about the characters so that when the drama hits…in which case I stop you right there and tell you that philosophy can fuck right off. Yes you need to develop the characters, but you’re not supposed to put the story on halt in order to do that. If you can’t meld the character interactions with the plot, then you might as well have not had them at all. But then again, I didn’t grow up on superhero comics or anything otaku-related like a lot of anime fans (especially these days), so maybe it’s just a style of storytelling that’s not meant for me. Just like idol shows. Or anime about bread.

…I allowed shows like Re:Zero to become the new fad.

The thing is though, even by those incredibly bizarre Marvel-esque standards, Re:Zero still isn’t very good. And it’s not just because I hate meta-humor, although that’s certainly a big part of it. Despite what Digibro might tell you, anime has always been lazy in regards to being meta, but it’s definitely gotten a lot worse in the last few years, and I’m getting really annoyed by how inward anime is starting to become as a medium in general with popular light novel shows like Saekano and even anime video games like Danganronpa. The main character is an otaku – which in theory is supposed to make him relatable to everyone but in practice would only make him relatable to anime nerds (which I am not) – and every time he brings up how something is just like one of those anime he watches, I wanted to reach into the screen and beat him to death with his own face for not realizing that for comedy relief to work, you need to have comedy and something to relieve.

And he keeps quoting anime tropes even when he’s in danger. Hell, even the other characters occasionally join him on his nerdy rants despite video games and harpoon guns not existing in the world. It’d be one thing if Re:Zero was a comedy anime, but nothing about the premise is inherently comedic. No one wants to be the Pirate King in a world where pirates have superpowers. Nothing about the fantasy setting screams Tex Avery and none of the characters make Hanna Barbara sound-effects whenever they breathe. Very few of the jokes are even fantasy-related, so why the hell do I have to sit through a speech regarding the glory of the maid? I don’t give a shit about maids. Especially not when characters are in the midst of getting burnt alive by a raging inferno.

Well excuse me, princess!

But even if you did become infected with the same sort of fatal disease that all Romeo Tanaka fans have, the story is like every other light novel story ever in that it’s “light” (which in my mind translates to “incredibly boring”), and has all the storytelling quality of Dragon Age II – another shitty fantasy product. It’s about this otaku dude with no past and no reason to be the lead that’s not circumstantial named Subaru, as he one days get transported to a strange fantasy world for some witch-related reason that’s never really elaborated on and falls in love with a half-elf princess named Emilia because the plot says so. However, the two of them end up as bloody corpses thanks to a mysterious female assassin, only for Subaru to discover that he has the ability to go back in time, Majora’s Mask-style every time he dies. But this is just the setup. Where did this power come from? What overarching plot comes from it? Who’s the main villain? Where’s the grand adventure that usually accompanies these fantasy worlds? What exactly is Re:Zero about?

Well unfortunately, there isn’t a single thing Re:Zero is “about” that appeals to anyone who’s not an anime nerd or a Fire Emblem fan that disagrees with me that the franchise has turned bloody awful since the console releases. Every single character seems to be written with the mindset of “ship first, characterize second”, and they all seem to change personality depending on what the plot wants to do with Subaru. Want to torture the dude? Let’s have everyone hate him. Done with the torture? Okay, let’s have everyone be nice to him now for no good reason. The only meaningful interactions Subaru has in the show are with the two love-interests: Emilia and a blue-haired maid named Rem, who people seemed to like an awful lot once she lost all her personality after becoming attracted to our rough otaku lead. Apparently, this is because the less your know about a person, the easier it is to ship them. A rule that I seem to recall being completely untrue during my brief shipping phase, but what do I know about what’s cool these days?

And the plot and dialogue have about as much momentum as a Pro Stock car super-glued to a garbage crusher. It starts with Subaru getting introduced to his time travel powers, the characters, and an evil female villain we never see again in a plotline that screams “obvious setup” in capital lines and enough exclamation marks to fill the Atlantic Ocean. Three, technically four, episodes later and I still don’t understand where the show is going with all this. So Subaru is going to move in with Emilia? Why should I care? Where’s the story going to go from there? Well the next arc answers this question through a plot line of a mysterious killer in Emilia’s mansion that might have acted as a tense mystery if the slice-of-life scenes weren’t so utterly canned and the acting wasn’t so hammy. But even if they weren’t, the end boss turns out to be nothing more than a pack of dogs you could have defeated by chucking a fucking bone at them, and all it amounts to at the end is Subaru getting closer to Rem while having some lap pillow time with Emilia when he can be assed. We’re halfway through the series and it’s been nothing but prologue material that’d make the seventh Harry Potter movie blush.

No, that subtitle in the image is not incorrect.

But eventually, after sitting through twelve episodes of boring character interactions that were only that long because of the show’s utterly stupid usage of its time travel gimmicks, the anime pulls a Shyamalan and gets into what it’s really about. A self-loathing prideful dude whose shittiness destroys everything and everyone around him as a sort of deconstruction of the traditional shonen protagonist/trapped in a foreign world/anime in general storytelling. Basically Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc, except said plot is pushed way more to the forefront whereas Despair had it as just one of the main plots. Oh, and it has a strange obsession for physically torturing Subaru repeatedly in order to fulfill the two-cour order to the point that it gets ridiculous, whereas Danganronpa 3: Despair generally made the brutal killings of its anime tropes nice and quick bar the most important death scene, which stood out because it happened to that character and said character stayed dead. Listen show, I’m pretty sure I got that Subaru’s prideful nature is toxic to humanity after you killed his ass to the point that his body literally broke apart. You didn’t need to repeat it five fucking times with the only difference between each time being the method you used to do so and dedicating one episode to each time. Twice would have been sufficient, because the first time might have just demotivated him a bit, but other than that, this is is an anime. Not the Japanese version of American politics.

What really annoyed me with this “true plot” though is that all the torture amounts to at the end of the day is just to give our male lead an incentive to be a better person, which is the fucking white noise of how to do character development, whereas any good writer would have made the general direction from there a lot more bittersweet, or if you’re Hideaki Anno, fucking brutal. But because Re:Zero’s usage of time travel can conveniently erase a character’s death whenever it wants to and make people forget how much of an asshole our lead is (and when they don’t, they really easily forgive him), it makes all the effort put into depicting a twisted arm pretty pointless unless you really enjoy seeing torture porn animated. Not helping at all is that the actual torture is kind of lame and unimaginative. Nothing but bone-crunching and bleeding eyeballs, which – compared to Danganronpa’s ridiculously creative death traps – just looks like the majority of the show’s action scenes aka really bad. There’s some decent animation in the fights sometimes, but they’re either one-sided, badly choreographed, or shot to the point that you don’t actually see the blows land. I know a lot of people talk up the white whale stuff, but I don’t think the whales actually attacked anyone short of breathing on them, and I’m pretty sure Wilhelm’s moves were the only ones that actually made contact.

Re:Zero wishes it had that sort of development

So the show really never amounts to anything more than making the viewer feel “emotions”, which is something the creative team seems to be very much aware of because all the budget seems to go into the “hard-hitting stuff”, causing the animation during the clean-up phase of Re:Zero’s tale with the actual fighting and resolutions to look like absolute ass. The final scene is nothing more than a cheesy love confession with the screen brightness turned up and looks nowhere near as good as any of the climaxes in Episodes 13-18. And it didn’t help that when all is said and done, all that happened was that Subaru went through “character development” to become a better man. But why? What was the point in watching that? Character development for the sake of character development can’t function on its own as substance, and certainly not when the end goal of it is to be a better man for a girl who didn’t even have that much screen time and whose half-elf heritage doesn’t even factor all that much into the plot other than to be a convenient conflict. You do realize that I could just buy Tales of Symphonia at my local retail store, right?

I liked Danganronpa 3 because it used being “anime” ironically as well as a weapon to corrupt its well-meaning protagonists and their individual philosophies into a bunch of murderers where the only way to cheat death was if the writer was in a trolling mood, and Re:Zero’s “anime” nature just feels incredibly lackluster by comparison. Literally no one besides the main character has anything interesting to say or stand for. The only reason Subaru goes through any sort of shit is so that he can overcome the whiny drama and be rewarded with a personality-less girl who has no chemistry with him ala a shitty JRPG. And the only way he overcomes something is due to someone saving him at the last minute or becoming a little braver after suffering a traumatic event, which is also the kind of thing that characterizes most shitty JRPGs. When characters got corrupted in Danganronpa 3, they had to deal with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their life, generally by staying corrupted or put into a computer simulation for the rest of their days. And most of all, love interests died as a result of their actions and stayed dead! Things stuck in those shows. And whatever interesting point Re:Zero brings up is always invalidated before too long, like a happy marriage after the honeymoon is over.

Basically what most Re:Zero fans who read this review are feeling right now.

As a final point though, I don’t know who voiced Subaru, but his voice is annoying as fuck. There were several episodes where it became too much for me to the point that I had to mute the video just to get through it, and this includes Episode 18 where I only got through the first two minutes with sound and had to watch the rest of that pathetic breakdown in complete silence. Just because you’re supposed to be a deconstruction of the alpha male doesn’t mean you have to sound like a whiny bitch. And don’t even get me started on the final villain. I’m pretty sure you could make a funky remix out of every annoying Kugimiya Rie character verbal tic she’s ever done and it’d still be more listenable than watching Kirito orgasm at the sound of his voice.

Minor Quips

  • Maybe I’d use images from the actual show in my review if every single frame hadn’t been milked by every person and medium in the world. And I didn’t delete all my files as soon as I finished the series.
  • I’d go on my usual spiel regarding how much White Fox sucks, but they’d never be able to hear me over all the money they just made with this show tears they’re dishing out in regards to all the money from this show’s popularity that they can’t have.
  • Whatever happened to the thief girl anyways?

7 responses to “Re:Zero Review — Sympathy For Mister Bullshit

  1. White Fox didn’t make much money out of this show. They’re not on the production committee, so the role they played was just that of contractors. In other words, any extra profit would not have gone to them.

    • Yeah I remember reading something about that on the MAL forums (by the way, don’t read Halmoni’s review. I may not like the show, but that review is just shit) when it came to discussions regarding whether there’d be a sequel or not, but I thought they’d make at least a decent profit. Not that I expected the animators to get paid all that well because they never are.

  2. Apparently the LN selling well is a proper sign for whether or not the show will get a sequel. Now I come here and find out the studio itself hasn’t even made much of a profit, I wonder what justification everyone who defends this show up and down will use for the next two years. Which, according to them is the minimal amount of time to wait because the animation has caught up to the LN.

    Throughout the last 6 months I’ve heard of how dark this series was supposed to get, how realistic the main character was and how it’s a “subversion” because things don’t just fall into the lap of the main character. Well, From my own perspective it didn’t fall into his lap, kinda knock him upside the head on the way to his lap but if that’s enough to call something a subversion, sure. I’ve seen pretty much all of the archetypes of the LN fantasy settings in this show, he is still made to be the center piece, and that’s not simply the narrative talking, things just don’t seem to move (or even exist) without him directly observing it. The genre savvy ego that compels him to believe he is the only person who can save the day is him seem to be force-fed to him as the story goes on. Something I was told was one of the pluses of the story since it claimed to do the opposite and does its dam-nest to justify there being any other way. Even when he admits his fault it’s just a formality, there isn’t any heartfelt guilt or shame it’s just “oh, by the way, I’m an asshole.”

    Re:Zero’s recommendations feel more like a string of broken promise than a subversion or even, a “good” story. They lazily laid out all the pieces for a sequel should it be convenient for those involved while tidying it up to earn it a passing grade within the realm of light novels.

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