After many people telling me to continue watching Re:Zero because it “gets better in the second half”, I decided “fuck that” and dropped the series. My main, if not only issue with the anime was that its protagonist, Natsuki Subaru, was too much of a loud-mouth, brain-dead, unbearable loser. Two years later, and not much seems to have changed…except that I ended up finishing the series for reasons even I don’t quite understand.
Everyone loves a good redemption story. Under typical circumstance, no one in their right mind dislikes it when a bad person becomes a good person. I am no exception to this proclivity to forgive and forget those whom genuinely turn over a new leaf. That being said, I just can’t bring myself to like Subaru. For me, good redemption stories need a character with aspects worth redeeming. As far as I can tell, Subaru has none. Instead, what our dimwitted “hero” has are four defining character traits that he never grows away from. The first trait is the most obvious.
Natsuki Subaru is stupid. I pointed this out straight from the beginning—Subaru is not adept at fundamental learning. He has the ability to reverse time. In even remotely capable hands, this power would be world-altering in its applications. Instead, this godlike magic found its way into the hands of someone that doesn’t understand the basics of trial and error. What this power would mean for any normal person is that you would go through a checklist, test out variables and see what works, then reuse what works while tossing aside what doesn’t. Subaru once punches out some alleyway thugs in the first few episodes of the series, and then never does it again despite their repeated encounters after.
This lack of rationality is easily applied to Subaru’s actions across the series as a whole, because he’s always trying brand new paths rather than finding new ways to navigate old ones. We watch all of his failures, annoyingly in full when the amount of his failures across the series could easily be condensed into a 3-minute montage. Natsuki Subaru fails a lot, but he doesn’t learn nearly enough from the process. He doesn’t know how to study enemy actions before losing, to then go back and use that knowledge to come out victorious. Most of his conflicts with characters are one-offs, even though he could easily go over scenarios again and again, poking and prodding to see which approach will be the most ideal. What’s most irritating, however, is the fact that he still manages to succeed in his own stumbling, idiotic way.
Subaru wins in the end, and he most certainly does not deserve it. The reason for that can be found in his second irredeemable characteristic: Weakness. We have already established that Natsuki Subaru is weak-minded, but he’s also just generally a weak person. My mention of a montage earlier was not only a jab, I was actually alluding to a very necessary but missing piece in this character’s development. Subaru needs to train both his mind and his body if he’s going to be of any use to anyone, and the best way to show this would probably be in montage. Instead, a lot of time is spent just following Subaru to his inevitable failures, over and over again—and that process could definitely have used some speeding up. Yes, Subaru does admit to wasting a lot of time in the big confession scene that everyone talks about, as well as a bunch of other things that I will get to later, but admitting a problem is nowhere near actually fixing it.
He also admits that his brief moments of “training” were a lie, as well as his attempts at studying, because Subaru cares more about appearances than actually putting in hard work and making something of himself. This does not come as a surprise though, because Subaru can’t hold his own in any fight he’s a part of. Death by witch lady, death by Betelgeuse, death by Rem, death by those wolf-things—it doesn’t matter. All of Subaru’s paths lead to death, but in a very inconsequential and un-purposeful ways. With a weak mind, Subaru does not learn to die in a meaningful way. With a weak body, Subaru does not learn to survive in a meaningful way either.
His third, and most boring/underutilized trait is that Subaru is an outsider. Usually that’s the one trait that makes a character unique, giving the audience a perspective of the forest from beyond the trees. Instead, Subaru kinda gets along with everyone for no particular reason. What I mean by that is not that everyone is friends with Subaru and they get along like there’s nothing odd about a boy in a tracksuit amongst a typical middle-earth fantasy land where countries are called realms. No, what’s odd here is that no one excludes Subaru, perhaps because they’re too busy shunning the pretty, silver-haired half-elf girl that does nothing but kind things for everyone she meets.
Subaru is an outsider, but he doesn’t relate to Emilia at all. She’s perfect and outcasted by society because of some stupid folklore/social stigma thing, whereas he’s utterly imperfect and is still accepted by society, at least to the point where he can walk around without getting looks despite clearly deserving them—I mean, why is he still in that fucking tracksuit? It makes no sense, there’s no reason why Subaru wouldn’t want to try to blend in the locals. I doubt its emotional attachment either, because the only people that might ever have emotional attachments to a tracksuit are actual track athletes and gangsters.
But this brings us to my final point: Subaru doesn’t develop. Whether it’s his clothes or his attitude, Natsuki Subaru DOES NOT CHANGE. You may think he changes from Rem’s heartfelt confession episode, where Subaru goes and acknowledges all the faults in his very being, but in the end, he just goes back to doing things in his own idiotic way—yet this time manages to not make a complete ass of himself. Through sheer luck, he somehow is able to do what is needed to be done as he reaches out for help from Emilia’s contenders, gets rocketed into the goddamn stratosphere to fight off a mass-murdering White Whale, fights a cult leader with infinite, invisible arms that can transfer his consciousness into other bodies including Subaru, and saves the all-powerful magic half-elf and a handful of children from a bomb hidden in her carriage.
How does he do all this? HOW? Subaru hasn’t change fundamentally as a protagonist. He’s still loud, he’s still dumb, he’s still rejecting the best girl—what about these things suddenly makes him a better person? He still isn’t using his powers to even a quarter of its potential use. Instead, the show gives him another power of seeing the invisible hands of Betelgeuse, rather than just delving into the some of the other infinite applications that come with the ability to control time. This show just feels like the equivalent of Subaru walking up to a chess board, loudly exclaiming that he doesn’t know the rules, then flipping the table and declaring himself the winner anyway. He doesn’t EARN ANYTHING. He doesn’t earn the respect of war veterans and powerful commanders alike just because he led them into to danger and miraculously prevailed despite not having any leadership or combat experience to speak of. He doesn’t deserve to have Rem’s heart just because he sometimes has soft eyes and once ham-headedly helped her move on from her past, which was just so he could escape the loop where he kept getting murdered in his sleep.
Subaru does not deserve the title of pride in the show’s sloppily applied reference of the seven deadly sins—which, if I could just side-rant for a bit, makes no bloody sense. It’s like bad case of Fullmetal Alchemist (the original series), where the homunculi are given the obviously wrong sin titles. Subaru should obviously be sloth, not pride, reflective of his uncanny ability to do almost nothing with the tremendous power he’s been granted. Betelgeuse is an Edgar Allan Poe level pervert that talks almost exclusively about the witch’s love and how much he desires it, so clearly lust would be a better fit for his temperament. And then they just give gluttony to a goddamn whale, a name choice so unimaginative I can barely fathom it but nonetheless, there you go. Side rant over, back to Subaru.
It’s hard to give examples of characters NOT doing something, because that essentially means looking at everything a character has done in order to prove that there was something they had not. The thing is, the only thing I found that represents even a modicum of progress is the fact that Subaru acknowledges his faults and turns down best girl in the same episode. From there, things just work out—and it’s infuriating because it all feels so happenstance. I was hoping for a reason to actually start caring about this character, and instead all I saw was the same old Subaru. Perhaps it makes sense, considering that Rem’s confession, while cute and touching, honestly isn’t the best way for Subaru to grow as a character. Love isn’t the answer, and never should be. Love should be the reward for hard work and sacrifice. Love should be the motivator to pick yourself up and be the best you can be for the one you love. Love should also be directed wholeheartedly at Rem, the undisputed best girl. But because it’s not, it doesn’t make sense that her confession would pull Subaru up from the darkness.
Subaru just doesn’t make sense to me. Believe me, I am no stranger to misery and idiocracy, but his particular brand of it barely speaks to me on any level. It just makes me frustrated, like watching a Let’s Play of someone that’s terrible at a video game. It’s not fun, insightful, or useful to follow a character like this. Yet for some reason, I powered through and finished Re:Zero—probably for Rem alone. I doubt I’ll come back for season two.
Thanks for reading.