A Good Story Or Just Another Cliché? – Re: Zero Review

What is deconstruction. What is subversion. What is the reason these terms exist within the realm of entertainment media? Why do they matter?

  • Episodes: 25
  • Aired: APR 2016 – SEP 2016
  • Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Psychological, Thriller
  • Studio: White Fox

Our need to attach holistically positive or negative terms to reinforce our own positive or negative ideas is a staple of criticism. It’s a staple of judging media, period. These buzzwords have filled everyone’s vocabularies over the course of the last few years. Whether it’s due to online critics or simply the consumption of analysis-based content without the interest and engagement necessary to understand these more nuanced topics. It’s unfortunate that I even must call something like subversion or deconstruction a “nuance” at this point, since it most definitely isn’t. However, with its use being flanderized beyond belief, I find it hard to call it anything but a nuanced definition filled with separate sub-contexts and colloquialisms. Which is disappointing because all these new meanings pull away from what these words were meant to describe within the realm of entertainment. 
Re:Zero isn’t what you may think it to be. I say this because after over a week of watching this show, I gaze over my ten pages of notes and I see things that I feel I wouldn’t care about if these newly defined adjectives weren’t tacked onto this show. Re: Zero feels like a victim of its expectations and what people drew it as, which is why I feel the need to describe exactly what I view is wrong with this series in excruciating detail. Detail that I feel will need to cut because I want this review to be at least somewhat palatable to the daily reader and not some thirty-five-thousand-word analysis that it may come out to be.

CLICK HERE FOR ARTRILL’S FULL REVIEW ON RE: ZERO

THE STORY

The opening is boring enough. Our tracksuit wearing protagonist, Subaru, walks out of a convenience store, closes his eyes, and opens them in another world. The context of these events can be read into as the entire story of the show begins to slowly become clear, however, the “journey into the new world” aspect of this show didn’t have an inspired start. Regardless, it’s about what you’d expect from a “trapped in another world that just so happens to be the most generic possible fantasy setting that we’ve seen in hundreds of shitty Asian MMORPG’s”, especially since our protagonist is self-aware. Which doesn’t amount to anything, he points out things he recognizes from games and moves on. “This is like a video game”, isn’t really substantial or investing commentary in the situation. I get it’s supposed to be comedy, but it doesn’t sell the scene with these comparisons especially since he just got transported to an alien world. You have no idea what will happen with your what just happened, yet; hey, at least it looks like a video game, right? 

He eventually encounters some thugs and meets his love interest. The wonderfully designed Emilia, who serves as the crux of this shows narrative in an expected way. From her very introduction, and my awareness that there most definitely won’t just be one girl in a show like this, I foresaw the obvious truth that she will be what drives the protagonist. Now it’s up to the show to “subvert” those expectations, which is a buzzword you better get ready to start hearing. Throughout the initial two-episode pilot, we encounter exactly what this show will revolve around. Subaru’s “Return by Death” ability, which was named after him because “hey, it’s like a video game anime thing!” This ability allows him to return to a previously visited situation and, for all intents and purposes, reset time. Okay, so it’s a Groundhog Day stuck-in-a-fantasy-world series with video game roots. You can see why I harbored doubted after the first two episodes, right? Unless it works hard to craft a separate identity that’s able to sustain a strong narrative then it’s bound to fail as a combination of two genres that are both really popular in the industry right now.

I’d go so far as to say that the entire idea is a perfect marketing strategy. If two generic archetypes for light novel shows are popular, why not mesh them? It’d be even better if the mesh comes from yet another light novel so you have previously established fans to add to the stock number you’ll get by just having appealing character designs and a quasi-harem. While the biggest surprise is its R-rated violence, which is still held back by the entire Japanese industry, unfortunately. On a slightly off-topic note, it’s so strange to see an industry that revels in the sexualization, even of incredibly young characters, yet recoils at the idea of having blood that doesn’t have a fake sheen and hilariously sloppy sound-effects. You may say these kinds of unbelievable sounds are a remnant of the past, however, I’ll offer my rebuttal in the words; “Evolve or go extinct.” 

The first few episodes may be generic; they aren’t overly bad. I remember first checking out the pilot with a few friends many months ago when it first aired. While I had no interest in picking it back up, I will say that they weren’t nearly as awful as any of us were expecting. This world, or its characters, aren’t interesting, but the premise and nature of the show aren’t an inherent turn off either. 

We begin meeting a plethora of characters in the first mini-arc of the show that really goes nowhere within the first season. Felt, a bandit-loli that is pretty much the shows tomboy. Reinhard which isn’t a heavy armor-clad German knight from the future, but instead is a generic spiky-haired knight wearing cool futuristic-yet-medieval robes that exposits some dialogue about magic or something. They play virtually no role in the show’s first season apart from being reintroduced later, so ignoring them we proceed with the protagonist, Subaru, dying multiple times to what feels like poorly thought out situations. 

The first villain, which doesn’t get killed, also doesn’t return. I feel like this show is working extra hard to try and get as many elements moving without being sure of a second season. No hate against that, though. We proceed to the moment this show truly beings to show its colors. The introduction to the MC’s home for the next ten-ish episodes. A mansion that Emilia lives in with her cute spirit-cat, owned by Roswaal L. Mathers. There is another loli, Beatrice, who serves to give exposition and hilarious plot holes, then get promptly forgotten. As well as a group of maids. Rem and Ram. Now I say Rem, then Ram, because that’s pretty much how the show wants us to think.

These two incredibly well-designed and inherently attractive characters are twins that are, in my opinion, the finest example of waifu-bait I’ve seen in anime… so far. Especially Rem, since Ram, similar to most secondary’s, gets forgotten about quickly. Rem is an interesting beast, and as the story progresses I’ll get the opportunity to dive further into why I believe she’s so popular. 

No matter what painful things happen, even when it looks like you’ll lose…

when no one else in the world believes in you…

when you don’t even believe in yourself…

I will believe in you!

~ Rem

Now don’t get it twisted, I was very aware that these characters existed. The reason I watched the entirety of this show was because the ludicrous amount of hype that was being drawn to it. I want to say this directly, though, I’m not one to get fully invested into the hype. I was aware of the kind of show this was and I didn’t expect it to be anything great even if the community was collectively circle jerking about it.

The show then takes on a slice-of-life-Esq narrative which involves Subaru getting to know everyone and then getting brutally murdered by a mysterious figure. These episodes are, by all means, light hearted. The scenes shift between teased romance and comedy often and the only true stingers we get are in the obligatory cliffhangers that exist solely to create interest in the upcoming episodes. I’m not one to care about cliffhangers unless they are used sparingly to create a drastic tonal shift. However, they quickly became extremely common-place within Re: Zero that they harbored no dramatic tension to them. You happen to glance over at the episodes run time and notice it’s about to end, “here comes the stinger,” you think to yourself. 

Towards the intended climax of this arc, as the baddie is revealed and I slowly start to get a better picture of this show, it began to infuriate me. Not since No Game No Life has a show gotten so deep under my skin as a product with the intended purpose of entertainment. It felt cloying in the worst possible way. The reveal that Rem was the assailant and that she was also a cute girl made me instantly understand that this show only has the intention of subverting expectations when it means not sacrificing its market value as something made to get money. 

CLICK HERE TO READ ARTRILL’S FULL REVIEW ON RE: ZERO

CONCLUSION

Re: Zero is far from a narrative masterpiece that many people may believe it is. It is, however, a show that tries to defy conventions while still ticking off every check box of its clichéd genre. It’s something we’ve seen many times before yet it plays out with just a few differences that make it something worth remember just a little. It’s not something that I overly enjoyed, however, I will say that I will remember my time watching Re: Zero. 

I wish that I had more positives to say about the show that was the craze of 2016, however, I also wish it left me with a more positive impression. I don’t think I’ll forget Re: Zero, but I can’t really tell why. It’s a piece of entertainment that feels Re: Made, countless times, Re: Packaged into different archetypes, Re: Written for different generations, but ultimately remains Un: Inspired. 

3/10

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