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…

Re: ZERO -Starting Life in Another World – Ex, Vol. 3

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

When this arrived, I didn’t read it for a while as I was expecting it to be the “second half” of Wilhelm’s tragic backstory. But no, as this volume ends we’re still in lovey dovey land, though there are echoes of bad things on the horizon. Instead this volume picks up where the last one left off, with Wilhelm having defeated Theresia in battle and thus proving that he can replace her as the main defense of the realm… or so he thinks, but given that he starts the book in a prison cell, it’s likely that he has a lot more convincing to do. What this actually is are three short stories mushed together telling the story of Theresia and Wilhelm getting married and going on their honeymoon, and all of the things that get in the way of their happiness, which at this stage are mostly played for comedy. That said, the main villain towards the end has some familiar equipment, and I’m wondering exactly how Big Bad he’s meat to be.

I get the sense that the author wrote these stories while taking a break from their usual “Subaru has the worst day ever” fare. I was not expecting this to be as light-hearted as it was, and in many ways it doesn’t even feel like a Re: ZERO novel. Having determined to become Wilhelm’s bride and not a sword master (Wilhelm at least adds “unless she wants to” to this, but the narrative still pushes hard on “cute girls should not fight” mode), Theresia now goes into full-blown tsundere mode, with lots of embarrassment, mild jealousy, and no doubt pouting while pushing out one cheek in the grand anime faces tradition. Wilhelm has become more human since the last book, but that does make him a bit less interesting, as he’s now the standard snarky male light novel lead – something Subaru takes pains not to be. Theresia’s overprotective dad doesn’t help either, as he is made of cliches.

The final short story is the most interesting. (Well, there’s a short fourth short story about Carol and Grimm’s romance, but it’s clearly an afterword sort of thing.) Our couple are on their honeymoon, accompanied by Carol (who loves Theresia a bit too much) and tailed by Theresia’s father (ditto). Things turn serious, unfortunately, when they run into Lord Stride, who is the classic “arrogant noble” of many a light novel, and his bodyguard/champion, a big guy with eight arms. Naturally, he and Wilhelm have to fight, and it’s the best fight in the book, though unlike the last book this one really isn’t about the fights. Stride reminds me far too much of Petelgeuse only witho0ut the insanity, and I have a sneaking suspicion he or a relative may be in the main story sooner or later.

This is a great change of pace for those who’ve been reading Re: ZERO waiting for bad things to happen to good people. On the downside, that does mean it’s a little boring. There’s no deconstruction here, just the author writing a fun little light novel where the sword cutie marries the sword snarker. No doubt this will be continued in the 4th EX, but that’s not out in Japan yet.