On the way home from the convenience store to pick up some snacks, Subaru Natsuki suddenly finds himself in another world. And just like that we’re along for the journey with him as he starts and then er… restarts life in another world. As Subaru wanders the grand fantasy city he stumbles upon three ne’er-do-wells who decide to take him for whatever he has and kick the stuffing out of him. Luckily for him a silver-haired half elf girl saves him with her magic and upon seeing Subaru has no knowledge of where he is or what is going on, introduces herself as Satella. Subaru agrees to help her retrieve a stolen insignia, and tracks the thief to a loot house in the slums, only to find the thief dead and then to be murdered himself shortly thereafter.
But if our protagonist bit the dust part way through the first episode that wouldn’t be much of a series, right? That’s when Subaru finds himself back in front of the fruit vendor, with all the same things playing out around him as they did the first time he arrived in this new world. And so, he starts reliving the same events over and over, dying then being revived at a ‘save point’ by what he comes to call “Return by Death”, learning a little more each time and retaining that knowledge after each subsequent death. GG go next.
But those around him don’t have that prior knowledge, and when he calls out to the half elf girl in a later life by “Satella” to get her attention, she is mortally offended that Subaru would refer to her as the legendary and horrible Witch of Envy. As the initial insignia-retrieval story unfolds, Subaru comes to know the girl as Emilia, along with her magical familiar, a floating cat-like creature named Puck. The insignia marks Emilia as a candidate to become ruler of the kingdom in the upcoming royal selection process, and after much trial and error the insignia is retrieved and after another brush with near death Subaru awakens in a mansion with two maids at the end of his bed – the blue haired Rem and the pink haired Ram. At the mansion we’re introduced to it’s owner, the eccentric Roswaal who is backing Emilia in the royal selection, and Beatrice, the keeper of the mansion’s library who sports a mean set of twin-drills and just wants to be left alone despite Subarau’s constant interruptions.
Animated by Studio White Fox and based on a series of light novels by Tappei Nagatsuki, Re:Zero barrels straight into its Isekai story with minimal setup – Subaru is transported as quickly as you can blink and that’s that, he’s all in. The show does a good job of building up the lore and mythos of the world – the Witch Satella, violent cultist, magical beasts, turmoil around the royal selection process, and visits to neighbouring villages and cities make for a lively and lived-in world. Likewise the characters are largely fairly well fleshed out, and Subaru’s return by death ability means we get to see the same characters in different versions of the same situation as it plays out differently.
This power leads to some incredibly gruesome deaths for Subaru, who remembers each and every one each time he wakes up and resets post-death. To me it felt like an equal parts interesting and lazy plot device – it’s obviously the show’s whole hook, but sometimes the death and the subsequent information it brings to light to progress the scenario for Subaru is a little too convenient. A bit of a get out of jail free card. Subaru himself flip-flops between being likeable and sympathetic and downright unbearable at different points throughout the series as he tries desperately to make it with Emilia, but the show does a great job of telling the story of the maid sisters Rem and Ram, and these two get the bulk of the development over the many versions of the story that play out as Subaru kicks the bucket and goes again amidst curses, murders, cultists and more.
Some aspects of the series seem to fall by the wayside towards the end to make way for a climactic (and admittedly very cool) battle, such as the royal selection, which the midpoint of the series made me think was going to be a much bigger deal than it ended up being in the series, along with Roswaal himself who, after a story seed is planted earlier, just sort of disappears bar a few scant mentions later in the series. The story that’s there is plenty interesting with lots of action and style, but come the ending I felt a little unsatisfied with some of the things that remained undressed.
As Isekai/alternate world stories go, Re:Zero is one of the more enjoyable that I’ve sunk my teeth into, and at this point you probably already know if it’s the kind of story you’re going to enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t end up more harem-y, which is an assumption I think could be fairly easily made going in to the series. There’s a lot of style, a lot of action, a lot of intrigue, a L O T of death, but also a lot of story that feels like its still to be told.