“That’s all this story is about”
Re:Zero is a light novel written by Tappei Nagatsuki whose main character is Subaru, a Japanese 17 years old boy summoned in a parallel world; as much as anyone could daydream about ending up in another world, perhaps one full of opportunities where they’d able to express themselves free of any worry, we know that, deep down, our first reaction to being thrown into a foreign world completely alone, without having any knowledge of either the people or customs of the place, would not be without worry. We’d be defensless and vulnerable and we wouldn’t have the time to fantasize about whatever exciting and adventurous life was awaiting us before at least finding some degree of shelter; and yet Subaru merely seems enthusiastic, although this may seem simply due to a carefree nature of his, this total absence of esitation isn’t just that, nor is it forgetfulness on the author’s part, nor a sign of courage or determination, but one of despair.
It is later revealed to us that Subaru lived his life up till now with no expectation for the future, and so, when he finds himself suddenly transported into a new world, he sees an opportunity to start anew and maybe find some sense of purpose, so then the meeting with a beautiful girl that happens on him by chance and to saves him from robbers only serves to fuel his daydreaming even more.
When death comes it’s unexpected and agonizing, it rips that apparent happiness from the guy’s hands and leaves even us astonished at all this cruelty. But that girl’s death, to whom he had entrust his last hopes, his last attempt to justify his whole life and give it some kind of meaning… it was just unacceptable. Even there, on the verge of death, it’s despair that makes itself known the most, and so he takes her hand ready to declair it.
Struggling, fighting for an illusion, despair has a distinctly different tone from an hopeless depression: a desperate man never stops trying, even if they’re aware that they can’t be saved, desire remains melancholically stuck inside them more than ever; and so, Subaru says his last words, those that will start the whole thing: I will definitely save you. .
Subaru goes through a deep psychological growth during the story, sometimes behaving weakly or immaturely at first glance and this can easily embitter our opinion of him; yet still, if we try to empathize, it’ll soon be clear how deeply unfair not only ours, but also other characters’ opinions of Subaru are. The power “Return by Death” was given to him by the most feared and infamous, but still totally unfamiliar to him, Witch; she constantly declares her love for him, even so it’s questionable how much it really can be considered an enviable ability rather than a curse: even if he’s able to come back to life everytime, the fear of dying doesn’t dim through habit, on the contrary it raises and intensifies becoming soon an incurable dread and, freezed by that fear, he’s doomed to see the people he loves being killed again and again around him. What brings him to give in, even more than the suffering and pain, is the uselessness of his struggles and sacrifices knowing that the experiences he lived with other people are forever lost in their memory.
At the same time Subaru will grow a lot during the novel gaining more and more awareness of his errors and flaws, like the arrogance shown in arc 3; he’ll start to realize his previous actions were not always for the good of the people he was trying to help but also for his own gratification. The loneliness caused by the impossibility to share his pain to others will be what, in arc 3, will finally brings Subaru’s mask of optimism and serenity to shatter, leaving exposed the suffering that had been sub-consciously repressed up till then.
To further aggravate his mental state is the fact that very few people have shown Subaru friendliness: not counting Beatrice and Ram, whose behaviour can be simply be regarded as rude, but who still also helped him when he truly needed, Rem did not hesitate much from killing him slowly and painfully simply because he bore the Witch’s stench; surely her actions where due to a heavy childhood trauma, yet the unjust violence exerted not only on an innocent, but a person that had tried their best to establish a genuine friendship with his very murderer is an excessive and incomprehensible cruelty to him; what is forced on Subaru is a fatal injustice, it’s not merely death, he is left no means of retreat from the pain: no matter how humbly and gently he acts, uncaring of his pleas for help, death is inflicted upon him for crimes he never committed, with hatred and cruelty no less.
And so, given how prostrating himself and begging for mercy never saved Subaru, only the Witch, after each death, offered a shelter from that violence; showing herself in longer and longer apparitions and evoking in him sensations and notions never known before and the ominous forebonding that, regardless of his power, his path is already marked.
Among the complex storyline and the plot twists, Re:Zero contains some focal themes that develop throughout the course of the novel.
That of death is a fundamental concept in Re:Zero, not only for the obvious narrative expedient that is the protagonist’s main ability, but mainly for the dilemma that is posed to Subaru everytime he is faced with a problem: is it truly right to surrender to this power and use it to reach his goals? Is it really acceptable to carelessly sacrifice his life over and over again? During the unfolding of the plot Subaru will have to face multiple critical moments for his psychological growth, finally coming to the decision to avoid his death at all costs while still maintaining his will to save Emilia and all the other people he cares about without compromise.
But the key to Re:Zero’s meaning is all summarised in the last scenes of episode 25, when after Emilia’s words “Thank you Subaru, for saving me”, the titlescreen comes almost in reply “That’s all this story is about.”
Much of the story is based on Subaru’s love for Emilia and the Witch’s love for Subaru, those are the causes but also the motives that drive all events of the novel in the larger picture. The work is complex and articulated, but deep down there’s a very simple core, a declaration of intent that was placed under our nose from the very beginning: “I will definitely save you.”; it’s the promise from the first episode that does not end there, but will push Subaru to do anything in his power for Emilia throught the plot.
What is Re:Zero?
First and foremost a novel, and a tragedy, of love.