There are many promotional aspects that work against this season’s Re:Zero: it’s got a pretty generic fantasy synopsis, its key visuals look like the ultimate harem series and it has various long and confusing titles (-Starting Life in Another World-? Life In Another World From Zero?… I’ll just call it Re:Zero). The 2016 spring season was supposed to be dominated by My Hero Academia and, while that is still the most talked about series, the truth is that there have been other surprises that are taking the spotlight, like the Attack on Titan-inspired Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, the funky Kiznaiver and, especially, the way-darker-than-what-you’d-expectRe:Zero.
Based on a series of light novels by Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka and produced by White Fox (the same studio that brought you Steins;Gate and Akame ga Kill),Re:Zero already looks like it will be the dark horse of this spring anime season. I know it’s still quite early to talk about AOT only five episodes in (especially since Re:Zero will be 25 episodes), but, without spoiling anything, I actually went ahead and read some of what’s to come and… boy, we’re in for a (difficult) ride.
Re:ZERO follows highschool otaku Subaru Natsuki, who gets mysteriously summoned into a fantasy world that seems to come out of a videogame: there’s the medieval setting, strange animal-like creatures, different currency, kingdoms, knights and, of course, magic. In fact, Subaru makes constant gaming references and even pokes fun at common anime tropes in regards to everything that happens around him (“If you’ve got some hidden true power, now would be the time to use it!”). However, the execution of the premise and everything the show does feels different, new and refreshing. Subaru’s personality feels genuine and he will make you laugh without recurring to over the top slapstick comedy (I’m looking at you, Bungou Stray Dogs). While part of Subaru’s charm is due to the amazing cast of voice actors, he just feels like one of those MCs that everyone instantly likes (I mean, the fact that he wears a tracksuit is enough to create an awesome MC). The rest of the cast is also easily appealing, from the original character designs to their different personalities.
There are series that don’t really do anything new, but still manage to do everything right and offer a lot of enjoyment (My Hero Academia from this season, for example). This is also the case with the ‘Fantasy’ tag on Re:Zero, but the series does not stop there. There’s another element that made the anime stand out from its first 50-minute long episode: time travelling. Or something like that. The similarities with Steins;Gate are uncanny here. Aside from being made by the same studio, Re:Zero doesn’t only resemble Steins;Gate because of the MC’s ability to time travel (it’s also been compared to ERASEDfor that same reason), but the main characters are very similar in personality as well. Just like Okabe, Subaru is a dork an otaku that likes to make meta remarks and prefers to look at his difficult situation with a positive, comedic attitude.
Actually, the few complaints I have read about the series are actually the same I had until I read ahead in the manga: Subaru seems too calm and passive about his mysterious situation. He just brushes it off, accepts it rather quickly and proceeds to make light of the fact that he keeps “returning by death”, as he calls it. However, when you think about it, the reason behind choosing a care-free character like Subaru for this type of series actually makes sense in the long run. Some might say that Subaru’s power is great, but the truth is remembering the pain of dying (he’s often killed violently), having to re-do many events many times and having everyone you care about forgetting about the moments you shared together will take a toll on you and mentally break you overtime. And the fact that it’s someone like Subaru who has to go through this makes it even more heartbreaking
The author clearly knew what he was doing when he created this character. You have probably heard by now that Re:Zero will get pretty dark. Yes, “dark” is an adjective that is actually thrown around quite often, since there’s a tendency of shows wanting to come off as edgy as possible to attract older audiences. But let me tell you that the hype is justified with Re:Zero. It gets so bad(good?) that many readers dropped the novels because they couldn’t endure Subaru’s disgrace anymore. Manga/anime main characters are often made so that the audience will relate to them, which is why it’s so risky to have your main character suffer a lot (“a lot” meaning mental breakdowns and/or changing forever (eg: One Piece‘s Luffy’s grief didn’t last much)) or having them have a twisted morality (eg: Death Note had to introduce a secondary MC in L to contrast Light Yagami). Poor Subaru has had the bad luck of falling into one of the most brutal, sadistic Japanese authors. Mental torture aside, I’m not sure how far the anime will go with showing gore (probably not as much as the source material), but I have to warn you in case you’re sensitive: while there’s no romanticizing torture, nor sensitive stuff like rape, there is A LOT of torture, death and suffering. You have been warned.
I can’t really finish this recommendation without talking about the production. While studio White Fox is not as productive and well-known as others, everything they pick, they turn into an amazing production. The scenery in Re:ZERO is incredibly well-done, from the beautiful scenarios to choosing CGI to animate citizens from the city. I might not be the biggest CGI fan, but I don’t mind it as long as they only use to create “background movement”. One of my pet peeves in anime (and it’s actually one that happens 99% of the time) is the fact that background characters don’t move, which makes everything feel more static, so I was pleasantly surprised with how the series chose to use CGI for that.