Review: Re:ZERO-Starting Life In Another World

A highly popular series gets the review treatment.

The Lowdown:

Show: Re:ZERO- Starting Life In Another World

Studio/years aired: White Fox, 2016; season 2 is set to release later in 2020
AniB’s thoughts:

The second of the so-called Isekai Quartet shows makes an appearance in review form at last on here! With the highly anticipated second season around the corner, now seemed like the perfect time at last to cover this show. Before I get underway though, don’t expect me to compare this production to KonoSuba, which was previously reviewed on AniB Productions; aside from being isekai and featuring a former-shut in as their main protagonists, they are very different shows.

Where to begin? Plenty happens in this show that would constitute heavy spoilers, but what starts off as a generic looking show in the first two minutes quickly morphs into some unexpected events and encounters- namely Subaru’s chance encounter with a certain girl- and the plot goes from there. To stand out in what has become an incredibly over-saturated genre is difficult, but Re:Zero managed to accomplish this task with some compelling world building, characters that received some real depth and development, and at the center of it all, Subaru Natsuki- the main protagonist whose unique “superpower” is an actualized butterfly effect called “Return By Death”- and works exactly as that name suggests.

That isn’t to say it’s all praises for this show. While Re:Zero has a satisfying first half and conclusion, the middle of the show was a painful slog. While the intended outcome for the viewer had some excellent payoff in the final number of episodes, and depicts a side of humanity rarely explored to the depth it is here, it was unnecessarily drawn out on the part of Subaru and for the viewer. I’m sure some will argue that it’s probably like that in the LN this show’s adapted from, but it does not change critique of a pacing issue when it arises.

If there’s one other main criticism, it doubles as a curiosity and it’s something that I’d expect a second season to resolve- namely the reason why Subaru was summoned to this fantasy world. The very core premise of isekai in general- the nebulous reasons for why their protagonists wind up in another world at all is often flimsy at best, even in the best of the genre, and the world-building or the characters or both even can make us forget this to an extent…but doesn’t change that it can be a weak point. Despite what I said at the start of my thoughts, I will indulge in one point from KonoSuba: that show did a terrific job of setting up the why by making its entire beginning the events of Kazuma’s untimely and pathetic death as a staging to introduce Aqua and set up the world the duo wound up bumbling into. For Re:Zero, at least for now, the reasons for being remain nebulous, aside from whatever hints Subaru’s core mechanic- “Return By Death”- provides us.

Is this show worth watching? Absolutely, with a few caveats. The first is a stern warning to those with weak constitutions or under the age of 17- this isn’t a light-hearted jaunt in the slightest the whole way through, and while fantasy violence is nothing new overall, the context can be shocking at times. The next would be related to the first point- that it is worth pulling through the middle section to reach the end, but it can be exceedingly difficult. The end result is a season book-ended by a strong start and an even stronger finish built by an entire 25 episode’s worth of buildup, or at least a dozen episodes, depending on how you look at it, really. Finally…the highs are really high in this series and are enough to overpower a lot of other more minor shortcomings. Any more information though it’d be a major spoiler- so now onto grading!


Animation: A modern 2-D anime, with a few 3-D shots thrown in. The former is excellent as you’d hope, from various fight sequences to character design, albeit incredibly vivid in some certain depictions. Everything feels fluid and smooth and there’s a good understanding of lighting as well for different contexts and times of day. The little bit of 3-D isn’t anything special but serviceable.

4.5/5 points.

 

Characters: As outlined in my thoughts, the lead character of the show is Subaru- a former shut-in NEET from Japan who left a convenience store one night and instead of going home, wound up in Lagunica- the massive kingdom in which the story takes place. At first, Subaru has an unwarranted ego and a inaccurate set of assumptions about his situation, but quickly begins to realize things are different than he assumed as the scope of his situation is revealed, along with the first “realization” of his special ability.

There are many important characters in this show, but Subaru’s role revolves mainly around Emilia- a kind, silver-haired girl who he professes his undying love to in rather awkward fashion after she saves him from a few thugs in an alleyway. As it turns out, there’s more to Emilia than merely kindness, starting with Puck- a cat-like spirit she’s contracted to and possesses magical abilities of his own. The pair’s relationship is a bit shrouded in mystery how it came to be, but it’d be accurate to say that it’s complex.

While these two are the main focus of the story’s plot, there are several important characters introduced as the show goes on, from a certain pair of well-known twin maids and a magical librarian to some extremely powerful knights, a deranged villain or two, and in the show’s opening arc, a girl named Felt, who despite her age is an exceptionally skilled thief. Honestly, this review would need a very large spoiler section to adequately cover the people and roles in this show, but despite the temptation most of them would constitute giving the plot away- and as viewers of the show reading this know, it’s best to experience meeting everyone the first time as their roles are revealed. You’ll be surprised, amazed, horrified and heartwarmed all in the same show by this cast. The major character development, particularly for Subaru, proves outstanding, although there are certain parts I’d like to be pushed even further in a season 2.

4.5/5 points.

 

Story: In some ways, this show is a typical isekai, but in many other regards it is not. It’s a story that runs the gamut of emotions, and is by and large the story of Subaru even as other actors get involved in their own personal motives and goals. As far as the plot goes, the pacing is breakneck for a good amount of the show, which makes it difficult to watch in one go, but a much needed and important breather of sorts ends the middle section of Re:Zero as it transitions into a 3rd act. While the material presented is very solid and receives an excellent conclusion, there are still some major unanswered questions, which as a viewer keeps one engaged for a second season. If you like action, horror, romance and time manipulation shenanigans, you’ll probably love this plot as well.

3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: Foremost in the discussion of this show has to be humanity- namely, Subaru’s humanity. It is explored at every level as the series progresses, and proves an emotional roller coaster every bit as steep as you might expect. It’s clear to say thematically Subaru is and isn’t the same person he was to start as a direct result of experiences he has.

Aside from that, the “humanity” discuss stems also to a discussion about love, acceptance, duty, honor, pride and all manners of conduct. It’s unusual to see a deep dive like this show, let alone in this genre does here- and I’d say everything else revolves around it. Can it get overwhelming? Yes. However, it’s not cheap or contrived, which is greatly appreciated.

4.25/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Interesting keynote visuals in the openings reflect the arcs they’re in…when the OPs actually play. This show has more cold openings than I can remember specifically in an anime, but remember that breakneack pace that was mentioned? I guess a lot happens…The pacing and imagery can be a bit too much at the show’s lower points honestly, and prevents a full ringing endorsement of the material within intangibly for all audiences. The OST’s fine, though perhaps most infamous for the “sound of the witch.”

3.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.5/25 (82%): A cut above the standard isekai, Re:Zero proves to be a bit of a crazy ride, with very high highs and very low lows. The end product however is one worth watching- albeit at a pace that suits you, and it can be understood why a season 2 is (was) highly anticipated. It’s not a casual kind of watch, so be prepared to commit if you wish to see it and haven’t already.


Like what you see? Big Re:Zero fan? Leave a comment!

Review: BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

An enjoyable watch that surprised modest expectations.

The Lowdown:

Series: BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

Studio/years aired: Silver Link, 2020- (a season 2 is confirmed and pending)

AniB’s thoughts: Piggybacking off the recent fun piece about naming series after absurd naming conventions in light novels as well as the winter anime season wrapping up, the first review of 2020 (and of a show from this year as well) is none other than BOFURI! After hearing some compelling feedback from some longtime readers, the simple concept of a girl who doesn’t play games stumbling into an overpowered MMO build was too hilariously intriguing to not check out. From my experience, the MMO, fantasy-esque genre does not usually produce compelling shows on a consistent basis, but BOFURI proves to be irresistible fun and a very pleasant surprise. For 12 episodes it kept up a good pace backed by a lead character who was compelling to watch her every move, and a universe, while simple and standard on some level, that offered the same excitement of exploring the unknown with these characters and all that came with it.

In a word, “fun” is the biggest selling point here, which the show gets amazing mileage from. The characters in this show are not very deep outside of Maple and her best friend Sally, but in many ways it matters little to the plot and pacing, which while simple, prove intoxicating in the ability to make a viewer want to see what happens next. Maple’s unpredictability becomes a focal point not just for the audience, but the in-show watchers and even the game developers themselves, amazed and frustrated in equal measure at how a genuinely sweet and naive girl is breaking the game they built so thoroughly.

It’s a breath of fresh air to have a show is both genre-savvy and doesn’t take itself too seriously at the same time. And while it’s still fine to have and acknowledge the the types of shows that either have higher stakes, more graphic action or darker premises, it’s surprisingly rare to just get something where the goal is nothing more than “the players have some fun, for themselves and each other” as a basic premise. BOFURI is a reminder in that way that simple ideas can still lead to amazingly enjoyable shows- and well executed ones at that. To grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation. In a breath of fresh air, a lot of action scenes and sequences that may had been recast in clunky CGI from shows in recent years are done in 2-D here- and it really pops. The fights in this show are satisfyingly flashy and fulfilling, but also fun- which happens when a show doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s almost intoxicating to get such a cheerful show within this genre given the push towards dark fantasy over the last several years- and that fun shines through. This aspect continues to the brightened colors and attractive character designs the show uses, and all of it is visually impactful.

4.75/5 points.

 

 

Characters: As the extended title of BOFURI suggests, the main character is the one who decided to “max out her defense”- Maple. In real life, she’s known as Kaede Honjou, a girl who appears to be in junior high school and has never been a gamer in her life prior to attempting New World Online (a virtual reality MMO, the main setting of the show), at the request of her friend Risa. A sweet, kind girl but naive and slightly airheaded, she dons the name “Maple” in-game and starts playing her way-not knowing the first thing about the game, or standard conventions!

Risa, her friend from real life, joins Maple a few days later in the game under the name Sally. A cool note here, which is lost in translation is that “Sally” is an anagram of “Risa” in Japanese lettering, which unfortunately didn’t come through in English. An experienced gamer compared to her friend (who she teams up with), Sally possesses smarts, savvy and some excellent reflexes as she pursues an entirely different character build from Maple’s.

The main concern here is the lack of depth and basic nature among the cast’s overall development, but with such a strong and quirky lead in Maple/Kaede, it proves to be no detriment to the overall enjoyability of the show. Sally/Risa also receives some characterization, and as the gamer who convinced her best friend to get into the game, she’s a force to be reckoned with all her own. The other top players in the game prove to be more friendly than appearances or reputations initially let on, and while fierce competition, are gracious in defeat. A number of other players have interactions with either of the girls that also prove important as the show moves along (the outcomes of which might constitute spoilers, so watch the show!)

While it would be nice to see further development in the majority of the cast for season 2, simplicity can be a good aspect, and one could argue that the shallow nature of most characters is like that of a real MMO, as opposed to how Maple and Sally know each other in real life. BOFURI in turn isn’t trying to be a hardcore character drama or something that it’s not, instead playing to its strengths. The end result is refreshing.

3.5/5 points.

 

 

Story: A rather straightforward by easy to follow tale where a non-gamer girl enters a new MMO game and proceeds to discover and progress through it in her own way, having fun. That really is the basic premise Bofuri operates on, but this scope gets expanded as the world gets bigger and Maple progresses eventually from being a virtual nobody. It’s not going to fool anyone in terms of complexity, but it does exhibit once again the ability for simple premises to be upgraded by good to great writing and a lead character who is strong.

3.5/5 points.

 

 

Themes: The overarching drive of many categorical points in this review has been at the simplicity of the show- and in that sense, the themes are fine, but they aren’t going to blow your mind either. It’s not that kind of show, but the basics are there and executed adequately: strong friendship, camaraderie, good sportsmanship, and as mentioned several times, fun. How often can we forget that enjoyment itself can be a goal of a pastime- especially in games and competition? It’s true that we “play to win the game,” but something so fundamental is a reminder here.

3.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t Insult The Viewer: This show oozed intangibles, largely stemming from the general sense of “fun” it projects through every episode, and stellar fight sequences that tapped into the genre tropes and the animation style very well. One may also find that Maple is irresistible to watch- a unique blend of inexplicable moments and cuteness.

5/5 points.

 

 

Total: 20/25 (80%): A great way to open the new decade of animated fare, BOFURI was a fun romp. A show like this one is a welcome breath of fresh air when it comes, and the second season will be awaited with good expectations. This is a show worth watching.


Like what you see? Watched BOFURI or plan to? Leave a comment!