Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 5

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

I admit that after four volumes of Re: Zero, and without having actually seen the anime (which, let’s remember, adapts the first NINE books), I wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was all about with Rem. I didn’t see why, aside from maybe general personality, she became basically the entire reason to watch the show for many fans. Having now read this 5th book, I think I’ve hit the point where I can say “Oh, yeah, that’s it”. Now that Emilia has broken off with Subaru and returned to the mansion, Rem gets her turn in the spotlight, showing a love and devotion to Subaru that almost goes to extremes. This can be heartwarming (as when she tries to get him to maybe stop hating himself a bit) and also disturbing (a lot of other times), but it’s hard to deny that Subaru transformed Rem’s life, and she’s never going to forget it.

It’s a good thing that someone’s in Subaru’s corner, because the reader certainly isn’t. Yes, it’s time to trawl through another book with the worst protagonist ever, as Subaru shows that after his epic beatdown from last time, he has not learned a single thing, assuring us that he will return to Emilia, save the day, and everything will be great again. Needless to say, that doesn’t happen. In fact, it doesn’t happen twice, as we’ve got another save point, meaning Subaru is free to start brutally dying again. It’s not just him or Emilia this time, though, as seemingly the entire village and mansion is slaughtered by our new enemies, the Witch Cult, led by Petelgeuse, a truly freaky nightmare who seems to revel in being insane because it’s over the top rather than any other reason. Subaru’s (feigned?) mental breakdown halfway through the book may give Rem some much needed spotlight, but it doesn’t do him much good. Even in the very end, we see his rage and fury and think: Yup, still hasn’t learned a goddamn thing.

That said, aside from Subaru I am still enjoying this series a great deal. The election continues apace, and we see once more just how hard it is for Emilia to get anywhere in it when even our grumpy abble seller and Rem show they have an instinctive fear and hatred towards her. Crusch remains an awesomely cool character, and we get some tantalizing background details of how she met Ferris that we want to hear more about. (If only there were a spinoff novel coming out in less than two weeks that would tell us that story!) There’s also a very interesting revelation about Subaru that Petelgeuse makes, which, combined with the witch miasma that pours through him whenever he resets to his save point, makes me wonder just how much of a typical “I am a normal Japanese man in another world” protagonist he is.

So my advice for this new volume of Re: Zero is the same as last time: try not to grind your teeth down to nubs as you read Subaru’s stubborn idiocy, but enjoy the rest of the worldbuilding, the scary villains, and Rem being pure and good and badass (I hope Emilia gets her turn next, but I have a feeling it may be a few more books.)

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 4

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

It took me far longer than I’d expected to finish this volume of Re: Zero, mostly because I had to pause and stop reading every time Subaru was an absolute idiot. Now, one might argue that the entire premise of the series is that Subaru is an idiot and grows and learns through a series of bitter, horrible experiences, and they’d be right. But this book in particular was filled with (mostly) well-meaning, decent people trying to help Subaru, and his ignoring and steamrollering through them because, deep down, he’s sure that he’s meant to be the protagonist of a story starring him. And in the end it all comes crashing down around him. He’s not dead, but he’s lost Emilia, and to him that may well be worse than death. Fighting against the injustice of the worst is very gritty and shonen, but it does help if you are something other than just this schlub in a tracksuit.

I’ve often said that the fourth book in a series is usually where you can tell the difference in writing between “maybe this will be a success” and “this is a success”, and Re: Zero is no exception. The cast, which had by design been small and intimate in the first three books, grows exponentially, as we’re introduced to all the various factions that are presenting themselves to lead the country – including Emilia, of course, who is understandably worries and upset and really does not need her pet loose cannon dropping in. As expected, Emilia is getting the cold shoulder for her heritage and her looks. That said, the other four candidates each have something that also makes the committee to help choose them want to scream and shout,l so she’s in with a better chance than you’d expect. Oh yes, and we see the reintroduction of Felt, the backalley thief from Book One who was spirited away. Spoiler: she’s a long-lost princess! Luckily, she’s still the Artful Dodger at heart.

In this mess we have Subaru, who was told by Emilia to stay behind and get healed while she deals with this alone, which he agrees to and then promptly disobeys the second she leaves. She knows that if he watches the ceremony at the palace, he’d only get really upset and make a scene. Then he ends up at the ceremony, gets very upset and makes a scene. To be fair to Subaru, he is kicking against the right people here. The knights are arrogant and elitist. They’re also badasses, and he is not. His ending fight with Julius is ridiculous and pathetic, showing that grim determination can only take you so far, and serving to destroy his bond with Emilia once and for all (or at least till a future book).

The book is well-written, and I genuinely want to see m ore, especially as it’s now been two whole books since Subaru last died. And I also want to see more from Rem, who is still far and away the most popular character in the series but is barely in this volume. So I’d call the book a success. But read it in small stages, and you may need to see your dentist afterwards. Let’s hope Subaru gains wisdom next book, though I’m not holding my breath.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 3

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

I was actually rather surprised to see that we don’t get another loop in the middle of this book. Subaru has managed to slowly figure out what’s going on, and is able to finally fix it, though not without great cost to life and limb. As I expected, this volume focused more on the fan-favorite maid Rem, and showed off her tremendous powers, her truly top-tier hatred and loathing of herself, and her realization that Subaru is not a bad guy – which he isn’t, though he can be rather frustrating, as always. Given that we know that Subaru snarks and makes comebacks in order to cover up his true feelings, I suppose I’d better get used to it, though I still say that he’s at his best when the mask comes off. His manic desperation, and subsequent sobbing breakdown, may be the highlight of the book.

Beatrice is on the cover this time, and I like her the more I see of her, though I do sort of wish she’d yell “YOU ARE INCOMPETENT” to Subaru just once. She’s the classic reluctant mentor who acts grumpy but helps you far more than is necessary. Emilia does not get much to do here, but makes her scenes count, realizing that Subaru is losing his mind a bit at the beginning, and towards the end giving him an epic dressing down (the revelation of how Beatrice and Puck stopped her chasing after him is the best gag in the book). As for Ram and Rem, the Higurashi fan in me could not help but see similarities between their background and that of Mion and Shion Sonozaki, with one twin forced to take up the mantle of the other due to circumstances, and feeling horrible about it. Rem falls for Subaru hard here, and I look forward to seeing how this is handled in the next book, particularly as Subaru is still A. A. E. (All About Emilia).

Beneath his wisecracking, tendency to kill himself to solve things, and sheer bullheadedness, Subaru is actually rather clever, and uses the loops to find just the right questions to ask his loli Wikipedia. The revelation of the mastermind is not one I’ll spoil here, but it should make TV Tropes happy if nothing else. And then there’s Roswaal, who again seems to be secretly evil, particularly given the final scene. Ram is over the moon for him, and seems totally fine with being a pawn, which is never good. Here’s hoping Subaru can figure out what’s going on with him. In the meantime, there are a few teasers for what may happen next. Emilia is still one of the candidates for ruler, and Subaru actually looks back at the first volume and tries to figure out why on Earth she’d use the name Satella given he now knows who that is and the stigma it carries. I am hoping that we get Emilia’s tragic backstory (she must have one) soon.

Re: Zero continues to improve with each volume, though this one was helped along by the back half being one massive battle. That said, I’ve no doubt the next book will feature Subaru being an idiot, and probably dying. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy fantasy thrillers with wisecracking leads.