So my anime pals and I finally finished up the second season…
I am so fascinated by this show because I really want to like it, but there’s always something about it that just… sours the experience.
For one thing, this is one of the few stories I’ve come across in awhile where I feel like I understand things less after a big exposition scene. My friends expressed a similar feeling so at least it just wasn’t me. Though given I was watching the dub I do wonder if some of the confusion comes from trying to translate a complex idea across languages. (I am planning to go back and rewatch some of those exposition dumps in subtitles to see if that makes a difference.)
As I said last time, Re:Zero has an opportunity for a really powerful and fascinating examination of relationships from its fantastical motif of looping through life that it fails to fully realize. Likewise here, when you have a “death-loop” plot, by its very nature what makes it fascinating and compelling is the “puzzle” the characters have to unravel to solve the loop. Season 2 puts the characters in a “locked room” set up meaning now we have layers of puzzles for our characters to work through. However when the story makes the world’s set up and magic less than clear, the puzzle begins to feel arbitrary; less like our heroes earned their victory than the author decided to let them have a win.
Yet I keep asking myself, is this really the fault of the author? Or is the fact that it’s an adaption from a light novel AND a translation from another language hindering the story? I want to give the author a lot of the benefit of a doubt for these factors that would be out of their control.
Though it’s not just the premise that is at the heart of this anime, but also the character relationships. That is… better done.
On the one hand, I do kind of appreciate that the hero is steadily winning through diplomacy most of the time – that he’s talking his way to victory a lot of the time. On the other hand, there has been so much writing lately where the climax or turn of the story is of the protagonist giving a stirring speech that I’m becoming exhausted of it even when it is executed very well.
Part of my struggle is comparing this show with No Game, No Life which I enjoy much more. Yes it is much more lighthearted and sillier (though it’s prequel movie is every bit as dark and suffering as Re:Zero), but in that show Sora also frequently has to play the role of a smooth talking devil to get his way to victory. Comparing the two NGNL just feels better earned, more “real” to the story than Subaru’s speeches. I can’t explain the difference quite yet as I’m still meditating on it but my gut tells me there’s a distinction in the execution.
Still that’s not to say all of S2 was bad. Cutting the episodes to 30 min rather than an hour was a big improvement. Even if you’re binging the show, the episode end gives you a moment to breathe and process what you just watched. My buddies and I would often take a minute to riff on and discuss what we just saw before starting up the next episode.
The world is interesting in its richness and the characters even more so. After not getting much screentime last season, we finally got to find out more Emilia and her history this season which made her much more of an appealing character to me.
There is an interesting discussion to be had here over the exact execution of a story. Because in the first season, we the audience were tightly tied to Subaru the protagonist. We did not learn something unless he learned it. More than once we felt just like him blundering into an unknown situation overwhelmed and confused by what was going on. It worked very well for its purposes in S1, but now in S2 things are more split. We spend time with Emilia and experience things through her point of view as well as some other characters and get a “god’s eye” view of a few past events. There’s not a wrong or right way to tell a story, but now this has created a kind of “de-sync” between the audience and Subaru. Seeing Emilia go through the trials in the season and seeing her backstory and what she’s had to go through in life, sure I can understand loving her now, but then when Subaru starts talking about why he loves her it feels weird. Because his reasons are – by necessity of his position – more shallow than the reasons we the audience have by knowledge of her history. This may work out in the long run but for now it just feels off after an entire season of being tied so close to the character.
There is plenty to praise and enjoy about the show so I don’t fault anyone for being a fan of it. If anything I like that it encourages thought and discussion as a work of art. I would definitely hold it up as an example of why you should be bold and risk experimenting in what you do rather than aim for boring, safe pabulum. And that “experimentation” doesn’t have to break the basic foundations of storytelling. Just exploring an idea with compelling, deep characters is all you need to tell a story that will stick with the audience long after it’s over.