Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 15

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

This book slid in RIGHT under the wire in avoiding spoiling English-speaking fans. The book came out literally the day before the episode aired which animated the first part of it. It also brings to an end the 4th arc in this series, in a mostly satisfying way. Some of the beats feel very obvious, but as always with Re: Zero, they feel that way because we’ve spent so long setting up those beats with the previous go-rounds. This series also does a very good job of keeping all the fights it has to have here interesting, either through breaking them up by moving from the Sanctuary and Emilia’s trials to the mansion and Subaru’s pleading and back again, but also because, much like Banner of the Stars, this series runs on banter and there is a lot of that. Still, by the end of the book our heroes have won the day, though… not without some cost with a last minute bitter sting in its tail. And we’re ready to move on to a new arc!

Beako is on the cover, and deservedly so. Garfiel, Emilia and Ram/Roswaal’s stories also come to a conclusion here, but there’s no real surprises in any of them on an emotional level. Emilia’s trials two and three feel almost anticlimactic – after failing so hard at the first trial over and over, she sails through them. But that’s to be expected, as she has moved past the trauma that held her back. Garfield too had most of his issues resolved in earlier books, allowing him to be the muscle that’s required in order to beat the immortal nightmare that is Elsa (who gets a shred of backstory here, but honestly I think works best as simply a grotesque impossible to stop enemy). But Beatrice’s story is the one that needs Subaru, and, true to form, he fails over and over again to convince her to leave the Library of Forbidden Books and come with him. Not even the entire mansion burning down can sway her.

The high point of the book, as I just said, is Subaru and Beatrice, and I loved every scene with both of them in it. The rest of the book does not QUITE reach those heights. Emilia, in particular, suffers from the author wanting her to grow up and move past her trauma but also being an innocent boke who knows nothing about anything. Sometimes this is hilarious – her comment on “Ryuzu’s mother” may be one of the best jokes in the series – but announcing she’s pregnant because she and Subaru kissed fell a bit flat to me. (Presumably he explains later – or more likely Ram does). Oh yes, and there’s another character who I thought was gone for good who shows up again to help kick Roswaal’s ass, which was great. Actually, there’s a scene which mentions that the entire cast take turns punching Roswaal at some point, and I deeply hope this gets like an entire episode devoted to it in the anime.

Where will this go next? There’s apparently the series’ first time skip coming up, and presumably we’ll see more of Anastasia, Priscilla and Felt. Till then, though, please enjoy Garfiel punching forever, Subaru and Otto being bros, and Emilia being even more earnest than Rem, if that’s even possible. (Technically Rem is in this book a lot, but sorry, she still does not wake up.)

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 14

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’ve always been a fan of Emilia, so have been inclined to cut her more slack than she possibly deserved, as those who’ve seen my other reviews know. That said, I get the feeling that for most Re: Zero fans, reading Emilia has sort of been like me reading Subaru in the first six books – screaming at her and wondering why she’s so bad at everything. This has only been underlined in this fourth Arc, which supposedly was going to give far more focus to Emilia – to the point of writing the other main love interest out of the story entirely – and then she spends the first three books sobbing on the ground, unable to get past a test that Subaru sails through. Of course, Subaru’s ‘overcome your past’ was, let’s be honest here, not the hardest test in the world. And at least he remembered it. Emilia’s past has a tragic centerpiece, and she’s also had her memories erased to boot – learning all of this with no emotional support would break a lot of people. Luckily, she now has that emotional support.

As you can see by the cover art, we get most of Emilia’s backstory here, though some elements (who her birth parents are) are still left clouded. Her aunt Fortuna, though, who raises Emilia as a daughter, is 100% pure awesome, and also… has Subaru eyes, something that causes me concern but I’m not going to dwell on it too much. And next to them on the cover is… yeah, that’s Petelgeuse, known mostly as Geuse here. He’s not quite what I was expecting, being fairly overdramatic and self-loathing even before said tragic events. I am grateful we got a lot of Emilia being cute here, showing her as a typical curious kid who does not enjoy being locked in a tree all day. This is balanced out by the present-day Emilia and Echidna watching the events as they happen, with Echidna being very irritated at how well Emilia is taking everything. They have the best dialogue in the book.

Meanwhile, while waiting for Emilia’s test to finish, Subaru, Garfiel and Otto confront Roswaal, who is still not willing to give an inch, despite some things happening that his book does not talk about. As long as the book ENDS the same way, he says, that’s enough. There’s some funny stuff here, mostly involving Roswaal’s reaction to Otto, but it’s clear that if they’re going to stop Elsa and her fellow animal-tamer assassin from killing everyone at the mansion, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Fortunately, Garfiel much better at fighting than Subaru is. We also got more backstory here, provided by Shima and the Ryuzus (which sounds like a girl group; from the 60s) showing the backstory of the Sanctuary, Echidna’s past with Roswaal, and most importantly Beatrice’s relationship to all of them. If Subaru is going to succeed, he has to get Beatrice away from her library, and given that’s the cliffhanger ending to this book, it’s a tall order.

The arc ends with the next book, but there’s still a lot to solve. Can Subaru end this with no deaths? Can Emilia pass the 2nd and 3rd Trials? Will the reader even see the 2nd and 3rd trials? (Signs point to no.) And will Roswaal finally be forced to give in and support Emilia for real? Can’t wait to find out.

Re: ZERO -Starting Life in Another World – Ex, Vol. 4

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

Ah, side stories, beloved by fans and feared by publishers. It may be dismaying to light novel fans, but most series coming out over here are running a year to several years behind Japan. This includes Re: Zero, whose 14th volume is due out here in October 2020, but it came out in September 2017 in Japan. When Re: Zero EX started coming out here, I noted that the timing was off, that we got the Ex books before the main titles that they were supposed to be supplementing. We have the opposite problem with this book, which came out in Japan last Christmas. It’s meant to be a supplement to the 6th arc, which begins with the 21st volume, which had just come out a couple months before in Japan. Here, we’ll likely see Vol. 21 in 2022. Fortunately, the book still does read as a stand alone, so the English speaker need not worry about spoilers here. They may, however, wonder why so much attention is being paid to a goofy samurai with a flair for drama.

The cover may be packed with people, but the most important one is right at the front. This is a book meant to give a strong role to Julius and show off how great he is when he isn’t around Subaru. The story takes place a few months before the start of the main series, and Julius, Reinhard and Ferris are bodyguards for two elder politicians who are going to negotiate with the nearby Empire. Having recently lost the entire royal family (see: Re: Zero Ex 1), they are in a very precarious position, so are trying to negotiate a non-aggression pact. Unfortunately, the Volakia Empire has “strength is the most important thing” as their watchword, so things are already unlikely to go their way. Then Reinhard is framed for murder, and he, Julius and Ferris must flee with the Emperor in tow and avoid everyone else in the Empire trying to kill them.

The Ex books are not meant to be as much of a meta commentary on isekai titles as the main series is, mostly as the isekai hasn’t happened yet – Subaru isn’t around. As such, the author is allowed to write what is essentially a straightforward swashbuckling tale, with an added air of mystery – our heroes must figure out why they’re being framed, who framed them, and how much backstabbing and double dealing is actually going on. Ferris gets a few moments to shine, but is mostly there to allow someone to be emotional, which Julius (stoic) and Reinhard (blase) have trouble pulling off. Reinhard is there to show off how monstrously strong he is, but as ever he only works because he’s something of a cipher. As such, it’s Julius who gets the heavy lifting, along with the Empire’s Cecils, the goofy samurai I mentioned earlier, who is the Empire equivalent to Reinhard and whose overdramatic flair masks his dangerous abilities.

So not as astonishing as the main series, but it’s a fun, solid romp, and fans of fighting and sleuthing will have a great time here.