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.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 2

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

I always enjoy it when the second volume of a new series is stronger than the first, and that’s exactly what we have here. Subaru has managed to finally defeat death and get out of that crossroads, thus proving he is better than Robert Johnson. Now he’s recovering at the castle of Emilia’s eccentric mentor, who is apart of a series of strong new characters, including sarcastic twin maids, a grumpy loli that Subaru promptly labels as such, and, sadly, a new save point, as about 1/3 of the way through the book, Subaru dies… again. Only this time he dies in his sleep, and now has a harder job: figuring out who’s killing him and why.

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Of course, the book does still have its faults, chief among them still being Subaru. I mentioned while I was reading the series that he reminded me a bit of Bugs Bunny, mostly in the way that he enters a situation he knows very little about and responds with glib sarcasm and tsukkomi retorts. This makes the book a breezy, fun read, but at the expense of realism a bit – Subaru’s one-liners still feel overwritten, in a way that, say, the twins’ abuse does not. He’s doing much better when he’s emotionally stressed or panicking, which means the second half of the book is much stronger. Of course, this also means he’s failing downwards – he goes from blithely befriending everyone, to running away, to holing himself up in his room and avoiding everyone. Finally he even gets protection from a magic user, which saves him, but… at what cost?

We do learn a bit more about the world we’re now in here, though it’s a bit limited as the entire book remains right around the castle that the bizarre Roswaal lives in. His appearance and manner of speech scream out “I am secretly evil”, and while it would be refreshing if that proves not to be the case, I’m not holding my breath. Fandom, however, seems to have fallen in love with the two maids – well, to be more accurate, with one of the two maids. Ironically, Rem gets the lesser focus in this volume, as Subaru finds it far easier to bounce off the more outwardly vindictive Ram than her meeker, but just as vindictive sister. An afterword tells us that the two maids are based off Ran and Lum from Urusei Yatsura, redesigned for the modern age. Given much of this volume implies they are more than they seem, don’t be surprised if horns come up in the next book.

And there will be a next book to resolve this, as this has a cliffhanger ending – well, really, the opposite of a cliffhanger ending, but I meant metaphorically. I assume that Subaru will learn he can survive more than 3 deaths, and we’ve also found that even if he gets past the predestined time of his death, horrible things can still happen. We also learn, in the creepiest scene in the book, that he’s not allowed to tell anyone about his power. Basically, Subaru has his work cut out for him, but I suspect he will blunder into success somehow in the third volume. This is an excellent read, depending on your tolerance of the hero being flip every other line.

Re: ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, Vol. 1

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

Given the sheer number of ‘person goes to a world based on a game’ light novel plots out in Japan, a genre so oversaturated that some competitions have banned the premise, it’s not a surprise that we’re starting to see the genre poked fun at a bit. Re: Zero begins with our hero, who went out to get snacks, suddenly in a busy intersection of a fantasy world, complete with anthropomorphic creatures, noble princesses, and sneaky thieves. The joke is that this is exactly the sort of thing that he’s read about constantly, and (given that he’s sort of become an ungraduating loser NEET in our world, albeit a buff one who keeps in shape) he is absolutely ready to gain cool new powers and save the world through the power of being awesome. Thankfully, this is not that series.

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In fact, Subaru himself may be the weak point in the book – deliberately, to be fair. He’s meant to be the sort of character you want to give a swift kicking to for being so stupid, but that’s always a high wire act, particularly if it’s your protagonist. Subaru is a smartass, and not really in a good way – he’s there with a snarky response most of the time, but it almost feels overscripted, as if it’s a default he drops into when he’s not really sure how to act in a situation. When things get more dire and serious, as they inevitably do, he gets more interesting, though not necessarily more competent. Because his powers are the main title of the series: when he dies, he resets to zero, which is to say he returns back to the start of the day to try to avoid dying. He’s not particularly good at avoiding this.

The rest of the cast fares better than Subaru, as they merely have to be fairly standard fantasy types that will get development later. There’s the overearnest princess, who can’t help but worry about Subaru even though there’s no good reason to do so; the aforementioned sneak thief Felt, who the epilogue shows us is more than she seems (my money’s on missing royalty); and Reinhard, who is perfect in every way, and basically is the character that WOULD normally be our hero in most works – the best part of the book is when we figure out that the way Subaru saved the day and avoided getting himself killed is to call for help rather than fight, which indirectly lets Reinhard come in and save the day, something Subaru is simply ill-equipped to do.

I’m not sure where this will go in the future – I assume if he dies in Book 2 he’s not going to go back to that intersection, as that would quickly grow tedious. I do hope that he matures and acts a bit less of a doofus, though I have zero hopes of that coming true. That said, this is a fun series with a premise that can go in many different directions, and I want to see where it takes me.