Warning: This post assumes that you’ve already finished Re:Zero in its entirety as there will be spoilers ahead.
Re:Zero is quite a peculiar anime, never mind the fact that it shares the whole “isekai” theme that has permeated the anime and light novel scene for a number of years. I remember it’s anime adaptation airing back in 2016 when I was looking for something new to watch. The first few episodes I found quite interesting but didn’t compel me much, however it wasn’t until I made it to the mid-half of it that I considered it to be one of my favorite anime of all-time.
Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World is a light novel that was originally written by Nagatsuki Tappei and illustrated by Shinichirou Otsuka. It’s anime adaptation aired from April 2016 to September 2016. Being someone who peruses the anime ecosystem of Youtube, I’ve noticed that this series has its fans as well as its detractors. I’ve watched videos from Youtubers such as Mother’s Basement, Digibro, and Gigguk where they provided their two cents on this series. But I’m sure you the reader are here to see what I thought of the show.
Truth be told, Re:Zero had such an emotional impact on me that it was one of my inspirations that fueled the creation of New Game Infinity. I’d like to start with who’s considered to be the best and worst thing about the series, the main character Natsuki Subaru. Subaru has certainly displayed one of the most awkward character portrayals that I’ve seen in any anime to the point of being cringy, but that’s what I kind of like about him. It’s a facet of himself that I can relate to being the person I currently am.
Throughout my life I was always a bit of a withdrawn person, despite my capacity to socialize like a butterfly. Whenever I do interact with others (including family), the experience always leaves me feeling as though someone sucked the life out of me with a straw. It feels as though I’m not grounded or not comfortable under my skin. Whenever I’d get depressed I’d retreat to the dark comfort of my room and just binge on anime, play video games, and other bestial pleasures (AKA the shut-in lifestyle). Shortly after graduating high school I moved to New York City to live with my rockstar Uncle J for a year mostly being unemployed, albeit I did get by being a freelance illustrator.
For most of my time living in NYC there were episodes where I felt immensely depressed to the point of suicidal thoughts. Even my ability to work with one of my clients for a commission was hindered which I still regret to this day. Another truth to be told, growing up I was a bed-wetter and sadly I was physically abused for it. I never really knew why I was born into the world only to have to face the wrath of an abusive stepdad (gosh I don’t like that word) every time I’d soil my sheets. From an early age I questioned my existence and reasons for living. Why, in this massive epic experience that is Life Online, was I brought into existence as a bed-wetter only to be greeted to the lashing of a leather belt? Of course my upbringing could’ve been much worse, no one’s situation is exactly ideal.
Amidst the storm that was my childhood, what brought me levity to the chaos was video games and anime. Growing up I played many games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee with my bros, Luigi’s Mansion, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Kingdom Hearts, and many others. I remember the conversations and activities that me and my brothers would participate in, especially when our stepdad would confiscate, or destroy, our video game consoles. I remember the times where we’d grab a bunch of pencils and sheets of paper and create our own pen & paper RPGs, with my older brother “Redeemer” acting as Game Master. I remember the times when we tagged along with our stepdad to his audio shop and would get discarded pieces of wood, carve them out and thus role-play as characters out of Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy.
But most importantly, what I remember the most from those times (and still now) was wishing that I could be a part of these worlds that we were so enthralled by growing up. To leave this world behind and embark on an adventure of a lifetime. I’m not alone in this sentiment, many video gamers and anime fans wish that they could visit their favorite worlds. Subaru, and many characters like him in the isekai genre, dive into their new worlds with warped expectations of how it and its people should operate. Subaru had to eventually learn that the new world that he was in didn’t gravitate around him as if he were the center of the universe but that it functioned very much like his own. The whole dynamic of how worlds come to operate and organize themselves over time is a very interesting topic in itself, but I digress.
Even though this series’ theme is about “starting from zero”, you never really start from zero. No matter where you go, whether it be New York City or down the block, you’ll always carry with you who you are as a person. Zero to me doesn’t mean starting from scratch but starting from infinite possibilities, that is in fact what the number “0” means symbolically. According to symbolic-meanings.com, this is what blogger Avia Venefica had to say about the number “0”:
Primarily, the spiritual meaning of zero deals with pure potentiality. It is the point from which all other numbers spring forth. Even visually – the number zero is symbolic of the seed, womb or egg from which pure potential emerges.
Because the zero also visually resembles a circle, this is symbolic of eternity, evolution, infinity. Additionally, as with most symbols comprised or containing the circle we’re dealing with meanings of cycles, evolution, and time. Think wheels here – “what comes around goes around.”
However, due to its numerical value, the zero may also be interpreted as a void – a representation of non-existence, and sometimes death. But, again, our minds wander back to the symbolism of eternity and infinity as well as cycles and rebirth. Consequently we may say there is no real death only another phase of life.
Pythagoras, (practically the father of numerology) viewed the sign of the zero as the container for all things and the birthing place of all other values (that which precedes must be the birth giver of all that follows). This is also the interpretation of the zero in Tarot numbers as well as other mystery school teachings.
Focus upon the zero is encouraged when we wish to be present in the moment, when we are trying to regroup our level of awareness. This is because the zero is representative of the essence of reality. It is everything and nothing at the same time.
As you can see – just from this brief summary, the concepts of the spiritual meaning of zero are heady indeed. When we begin to contemplate zero we soon find ourselves on an endless adventure.
Sometimes in Life Online you wish you could just start over, start from fresh beginnings and become someone that you’d be proud of. It’s no surprise that series’ like Re: Zero, Sword Art Online, and Konosuba are wish fulfillment stories (The latter which picks on the tropes of its own genre). We all wish to become more complete human beings, to live in a more balanced world. Avia said that we’d find ourselves on an endless adventure when we contemplate zero, in other words the possibilities of Life Online. I know I must tell myself this for tuning into the present is something that I’m still learning, it’s what we’re all actually “re:learning” (Aha…aha…aha…).
It wasn’t until episode 18 rolled around that Re:Zero really tugged at my being. In this episode Subaru was at an all-time low, ready to give up. Drowning in self-loathing and defeatism, where I was in my life I truly understood how Subaru felt. Most of us if we were placed in Subaru’s shoes would be hard on ourselves. To see our loved ones die time and time again simply because we kept committing the same mistakes, Einstein would deem that utter insanity, regardless of the fact that Subaru never gave himself credit for all the achievements he made at that point. I’d be lying if I said that I related to Subaru in every way or that he wasn’t in the wrong on multiple occasions in the show. It wasn’t just Return by Death that drove him to insanity but his knowing that he was irrational to unprecedented levels.
It was a bit of a catharsis to watch this episode, I’ve never seen anything like it. It was one of the first times in my anime watching that I felt as though I was actually standing in the body of the main character. Everything Subaru had been through, his own insecurities, led up to this moment for his pent up energy to just spill out. And in that moment when Rem brought to light just how much Subaru meant to her, I was simply brought to tears. Not only because the scene itself was emotional but that it reminded me that in life sometimes we forget or simply don’t know just how much we can impact peoples’ lives. We forget or don’t know just how much we matter to others.
If I were in Subaru’s shoes being transported to a new world, I’d do everything I could to learn its grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Despite everything he’s been through in the land of Lugnica, opportunities were presented to him to forward his objective of serving Emilia, this was clearly presented in episode 16 when he met with the other royal election candidates. When Subaru was bamboozled so epically by Anastasia Hoshin in episode 16, this was the advice she gave him:
“The key to negotiation is how prepared you are before ya come to the table. Know what the other person wants, and dangle it in front of ’em. And since all you do is want, that’s where you’re lacking.”
Basic psychology don’t you think? Subaru is in an ideal situation to learn from those who inhabit this world and in turn gaining much wisdom, death isn’t the end with this one. Subaru does eventually heed Anastasia’s advice, especially after learning the collective need of every party involved in this world, the White Whale. Every new experience for Subaru is something to learn from, whether it be encountering the White Whale, the Witch’s Cult, or simply the first meeting with Emilia in episode 1. Think about it, Subaru gains new knowledge about the world and upon Return to Death returns to a place in time and space, thus becoming a purveyor of knowledge. All things are connected, everything happens for a reason, and this is how I approach my life. Even following the principle of causality, there’s a cause for everything, especially in this world where we’re all looking for answers as to why our own human systems contradict human needs for survival.
Re:Zero may be a light novel within the isekai genre, but that doesn’t make its message any less profound. In my opinion Re:Zero is quite a spiritual story that reinforces truths already prevalent in Life Online. The isekai genre, anime, and the light novel format itself are merely vehicles through which we express our ideas; just look at how RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan integrated world religion, music, chess, superhero comics, and kung-fu movies to express his worldview with rap as his vehicle.
Identity is a pivotal element of Life Online. To be someone and carry that identity to the grave. To be a beacon for others to be moved by. Subaru may have gone to another world, but his character will never leave him. This story really is about him learning life’s lessons with the audience bearing witness.
To start from zero means to contemplate the infinite possibilities. To start from zero means to reconnect to the present, to embrace oneself for who they are. It’s much easier said than done to do all these things, but nevertheless the potential is there waiting to be tapped into. I really hope that Re:Zero gets a second season but ultimately I’d be fine without it. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when watching Re:Zero during the 2016 anime season, but in the end it was well worth it.