Re: ZERO -Starting Life in Another World – Ex, Vol. 2

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

In Japan, these two volumes came out slightly later than they did here – the first one came out after Book 6, and this second one after Book 7. It didn’t really matter with Crusch’s book, but I get the sense with this second volume that we’re missing the impetus as to why we’re suddenly getting a side story devoted to Wilhelm when he hasn’t really had a large role in these books to date. Of course, as fans will know, the cover of the next volume of Re: Zero out in North America prominently features Wilhelm. In any case, despite feeling as if I came in after the start of the movie, this was a very good volume of Re: Zero’s spinoff, showing us a moody young man who tries to shut himself off from everyone except his sword, and his meeting a lovely and teasing young woman in a construction site with a flower garden. It also manages to have another excellent message that we’ve seen before: war is an awful thing.

The start of the book doesn’t even has Wilhelm as the viewpoint character, though that changes about one-third of the way in. Grimm is his fellow soldier and a far more “normal” person, which is to say he has his doubts, wants to avoid combat and run away when things are bad, etc. Wilhelm seemingly finds him detestable, but the fact that he’s also the only person to repress those feelings and fight valiantly anyway says a lot in his favor. As Wilhelm gradually (very gradually) begins to open up to the reader and to others, Grimm is no longer needed, though I was annoyed that the narrative went so far as to remove his voice from it literally. We also meet what… I guess is meant to be Roswaal’s mother or grandmother? It’s not very clear, and the fact that they talk and act exactly the same makes me wary and suspicious. (If you know, don’t tell me in comments, I’m happy to be unspoiled.) And we also get a whole lot of dead soldiers, both humans and demi-humans, to show that, again, war is an awful thing.

There’s also Theresia, who for most of the book seems to be just an ordinary young girl who likes to hang out in the middle of deserted vacant lots in the poor sectio0n of town for fun, but who turns out to have a much bigger secret. A surprise to you all, I’m sure. Honestly, I wish I could have had more of her – this is a very male-oriented narrative, given that it’s mostly from Wilhelm’s POV, and both he and Carol, Theresia’s friend and retainer, think the same thing: she is made for peace and fluffy things, not as a maiden of war. Which is all very well and good, and I understand that in an anti-war book you want to have that sort of opinion, but a longer section from Theresia’s POV might have helped me not see it as “pretty girls shouldn’t fight!”, which is what it comes off as.

Fortunately, their story is not over yet. This comes as a surprise to me, as after the first Ex volume I came in assuming we’d see another awesome character getting killed off for tragic backstory. But no, the book ends on a triumphant note. And there’s a 3rd volume coming out soon in Japan that looks like it will continue the story. So this is definitely recommended, though readers may want to wait till after Vol. 7 is out before they give it a try.

Re: ZERO ~Starting Life in Another World~, Vol. 6

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

Last time I said that I finally realized why so many fans love Rem. After this volume, I can say that I now know why those Rem fans dislike Emilia, though to be fair it’s not really her fault. In fact, Emilia’s barely in this book once more. But yes, Subaru and Rem’s scene in the last quarter of the book is astonishing, some of the best and most emotional writing we’ve seen in the entire series, and Subaru’s response to Rem is simply stomping on the face of shippers. I suspect a lot of people would have preferred Rem and Subaru’s fantasy where they live a normal life in the fantasy equivalent of Japan (indeed, I think the author wrote that as a side story). But Subaru remains true – eventually, after much teeth-grinding – to Emilia, who he wants to save and support. And so Rem will support him. It’s extremely heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It also makes the first 3/4 of the book pale in comparison.

Each of the “arcs” in Re: Zero has been longer than the previous one. The first was one book, the second was two. This one is SIX, meaning we’re only halfway through it. As a result, the time we’ve had to spend watching Subaru be frustrating has increased, which does not make me happy. In the previous “loop”, he spent most of the time being broken, in the loop in this book, he spends most of it being furious, burning with the desire to get revenge on Petelgeuse, to the point where at times he completely forgets about Emilia. Furious Subaru does not inspire confidence, and when he tries to ally himself with Crusch, with Priscilla, or with Anastasia, he is rebuffed one by one. Only Rem is in his corner, but then she’s also willing to sacrifice her own life so that he might live on. Hell, even when in the deepest despair, he’s still misjudging people horribly, almost bringing Beatrice to tears when he begs her to kill him because he thinks that she’s a stoic girl who doesn’t like him.

Fortunately, we may have finally, FINALLY turned the corner, as Subaru restarts again, and after that fantastic scene with Rem, actually bothers to try thinking this time. And when Subaru actually does this, he’s quite clever, using the knowledge from his prior arcs to bargain with Crusch, as he knows something that actually is useful: the habits of the White Whale. I suspect that battle will take up much of the 7th book. There’s also a 2nd EX side story out next month dealing with Wilhelm, so I would not be surprised if he played a major role in what’s to come. In the meantime, the best part of this volume of Re: Zero is that it turns the corner, and I will greatly be looking forward to not seeing Subaru be quite as Subaru going forward. (Feel free to laugh at me if I am wrong.) Also, yeah, Rem is indeed pretty awesome, I freely admit it, though I worry her devotion to Subaru is going to get her in even more trouble as we go forward.

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

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

We’ve already seen DanMachi get a side story novel series licensed, but much as Aiz is theoretically the star of the novels, Bell Cranel is always lurking just around the corner. This side series for Re: ZERO is a different kettle of fish, taking place before Subaru’s arrival in Lugnica, with each volume (there are only two to date) focusing on a different side character with no chance of Subaru appearing. Given that my main issue with Re: ZERO is Subaru himself, I welcome this development with open arms. Instead we get the backstory for Crusch and Ferris, showing how they grew up together, along with a third member of their group who had just as big an impact – Fourier, a Prince of the Kingdom who has a crush on Crusch that is clearly visible from space, but hasn’t actually done about it. Of course, Re: ZERO readers know what happened to the entire royal family from the main series. Uh oh.

That said, the first half of this novel is relaxing and fun. Fourier reminds me a lot of Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club, both in appearance and personality, and he makes a perfect third in the friendship with the emotionally reserved Crusch and the snarky tease Ferris. Also like Tamaki from Ouran, we see that when he gets serious he can move mountains, which helps immensely as the book eventually does turn deadly serious. The narrative implies that he has a special power that comes out in a crisis; unfortunately, as the entire Royal Family ends the novel dead (this can’t really be a spoiler, right? We already know it from the main series), we will likely never know what that power is. The final scenes of the novel are still heartbreaking even if you do know it’s coming, with excellent writing and one of the most tear-jerking “out of context” color pages I’ve ever seen.

Of course, Crusch and Ferris are the characters we know from the main series, and they’re good too. Ferris gets an abusive childhood that makes sense in terms of the plot but is still wretched, and his father is really a nasty piece of work. There’s also a plot twist I won’t spoil, which if nothing else shows you how abusers can justify their abuse even when covering up its true intentions. Crusch is, unsurprisingly, badass throughout, but the ability to see her inner monologue at times is very helpful, and obviously we now know what’s really driving her in her campaign for the Kingdom. There’s also some good development here for Julius, the knight mostly known in the main series for getting into nasty fights with Subaru. Here we see him get a sense of what being a Royal Knight really means, as well as seeing how clever people can sometimes hide behind “acting the fool” in order to not attract attention.

Basically, this is a must-read for any Re: ZERO fan. The second volume will feature Wilhelm and his own tragic past, and I cannot wait.