Review for Re:Zero - Part 1
Somewhere along the way I lost that skill I had for jumping into the middle of a series and being able to evaluate it. When I first started reviewing anime, it was an essential skill, as invariably I’d start in the middle of a series, and without resources like Wikipedia, IMDB, or ANN, I just had to take the episodes at face value and try and appreciate the story without knowing how it started. Of course things were different back then, with anime released in multiple volumes for a 26 episode series instead of just two, and missing out on four or even eight episodes of a show is not the same as missing half of it. Also, anime storytelling in the late nineties and early 2000s was more episodic, less serialised.
But when Re:Zero Part 2 landed on my review pile last year, with me having missed Part 1, I was pretty much all at sea, and by the end of that collection I really hadn’t got to grips with the story and the characters, having gained just an intellectual appreciation for it. Besides, it’s another isekai show, in an industry where every other anime seems to be isekai these days. There are only so many variations of Alice in Wonderland a guy can take. But, Re:Zero is ostensibly one of the best of the bunch, emphasised by the fact that its second season is currently broadcasting/streaming right now. A convenient sale seemed the ideal opportunity to catch up with Part 1 and see how the story began.
Incidentally, the original Collector’s Edition release of Re:Zero Part 1 was afflicted with flawed authoring and compromised image quality. That prompted a disc replacement program, but this subsequent Standard release that I bought has the correct discs.
Natsuki Subaru was walking home from the convenience store one night, when he blinked and the world changed. Suddenly it was the middle of the day, and he was in a fantasy world, peopled with strange beings with magical powers, a world that seems to follow the rules of the kind of RPG videogames that he’s hooked on. He’s also aware of the isekai tropes, and straight away he’s expecting special powers and protagonist level abilities. An initial encounter with a gang of thieves seems to indicate otherwise, but when he’s rescued by a rather opinionated half-elf girl named Satella, things seem to start going his way... until he’s killed.
And then he regains consciousness, earlier in the day, destined to live that time over again, albeit forearmed with the knowledge of what the rest of the day will bring, including the moment of his death which he can try to avoid...
12 episodes or Re:Zero, including the double length opener are presented across 2 discs from All the Anime.
1. The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End
2. Reunion with the Witch
3. Starting Life From Zero in Another World
4. The Happy Roswaal Mansion Family
5. The Morning of Our Promise is Still Distant
6. The Sound of Chains
7. Natsuki Subaru’s Restart
8. I Cried, Cried My Lungs Out, and Stopped Crying
9. The Meaning of Courage
10. Demonically Inspired Methods
12. Return to the Capital
Re:Zero gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. The image is clear and sharp, colours are consistent, and the animation comes across smoothly. Re:Zero is an anime with significant production value, and there’s plenty of detail in the world and character designs to appreciate, while the action sequences are impressive. It’s the sort of animation that you want in the best quality, which no doubt caused a whole lot of negative feedback when the Part 1 Collector’s Edition release went overboard with banding. The replacement discs in this Standard Edition has the banding back to normal for Funimation, really only limited to darker and mistier/smokier scenes. That’s not as good as people would have wanted following the disappointment of the first attempt, but it’s watchable enough.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. The audio is fine. I watched the Japanese, and found the actors to be suited to their roles, the action coming across well, and the show’s music driving the emotion of the piece. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos. I checked that the dub exists, but wasn’t immediately attracted to it as an option.
You get two discs on each inner face of a BD Amaray case. The sleeve is reversible, offering more character art. The discs present their content with animated menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Mirai Nikki Future Diary.
The extras are all on disc 2, which autoplays with a trailer for Attack on Titan S2.
Re:ZERO ~Starting Break Time From Zero~ is a collection of short comedy animations, 11 of them which see cutesy versions of the characters having fun in high school. These run to 27:50 in total, and are in Japanese with subtitles only.
You get the textless credits for the show, and trailers for Black Butler Book of the Atlantic, Parasyte live action feature, Chaos;Child, Berserk (the horrible looking plastic CG one), and Tokyo Ghoul Live Action.
The ass-backwards approach to reviewing throws up another problem beyond that which I’ve mentioned. Knowing where the story is at the start of Part 2, I wind up distracted by Part 1 not explicitly going in that direction, making me wonder for the first eleven episodes just how we’re going to get there, instead of just appreciating the story as I should. After all, Part 2 is all royal court politics, and nation-scale machinations. Part 1 is all about introducing this world and the characters, and with the main character trying to come to terms with his new, cursed life. I kept looking for that bigger story to kick off, and it really didn’t, not until episode 12.
We don’t get to learn a lot about Subaru before he’s spirited away to his new fantasy world, but subsequently it becomes clear that he’s the kind of otaku who watches ‘isekai’ shows, and he has certain expectations of clichés being fulfilled. When that doesn’t immediately happen, it throws him for a loop, but nothing as loopy as dying and then ‘restoring to a save point’, restarting from an earlier point in his life in this world.
One thing is immediately apparent, this show is about Subaru’s adventures, the trials he faces, which it seems can only be overcome by living each adventure several times to ‘learn the route’, dying as often as it takes to figure out the safe path through, which keeps both himself, and the people that he comes to care about alive. There’s his introduction to this world, where he encounters the half-elf princess Emilia, the thief Felt, and a psychopath named Elsa who will kill anyone and anything to get her hands on an insignia that Emilia is carrying.
That covers the first three episodes, four really given the length of the opening, but of the subsequent nine episodes, eight are given over to Subaru’s adventures at the Roswaal mansion. As gratitude for his actions at the start, he’s invited to rest and recuperate at the Roswaal mansion, home to Emilia’s sponsor in her claim to the throne. There, Subaru encounters the twin maid sisters Rem and Ram, blue and pink-haired cuteness and source of a thousand internet memes, the feisty librarian Beatrice, and of course the lord of the manor Roswaal. There’s also a lethal mystery to solve which has Subaru dying on an episodic basis. That’s before the final episode takes them all back to the capital, where the question of Emilia’s right to the throne is about to be settled... in Part 2.
Re:Zero makes a big deal about the emotional and psychological effects that all these deaths and restarts have on Subaru, not only the pain and the trauma, but also the fact, as subsequently becomes clear, that he can’t even tell anyone about his curse, that he might lose his perfect day with the girl of his dreams to death, and never be able to recapture that moment except in a memory that no one else shares. The writers continually take Subaru to hell and back, and that has an effect on the character, especially as we learn in Part 2.
Yet there is a part of me that lacks sympathy, the part which is currently binge-watching Heroes, where Claire Bennet is dying, or killing herself on a regular basis, or of course the archetypal inspiration for Re:Zero, Groundhog Day, and I quite unfairly keep yelling at the screen, and at Subaru to “Stop being such a wuss!”
Isekai isn’t my favourite genre, simply because it’s so oversaturated. Manga Entertainment recently announced a batch of new licenses, and out of five titles, three of them were lost in another world. But even I can tell that Re:Zero is one of the good ones, as there is a lot more thought and care gone into the story and characters, and it tries to subvert the tropes rather than slavishly ape them. This corrected Standard Edition Blu-ray is fair quality; indeed in terms of banding and artefacts, it might actually be crisper than Part 2.