Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Season 2) ‒ Episode 13

3 weeks ago 16

I didn't expect the witches this season to be Subaru's therapists, but here we are. It's one of those twists that isn't actually all that surprising when you stop to think about it. The themes of this series have been consistent since day one, because at the end of the day, this is a coming-of-age story about a boy finding himself in a new world. The witches may not follow conventional human morality, but in a way their detachment from society makes it easier for them to appreciate Subaru as an individual with no pretenses.

Over and over this season, from his reunion with his parents in episode 4 to his pained interactions with Beatrice and the trial where he sees his friends mourn his deaths, it's been established that Subaru is the kind of person who doesn't realize that he's loved by other people. Even the witch Satella comes out to tell him to love himself, in an interesting twist with the Japanese language. All that time she was saying "Aishite" (love), she never added a subject to the sentence; instead of saying "Love me" which would normally be how one would interpret the word in context, she actually meant "Love yourself." That moment where Subaru has his first proper conversation with Satella is one of the most powerful moments in the series so far for me, and it cements my impression of the witch as a deeply lonely person.

The rest of the episode isn't quite as strong, and honestly it felt like it was retreading ground at times. We get confirmation yet again that Roswaal is a dick, while Otto affirms (much like how he did in episode 7) that he truly cares about Subaru. Otto's friendship punch is where the episode ends, with Subaru still in the process of revaluating himself. So, yeah, the first cour of this season doesn't end on a particularly tense note. It simply just ends, as if the next episode was destined to air a week later. Tappei Nagatsuki tweeted last week that the show was originally scheduled to be two cours without any break, so it really feels like COVID-19 ruined the party.

Still, as an episode in its own right, this one was pretty solid, even if the decline in production quality was noticeable in Subaru's character art this time. I can see where they were going for by adding extra lines to his face to give off a tortured expression. Previous episodes throughout the series as a whole were able to pull this level of detail off to produce some truly memorable expressions, but these past few episodes have struggled quite a lot with that. I'll put that down to the influx of animation directors this season—there were seven credited on this episode and six on the previous two episodes. In a healthier production, you'd only need one or two per episode, because dividing the work between more directors means that it's harder to maintain consistency in the art. Adding those extra lines to Subaru's face makes that task even harder; it's not a cut-and-dry matter of matching the key animation to his character sheet, because the standard expressions drawn there don't convey the sheer emotional devastation he's being put through.

The strength of Re:Zero's direction has felt like a double-edged sword this season. On one hand, as I've mentioned multiple times in these reviews, the strong storyboarding and slick editing means that the animation itself doesn't need to stand out as much. But there have definitely been times when the layouts have been too ambitious for the animators to keep up with. Drawing characters from unconventional angles or with deeply contorted expressions seems to have been the sticking point this season. Episode 5 had a really excellent cut of Emilia first waking up from her trial with completely convincing terror, but if only the staff had more time to nail more of those types of expressions... So yeah, I guess COVID rained on the parade again. Also, the absence of master action animators like Hiroyuki Takashima means we never got standout scenes like the battle between Reinhard and Elsa in season 1.

I don't want to be too much of a downer on this season, though, because it's not like the first season was consistently on-model either. At the same time, it just feels like this season was a major step up in terms of scope and ambition, from the average length per episode to the layouts, and that also means more room for failure. Let's hope the break from broadcast gives the staff the time they need to put out that polished product they clearly want to deliver, as well as a good rest. They certainly deserve it, and I appreciate all the good work so far.

In the meantime, Re:Zero is over for now, and I really hope I don't forget too many plot details by the time it resumes! There was a lot to keep up with this season—even I'm feeling a little exhausted just thinking about it. It really goes to show what a special show this has been, packing in such loving detail every episode. I've enjoyed every minute of the ride so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing you guys again in January.


Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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