Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 21

By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan as “Re: Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Dale DeLucia.

As I said last time, this book starts off a new arc but is also a continuation of the previous one, which is both good news and bad news. The good news is that we don’t really get a huge new cast to remember like the previous arc’s start: all the main characters here are familiar faces with the only new person showing up at the very end. The bad news, of course, is that I don’t get a whole bunch of new faces to talk about in a review, just the old familiar ones, which is a problem as this book is very much “clearing an obstacle” as a plotline. There is a place our heroes have to get to, it’s considered impossible to get there, but they do get there thanks to some old familiar faces, some nice gossip from an innkeeper, and of course Subaru’s Return By Death, which comes back gloriously in this volume, featuring some of the goriest deaths to date.

Yes, yes, look at the cover’s Rem’s back. Except she’s not, she remains in a coma the entire volume, so don’t get too excited. But she’s one of the many things that Subaru is hoping the Sage of the Watchtower can fix, along with Julius and Anastasia (who Subaru now sometimes calls “Foxidna”, i.e. Echidna wearing a fox stole. Anastasia/Echidna is not fond of that). Unfortunately, this involves making a journey so impossible even Reinhardt couldn’t manage it. Towards that end, they go back to the mansion and grab Rem (and thus Ram as well) and also Melia, the minor villain who can control beasts from a prior arc, who agrees to help them as basically she’s reluctant to go back to the person who hired her and pay the price of her failure. Unfortunately, not only do they have to deal with sandstorms, twists in time and space, and terrible monsters, but the Sage of the Watchtower seems to want Subaru dead. And she has lasers.

Rem may be in a coma for the volume, but that does not mean that her presence does not influence the others. Subaru and Ram both have very complex feelings of love and loathing regarding her, and Ram’s are even more complex as she’s the one who can’t remember her. One of the “death” endings involves everyone losing control of their emotions and killing each other, and Subaru and Ram both scream at each other for not caring enough about Rem’s wellbeing. And then there’s Emilia, who is sure that she loves Subaru, but has not quite gotten the hang of what that kind of love is. Everyone boggles a bit when she suggests she’s 100% fine with her and Rem both being objects of Subaru’s affection… till she throws in every other close friend he has, and we realize she means as a big family. Hang in there, Subaru.

So yes, a good volume, but it’s basically a long prologue to what’s actually going to be happening, which will no doubt involve Shaula, the character introduced right at the end, who seems far more delighted to see Subaru than is reasonable under any circumstances. We’ll see what happens next.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 20

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

We have now reached the end of the 5th arc! That said, as the author notes, this is less of a resolution and more of a change of scenery. In terms of achievements, our heroes do not make out very well this time around. They do succeed in stopping the destruction of the city, and they capture one of the archbishops. But before this arc there were five “camps” for the Who Wants to Rule The Country?” sweepstakes, and two of them are decimated after it finishes. Even the fights here are bittersweet rather than satisfying, with the exception of Garfiel, who gets to unleash his inner shonen protagonist. Reinhard gets to finally tell his wife what he never managed to say, but it’s hard to call that happy or heartwarming. Al doesn’t win but merely survives. Otto is grievously injured. Crusch is still not healed. That said, I think the Anastasia Camp wins the prize for “Bad Things”. Oof.

The bulk of the book is fighting, as we basically get the fights that were happening while Subaru and Emilia were busy with the previous book. Garfiel is fighting (and losing, most of the time) to the eight-armed legend, but his fights run on pure shonen, as I said, so he’s good. We get a double dose of Gluttony, which goes very badly for many soldiers who get their names stolen, though Otto manages to figure out something about how their powers work. Wilhelm is forced to realize – again – that this is a fantasy world, and therefore hard work hardly works. Fortunately, Reinhard is there to finish off his grandmother. Unfortunately, their relationship is not magically healed. Al is fighting Lust, which mostly involves a lot of banter and a truly excessive amount of property damage. And then there’s Julius and Anastasia… let’s save that for the next paragraph.

This is one of those series I do tend to spoil myself on, given we’re still so far behind Japan (and also you never know when a short story volume may be relevant to the main series, cough), so I was aware something was going to happen with Anastasia. It’s not nearly as bad as Subaru or the reader feared, though that reveal is a killer. And at least this was done with Anastasia’s consent. But it’s still depressing, as I liked her, and I fear it will be a while before we see her again. Julius is a pure gutpunch, though, and meant to be the truly devastating consequence of this arc. At least he has Subaru, who (like Rem) can remember who he is. And , unlike Rem, he can at least walk and talk. In any case, we’re all now going to consult with the Great Sage to see how to solve everyone’s problems. I’m sure it will go fine.

Rem is, by the way, still in a coma and no one remembers her. We’ve now had far more books with Rem than without Rem. I fear the fans may have forgotten her. In any case, this is well-written, but intentionally leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

Re: ZERO -Starting Life in Another World – Ex, Vol. 5

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

Last time I mentioned that the 4th side story volume was actually a setup for the 6th arc, which had not come out yet. It still hasn’t – expect it in 2023. Worse news, this volume is mostly a setup for the seventh arc of the series, so I’d say expect that in late 2024. Fortunately, this one can be read as a standalone relatively easily, mostly as it stars Priscilla, who we are already familiar with. That said, you might want to brush up on the 4th book in the Ex series, as several characters from that show up here, even though this book takes place a few years earlier. This book can basically be divided into two stories: 1) a throne war with 32 siblings trying to kill each other, and 2) a death battle stadium where the competitors take over, but one of them has an ulterior motive. That said, it’s a Priscilla book. So honestly, the real plot is “Priscilla is fabulous”. (Oh yes, and Al as well. Hi, Al. You sort of sound like Subaru, but less tsukkomi.)

In the first story (framed as Priscilla reading what might be her diary to Schult), we meet Prisca Benedict, age 10… who is immediately murdered by her servants. But it’s OK, that was just a body double! This should give you an idea of the sort of thing we have going on. It’s betrayal, backstabbing, and zero sibling affection, as Prisca tries to stay alive and become heir over her cunning older sister and powerful older brother. Who has the power of the previous book on his side, which shows he wins. The second story shows us Al, who has lost his arm but lacks his helmet. He’s spent ten years fighting death battles for an audience on an island devoted entirely to that purpose. Unfortunately for him, the other “sword-slaves” are rising up in rebellion, even if that’s a terrible idea. Will Al be able to talk them down? What about that ulterior motive? And what is Priscilla Pendleton, now on Marriage #1, doing there?

The biggest frustration with this volume is that it’s NOT how Priscilla and Al first meet – they spend the entire second story apart from each other, and never meet. We also don’t get a shot of Al’s face, though he’s there on the front cover and also one illustration seen from the back, showing off his ponytail. Priscilla has her intelligence and arrogance here, but is also ten years old, so is now quite the powerhouse we see in the main series. She’s helped by Arakiya, a dog girl who gains monstrous powers by “eating” spirits (and can somehow hold on to her sense of self), and one things I really like about the Re: Zero books is seeing characters who are otherwise terrible people and show the people that they like and respect. Priscilla may regard 95% of everyone around her as clowns, but she’s rarely WRONG about that either, and I enjoyed her scenes with Arakiya. Al shows that he has similar people-judging qualities, too.

I’m sure I will forget 95% of this book when we get to Book 26 and Arc 7. Oh well. It’s still a solid entry in the series, especially if you like Priscilla: The Early Years.