Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 9

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

This review is, by necessity, going to be divided into two parts. The first part, above the cover art, covers the first three quarters of the book, which goes up to the end of the anime. The second part, after the cover art, spoils the last quarter of the book, which the anime did NOT adapt. If you want to be surprised, stop reading early.

This was a very solid ending to Re: ZERO’s third arc, which ended up being six books long. Subaru comes up with a different plan after the last one went a bit pear-shaped: take out the Fingers and do the evacuations first, THEN go after Petelgeuse. It also relies on Subaru putting his trust fully in Julius, who he still dislikes on principle, but you can tell that it’s the dislike that “rivals” have for each other, and I would be very unsurprised to hear there’s slash of them on AO3. The fights are strong, Subaru actually gets to be cool and intelligent for once, and he even gets to have a dramatic confession. Plus, Emilia lap pillow! You can absolutely see why the anime wrapped it up here – it’s a great, heartwarming ending that resolves most of the plotlines of this arc.

And then we see why, when asked why Season 2 of re: ZERO has not been greenlit, fans who follow the webnovel tried to avert their eyes and hem and haw. So yeah, not QUITE the happy ending we envisioned. Two more Witch Cult members attack Crusch, Rem, and the others heading back to the city, and the outcome is dreadful. Half the force is killed, Crusch loses an arm and also all her memories, and Rem’s body remains sleeping, but everyone else has forgotten HER – including Ram. This was foreshadowed a few times in the book earlier, where Ram looks puzzled at Subaru implying she has another sister, but it does lead to the beautifully dramatic (it gets a full page all to itself) “Who’s Rem?” from Emilia. Even worse, the author really drives in the knife by giving Rem fans a short story that shows off what would have happened if she and Subaru HAD run away together – they’re both happy, have two kids, joke about his libido – it’s the sweetest thing you can imagine. And also not what actually happened.

I was very impressed with the final chapter, which skipped Subaru finding out about all this and went to the aftermath, where he looks over Rem’s comatose body and tries to figure out what to do next. We hear about his despair – he kills himself to try to “return” to save Rem, but finds his savepoint is him looking at her body, so that’s out. Worse, after what’s happened to Crusch, Ferris is ready to break their alliance, and has to be talked down by Wilhelm and Crusch herself, who is a lot meeker and milder than the woman we love, but is just as determined. More importantly, Emilia has her groove back, and is ready to move forward with Subaru at her side. The next arc is implied to give her the character development that Rem got in earlier books.

The trouble is, of course, that we’re not sure how long the books will have Rem in a coma. Rumor has it there will be a long wait – the next arc is supposed to also be six books long. Good news for the EMT fans, but given how for 95% of all anime fans Rem is the only thing to care about in Re: ZERO, you can see why producers have been vacillating. That said, here it is, and it’s well written, and… sorry, Rem fans? Enjoy the Rem Natsuki story, if nothing else.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 8

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

This arc continues to be very long, with most of this volume involved with trying to destroy the Witch Cult of Sloth, which proves, unsurprisingly, to be very difficult. It doesn’t seem that way at first – Petelgeuse is taken out with apparent ease, to the point where Subaru is naturally thinking “when is the other shoe going to drop? – but as we get further into the story and the Witch Cultists get more and more insane/clever/both, we start to have lives being lost. None of the named characters, mind, but it upsets Subaru nevertheless, as he feels that this time the deaths are directly attributable to his asking them to help him. Actually, this is a very good volume for Subaru watchers – even though he’s on an upswing and not doing stupid things too much, he’s still having trouble with Julius (Ferris notes his apology in the last book was half-assed) and with Emilia (who shows up to save the day towards the end here, but there’s no joyous reunion as of yet.

The cover and color illustrations feature Felt and Reinhard, and at first I wondered if my copy of the book was missing a scene, as they’re not actually IN the book – what you see in the color illustration is what you get. Instead we have the vast we had at the end of the last book, trying to destroy the Witch Cultists and doing lots of cool things. This includes Wilhelm, who is awesome but very injured by the end of the book; Ferris, who is desperately trying to save lives, even of the enemy, and having very little luck; and Julius, who proves to be an excellent combatant and can control spirits, which is of great benefit to Subaru when they save his life. Subaru’s plan is pretty good, though it ends up having one major flaw, which is that the Witch Cult is EVERYWHERE, even among people Subaru assumed were allies.

As for Petelgeuse, as I noted, he is seemingly killed off early on, but appearances can be deceiving. Indeed, the very nature of the Archbishop of Sloth proves to be somewhat elusive until the very end of the book, when Subaru realizes what is going on and flees (this is why we get no warm reunion with Emilia). This leads to the climax of the book, which has something I was not expecting. I have to assume that there’s going to be a new “reset point” and that we’re not going to have to do the entire White Whale battle again, but it’s ironic that just as Subaru is learning the fragile nature of life, his overpowered ability to avoid death has to be the solution. That said, I’m fairly certain the next volume is the final one in this book. Will he fix things? Will he reconcile with Emilia? And what of Rem, entirely absent from this book?

This was a solid volume of Re: Zero, with a lot of action, and Subaru still being less annoying than he has been. I’m looking forward to more.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 7

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

There is apparently something of an argument among Re: Zero fans about whether the overall story is meant to be a deconstruction of the typical “light novel” hero. I can see why people would come to this conclusion. Subaru frequently acts like he can glide through every situation based on guts and gumption, and the series is very quick to put him in his place over and over again. It shows what might actually happen in a situation like that. And, much as I get very, very frustrated with Subaru, this is an excellent way to handle his character. That said, I think it’s a great character idea, but I don’t think the book is a deconstruction in general. And the reason for that is books like this, where Subaru takes everything he’s learned from previous books where he was a giant dumbass and uses it to save the day, becoming the light novel hero whether he wants it or not. If you think it’s a deconstruction, you’re likely annoyed. As for me, I’m saying ABOUT DAMN TIME.

Subaru, knowing he needs help from everyone and also knowing that “let’s rescue Emilia!” is not going to get him jack, works with what he already knows from prior loops of failure: he knows when and where the White Whale will show up. This is big news, especially for Wilhelm, whose backstory we finally get here for those who didn’t already read it in the 2nd EX novel which came out earlier in North America. He lost his beloved wife to the Whale years ago, and is bent on revenge. And Crusch is there to help him, having mobilized tons of resources (something Subaru had been quietly noticing before) in an effort to try to best it. Subaru’s “here is the exact time it will be here” is, therefore, a blue-chip piece of info. What follows, for the rest of the volume, is that battle against the whale, who proves to be amazingly difficult to do anything about, as you’d expect.

Throughout this battle, we see Subaru doing exactly what he can/ As a combatist, he’s worse than useless. But he can exude the Witch’s scent to lure the whale to him, he can come up with a final plajn that takes it out once and for all, mostly as he has no qualms about destroying a centuries old legend, and most importantly his “never give up, give it GUTS and GUMPTION!” is finally appropriate for the situation. We see it when he gives the order to Rem to start the battle while Crusch is still boggling at the whale’s full glory, and we see it after many casualties (who, the whale’s attack being what it is, are now forgotten) when he rallies everyone to not give up and never say die. He’s finally learning when it’s best to be a light novel hero and when it isn’t. And yes, this means he finally finds it in him to apologize to Julius as well.

We’re still in the middle of the arc – after all, the Whale may be taken care of but the Witch Cult lives on. But if Subaru keeps this up, I may actually grow to respect him has a character. He’s learning to be a real hero, rather than just thinking good things wwill happen because of who he is. Well done.