edit: Also, idk if anyone would be interested, but in case: I made a myanimelist account to keep track of all the manga I’m reading as well as the like 2 animes I watch. It’s kind of a supplement to the blog I guess?
Farla got tapped for the anime, so in my ongoing endeavor to not watch any TV, I decided to read the light novels. The English mass release is on volume 2 now, with the third coming out in March, though I’ll probs find the fanlation online of the next ones. Overall, I’ve enjoyed it so far. Its biggest flaw is that the prose itself is not very good, but it’s clean and held up by good pacing, likable characters, and an interesting premise.
So, for starters, this book is badly written, and it’s not helped by grammatical errors and typos by the loc team. I would put it at the level of mediocre fanfic — it’s readable, but cringey in its amateurness (amateurity?).
The biggest issue is that the author does not seem to understand the difference between visual and prose storytelling. It’s very clear he’s picturing this all as an anime in his head and just describing the pictures he sees instead of actually trying to make it work as a book. He leans heavily on visual shorthand for character information, and often stops the action to describe facial expressions and characters striking poses. However, shockingly, visual shorthand doesn’t work in prose. Instead of using his words to convey information about characters, he describes tropes and relies on the reader to fill in the information based on what those (visual) tropes usually signify. Worse, he describes the visual tropes in great detail. The result is this weird paradoxical thing where we’re being told but not shown, but we’re somehow being told in excruciating detail.
This is, unsurprisingly, something you see in fanfic a lot. You get people who want to write an anime or manga, but writing prose has a lower barrier to entry, so they do what they have access to all while imagining what a great anime it would be. Meanwhile, people who haven’t read or written a lot tend to fall into the trap of not realizing different formats have different conventions for a reason, simply because they don’t have the breadth of experience required to have seen what works in each format and why. Just saying, “He sweatdropped,” is so much easier than actually taking the time to write out an emotional reaction, and it conveys the same information, right?! Well, no.
This is all a shame, because the story here is really well constructed. I was struck by how well-paced it was, and how the author managed to make rehashing the same scenes over and over work really well. Every time I thought, “Hmm, this may start dragging a little,” a major plot event hit. It was paced perfectly.
Backing up a little, Re:Zero is a sendup of the “otaku dude is transported to another world where he is told how awesome he is and harems” genre. The protagonist, Subaru, wakes up unceremoniously in a strange place and realizes excitedly that it’s happened — he is now the loser who’s woken up in a new universe with special powers. The only problem is that his power requires him to die. When he’s killed in the fantasy world, he wakes up at the most recently tripped event flag, so to speak, and gets to do things over.
The story is delightfully tongue-in-cheek, taking every chance it gets to make references to how things usually go in these stories, and Subaru’s own genre-savviness is a major plot driver. I particularly liked the scene where Subaru meets Beatrice and tells her not to worry because he’s not the kind of creeper protag who’s into lolis.
It’s also surprisingly heartfelt. The characterization is really strong for something so shakily written, and watching Subaru go from loving that he can’t die to realizing all of his relationships reset when his life does is really nice. Especially in the second book, seeing all the time he spends getting to know the people around him suddenly vanish each time to everyone but him was really well done.
Where this all goes is even better — the major moral lesson of the first two books is that Subaru spends so much time seeing himself as the protagonist that he stops thinking about how his actions reverberate — he acts like others are just characters, not people, with devastating consequences. The author may not be a great writer, but he’s definitely a savvy enough consumer to notice the disturbing trend toward protagonist-centered morality in these stories, and to bring that to its logical conclusion. I also thought the story did a good job of pulling the reader into that way of thinking before swiping the rug out from under.
I also really quite liked the supporting cast, especially Beatrice. Emilia is inoffensive in the way female leads in anime are supposed to be, but she’s a good person who’s powerful in her own right, so she’s easy to root for. The twins were interesting. I also liked Felt a lot, and it was nice to have a female villain who was violent and cruel in a non-hysterical way (though she does have some Evil Is Sexy going on).
The illustrator for the light novel release seems like kind of a cad though. One of the interesting things in the Yen Press editions is descriptions of how the character design process went, and it seems like the original designs the author had were a lot less impractical and fanservicey than the final ones, which is disappointing. Granted, the author went along with the changes. I imagine this is more of an issue in the anime, though, since the outfits aren’t really described in the text so it’s easy to ignore until you hit a splash page.
So yeah, I really liked these first two volumes. What they lack in technique they make up for with good plotting and a much-needed challenge to a really tired, awful genre. It’s obviously hard to give a solid rec of something based on 2/11 of it, but it’s something, for now at least, worth keeping an eye on.