Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-' Isn't Quite a Standout, but Still Fascinating and Entertaining

I had initially put off watching Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- because of its premise’s similarity with KonoSuba (also an anime series that debuted this year), and I thought it would probably feel like watching a “reinvention” of KonoSuba.  Moreover, if it turns out doing things inferiorly compared to KonoSuba, I might fail to enjoy it by itself.  But with no available new anime series I find intriguing enough to watch, I ended up watching Re:Zero.  And, true enough, I find KonoSuba better – primarily because it’s utterly hilarious and clever.

However, Re:Zero isn’t  bad at all.  It’s quite entertaining on its own.
Its 25-episode first season centers on a teen hikkomori named Subaru Natsuki who gets mysteriously transported to a fantasy world while he’s on his way home from a convenience store.  He meets a silver-haired, half-elf girl named Emilia, and is smitten by her prettiness and kindness.  Later, he finds out that she’s one of the five candidates to become the kingdom’s next ruler.  Developing fierce, enthusiastic loyalty for Emilia, he vows to do everything he can to help her win the throne.

While working for this goal, Subaru battles twisted assassins, demon dogs, demon whales, and cultists; participates in Game of Thrones-esque political dealings; and gains the trust, admiration, and even allegiance of people he encounters who have initially looked at him with misgivings, pity, disgust, or prejudice.
Re:Zero is packed with anime clichés and its storytelling is a mess at times.  But, at its core, it seems to have a fresh and smart story concept.  It just has some problems with a couple of its plot details and some narrative executions.

The worldbuilding and mythos are decently intriguing, though not distinctively magnificent.  The characters are colorful and have likable personalities, though not deeply well-drawn and unique.  And the action scenes are solidly badass, though not innovatively choreographed.
It’s not as entertainingly funny as KonoSuba.  But that’s simply because it’s not trying to be a spoof.  It does have humor, and it takes on a light-hearted tone at times.  In fact, it starts off as such, and I thought it was going to be maintained all throughout the series.  But it gets dark.  Really dark.

In fact, one of the best things about this anime is how it shifts from a bright, hopeful, cheery ambiance into vicious, weighty despair later on.  Its tilt from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other is gradual, torturous (in a good way, narratively speaking), and effectively gripping.  It’s painful to watch sometimes – not because the storytelling gets awful – but due to the way it gives off a feel-good vibes at one moment, then taking it away in the next and replacing it with an atmosphere of misery.  There’s something sadistic about its storytelling, but at the same time, impactful and riveting.
Another interesting thing about this anime is its “Groundhog Day” facet, in the form of Subaru’s special ability: “Return of Death.”  It’s an ability that he shortly learns he has upon arriving in this new world.  “Return by Death” basically works like a video game’s “save point.”  Whenever he dies, it sends him to a particular point in his past (often, a few days back), giving him the chance to relive the experience again.  Being armed with the memories he had gained in the initial timeline allows him to correct mistakes, do a better job, and avoid getting killed this time around.

“Return by Death” is seemingly tied to him being somehow touched by the Jealous Witch (the “big evil” of this world), which makes him reek of “the scent of the Jealous Witch” (which can attract demons but repulse those who can detect it) and disallows him from telling others about his special ability.  On paper, “Return by Death” might look like a pretty cool, significantly advantageous perk to have.  It’s like immortality and precognition rolled into one.  But the anime shows that it can actually get emotionally draining and traumatic for the user.
Overall, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is fine.  It’s not groundbreaking.  It’s not flawless.  And it’s actually not a “must-watch” kind of anime.  But it has things that I found fascinating and well-thought of.  Most importantly, it overcomes its pitfalls to be a respectably absorbing anime series.

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