Where I left last time, I was coming fresh off of watching the second episode of season two part two. It’s only fair that I write this second installment coming from the third episode, which somehow managed to be just as good as it’s nigh perfect predecessor. I’m irritating with the way I fawn over this show, but I swear that there has not been a single stumble in this second season, and it is glorious.
The entire first essay, which you can read [here], addressed Re:Zero as a whole series, a lot of my personal feelings when I have to talk about it, but especially Subaru’s character arc in the first season. It’s the crux of the show, and it’s been one of its most satisfying features, to watch this selfish manchild grow into a significantly more competent and well-adjusted manchild. Worry not, he has done a lot of growing even since the end of season one, an believe it or not, Subaru is now a full-fledged adult. This sensation of having watched someone grow up right in front of you seems like it shouldn’t be possible for an anime, but it’s not an exaggeration.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, because while Subaru has come a long way in a measly 41 episode, I barely managed to address the first 25 in the previous essay. There’s a slight sense of dread as I set finger to keyboard, as despite not being a full season, the next step in Subaru’s journey is even more dramatic. Pretty sure my computer was smoking after I finished the last piece, and it’s not ready for a second thrashing so soon. So if Subaru is this absolute Chad that I make him out to be, then how did he get there?
He’s been put in a tough spot, even considering where he’s been before. While Subaru had Rem in his corner through the worst of his trials, he has to learn how to push forward without her. The second season opens with Rem and some of Subaru’s closest allies being attacked by the Sin Archbishops of Greed and Gluttony. The Archbishop of Sloth, Petelgeuse, was a dangerous monster, but he was ultimately easy to manipulate and his power laid more in Subaru’s lack of power and the deceptive nature of his magical Witch Authority.
These two new Archbishops, Regulus and Lye, outstrip their fallen comrade by a league or five, and easily defeat the hardened army that defeated the White Whale. Subaru soon discovers that his Return by Death checkpoint comes too late to save Rem, and he has to face his greatest challenge yet without his most reliable ally.
The stage for this arc is wide and populated, as it contains half a dozen antagonistic forces, most of them from previous arcs, but now Subaru has to defeat them all at the same time. Elsa the Bowel Hunter has returned to attack the manor, assisted by demon beasts, while Emilia and the villagers are trapped in the magical prison, the Sanctuary, until she can complete the trial of the Witch of Greed, Echidna. It’s a tall order with a strict time limit, as the manor attack begins in five days, and the Great Rabbit attacks in a week. Oh, you didn’t know that the White Whale had a harder to kill sibling that also happens to be the evil rabbit from Monty Python? Well, neither did Subaru.
Subaru is quickly pushed to his limits, realizing he can no longer trust Roswaal, while Garfiel, the demihuman guardian of the Sanctuary, does his best to make sure that no one leaves it alive. Subaru confronts his past in Echidna’s trial, including a touching reunion with his parents where he gets to show off some of that nice character development he’s gotten, but the peace doesn’t last. He hurls himself into death after death, setting aside any regard for his wellbeing in the hope that he can reach the top on a mountain of his own bodies. I referenced it in the last essay, but the opening directly references this mentality as Subaru declares that he doesn’t care how many times he dies if it’s to save his friends.
Subaru finds an unlikely ally in Echidna, whose witch nature allows her to listen to him talk about and strategize around Return by Death. Echidna’s sliminess as a person aside, her ability to be confided in is one of the biggest emotional hits we’ve seen in the series so far. Subaru has received the love and support of his friends and family at this point, but he’s never been able to completely trust someone if he couldn’t share his secret. In hindsight, his willingness to trust Echidna is completely understandable.
Now, through Subaru’s first character arc, he’s constantly dragged down by his rampaging narcissism and inflated ego. Return by Death means he has access to a lot of information other people do not have, but he needed to be stripped of the notion that being in a position to enact change does not make you actually smarter or more able than anyone else. Subaru, as the only person who can experience and consciously change the future, can only get as far as he does if he knows when to lean on Rem, Emilia, or one of the countless other women in this series who prop this idiot up.
Now, he manages to drop that minor god complex after going through hell in Arc Three, but he trades it in for something nearly as bad; a complete disregard for his own wellbeing. Like I said, Subaru plunges into harm’s way repeatedly. He commits suicide in an attempt to save Rem from her coma, and this abandonment of self-preservation continues as he slams into danger at every opportunity. He thinks that with Rem gone, Emilia preoccupied, and Roswaal’s loyalties in doubt, that bullheadedness is his only solution.
The Subaru of season one fought kicking and screaming against nearly every death, except for his one suicide attempt where the lesson was that you sometimes have to make sacrifices to help others. He didn’t give up, until the repeated trauma robbed him of his will to fight. This Subaru has traded that willingness to persist in a doomed world for his newfound maturity and empathy, but being a martyr and being a friend are not the same thing.
So when Subaru finally meets Satella, the Witch of Envy, who gave him his ability to redo and rewind, her first and only message is to love himself. I wish the light novels (especially their translations) were further along so I could include that in my analysis, but at this point, her reasoning is up to pure speculation. The only concrete things we’re given in the anime are that Return by Death is a means for Subaru to survive this cruel world, and that he needs to treasure himself.
Subaru has been descending into the same trap that he fell for in the mansion arc; going at it alone, taking the brunt of the punishment so no one else has to. That’s not a relationship, unless you consider parasitism to be goals. Subaru can and should give his all to the challenges he faces and his friends, but he has to lean on them. I was initially confused why season two part one ended on Subaru’s friend Otto punching him and calling him an idiot for not relying on his friends. It’s not a dramatic moment, especially since he just got done with the climactic meeting with Satella, but it perfectly sets up the rest of the season.
Subaru has learned how to love and communicate with people healthily, but that’s just half of an actual fully-formed adult. He has to treat himself as he would like others to be treated, if that makes any sense. He’s come full circle from where he began, but he has erroneously over-corrected for the mistakes he made. Even though Subaru’s mistakes usually come from a good place, and never from outright maliciousness, mistakes in this world are met with swift and harsh punishment.
Now, these essays began life after the airing of episode 40, but I wouldn’t be able to address how Subaru has come into his own without addressing episode 41. With the way this story has been progressing, it feels as though every essay I write will be outdated by the next Wednesday. I know none of this is spoiler safe and can only be enjoyed if you’re up to date on the series, but when a measly half-hour of television aids in the thematic resonance of a story so unbelievably well, I kind of have to.
I would really love an entire essay series on the characters in Re:Zero, because Subaru might be the main character, but he lives in such a vast and realized world. Truthfully, Subaru often walks into a room and becomes the least interesting person in there, once everyone’s backstories come to light. Episode 40 managed to make me care about Otto, who I would have pegged as one of the weakest characters still clinging to the cast before learning about him. His backstory is so compelling and manages to completely contextualize him until now, and perfectly justify his inclusion in the story.
Now, the practical application of learning Otto’s history is that he can speak to animals, and uses that power to its fullest to give Garfiel the runaround while Subaru can talk to Emilia. He has to rally her to take on the trial where she’s failed a dozen times across multiple timelines, but he won’t be able to do it if he doesn’t rely on Otto and Ram to keep Garfiel away long enough to cut to the heart of Emilia’s insecurities. The trials center on confronting your past, and while Subaru scraped by, Emilia is an amnesiac who has only just begun regaining her memories. Even if this world didn’t consider her the second coming of Magic Hitler, that’d be a lot to contend with.
The conversation they have is one of those big emotional moments that made me love this show in the first place. It’s raw and Subaru manages to dismantle every one of her defenses through persistence and love, just as Rem did for him in the episode 18 that I hyped up so much in the last essay. This is the first time Subaru has managed to save someone, to help another person by using everything he’s learned up until now. These deep scenes were moments of confession and baring his soul to another person, but Subaru was ultimately the beneficiary of these chats. He could sob in Emilia’s lap, in Rem’s arms, or in front of Echidna, but he has never been in a position to do this for somebody else.
And that makes sense, as the audience has gotten pretty used to seeing Subaru’s ugly side. We’ve seen him at his worst moments, both in confronting the challenges he faces, and in his most despicable behaviors. Emilia, as an extremely marketable waifu, would have to preserve that image of perfection if this were a series less dedicated to its character writing. The reason waifu culture exists is that it revolves around putting up these pieces of lines and colors on paper up on pedestals, so while it might just be a writer’s due diligence to give Emilia’s believable flaws and shortcomings, it’s rare enough to commend.
But this scene would not work if these two characters did not have well-rounded personas we were intimately familiar with. We have only just begun digging into Emilia’s past, and much more will come to light before this essay is even published, but if you’ve seen her OVA, you know how much she has been through. And while I could spend days dissecting their conversation beat by beat, I’m as impatient as everyone else is to talk about the climax of the scene, their kiss.
If this whole story was about Subaru growing up, this is one of the most clearly monumental steps he has taken. Subaru has lived his life through making a mockery of himself, through a shell of bravado and self-deprecating humor. He’s only survived this long powerless in a world dominated by power through the charity of others and the benefit of being given unlimited attempts. Subaru not only manages to reach out and lift someone from the depths that he too has sunk to, but he does so while being open and honest about his feelings. Whereas his confession at the end of season one was about being upfront and expecting nothing in return for it, this was where he legitimately puts himself out there, even explicitly offering her a chance to reject him. Listen closely, dear reader, there’s nothing sexier than clearly worded consent.
Subaru has, in these two seasons, made radical changes to himself and Lugunica at large, with some of the cleverest and most tactful character writing I’ve ever seen. I don’t consider myself a jealous person, but as a writer, it’s hard to look at the world Tappei Nagatsuki has intricately crafted and not feel a bit like the Witch of Envy. He has populated this world with some of most fully realized characters in literature, period. Most anime and light novels can’t manage that level of depth for their leads, let alone that amount of detail for the entire cast.
I’d like to apologize for the length of these essays, as they’re the longest I have written on the Otaku Exhibition, and that’s not even counting them as halves of a whole. It was a journey writing this much for one show I love a stupid amount, and I believe it was an epic trek just to read this far. I congratulate anyone who has read these 5600 words just for me to come to the conclusion that I think Re:Zero is pretty good.
It’s actually a series I find hard to recommend (hard to believe, as I’ve recommended it a dozen times on this website). The first season is led with a cringe-inducing and often unlikable protagonist, as well as being a deconstruction of the isekai genre as a whole, so it’s a slog if you’re not invested in the premise or the impeccable waifus. Forget what I said about characters and worldbuilding, Tappei Nagatsuki and illustrator Otsuka Shinichiro deserve more credit for their work in the field of waifus. You like ethereally beautiful elf girls? We got that. You like deadpan insult humor from color complementary maids? We got that. You like lolis? I’m calling the police.
Re:Zero is at its core an amazingly written story. I don’t even want to give all the credit to the author, because the entirety of the anime production is fantastic. The animation from White Fox studio routinely stuns, every character design pops, the Call of the Witch from the soundtrack haunts me to this day, and the CGI background characters are…well, they’re there. The voice acting is phenomenal across language barriers, it’s one of those shows I watch both subbed and dubbed without fail because they’re both that good. I’d watch in Portuguese if that wasn’t technically also watching it subbed. Without a hint of hyperbole, I can say that Re:Zero is a modern classic, and after all of this, I hope you understand where I’m coming from.
So, for the 0 people who have managed to come this far, let me know your own thoughts on Re:Zero in the comments, or which of those scenes I mentioned totally didn’t make you cry because I’m a big strong man who doesn’t do that. Yeah, let’s go with that.