Note about this article: Spoilers
This page contains both visual as well as narrative spoilers of Re:Zero, and is intended to hold my brief thoughts on the show, and on the people who made it.
No really, thats it.
With 2016 nearing it's end. This year's anime catalog is shaping up to be quite a disappointment. However, there where still a few eye-catchers, among them Kiznaiver, Kabaneri of the iron Fortress and Re:Zero. While the former two have mainly displayed a worrying focus on immense visual fidelity, worryingly so, considering the production studios and persons behind them and their history, and the trend to focus more and more on breathtaking visuals, rather than on any other part of the production, in particular writing, directorial ability and soundtrack composition, Re Zero is what one calls a breath of fresh air in an otherwise quite stagnant and repetitive industry.
In some ways, Re:Zero reminds me of a Gainax styled approach, where pacing and budget choices are focused and refined, aiming at climactic payoffs when needed, and when the audience is able to take them in, without being distracted by eye-candy which might otherwise detract from the narrative.
Considering this, it is needless to say, that Re:Zero has some extremely cleverly implemented scenes of pure hand-drawn animation fidelity, rivaling those of a top tier Trigger, Bones or Khara productions.
What Re:Zero is about.
I have to be honest, Re Zero stars off extremely bland and boring. You are greeted with what seems to be a cookie cutter character trope, and extremely bad 3DCG animation.
Seriously it's so bad, it looks like it could have been made by either Rooster Teeth or Polygon Pictures.
Interestingly the first episodes are titled Part 1 and Part 2, indicating that both should be watched together, so I gave it a go.
The show constantly hints at constructs such as wealth inequality and it's effects, identity and psychoanalysis, as well as a, semi-typical, dosage of various well communicated, though contradictory, morals and values expressed by the different characters in their respective positions, wrapped in the overarching theme of growing up as a person and bettering oneself through major confrontation. Sound somewhat familiar? Well they don't make it a secret in frequently dipping their toes in Evangelion references.
Re Zero is the product of Japanese animation studio White Fox, who also happenes to have worked on Steins;Gate, an anime with a similar plot mechanism and pop culture impact. However the series director and composer remain rather unknown. At the writing of this article, both of them do not have a dedicated Wikipedia page, nor are they mentioned anywhere else as an important credit on Wikipedia.
Interestingly, the director, I am almost certain this is his debut, or at least his first major directorial project, is a master at pacing and sentimental envisionment. With his choices in non-standard soundtrack placement being extremely refreshing. The composer is equally amazing, and seems to really understand the emotional development taking place. Both of them are people worth following going forward.
While certainly not a masterpiece, it was more than great, and has by far been, in my opinion, the best show of this year.
The context revolves around the main character, Natsuki Subaru, an average 20 or so years old guy, who magically gets ripped out of the real world, and transported to a parallel universe, full of magic, mystical creatures and a different written language, in the blink of an eye. It's cliché to say the least but builds excitement as it's cast both grows and starts to interact with each other.
The show's gimmick however, centers on Subaru's ability to return to a predefined place and time, similar to a save point in a video game, immediately after death. This allows him to retry any given scenario, avoid death and set in motion the best relationships with the various characters along the way. As he progresses, the save point changes, and the trials seems to get harder and harder, ultimately becoming impossible to beat, causing a mental breakdown in the main character, which lasts an entire episode.
However there is a catch, Subaru is not able to communicate with anyone his ability to cheat death. Attempting to do so, pauses time and temporarily places him in an unknown dark realm, where a mysterious woman, masked in oily shadows, gesturaly threatens to kill him by grabbing hold of his heart. This event frightens Subaru quite a bit, so he initially attempts to avoid it.
Obviously provoking the butterfly effect, through his various attempts at the given situations, Subaru discovers much about the people around him, and in certain situations finds himself being killed by the very people who he thought trusted him the most, due to minor differences in his actions and behavior towards them.
The show's heroine, whom we only get to know as Emilia, who seems to be the primary driver in many of Subaru's seemingly irrational actions, pushes the narrative forward through her various involvements with interesting characters and places, placing Subaru at the forefront of the dangers, political elections and the mysterious religious cult of this new world.
The parallel world Subaru seems to exist in, is reminiscent of Victorian England, with the added notion of magic and various mythical races. Massive poverty, a serious wealth gap and the abuse of power seem to all be hinted at, at various parts in the show.
"This world is designed to always operate in a the way that works best for me, so I am never at a disadvantage."
— Nobility Persona
"I am greedy, so I want everything. No amount of commercial success can satisfy me. I want my own nation!"
— Monetary Persona
"I hate nobility! I hate this kingdom! So I am planning to tear it all down! If I become the next ruler, I will destroy everything! I will take down every last one of you."
— Radical Persona, reacting to the crisis at hand
The Military Persona proclaims great subjugation and liberation, in the name of the nation, to improve the lives of it's citizens.
Outside of a handful of scenes illustrating the scenarios mentioned above, which are powerfully underdrawn with relatively expensive artwork and a great soundtrack, very little is put forward concerning the world's political and economic developments, or in fact any concise message to be delivered by the narrative.
Being his directorial debut, Masaharu Watanabe has more than proven himself as a capable director. But his careful pacing of the story and character development is what makes Re:Zero stand out exceptionally, in what is otherwise a mediocre production. His non-standard choices for the visuals and soundtrack are pure artistic expression, that is likened to him making the original source material his own. He seems to understand how to garner attention, in a stale and stagnated animation industry, and has a long way ahead of him, which I intend to follow.
"When I was thinking about who should do the music, I wanted to ask for someone who had worked on something that had hit a nerve. Something with social commentary, something with bite."
— Masaharu Watanabe, Series Director
An excellent example of this, can be found in episode 15, where an atypical, for anime, song and background video-loop are in place as the episode's credits, creating a dark and dramatic, more film-like cinematic feeling, unlike any other part of the series.
These sorts of directoral choices go hand in hand with the producation's soundtrack, entirely composed by Kenichiro Suehiro.
What is to praise about ReZero is not any of it's production values in particular, but how the director uses out of norm methods and pacing styles, initially leading the show on as being nothing out of the ordinary. As evidenced by their comments on the production, the director worked hand-in-hand with the composer, and the result is a work that is instilled with pashion of people who actually appear to have a lot invested in what they are making.