Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 12

By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Borque.

Subaru is much improved as a protagonist in these newer volumes of Re: Zero, to the point where I find I barely have to yell at him in my head at all. Most of the times that he dies and has to return by death are the fault of external forces or things he doesn’t know about, rather than his being a stubborn dumbass. And he gets two points here where he shows that his love for Emilia and Rem (still in that order, sorry Rem fans) is more than just saying it – he can tell when their own responses are either distorted or out-and-out falsified. That said, the last third of this book did a great job of reminding me just how flawed a protagonist Subaru can be. After all, every time he dies and starts again at his save point… he leaves behind a dead Subaru. And those who cared about him. Something he learns all too well when he gets to take the Second Test.

The cover art features our villains of the book, one very familiar to us, one not so much. Unfortunately, despite returning to the mansion in record time, I think Subaru is going to have to come up with another plan, because time is not on his side no matter what. It does, however, given us another very emotional confrontation with Beatrice. I knew going in that this fourth Arc would give some time to Emilia, but it must be back-loaded, as so far there’s been very little. Beatrice, though, also gets an incredible amount of attention and care, showing us how much she is suffering and also showing how little Subaru can seemingly do about it. It also throws into stark relief the end of the book, where Echidna offers to make a pact with him – the fact that he’s desperate enough to accept it despite EVERY OTHER WITCH saying it’s a bad idea shows he’s still very, very fallible.

Speaking of the other witches, Echidna, who had been nice, police and helpful so far this arc, is starting to show her true colors and her stunning lack of empathy – well, no, it’s not really that stunning, we knew this was coming. I will give kudos to the author for making the Witch of Lust a crybaby moe sort of girl, and the Witch of Sloth the one who has the Red Hot Mama vibe you’d normally give to Lust. The cliffhanger ending shows the 7th and final witch showing up at the tea Party, which may end up being as bloody as Umineko’s sometimes were. On the bright side, she’s probably come as herself this time – the earlier parts of the book features a Satella who had literally possessed Emilia, and it was not a pretty sight. (That said, the prize for creepiest moment of the book easily goes to the scene where Emilia, her mind utterly broken by the tests, gives Subaru a lap pillow and a kiss – a kiss that he gets right as he dies. Brr.)

We’re now halfway through this arc, and I get the feeling, revelations about Roswaal aside, we’re not much closer to getting a happy ending. Still, fans of the series will definitely enjoy what they get here, though as always it can be difficult to read. Everyone suffers: The Novel.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 11

By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Borque.

I was sort of expecting this volume of Re: ZERO to be a lot of dying and repeating, and that’s what it is, but we have the added factor, which is good for the reader but bad for Subaru, that things are not repeating in the same way. Due to the nature of Subaru’s Return by Death, every time he dies and comes back the people he needs to convince distrust him more and more as a possible Witch Cultist. Also concerning (and thankfully pointed out by the text) is that Subaru is getting perhaps a little too used to his Return by Death, to the point that his normal emotions are getting a bit flattened. Now, admittedly, the end of the book shows this is not necessarily the case, but if Subaru is going to be a pragmatist I would like him to be one who shouts and waves his hands and is sarcastic to people he dislikes. Grimdark Subaru is not a thing I want.

Having been ignominiously killed by a familiar face at the end of last book, Subaru wakes up in the Tomb, having just completed the first task. He now informs the reader that the one who killed him was Elsa. Remember Elsa? From Book 1? She’s back, and as he finds out when he returns to the mansion again, this time with Ram, she’s there for slaughter and not much else. Even when he can escape her he’s eaten by some sort of beast creature. And things aren’t much better back at the Sanctuary. As I said earlier, Garf is disliking him more and more due to the “witch smell” he gives off the more he returns by death, Roswaal is being very cagey and suspicious (Subaru asks him point blank at one time “are you the enemy?”), and Emilia is sadly still not passing her trial – in fact, she’s barely in this book, much to the annoyance of fans who would like to see her at least try to pull even with Rem.

A lot of this series relies on really good scenes that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading, and here the best of those is at the end of another Bad End in the mansion where Elsa is killing everyone. Subaru is already near death’s door from wounds and missing limbs when he happens upon the door to Beatrice’s library. Unfortunately, he was trying to rescue Rem at the time, so she’s toast. And Beatrice heals him, making it harder for him to go back and die. The ensuing temper tantrum that comes from him is understandable but also awful, and Beatrice’s hurt reaction, and then her enraged response, not only makes the reader feel horrible but also provides very important plot details. I suspect it may be Beatrice who gets development before Emilia here. Also nice to see Petra here again. Let’s give her a hand, people. (Sorry.)

So this was very much still a setup book, being Book 2 of 6 in this arc. There’s a lot of witches I didn’t really get into, including one familiar one who shows up right at the cliffhanger ending. Fans of the series will find a lot to sink their teeth into, though. Just… Subaru, are you OK?

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 10

By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Borque.

As with my review of the 9th volume, I recommend that this review not be read by anyone who’s only seen the anime or manga versions of Re: Zero.

The first half of this book is merely good, as it has to set up the basics of what will be the next arc. Subaru and Emilia arrive back at the mansion only to find that the other half of the village – the one with Ram – is not there. Instead they’ve ended up at the Sanctuary, an area deep in the woods that is the home to demi-humans. Headed over there, Subaru quickly runs afoul of the Witch Echidna, who is able to wrap him around her little finger despite the obvious handicap of being dead. Her tomb is home to a trial that Emilia must take – and, it appears, Subaru is able to take it as well, as he quickly gets sucked into the first of the three tests it involves. Which is good for the reader, as it involves confronting and accepting his past… a past that we’ve been almost entirely ignorant of till now.

So yeah, as expected, Rem is still in a coma and no one remembers her, and it appears that this is going to be the case for the entire arc. I suspect that Rem fans are not going to be too happy with the bright side, which is that this will allow Emilia to get more character development that she didn’t get in the previous arc. Unfortunately, as with Subaru’s character development in the last few books, this is going to begin with a certain amount of frustration – while Subaru is pretty much able to pass the first test with flying colors, Emilia fails the “confront your past” part every single time. I expect a future book will tell us why, but till then, sobbing on the ground and calling out for Puck (who is also absent, for reasons we don’t yet know) is not a good look for her.

The main reason to read this book is the chapter where Subaru confronts his past, which means that we actually get to know his past. His parents are both fantastic in their own way, two people who you read about for ten seconds and immediately understand “yes, these are absolutely who his parents would be”. Subaru suffered as a kid from what a lot of us do, which is being above average in academics and athletics to a certain age, but then starting to fall behind others. Subaru, who was measuring himself by his “perfect” father and coming up short, overcompensated by being more boisterous and doing more crazy, dangerous things at school – something that eventually lost him his friends and made him decide to stop going to school altogether. The trial allows him to do something that he can’t do in real life – say goodbye to both his parents, and assure them that he’s stopped standing still and is moving forward. The entire sequence is terrific.

Unfortunately, Re: ZERO still has its main gimmick in play. And so at the end of the volume Subaru is brutally murdered, and we see a face that I’d honestly totally forgotten about doing the killing. I’m not sure how far back he’ll go, but I suspect we won’t be seeing the first stage of the trial all over again. Also, his idea to take the trial FOR Emilia as her knight is a bad one, and I hope it gets scrapped. In any case, this is a fantastic new volume of an excellent series. Man, remember when I hated Subaru? It seems so long ago now…