Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- Vol. 1 - Light Novel Review

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Subaru may think he knows a lot about fantasy worlds, but when he suddenly brought to one himself he quickly realizes that he doesn't stand a chance. Fortunately for him, for some reason he comes back to life at a previous "check point" whenever he dies- but how can this help him when he is too weak to survive in the first place?

The Lowdown

Subaru Natsuki is a classic shut-in with no friends and an obsession with video games. However, his life is thrown for a twist when one day he is suddenly teleported to a fantasy world. Subaru decides to utilize his vast knowledge about fantasy video games to succeed, but is very swiftly beaten down by some thugs in the city. Suddenly, a mysterious girl comes to his rescue, and Subaru decides to help her in return. Little does he know, he is about to get dragged into something far bigger than he realizes, a conflict he couldn't possibly hope to survive.

How Was It?

Re:Zero's premise sounds familiar; a boy suddenly dropped into a fantasy world is not exactly an untouched story starter in Japan. And in many similar cases, I would likely say some thing along the lines of "However, the way it takes this basic premise and adds its own flair to it is what makes it interesting", but I feel like that would be doing a disservice to the way Re:Zero goes about in its storytelling. For one, Subaru's ability Return by Death is used not just as a plot device but as a clever method of character building. This, combined with other nuances of narrative technique, make Re:Zero a surprisingly fresh-feeling book. Whether or not an individual enjoys it is one thing, but Re:Zero certainly carves itself an interesting niche of storytelling. 

As I already touched upon, Subaru's ability to return to a pre-determined "check point" of sorts upon death has already been shown to be an interesting and effective tool. Author Tappei Nagatsuki mentions in his afterward that he believes Re:Zero is a story of not giving up, a common theme in many Japanese stories. In many series with a similarly weak protagonist, the way the underdog would manage to snatch victory would be through some last minute stroke of brilliance or new ability. For Subaru, it is instead his failures that accomplish this, which makes things more interesting. Despite having few useful abilities, Subaru is slowly able to accumulate new information with each failure that allows him to have the advantage of increased knowledge of events the next time around. This knowledge creates quite a bit of dramatic irony and suspense that wouldn't be there otherwise, and works quite well in this volume. 

In the same respect, character development has an interesting twist. As Subaru meets characters and then resets, he still remembers their personalities and details about them that they don't know about him. In this way, relationships shift with each attempt as Subaru knows more about the individuals each time. Re:Zero is good about exploring its cast over what is technically a very short set of events. I wouldn't go as far as to say the cast is particularly developed at this point in time. However, Subaru's observations, such as the familial relationship between the thief Felt and the old man Rom who runs the loot house, add an appreciated level of depth. That being said, ironically it is the villain Elsa who really doesn't have many details behind her character for better or worse since she more-or-less served as a boss of sorts. There are a lot of unanswered questions from this first volume, one of which includes Elsa's long-term goals and employer. 

On the subject of questions, Re:Zero's first volume is clearly a prelude for quite a bit to come. Not much is yet known about the world or the reasons for the events Subaru got wrapped up in. The book also blatantly foreshadows darker happenings (although that would be a given considering the series has to go somewhere).  Despite the intense struggle on the surface of the story, different elements such as "The Jealous Witch" and the lives of people living in the slums go beyond the specific conflict and make the fantasy world feel alive outside of Subaru's interactions thus far. It is these developments that really create a draw for future volumes. 

Subaru himself is an equally believable and cartoonish character in a way. Considering the focus on Subaru as he re-attempts to survive each time, the narrative inherently hinges quite a bit on his behavior and development. While Subaru is relatively enjoyable for me on the surface, his mannerisms and general humor definitely reveal an insecure and socially inexperienced person. The humor in the volume is often in the dialogue between Subaru and other characters, and follows the common Japanese pattern of self-aware jokes and insults. However, despite his clownish side, Subaru also feels a bit more human in ways that other protagonists often don't due to his failures. His story very much has the vibes of an "average-joe who somehow has to surpass insurmountable odds", and his inability feels more natural than most protagonists. 

Final Thoughts

Re:Zero's first entry has a surprising amount of depth for what is clearly a sampling of a larger story. Through clever use of its time travel mechanic, Re:Zero is able to tell a story that feels significantly different from other recent fantasy books. While there are still many questions left unanswered, Subaru's relationships with the rest of the cast were a highlight as he struggled to overcome a foe essentially objectively stronger than him in every way. If you're a fan of fantasy stories, I would say that it is probably a safe bet that you would find something to like in Re:Zero's first volume. 


Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is written by Tappei Nagatsuki and published in America by Yen Press. Translated by ZephyrRZ, volume 1 was released in English on July 19th, 2016. An anime adaptation of the series was created by the studio White Fox and aired in 2016. 

Verdict:

A-

Date of Publication: July 19th, 2016

Author: Tappei Nagatsuki

Translator: ZephyrRZ

Publisher: Yen Press