Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- [Light Novel]

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.

21 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    What event do the volumes you’ve read cover? I want to talk about late anime developments because I think they’re the weakest and somewhat undermine the themes set up in the middle, but I don’t know if you get to that part yet.

    It’s biggest flaw

    Its

    they do they one they have access do all

    Something went very wrong here.

    I also really quite liked the supporting cast, especially Beatrice.

    That’s interesting. What did you like about her? In the anime I actually found her to be the most rote out of the characters in the mansion: an exposition-prone tsundere loli who becomes way too loyal to the protagonist (to the point of fighting her boss on his behalf) way too fast.

    1. Act says:

      That’s what I get for letting this go live without proofreading.

      I want to talk about late anime developments

      As I said, I’m 2/11 in, so… please don’t.

      exposition-prone tsundere loli who becomes way too loyal to the protagonist (to the point of fighting her boss on his behalf) way too fast.

      Wow, this is the opposite of her in the books. She and Subaru barely speak, and she helps him because he begs her and offers to make a contract — and she doesn’t fight her boss, just prevents Subaru from getting killed by Ram and whatever else is attacking the mansion. I liked her way of speaking, that she initially comes across as amoral but that when she sees Subaru so upset she’s moved to help him. I actually wouldn’t describe her as tsundere at all; she’s completely consistent, she just understandably doesn’t feel the need to lay all her cards on the table for a stranger.

      1. illhousen says:

        As I said, I’m 2/11 in, so… please don’t.

        Well, that’s why I’d like to know where you are plot-wise. For all I know the anime only covers the first two volumes. Certainly, it doesn’t have a proper ending.

        Though it’s unlikely as you didn’t mention the most ridiculous villain.

        As for Beatrice, yeah, it does appear that anime changed her somewhat. Possibly it’s a result of streamlining some scenes: omit a few key pieces of dialogue, try to add tension by having her go against her boss, and the resulting impression is different from what it should be.

        To be fair, though, calling her a tsundere is probably just my conditioning from watching anime in general speaking. She’s less tsun-tsun and more just cranky and wants those damn kids to get off her lawn.

        1. Act says:

          I was wondering how the anime ended when the books were still ongoing. The answer is apparently “it didn’t.” The Pandora Hearts anime did this too. No entiendo.

          The second book ends with Subaru killing himself to try to save the twins in addition to himself.

          just cranky and wants those damn kids to get off her lawn.

          Hah, that’s why I liked her!

          1. illhousen says:

            Ah, yeah, then anime covers a lot more ground than the first two novels.

            And, well, it does have an ending that resolves protagonist’s internal conflict, it just doesn’t wrap up the external conflict at all. Unlike Pandora Hearts, though, I didn’t get the feeling that anime was inventing stuff for the ending, just closing with the end of the then current ark in the source material. That, along with certain developments I’m not going to talk about, makes me worry how the rest of the plot is going to go.

            Well, on the plus side, the best parts are still ahead of you. On the minus side, the worst parts are also ahead of you.

            Hah, that’s why I liked her!

            I actually wonder if Rin is going to turn out like that when she gets really old (in, like, two hundreds years or so, what with life-prolonging magecraft and everything): shouting at kids to get off her boundary lawn while firing gandr at them.

          2. Roarke says:

            I was wondering how the anime ended when the books were still ongoing. The answer is apparently “it didn’t.” 

            This is a problem for a lot of anime adaptation, actually. Things like Naruto and Bleach are outliers in terms of their anime being continuously greenlit to keep up with the source material. The average anime adaptation for a LN/manga covers a couple volumes and never gets revisited. People just gotta buy merchandise and hope another season gets greenlit, which, I mean, is possible. F/SN is still being adapted 15 years after the original, after all.

            1. Heatth says:

              F/SN is still being adapted 15 years after the original, after all.

              At last F/SN had an ending. That is more than most get. Visual novels have the advantage of usually having short-ish self contained arcs that can rasonably be a show by itself. As such, anime adaptations can have a conclusion even if they never adapt every thing (of course, exceptsion like Umineko exist).

              Of course, LN/manga adaptations are another story. They are usually longer and don’t usually have good stopping points midway.  Usually the studious would just make up an ending to at last give some closure, but I feel this have become less common as said endings are usually not popular and they close the door for a sequel.

              Reply
            2. illhousen says:

              of course, exceptsion like Umineko exist

              There is no Umineko anime, though, so I’m not sure how it’s relevant.

              Reply
            3. Heatth says:

              True, but if there was an anime, and said anime only adapted some arcts, but not all, then it would be a shitty anime with no conclusion. Good thing that never happened, eh?

              Now I think about it, though, an anime that adapted one arc could work. Some arcs would need major rewrites to make it work, but I think any single arc could be adapted into a single self contained anime.

              Reply
            4. illhousen says:

              Well, the first episode actually makes for a nice self-contained story. I mean, it lacks the most interesting aspects of the franchise, but they’re a pain to adapt either way, considering.

              Just end it with a moral about the difference between fantasy and mystery and the price you have to pay for denying the fantasy.

              Other episodes would require some major changes to stand on their own, so I’m not sure how viable the idea really is.

              (That said, we should probably avoid talking about Umineko too much because it’s so damn easy to spoil something by accident, especially for the first episode.)

              Reply
            5. Heatth says:

              Yeah, lets drop it here. I sent you a PM instead.

              Reply
            6. illhousen says:

              Oh yeah, we have PMs. Keep forgetting about them.

              Replied.

              Reply
        2. Robhans says:
          1 volume covers 1 act (1-3 episode in the Anime adaptation)

          2-3 volumes covers 2 act (4-11 episode)

          4-9 volume covers 3 act (11-25)*

          *Anime ended on 5 chapter. Skipped last, 6 chapter. But everyone knows true ending of act 3 couse it’s a meme right now.

          Right know there are 2 volumes of act 4. There will be around 12 volumes of this act (double of act 3, so if 2 season would come out, it would be 25 episodes of only act 4)

          Act 5 will have 9 volumes

          Act 6 will probably have around 8-9 volumes (Web novles are around 3/4 of act 6)

           

          Author have plans to end this series at act 11. With is terrible IMO.

          Seeing thouse numbers I woudn’t recommend starting with this series, it’s pointless.

  2. Roarke says:

    Wow, I’m quite surprised to hear the original writing was so slipshod. I guess, like you said, the pacing and conceptualization of the work itself were solid, and that’s all the anime writing team would need.

    I’m interested in knowing how the original author handled Subaru’s character flaws. You’re 2/11 in and his worst moments, the culmination of those flaws, should still be ahead of you, but I’m wondering if the original novels have signs of it this early? Basically, what do you think of his characterization beyond “genre savvy nerd?”

    1. Act says:

      Well, the second book ends with the first revelation that Subaru’s actions have had horrible consequences, so it’s tough to say sicne I don’t know exactly how the story is going to work out.

      I did like that there were a lot of hints on the ground already about Subaru being kind of a self-centered person. I think the story struck a balance really well between someone who never had any reason to think outside of the first person and someone who, when pushed, is actually a good person. I don’t necessarily like Subaru, but I am willing to root for his growth.

      1. illhousen says:

        Well then, I definitely look forward to your thoughts on him later on. You’re about a third way through the events covered by the anime, the best part starts in the second half (right in thirteenth episode because the anime team evidently attended Farla’s school of storytelling).

         

        0

  3. Heatth says:

    I have never had any interest in Re:zero but this paragraph:

     

    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.

    Made me want to check it out. I’ve been noticing this trope more recently, so I really want to check out a work that aknowledges its existence and play with it.

    0

    1. illhousen says:

      Yeah, Re:Zero is pretty good about it, probably its strongest point.

      Just do note that it doesn’t start right away but builds up over time. The start of the series, while generally smarter and more self-aware than is typical for the genre, is still pretty rote.

      If you’re planning on watching the anime, the best part starts in thirteenth episode.

  4. Daniel says:

    I’d heard complaints about Re:Zero where Subaru’s competence varies depending on the plot. Like sometimes he does things really stupid, yet can also form and execute complicated schemes with no given reason. Do you agree with that critic?

    1. Act says:

      It’s hard to tell at this point. I think so far the balance has been pretty good, but I could see it going awary at some point.

    2. illhousen says:

      As far as anime goes, I’d say I don’t have that problem. Subaru is rather consistently shown to be of above average intellect. Not some kind of tactical genius, but smart enough for the plot.

      He fucks up really badly on occasion, but such events are a clear consequence of his character flaws, not random idiot balls. And when he does some clever scheme, it’s usually after a few resets, when he knows what’s going on and how everything moves.

      I may question certain plans of his near the ending, though, especially the ones in the very last loop as they feel a bit more clever and well-put together than usual, though he had allies to contribute ideas by then and I’m more interesting in thematic issues, so I can accept that level of competence.

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