Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World Episode 1 – Pissing Promise and Premise Away

Alternative titles: “(Only) Two Minutes in Paradise”, and “Steins;Gate Was Great, Wasn’t It?”

This is a first impressions post. I rarely find that I have this much to discuss about first episodes, but every so often a show comes along and it just has so much to unpack. Well, having a 50 minute premiere certainly didn’t hurt that aspect. But in case you’re looking for the bottom line, Re:Zero’s offering was extremely uneven thus far, and most of it did not pass muster. Though I’m going to keep watching, I’m not sure I can actually recommend the show to others at this time.

re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu anime / Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- / ReZero anime - Natsuki Subaru doesn't understand

When you can only notice when the jokes are pointed out to you.

And this is exactly why I have so much to discuss in the show, because while most of it is bad, it isn’t bad in the same way last season’s Dimension W was bad, which was mostly uninteresting and just throwing a whole bunch of events at the screen while forgetting its characters have personalities it has to contend with, or that they do not have personalities and perhaps they should be given some. The mix of good and bad, and bad that actually undoes the good, is exactly what makes this show interesting to speak of. I’m also going to compare it to other shows and some recent trends, which might be unfair to it, but that’s life, unfair (Spoilers galore for the first episode).

The show actually started in a manner that I wish more “transported into a magical world/video-game” shows would emulate, where there was no fanfare, the main character was just transported over, and bam, there we are. Overdrawn scenes and blindingly-bad CG, averted. In the minute and a half before Subaru was transported to the magical world, we received slight visions of the darkness to come, but more importantly, we had relatively subtle and efficient characterization – the character marvels over finding a slightly uncommon variation of a coin in his wallet, and sighs over seeing a couple walk hand in hand outside the store he’s in. This sets him up as part of the cliched “Lonely male teenager with nothing in his life,” but it doesn’t shout it.

This subtlety had filled me with hope and confidence, that the show would be not only fast-paced, but that it’d actually forego most of the Light Novel Every-MC antics that have grown increasingly stale over the past handful of years. Oh, how wrong I was. How wrong indeed.

re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu anime / Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- / ReZero anime - Natsuki Subaru and referential humor

Tropey Self-Aware Humor is so cool.

Let’s tackle the question of pace first. Having a double premiere is cool, if your story is a bit convoluted and you need to cover a lot of ground to get things going, such as by introducing the fact your main character keeps rewinding back in time each time he dies. Sure, they could’ve had the episode end just after his first revival, but I think this is a valid choice. The problem is that much of the first half of the episode after our boy has been transported to the new world was a whole bunch of nothing. The same old cliches and meaningless lines and tropey interactions between our two leads, the wandering around aimless in the new world.

And the worst part of it all is, that it didn’t actually sell us on why Subaru would do anything for Satella, whom he’ll ostensibly keep dying to protect. It did very little to endear any of the characters to us, even as we’ve walked around town with them as they helped a lost girl find her mother (Asuna, Kirito, and Yui in Sword Art Online were so much better). I mean, you know how shows like Steins;Gate and last season’s Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED), or movies such as The Butterfly Effect work? First they make you care for the characters and the never-ending journey back through time, then they start looping constantly, after you’re invested. Here we spent time that did very little to make us care for the characters, and then looped. We might as well have started with the loop to begin with. Yes, you can try and have us grow to care for the characters through looping, once we know their inevitable fate (the Visual Novel-esque/Greek Tragedy storytelling I discussed with regards to Fate/Zero), but it’s much harder. Well, making us care for characters is hard anyway, but it usually helps to make us care before presenting us with a premise that revolves around said care.

But the wasted time was sort of alright. It wasn’t actually good for a premiere, certainly not for its first half, and it is the true reason that the show had a double-length premiere: The show’s makers knew that barely anyone would bother watching on, or give this more attention than a “Yet another trapped in a video-game show” would merit, but even if it was a bad call for a premiere, it’s standard fare for this type of show. No, what really made it bad was how they went back on the promise of subtlety.

re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu anime / Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- / ReZero anime - Natsuki Subaru makes a joke

The show stresses this is unfunny, but leaves it in.

To make it clearer what type of show we’re dealing with here, Re:Zero feels as if someone took Steins;Gate, KonoSuba (Bring Blessings on This Beautiful World), Saekano (How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend) and Akame ga Kill, and mixed them into one unholy dish. Mostly Steins;Gate’s premise of trying to save someone by repeating the past, Akame ga Kill’s brand of splatterhouse grimdark, which is offset by Saekano and KonoSuba’s special brand of unfunny and oh-so-self-aware “humor”. It’s actually sad, as Akame ga Kill’s Shounen Jump style manga humor was far funnier than these shows.

Here’s an example of another moment where Re:Zero has some subtlety, and then takes that subtlety and smashes it into the floor, while hammering on its electric guitar, before using the guitar to hammer on our heads: Subaru and Satella are dying, and from Subaru’s vision, as he reaches for Satella’s hand and tries to reorient himself, the screen shakes slightly. This helps the tension (and the show actually did a commendable job of creating an atmosphere of tension and horror a minute or so earlier), but as the scene progresses, suddenly, the screen-shaking intensifies to such a degree that I was about to get a seizure. Because if some screen-shake, or the hint of blood at the corner of one’s eye are good, then certainly dropping a bucket of blood on one of the characters, or shaking the screen as if we’re playing Melting in Nuclear Throne (example) must be even gooder! Right? Wrong. As wrong as saying “gooder”.

I’ll give an example or two of the humor, and the show taking a good thing and then not only making it neutral, as it would’ve been by default (the default level of “badness”, some might argue), but actually making it worse than it’d have otherwise been. So, Subaru offers to do Satella a favour, and although up to now she had been unreceptive to receiving aid, she now accepts. So, we have a character who’s displayed numerous aspects of being a tsundere up to now act in a non-tsundere manner. Cool beans, right? Well, except we now have Subaru verbalize, at length, how he expected her to act like a tsundere, including the lines he expected her to say, and what he would’ve replied in turn. So, the show didn’t have a tsundere-moment, but it wanted to be absolutely certain that we noticed that it could have had one, and isn’t it clever for subverting our expectations? Doesn’t it deserve a pat on the head? Except in the end we ended up with the tsundere moment, but much more cringe-worthy and badly-acted, and reeking of smugness, because supposedly we did not have a tsundere moment. This “self-aware humor”, aside from actually murdering the jokes, regardless of how down-trodden they might be, wants to be praised for knowing it’s a genre-piece, and not using the jokes that it is actually using. Come on.

re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu anime / Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- / ReZero anime - Granhiert Elsa likes your guts

How I wish animanga/LNs’ authors learned how to write villains.

We also had a villain who makes use of sexual innuendo as she gets hit, because this show is perfectly in tune with its genre tropes. Back to Subaru murdering jokes, and what hope this show had for actually not being perfectly in step with its genre. First, he makes a declaration that if someone else is in his profession, then they must be unemployed. This is so unfunny, and the show knows how unfunny it is, that the background music that has been playing stops and no character makes any moves for two full seconds, until they resume speaking as if he never said anything. Here’s an idea, rather than make an unfunny joke, then wink at us while saying, “Isn’t it unfunny, eh, eh?” how about not making it to begin with? Subaru isn’t funny or cool, we got it the first 10 times he mentioned he’s poor or said anything to anyone.

The other big way in which the show has undone my good early first impression was how Subaru treated the world around him, he did not treat it as a real world, but as a game. He acted as if he’s to be given a power, as if the people around him are NPCs, and in general did not act as if it’s a real world. The world, as somewhat intimated by how other characters ignored his jokes mostly did not play in on the joke, or along with him. While, as he mentioned, most of what he went through had been “mandatory events,” such as being bullied, being saved, meeting a beautiful girl, and finding out he’s poor, the world actually felt more real than he did – with characters who go around having their daily lives even as they do not interact with him. A time-travel story is a good fit for a “Durarara-style” story about the bustling city, because we can also see how the characters around the main character act without his interference. But it’s a mixed-bag here, while the world feels meaty and has a plethora of fun characters (such as Felt running in the opening segment), it forces us to face once more the fact that the least “real” and least interesting character is the point of view main character. And that doesn’t bode well.

Though I seem quite down on the show, I am going to keep at it. I’m going to keep at it first and foremost for the very reason I caution against in my seasonal previews – the premise. Steins;Gate was a good show not just because of its premise, but its premise and its structure really helped to bring the emotions out, just as it was true for Madoka Magica with that episode. No story is good just because of its premise or structure, but some are consistently attractive due to these factors that I’m going to keep checking them out – the helpless struggle, the anguish, the growth, the realization. This is what I watch this show for, rather than its poor writing and underwhelming directing. Thing is, shows that suffer from bad writing and/or directing rarely improve, or manage to capture the full potential of their premises. But sometimes, you hang onto hope.

re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu anime / Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- / ReZero anime - Apple Seller has no time for poor kids

See, this Cranky Old Men Humor is something I can get behind! And it’s universal.

It’s also important for me to note what the show did do well, in terms of a “first impressions” post. The voice acting was solid, the character designs were mostly crisp and pleasing, and they were suitably varied. Felt and Old Man Rom were fun, feeling like fully-realized supporting characters who are part of the world, and are not only fun to watch, but are having fun living, which is always a nice thing to watch. There were some subtle moments in the show, as alluded to earlier, which means if the show just stops “unsubtling” them, it’d be fine. Of course, if you like the Saekano style of self-aware humor, you’re probably going to absolutely love the show.

The music, though not used a lot, was pleasing, and now and then also enhanced the scenes it appeared in beyond just being there. There weren’t many animation highlights, but the animation was fine, though background NPCs were mostly slightly-jarring CG.

So, it’s a show that has an interesting premise, and quite a few times it felt promising, but it usually pissed that away. The second half of the episode was much improved from the first, which was overlong and relied on unfunny tropes and non-existing chemistry between the two leads, mostly because Subaru actively sucks the fun from his interactions, which the show admits, rather than actually, well, fix. The second half though, had good atmosphere, of tension and horror, of good-natured banter. So long Subaru wasn’t involved. So the show can do more than just be competent, so long the director focuses on atmosphere that sets scenes up, rather than go for the hammy GrimDark, which he doesn’t even make schlocky or fun enough. So maybe it’d improve, if it focuses on these things. Maybe.

Return to the Re:Zero Episodic Notes page.

4 comments on “Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World Episode 1 – Pissing Promise and Premise Away

  1. Frog-kun says:

    In this episode, the self-aware jokes didn’t annoy me as much as they usually do, maybe because they weren’t accompanied by over-the-top reaction faces or annoying manzai routines. THAT’S the real killer of anime humour. As it was, I just rolled my eyes a couple of times but was able to continue relatively un-annoyed.

    Also, the MC is definitely a flat character, but he didn’t come off as a smug asshole. In fact he smiled a lot and was generally friendly, so I’m okay with him.

    All in all, I had fun. I’m surprised that this is the work of a first-time director.

    • Guy says:

      For me the way they treated the self-aware humor is just another variation on the reaction faces. Making the jokes and continuing on as if it’s part of the discussion is one thing, but the show makes a big show out of how the other characters and the world ignore his jokes, and how flat they fall. And this makes the whole thing very tiresome.

      Is it part of a natural discussion? Then treat it like that. Is it supposed to be funny? Then why aren’t people laughing? And if you’re pointing out how unfunny it is, just cut it.

      As to the main character, he wasn’t exactly smug, I agree, but he felt, more than flat, fake. And he didn’t treat the world as real either.

      So all of it added up to a pretty unenjoyable episode for me. When the whole episode revolves around how unfunny your main character is, and about him interacting with others while he has zero charisma or chemistry, it falls flat. There are far too many killers for anime humor, and most shows employ several at once.

      I’m glad to hear you liked it though!

      Edit: To clarify, I didn’t actively hate most of the episode, but what I liked is: Rom and Felt, especially their interactions. First 90 seconds of the episode, and the horror atmosphere when Subaru first entered Rom’s place. Out of 50 minutes of actual runtime (no OP/ED), that’s not very good.

  2. Random Guy who gives his bad opinions says:

    I’m getting “The Edge of Tomorrow” vibe out of this. Main character dies, and restarts, but he fixes his mistakes. I don’t know where they are going with this story.

    What’s nice is that it does feel like we are in the eyes of the MC, disregarding the fact that it took him longer to realize he made a time reset. With time travel, we learn something new each time he tries something. We’re left with many questions that wants us to know more. Why do people get twitchy when Subaru stated he wanted to return the item to the owner? What’s the motive behind the characters we met? Why did the girl say her name was Satella? Why is Subaru such an idiot for not noticing his own time reset after possibly the second time he passed away? (Joke)

    Finally, how will Subaru’s character change throughout the story? Nothing good for him, if bad endings are only awaiting him.

    • Guy says:

      Yes, in terms of “overt plot structure”, the show’s fine. The problem is what it does in the moments between them. The small interactions.

      Of course, some people like Subaru and/or tropey interactions. I don’t. So while I like the plot, I do wish it were filled with different characters. I don’t really feel we’re “viewing the world through Subaru’s eyes”, because he’s not really much of a character.

      Also, please avoid commenting on episodes with information gleaned from future episodes. I cover all shows in a weekly thread, and it might be the most relevant place :)

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