This Week in Anime - Does Re:Zero's Subaru Stand a Chance?

1 month ago 24

Subaru's death count has continued growing but we're far from answering the mysteries of Re:Zero. Nick and Steve look back at the most recent season and see where Subaru currently stands in a world full of witches and intrigue.

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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Nick
Steve, it's the best time of year: when the weather's changing, the sun sets early in the eve, and it feels like every time of day is the Witching Hour. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than by revisiting the smuggest anime Witch of the year.

SteveI am WAITING for that tea party invitation, ma'am. I mean if Subaru is good enough to be a guest, everybody and their isekai-estranged mother should qualify for an invite.

Sorry, you need at least 1 full 2020 worth of suffering to qualify for an invite, so you'll have to wait 'til New Years to drink witch spit.

Well at least that's something to look forward to in the near future. Anyway we should probably talk about the parts of Re:Zero that aren't witch liquid, at least for a little bit.

Technically Re:Zero's over for the year, to come back this winter with the 2nd half of this arc, but it just didn't seem right not to cover all the ways Subaru's life has gone to total shit this season. I wasn't joking about suffering being a prerequisite for attending Echidna's soiree, and our boy is absolutely overqualified now:

There is certainly A Lot going on this season. This is one time I'm actually glad I took way more screenshots than was necessary, because there's just a ton of terrible stuff that risks getting overshadowed by the even more terrible stuff that happens later in the season. A season which, let us not forget, played the OP a total of maybe two times, because those are precious extra suffering minutes we cannot afford to squander.

It really is a shame, since while neither new song can match "Styx Helix" they're both quite lovely sequences. But sorry we need these credits sequences to squeeze in as much pain as possible. The standard TV half-hour format just cannot contain all of Subaru's blood and tears anymore.

Sorry Subaru dude, I know you just wanna chill out to the ED, but we really need you to be devoured by a bunch of Monty Python rabbit clones right now. Them's the breaks.

From how we talk about it, you'd think this whole season is just Subaru getting dunked on by everything around him, but that's only because it is. See that's what happens when you extend Re:Zero's pattern of storytelling across 2 separate cours - the first half where Subaru eats dirt and slowly pieces together what he needs to survive ends up taking a whole season. Whoops.

Yeah, speaking as someone whose Re:Zero ground zero was just under 3 months ago, it's wild comparing those early arcs to this sprawling labyrinth of setbacks and bad ends. Like, good on the story for getting more ambitious as it goes on, but there is truly a dizzying array of deadly shit aimed directly at Subaru's bowels this season. Including the Bowel Lady.

Yes, the Steve Bait is back this season.

Yes, of course I love Elsa, but I'm afraid I cannot condone her actions re: one delightfully shark-toothed maid.

This is what you get for following foolhardy crushes. You gotta be more discerning with your heart, like Garf here:

Oh yeah that guy! Love his strips in the newspaper. Cracks me up every time.

Now now, names aside this Furry Bakugo has way more in common with Tony the Tiger and you know it.

Nick, they actually made him turn into a giant orange cat. They knew exactly what they were doing. I don't know what this world's equivalent to Monday is, but I guarantee you the second cour will detail his distaste for them.

OK we're getting off track. So besides having an angry cat to deal with inside the sanctuary, AND the looming threat of Elsa assassinating everyone at the mansion, Subaru's also facing his greatest challenge ever: learning to be an actually supportive friend to Emilia. He's doing...less than great at it.

To his credit, he's made a lot of progress since first running into Emilia and almost immediately dying, but he's also got a long way to go. It's a little frustrating, but the fact that I know the narrative knows when he's being frustrating takes the sting off it a little bit. And while I do genuinely like seeing Subaru's growth into a better and more emotionally intelligent person, I do have to say that a big sticking point I've had with this cour is Emilia's diminished presence.

Yeah the biggest drawback of Re:Zero's entire premise is that while Subaru goes through a whole season's worth of story everyone else gets to repeat the same 2 days or so. Meaning 90% of Emilia's screentime is her unconscious on the ground, and the other 10% is...uh, well we'll get there.

The column format does not support the presence of emojis, so please just picture the grimacing one right here.

But seriously y'all, please let Emilia do something. Make another OVA if you have to where she goes to the X-Games for all I care, just let this girl live her life already!

I have to imagine the placement of her OVA directly before this season was a preemptively conciliatory measure. It really needed to be there. So good on Re:Zero for that at least.

But yeah, while Subaru's groundhog's daying his way through a highlight reel of his past problems, Emilia gets to constantly relive the worst parts of her foggy past, and then as soon as she gets done with that for the night this bozo tries to neg her:

Subaru, for once in your life, please talk like a normal person. Tho I suppose being surrounded by characters with copious verbal tics probably hasn't been helping him in that regard.

On that note, hi Betty! Boy your material is really upsetting in this arc!

Welcome to Re:Zero Season 2, where everyone's literally begging to die.

Season 1 Betty: haha funny library girl hates Subaru.
Season 2 Betty: a prisoner living out a meaningless existence for centuries, holding onto a blank book of prophecy, waiting for a person, any person at all, to kill her, all to satisfy the idle curiosity of a dead witch.

It is 19 kinds of fucked up, and somehow it's still not the most horrific thing in this season. Because Betty's not the only one raring to die. Subaru's never been exactly hesitant to use Return-By-Death before now, but this season he seems to be embracing it in ways that are...let's say concerning.

My dude is treating his own grisly murder like I treat a quicksave in Half Life whenever I think I could have shot that Vortigaunt without losing that 20% of my health bar. Given Rem's current limbo state, he's become pathologically obsessed with finding only the most perfect solution to every problem all on his own. Understandable, but not great!

Honestly there are points where it feels like...more than that. Not to get too personal but there are points where Subaru's outlook transcends any magic save-scumming and starts to feel like genuine suicidal ideation. Which isn't helped by him constantly taking advice from the least trustworthy people in this show: the literal undead witch and the Reddit Clown Pervert.

Oh yeah, if I had to pare down this entire cour into a single screenshot, it would be this one:

Oh we'll get to him, but first we need to just take in the sheer majesty of Subaru realizing Echidna's been playing 4D chess this whole season while he's been shoving checkers up his nose. Even she can't believe she roped in such a sucker.

Echidna barely has to lift her pinky in order to thoroughly rustle and addle each one of Subaru's jimmies, and every time it happens it's a sight to behold. She carries a big part of this season on her back, and I think she's a fantastic character. Always Be Smug.

I legit cackled during episode 36 because I'd been waiting all season for a payoff to this walking Wikipedia witch handing out info for free. The secondary theme of this season has been to establish that Subaru is boxing eons above his weight class, and were it not for being functionally immortal he would be FUCKED. He's fucked going up against anyone in a fight, or even just a conversation.

So when it's finally dropped that yes, the character behaving like an NPC to further Subaru's quest was in fact playing him the whole time, it was like watching the shoe drop in slow motion.

Oh it was delicious. And like, while Re:Zero has never not been upfront about Subaru's fragility, I really appreciate these very visceral reminders that protagonist plot armor only goes so far. He will get easily manipulated. He will get shattered like a vase. He will always and inevitably get owned by every woman in this show, and I love that.

And it's not even that Echidna's been lying to him, it's just that she's selective about what she tells him and then lets his own desperation seal the deal. If it weren't for every other witch showing up to tell him to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line he'd have totally jumped headfirst into inescapable doom.

And I do want to stress: this is largely due to Subaru being dumb as bricks and also horny. But it's also part of his larger pattern this season of diving tracksuit-first into risks and not caring about his own wellbeing or survival. He still wants to save everyone, but he couldn't care less about how he gets there. That is, until he gets some reminders—both friendly and very much not so friendly—that people do in fact actually care about him very much.

And he gets that reminder from probably the most unexpected source because hey, guess who else is here!

That's right, all the witches show up, and we do mean All of them, including the Mistress of Envy and Bestower of Video Game Conveniences herself.

It's kind of wild that nearly 40 episodes in Satella herself is still a total mystery despite being pivotal to seemingly every bit of story so far. Even after she arrives we know next to nothing about her, but it's enough to knock loose Subaru's final brain cell and he just vomits his feelings.

Subaru is also "helped" by the second of the graveyard trials, which shows him a projection of all the timelines he abandoned in death. It's not a very long scene, but as far as difficult ones to watch, that was one of the hardest for me. And for Subaru. Faced with the naked truth of the sadness that his absence will inevitably cause, it disturbs him but also gets the gears slowly turning in his head and heart.

It's a reminder that even though last season he made the tiniest of baby steps towards escaping self-loathing, that process is a long and active one. Subaru's accepted that he's not total garbage, but now he has to internalize that and start to believe that his love for others isn't a one-way street that ends with him crashing into a wall.

Yep! One of the most insidious things about depression is that it's embedded in your own brain, who is frequently a bastard and a liar. So it's tough, but that's where other people's perspectives and feelings come into play. They exist! And your friends care about you, no matter how badly your brain wants you to disbelieve that. Listen to them. Alternatively, if you're in Subaru's very specific scenario, just get seven witch therapists to help you work and/or headbutt those thoughts out.

But thankfully Subaru is able to learn that lesson, reject Echidna's offer, and even decide he'll help Betty realize she has something to live for to. All-in-all a happy ending for this seasoh hey there's still like 10 minutes left in this finale. Oh. Uh oh.

Let it be known that, against the wishes of my dear and good friend Ram, I despise the anime clown man.

I mean we all should have seen this coming. This is the clown pervert who adopted 2 children and immediately put them in fetishy maid uniforms. He was more than sus from day 0. Now we just get confirmation that he's been manipulating literally every conflict in the entire show in order to steer Subaru into being his perfect tool.

Yeah turns out the reason this arc felt like a overly-complicated double-bind meant to draw and quarter Subaru apart is because it is. Unfortunately, that seems to come with the territory when your adversaries are, thematically speaking, future projections of your current unhealthy mental processes and coping habits.

Please don't get Jokerfied, Subaru.

More than that, it even reveals that all the coincidences and lucky accidents that kept Subaru involved through Season 1 were Roswaal too. Like gee I wonder what else he hired Elsa to do. Or how he was totally absent during the Witch Cult stuff. And oh hey remember those mabeasts from the mansion arc? Guess where they came from.

Turns out like half the enemies in this show are on Ronald McDonald's payroll.

Almost makes me miss Beetlejuice. He was bad and similarly clownish in appearance, but at least he didn't pretend to be an ally to Subaru and Emilia.

Oh yeah, can't forget what he does to Emilia on at least 1 time loop. Boy that was sure fun.

Who doesn't love the sight of a mindbroken heroine tenderly cradling in her lap the flesh-rent skull of her rotting knight?

Btw the answer to that should be "everyone but Roswaal apparently."

It's fine. She's fine.

However! Great evil must always be balanced with great good, and sure enough, the ultimate beacon of purity and justice blesses this season with his presence and gives us all the hope we need to continue into the next half of this story.

That's right, it's Subaru's new boyfriend!

Nothing says true love like immediately cackling at the suggestion of friendship.

Otto: I like you
Subaru: How unfortunate

By being the one character everyone in the show is comfortable bullying, Otto transcends the power dynamics at play in Re:Zero and emerges as our sole salvation. Whether we're laughing at him or with him, Otto is the only one of Subaru's acquaintances I'm unequivocally happy to see anymore.

It's still unclear how the one person who's more of a weenie than Subaru is going to help in this whole mess, but by god it was fun to see him friendship punch our hero in the mid-season finale.

Get his entire ass, Otto. I believe in you!

And that's where we're left until winter. I have no clue how we get out of this hole but I'm more than happy to see all the terrible, awful ways our boy finds to die while figuring it out.

Yep! In three months, I've gone from Re:Zero skeptic to Re:Zero appreciator, and I'm fully on my seat's edge waiting for what's in store. And also, of course, still waiting on that tea party.

I call dibs on the scones.

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