Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 17

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

Well, we knew this was going to happen. Given that the previous book had, with the exception of the final scenes, been a delightful and mostly lighthearted volume showing off the entire main cast, it is no surprise to see that in this next volume, Everything is Terrible. This is not to say that Subaru is doing dumb things out of stubbornness – we’re long past that stage. Heck, he can even participate in battles now, wielding a whip he received training in (I suspect this training was in another unlicensed short story, ah well). But yeah, by the end of this book we have a ton of corpses, an even bigger ton of transformed monstrosities, and even those who are not dead or turned into something else tend to have wounds that constantly bleed and the like. If your idea of a fun Re: Zero book is seeing terrible people doing bad things to good people, well, good news! That said, there’s also a bit of non-violence here that’s fun to read.

When we left off, Subaru was having to deal with the shortest “return by death” he’s ever had to experience – he has fifteen minutes to figure out and fix things. Needless to say, this leads to quite a few Subaru deaths in the first quarter of the book, and he’s not alone. He tries solving the problem himself – he fails. He tries getting Reinhard to solve the problem – this fails. He tries asking Beatrice for help – this actually succeeds, but it doesn’t mean things so well, as we have not one, not two, but THREE Witch Cultists to deal with. Now Emilia is missing, Beatrice is in a coma, Subaru is heavily wounded, and a number of the cast are absent. Oh yes, and Capella, the Witch Cultist who has control of City Hall, says to get her “the Witch’s Bones” or the city is doomed. There is, as always, too much on Subaru’s plate.

I was at first vaguely annoyed when, halfway through the book, the focus shifted away from Subaru and focused on Garfiel. Don’t get me wrong, Garf is a fine supporting character, but given everything else that was going on I did not feel in the mood for “I’m not the strongest in the land woe is me”. And indeed we get that to start, but things quickly become FAR more interesting after Garfiel rescues some children from a potential boating accident. When returning him to their family, he runs into someone whose existence is impossible and yet is also the thing he wants more than anything in the world… but he just can’t actually reach out and take it, because, well, circumstances. Honestly, it’s really refreshing to see something that devastates a character that is a POSITIVE thing, and I really hope that this goes somewhere in future volumes.

As the book ends, everything is even more terrible than it was in the last book, as we deal with the worst of all possible enemies: an arrogant incel who only cares if girls are virgins. Hope he dies! Till then, enjoy the suffering that is this series’ bread and butter.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 16

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

Fans of this series have been reading it for a long time now, and know that this is the first book in a new arc. As such, we keep wondering when things are going to turn terrible again and when nightmarish, hideous things are going to start happening to Subaru. And, I’m not gonna lie, that does indeed happen. By the end of the book, we’re back in familiar territory. The wonderful news is that it’s the END of the book – which means we get an entire volume of everything simply being fun and relaxing. Now that all of Camp Emilia are on the same page, and we’ve had a timeskip (it’s been a year since the prior volume ended), the book can lean hard on what the main cast does best: Subaru being the tsukkomi, Beatrice snarking, Emilia being so earnest you want to look away, Garfiel looking for a good fight, and Otto stressing out. Almost all of those things happen in this book. Sorry, Garfiel. There’s always someone better.

As noted, it’s a year later, and Emilia’s group (minus Ram and Roswaal, who it seems sit this arc out) are invited to Pristella, the City of Water. They’re invited by Anastasia, and it turns out that invitations have been made to (almost) all the other factions as well. This allows the entire cast of the third arc to finally meet up again, and in what is essentially a bizarre combination of Venice (the city) and Japan (the inn they’re staying at – which is deliberately Japanese to such an obvious degree that Subaru is certain that someone else isekai’d into this world before him is responsible.) Now Subaru can try to make nice with Julius (semi-success), we can mete up with Crusch (still awesome, but in a 100% different way than how she used to be) and Felt (still kicking against the pricks). We might EVEN get a grandfather and grandson to reach towards reconciliation… or we would if a very uninvited guest didn’t drop by.

So basically we have a bunch of fun setup and scenes with characters interacting in either a) hilarious, b) heartwarming, or c) infuriating ways, and it’s bliss. (This does not count the final few scenes in the book, which are appropriately horror-filled and ghastly.) Subaru is confident now and so is Emilia, and everyone can see the change. We also meet up again with Liliana, the minstrel whose stay at the manor and subsequent chaos everyone remembers from the first short story collection… hang on, I’m getting something in my ear… what? Still unlicensed? Oh well, the author tries to describe what happened. Erm, you had to be there, I guess. It’s also nice to see the five candidates battling it out again after so long – what with the fight against the White Whale, and ALL of Arc 4, I would not blame readers for needing a refresher. And then there’s the villain – they’re on the cover, on the right – who is seriously screwed up and evil and I really hope something can be done about them next time.

That may be tough, though – Subaru’s not going back a leisurely couple hours or day or so as before. That said, till the next book, enjoy one of the best light novel series out there, with everyone being really happy and confident, including the author.

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.)