Beware! Spoilers follow…
Though Re:Zero’s not one of the series I regularly review, episode 14, titled “The Sickness Called Despair,” has haunted me since I watched it. If you haven’t seen the series, it follows Natsuki Subaru as he finds himself suddenly in a fantasy world. He was a gamer, so he had an idea of what had happened to him. He did what any experienced gamer would do: he started exploring the world and looking for the first quest. It was all fun and games until it wasn’t; and by “wasn’t”, I mean he was violently murdered. He reawakened right back where he had started, almost as if he had reverted to a game’s save point.
That sounds innocent enough. How many of us have played games like Fallout 4 (the link takes you to Amazon) or Stalker, Shadow of Chernobyl (also takes you to Amazon)? We get into a situation where our character dies, and we start again, right?
Except what it you were that character? And what it you felt everything and remembered everything — about every death?
And no one around you had any idea what was going on?
How long before that got to be too much to handle?
I thought we got the answer to that question back in episode 7, when Subaru embraced his ability to reset and, driven by his love for Rem, Ram, and especially for Emilia, he intentionally dives off a cliff to revert to the previous save point.
But I didn’t count on the skill of Masahiro Yokotani (the show’s writer). Subaru’s not just a good character, he’s a great character. I don’t mean in terms of individual greatness; I mean in terms of how real the character has become. I’ve read a lot of negative comments about Subaru’s recent decisions; and I find myself sometimes thinking the same thing. But then I put my writer’s hat on and realize I don’t like the character’s decisions because they’re not heroic or selfless enough. And Subaru’s not a heroic or selfless man. No, Subaru’s a normal person, and a gamer and severe introvert to boot. He’s reacting as a realistic person would act, and that’s hard to watch. Why? Because we’re so used to watching heroes that we forget not everyone is so inclined. After watching “The Sickness Called Despair,” I had to ask myself: would I have done any better? Before this episode, might I have made different choices that might have had better results?
Until now, the answer’s been, “No.” I doubt I would have done as well as he has.
But I think now’s time to step it up, and I think he’s starting to understand that, too.
At the end of the 13th episode, “Self-Proclaimed Knight Natsuki Subaru,” he really screwed up with Emilia. I don’t blame him; only he remembers all the times he died for her and her household; only he remembers the pain he’s endured. Those memories seem to have overwhelmed him, and they came out through his voice and words as venom that even Emilia couldn’t overlook. She walked out on him.
So at the beginning of the 14th episode, he’s an emotional wreck. So much so that he was blind to several opportunities that presented themselves. He was so wrapped up in the idea that only he could save Emilia that he turned down Reinhard van Astrea’s advice to patch up relations with another knight (Julius Juukulius) who took exception to Subaru’s rude (and unrelenting) comments. He turned down Kadomon’s (the shop keeper’s) advice, offered much more charitably than it might otherwise have been. He refused to listen to what Crusch Karsten or her knight Ferris tried to tell him — first subtly, then in increasingly blunt terms. He disobeyed Emilia — again — against Rem’s advice. Subaru ignores the new character Otto Suwen’s strident pleas to turn back late in the episode.
He even ignored Rem’s request that he stay at the inn, leading to what might be his most painful moment in the entire series.
Okay, Subaru. It’s time for your come to $deity* moment. I get you’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms are all there, and who could blame you after not only seeing so many others die, but experiencing death yourself? I get that you’re terrified that you’re in over your head. I get you’ve panicked that you’ve lost Emilia.
I get your life absolutely and totally sucks.
But you know what?
Screwing up when you don’t have to only makes it worse.
Right now, ** you probably still have blood on your hands (literally, if not figuratively) after visiting the village. Rem lies dead in front of you. Who knows what’s waiting for you in the mansion. But now — and I mean right now — it’s time to catalog what’s gone wrong so you have a to-do list for your next re-incarnation. Find out as much as you can about what happened. Then leap off the nearest cliff and get to work.
Here’re some of my suggestions:
- Assuming you go back far enough, listen to Emilia and get healed. While you’re there, express your gratitude to Ferris and, if you see her, to Crusch. Crusch might be Emilia’s rival, but they seem like decent people. You can’t have enough decent people on your side! At the very least, don’t make them your enemies. I think you have quite enough of those.
- Befriend Reinhard. He’s Felt’s knight, and you and Felt have a good relationship already. I’m not saying just be friends because you can use him, either. He seems like an honorable man. For heaven’s sake, learn from him! The man has to know most of the politics in that world. And Subaru, you really need to know the politics. So learn them!
- Yeah, Julius is an arrogant jerk. But he’s a knight with connections to a well-disciplined fighting machine. Don’t insult him or the other knights. Even if they represent someone competing with Emilia, remember: you have more than enough enemies already.
- Find a way to talk to Roswaal L. Mathers. He openly supported Emilia, and he’s well-versed in the politics of the world, so he had to foresee how the populace would react to her candidacy. What were his plans? How can you help him help Emilia?
- Finally, change your strategy. Yes, you can loop through time in that world — at an emotionally terrifying cost. You have almost no magical capabilities and you have no skill as a fighter. So, use your real strength: your intelligence. Learn about the world. Fashion a strategy. Build a network of supporters — or least use diplomacy to keep the number of enemies to an absolute minimum. You must come to the realization that you can’t help Emilia alone. You have to build allies and reshape the political perceptions of the world. Otherwise, her candidacy will fail, and more of those around you may die.
I have to admit that I have a selfish reason for writing this post. Frankly, I don’t want to see Rem (or Ram or Emilia or…) die yet again. Twice is more than enough. The show’s done an amazing job making these characters real. I’ve bonded with them as much as I’ve bonded with any fictional character, across the entire spectrum of human literature. Yes, I’m including the ancient Greeks in that list! Modern works like Harry Potter (and I agree with Stephen King on that one), too.
So please, Subaru. For Rem’s sake. For all of our sakes! Get your crap together and starting giving Emilia the help she needs!
* If you aren’t a programmer, in some programming languages, a dollar sign ($) precedes a variable. It’s that way for PHP, for example. So, “$deity” means you should substitute your own term for “deity” here. Unless your belief system doesn’t include a deity, in which case please accept my apology for making an assumption.
** “Right now” equals the very end of episode 14.