I had almost lost faith in anime. Again... Yes, this seems to happen every few years when the watering hole gets a little too low and muddy, and too many seasons pass without more than one show that was "Meh, alright." But then something happens. A series appears from out of nowhere and makes you remember why you fell in love with the medium in the first place. Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is the most recent anime savior, and I do indeed love it greatly.
Not that Re:Zero is 100% brand spankin' new, never been seen before, totally unique, and balls-out amazing. In fact, it starts out just like 2 dozen other shows that have come out in the past 3 - 4 years: A hikikomori (an individual who acts like a shut-in, living only for his obsession — which is usually video games or anime) with no real-world social skills finds himself in a magical fantasy land filled with RPG-like elves, knights, dragons, swords, and sorcery. It is in this world that our protagonist starts to shine and realize that he is in fact a WARRIOR at heart! One who CAN be popular and make friends with hot chicks left and right! Sword Art Online, KonaSuba, No Game No Life, Gate, and Log Horizon pop into my mind immediately as shows that have dealt with this storyline previously, but I think that Re:Zero does a much better job than all of them combined when it comes to comedy, heart-felt drama, deep storytelling in a complex world, and a protagonist who (get this) ACTS like a real person and not a walking cliche!
We begin the tale with our reluctant (and at the start, kind of pussy-like) hero, Subaru Natsuki, as he makes a rare appearance outside of his apartment in modern Japan, sneaking down to a convenience store and buying some snacks one night. Without any build up or explanation, the 17 year-old finds himself instantly transported to a strange fantasy world filled with odd creatures (like furries and walking lizard men), giant castles on hilltops, and amazing bewitching landscapes unseen in our world. But even though he shouldn't be able to, he can understand the language being spoken by all the people/humanoids/creatures, and they can understand him. Reading the written language is another skill set entirely, but he'll eventually get to that. And I digress... The point here is "MAGIC."
Anyway, Subaru walks around the town like a rube, immediately gets mugged by three dickish thugs in a back alley, and then gets saved by a white-haired half-elf beautiful girl (and her flying, talking cat, Puck). Because he's a nice guy (and incredibly hard up) Subaru decides to help this half-elf hottie (Emilia) find a small insignia that was stolen from her by a little thief girl just a few minutes earlier. The group tracks this pint-sized pickpocket to her home base just as night falls, but Subaru and Emilia only find the thief and her caretaker dead on the ground. My god, there was blood everywhere! Then Subaru and Emilia get killed by an assassin hiding in the shadows.
But then we find Subaru as he awakens in broad daylight, right in front of a fruit shop that he passed when he first arrived in this magical Narnia land, just as confused as we are. This ability of his (being resurrected, but sent back to a previous save point that Subaru calls "Return by Death") is both a blessing and a curse to our hero. At first he takes it as a gift that helps him to help other people, but soon, after getting killed multiple times (some times by friends), and finding himself in a situation that appears to have no safe way out, Subaru discovers that he has a very heavy burden on his shoulders. One that not even suicide can fix (and suicide can fix ANYTHING! [To depressed and suicidal readers: No, suicide is not the answer. It is never the answer. Unless you just got your daughter pregnant or something. Then you need to kill yourself]).
The rest of the show is all about how Subaru gets entangled with the ultra-sweet Emilia, helps her to avoid assassination, and then uses his Return by Death to try and make her claim to the throne of the kingdom become a reality. Yeah, Re:Zero gets deep into politics (but not in a boring way, more like a Game of Thrones-like way), but it's primarily a story about despair and redemption. One of the things that I love most about it is the way it treats this special resurrection power of Subaru's; it doesn't make it a be-all end-all fix for everything. In fact, it never fixes anything for Subaru, it just resets things enough that he can struggle like hell to try a different path if he suddenly wakes up dead after a wrong turn in his previous attempt at getting himself and others past precarious predicaments. In the end, Subaru has to use all of his wits and think hard about about how the new world operates in order to make it out of every situation "alive."
It starts off light, but Re:Zero turns pretty dark very quickly. There is a ton of pain on display in this thing. Yes, a lot of it is physical pain, but most of it is psychological misery and agony. For as cute as the character designs are, they do NOT fuck around when it comes to people getting tortured to death or having their minds turned inside out due to them watching people get tortured to death. No, it's not heart-wrenching, possibly making you suicidal (like Grave of the Fireflies), but it can get close to unbearable at times (if you're a total pussy). I'm just giving you a heads up here.
The story was totally unexpected (in a stupendously awesome way), the characters enchanting, and everything involved in this production was top notch (well, except the animation quality in a few unfortunate episodes that were obviously sent to the B-studio in Korea). The amount of detail that went into the world-building here is phenomenal. The magic, the rules, the laws of the land, all well thought out. Like I said before, the basic premise is nothing new; It takes the "rewind your life after death" of All You Need Is Kill (or Edge of Tomorrow), Groundhog Day, and When They Cry, adds in an amazingly fun fantasy world (matching No Game No Life in its guidelines and overall entertainment), and tosses it all together with tons of characters who are all well-developed, fully fleshed-out people on their own, and presents the viewer with one of the best complete packages that I have personally seen in a long time.
The ONLY issue with this show is that the light novel series is still ongoing, and therefore this 25-episode series ends with no real resolution. Don't get me wrong, there is an end to the smaller storyline that we'd been following for the last 13 or so episodes, but the main problems of the world, Emilia's crown-quest, and Subaru's attempt to make it through everything without dying again continues.
Oh boy. This brings back memories. I was once trapped in a "death loop" when my plutonium-charged time-belt hiccuped during that crazy lightning storm, exploded, and took out all of what you call "Asia" in your time. I was at ground zero of the blast, and so technically shouldn't have felt a thing when my time-circuits went nuclear, but a back-feed was created at that moment, and I felt every yoctosecond as if it were an hour, as the blast was reversed and my organs and skin and brain were reconstructed sloooowly into one complete body again.... Then I was hurled back in time about 3 whole seconds before time started up again... And I was struck by lightning and blown up along with a third of Earth again. Then my time ever so slowly reversed and eventually I was deposited 3 seconds back before the lightning again.
This time I started to run away from the strike the very instant I was able to (which was in about 720,000 years from when the reversal began in my perceived personal time), and I made it a couple of yards away, but alas, 1.21 gigawatts in my groin again. But then, after the next reversal of time I was able to make it even farther!
By the time the 17th lightning strike occurred and reversed itself, I was finally able to make it outside of its striking distance with my final run. Then I got hit by a hovertruck since I apparently ran into the middle of a hover-bypass. Luckily for me though, there was still enough charge left in my time-belt to have the collision send me back 3 more seconds into the past. This time, when I was able to move again, I just jumped to the side of the lighting bolt and let it electrocute the truck that had killed me. That was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, when my two worst enemies killed each other. Glorious!
So typically my reviews are short and just specify if I liked it, hated it, and what characters I found interesting and why. I can't say this is gonna be much different. Re:Zero was great. I liked it. I didn't want to like it but it twisted my arm. It won me over.
If you decide to watch it there will come a part where you'll think ugh, I hate this kid. Just stick with it. Turns out he is likable and he'll totally win you over, he just needs some time to get his head together. And once he figures out how to love himself your relationship can be built on the solid grounds of awesomeness. As opposed to the whiny self-involved version of himself that we meet in the beginning of the show.
I'm not saying that Subaru doesn't have it rough. A lot of messed up stuff happens to the kid. And it's enough to screw with anyone's head. But, it's what allows his character to grow from half-hearted push over into a likable guy.
My favorite character. Puck. Yeahhhhhh...so I should have probably picked Rem or Betty. But, Puck wins! Hands down the cutest and deadliest! So I'm off to cuddle our pets as they struggle to free themselves from my grip.