What If? – Re:Zero & Orange on Dealing with Regret

“What if…. ?” It’s one of those frustrating questions we tend to ask ourselves over and over, making up scenarios that would be a better alternative to what really happened. After all, regret has this funny way of making us think, “What if I’d ____? Could I fix things?” or, “What if I hadn’t _____? Could I have saved them?” It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, as I mull over thoughts brought up by the anniversary of my great-grandmother’s passing. Following Re:Zero and watching Orange has only furthered my train of thought on the matter. So, heads up, if you continue reading, there will be plot spoilers for Re:Zero up to episode 7, and Orange up to episode 6.

Re:Zero and Orange both deal closely with the idea of time travel, and the ability to undo or redo things in your past to “fix” your future. In Re:Zero, Subaru gets his Reset by Death, allowing him to get a second attempt at certain events, this time knowing the outcome. In Orange, Naho is warned by her future self that if nothing is done to save him, her friend Kakeru will commit suicide. Her future self begs her to please do something to keep him from making the same choice this time around. In both shows, the protagonists are suddenly given a chance to really act out their future “what if”s.

Now, Subaru and Naho react differently to this newfound chance to change the future. Their situations are very different, after all; where Subaru gets as many chances as he wants, Naho only gets one shot. However, each of them have a few things in common with how they react to their chance(s). They each try tackling the problem solo, shouldering the whole weight of it alone, before learning that not only can they not do it alone, but they don’t need to. They also both grapple with regrets and learn the hard way not to take things for granted.

A year ago, I lost my great-grandmother. Her health had been on a slow decline for some time, but a sudden accident led to a very sudden progression of the problems, and within four days, she had passed. The granny flat where she lived still sits at the end of our driveway – we now use it as a makeshift “studio” and “gym”. While down there alone the other day, I found myself feeling lonely. I realized just how lonely it is down there with no one else nearby. Suddenly, I was knee-deep in regret, as I realized how few times I had visited her. I had no real excuses. She lived at the end of my driveway. I drove past her twice a day, on my way to and from school. I found myself wondering if she ever felt that same loneliness as she sat in her chair and watched TV alone, knowing her family was only a driveway away.

She was never really alone, for the record. My grandma (her daughter) and grandpa were often down there. This became especially true as her health declined. By that point, my regrets had already begun – I knew I didn’t have much time left with her, and I knew I’d taken for granted what I could have had before then. The moment in episode 6 when Naho realizes that her choice to ignore her warning (“This is the one day I don’t want you to invite Kakeru. Seriously.”) was linked to the very reason Kakeru needs saving struck a really deep chord with me. As she was plagued with regrets, wondering why she hadn’t been smarter before, I empathized with that struggle. The concept of “even though I knew, why did I do nothing?”

Naho learns she wasn’t supposed to invite Kakeru because his agreeing to come would lead to his mother’s suicide…

Now, once I learned in around June/July last year that my great-grandma had months at most, I did finally decide to do something. I made a point to visit her more often. Particularly in her last few days. I was one of the few people who stuck by her comatose self until she passed. Could I save her? No. Could I undo all the missed chances I had passed up to spend time with her before then? No. In a way, it reminds me of Subaru’s sudden insistence to save everyone, which many have argued, since the show progressed, was fueled not by selflessness but rather a selfish wish to quell his own guilt and regrets. I can empathize with Subaru on that matter. He kept asking “what if” he’d only acted a certain way? Could he have saved everyone? His repeated self-sacrifice to change the future was because of his inability to live with his regrets. In some ways, maybe my insistence to be at that bedside until the end was my own stubborn, willful way of trying to say “I’m sorry” for all the times I hadn’t been there before, since I’ll never know the answers to “what if she was lonely? What if I had visited more?”

Regret is never fun. Just as Naho and Subaru learned that, I’ve been reminded of that recently. That’s also brought up the question of “how do I deal with it?” Sadly, there’s no one answer to that question. Everyone deals with regret differently. There’s no right or wrong answer to that. However, there are a few words of wisdom that apply to everyone.

At the end of episode 6, Naho learns that her friend Suwa also received a letter, just like she did. She realizes that she’s not alone. As her future self already knows, her whole group of friends is dealing with that regret together. They all lost Kakeru, and they all struggle to accept the his passing. When you’re dealing with regret, you need to remember you are never alone.  Regret is an almost universal experience – even if someone’s not regretting the same thing, sometimes just talking it out with someone else who’s experienced their own regret can feel a lot better. As a Christian, I also find comfort in remembering that God knows my heart better than I myself know it. He knows my regrets and understands why I feel them. I am always allowed to talk about them with Him – not to mention, always allowed to pray for His peace and his help accepting that I cannot change the past.

After a brief excitement at having survived, Subaru is confronted with the horrible news that Rem died.

In Re:Zero, Subaru learns how important it is not to take what you have for granted. In episode 6, he learns that Rem is the assailant who has continued to kill him. After having grown very close to both Rem and Ram in episodes 4-6, this is a crushing realization for him. In episode 7, he successfully avoids being killed… but the price is Rem’s life. Subaru is forced to realize that the happy life he’d been living at the Roswaal Mansion is gone. He had taken it for granted, assuming it would always be there for him when he Reset, only to have it now taken away. All of those happy memories with Rem and Ram are tainted by the regret he feels due to his self-assigned responsibility for Rem’s death and Ram’s rage. In his next Reset, he most certainly values those moments much more preciously and does not take them for granted.

Just like Naho and Subaru, you will face (or maybe already have faced) regrets in your life. Unlike Naho, you’re not going to get a letter from your future self that can help you avoid the bigger regrets. Unlike Subaru, you won’t get to see how things will play out, then go back and try it differently. You can’t change the past. You just have to live with it. If you get too caught up asking “what if… ?” and wasting time and effort imagining a past that could have been and never was, you’re going to miss the present. You’re going to unintentionally take what you have now for granted, and before you know it, your present may become another regret in your past. Your life will be significantly less enjoyable if you ponder “what if”s instead of learning from your past regrets and using those lessons to improve your present and future.

Let Naho be a reminder that you never have to deal with regret alone, let Subaru be a reminder not to take what you have for granted, and let your “what if”s be focused on your future, not the regrets of your past.

18 thoughts on “What If? – Re:Zero & Orange on Dealing with Regret

  1. the problem with “what if” is the answers are always wrong and this is the problem i have with orange. you’re wired to think “oh, my life will just be the same, but better because this one problem will be gone” and life is far too complex for that to be the case. the problem with orange is that its interpretation of how time is affected by a time traveler validates that notion by basically keeping the timeline intact except for things that the main characters intentionally want to make better.

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    1. I don’t think this is totally the case. It’s more about changing the regrets, than changing the future. Again one could argue if you do this for yourself or for Kakeru (in the case of orange.) In Emdaisy’s post about RE Zero we already held a discussion about this so I won’t go in further detail. (http://www.beneaththetangles.com/2016/07/30/rezero-starting-life-another-mindset/ )

      And as of the time travelling: indeed, Orange doesn’t handel time travelling very strong, but is it necessary? If Orange had focused more on the ‘time travelling’part I would’ve been disappointed. Instead Orange is focusing more on how characters interact with each other, because of the letters.

      And you’re totally right by saying that they’ve affected the timeline; so wouldn’t you have a paradox then? One timeline that changed because of the letters and one that didn’t? It’s even stated in the anime itself that the Naho from the future who wrote the letters most likely won’t be able to change her regrets: because she’s from the former timeline.

      I’m not very good at explaining this and therefore I apologize. But the point I want to make clear that Orange is focusing more on the story, rather then time travelling. The timetravelling is explained badly because it doesn’t matter too much for the story itself. We are not capable of time-travelling and I believe it’ll be impossible. The only thing we know from time travelling is rational guessing. And because of that: Do we have the right to say that time traveling in Orange is wrong or not?

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      1. well, we dont have the right to say whether the time travel aspect is correct or incorrect because we dont have any actual experience with time travel. im more saying the way it’s used as a plot device seems too convenient and therefore annoying.

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        1. Marthurion, there have been times where things have happened differently than the letters specified, though, or without the letters having mentioned them.
          I personally feel less like the changes are just “convenient” and more just because they actually would have occurred that way due to Naho’s (and her friends’) altered choices/actions.

          Joughton, you sound like me when I try and explain the paradoxical time travel in the third Harry Potter. 😛 And I agree that I like the focus is less on the time travel and more on the characters – after all, the story is about the characters and their growth & change & friendships. Also, I don’t feel the time travel was explained badly OR well – rather, I feel it’s intentionally left open, with the viewer & characters collectively puzzling over the “multiple worlds/realities” theory and the “can I really save my future self?” doubts.

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    2. I’m not really sure where you’re getting that idea, at least for Orange. The characters themselves say they have no idea what the future holds multiple times. The main timeline has already changed as the letters start to be less accurate, and this has been a plot point and will continue to be – that they can’t predict how their new actions will affect the future for better or for worse (it’s already been hinted that they’ve made things worse off at times as well as better). The story is about suicide and depression, and how friends fail to deal with that because of their perceptions at the time and then how much they still fail and how much effort it takes even when they understand how wrong those initial perceptions are. I mean, the time travel is horribly explained (just wait until they explain how the letters arrived) but I feel like everyone is failing to realize how much the story is about Kakeru himself and how outsiders incorrectly perceive his inner struggles…which is really ironic I guess.

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      1. I don’t really get what you mean with my ‘idea’. Do you mean that I stated that time-travelling is not important for the story? If so, I’ll reformulate that: Yes time-travelling is important for the story, but I view it more as the setting for the story rather than a plot point. (Although it actually IS a plot point)

        The point I wanted to state was as follow: did the characters of Orange intended to make their life better, or that of Kakeru. (Although he was/is dead) And would that be because of selfish intentions (like Subaru) or because of their care for Kakeru…Again you would come to the point that’s discussed in the comments of RE: ZERO- Starting life in another mindset.

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      2. i know im gonna come off as complaining too much, but i just feel like the letter’s accuracy should be in the tank by this point. the fact that they’re getting so much right still feels way too convenient (that’s the point i was trying to get across in the first comment).

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        1. I can agree with that to a degree. But some stuff like the weather, his birthday, or the sports festival aren’t events that are going to change.

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          1. the date wont change, but the events still should. also, im not completely sure i agree about the weather. maybe not immediately, but i feel like it should be theoretically possible to change the weather in a longer term

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            1. “Theoretically possible in a longer term” is irrelevant because we already know the timeframe of the letter’s prediction of the rain was something like 6 months. Even if I conceded that the rain might have been prevented from their actions, it should still be plausible that they did not cause the rain to change; so, the initial criticism of the letter’s accuracy is, as I said before, something I can only agree with to a certain point.

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      3. “The story is about suicide and depression, and how friends fail to deal with that because of their perceptions at the time and then how much they still fail and how much effort it takes even when they understand how wrong those initial perceptions are.”
        ^ I think that’s a big part of why I like this story. I struggled a lot with depression back in grades 5-8ish, but no one ever knew, and some of the people I tried to tell didn’t believe me, saying I was “too happy” to be depressed. Their perceptions didn’t line up with my reality, which led to a lot of problems.
        I actually personally like that they haven’t put a huge focus on the time travel part, because it leaves the focus on the characters and how they’re handling the situations around them, especially as they 1) learn they all have letters and can work together and 2) have to make choices blindly more and more as the letters become less accurate due to their changing events.

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  2. Great post. And if you liked the theme about regrets in life and second chance, you should check the anime RELIFE too. It’s very sweet, even if the ending let us wanting a second season.

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    1. Thanks! 😀
      It’s actually already on my to-watch list. 🙂 I’m busy starting up a new co-op internship for a credit at school, but I’ll probably get around to it soon, as I’ve heard a lotta’ good things about it. 🙂

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  3. So true, I struggled with looking at the past and regretting or just feeling really nostalgic of times I spent with friends that aren’t around anymore. I could actually feel the depression creeping in as I thought about those memories. When that would happen, I would remind myself that those times are over, and in fact years in the past. I have to focus on where I am today in my life, and look to the future and thank God for where He has me right now. It’s nice to think about all the things I’ve been through in the past but that’s not the end of my life, I still have so much more to do 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this article. It also reminded me to spend more time with my grandma, which I will make sure to do.

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    1. Yes! I both love and hate the Facebook “on this day” b/c sometimes it’s really happy, other times it makes me feel lonely as I see pics & posts of friends I used to have and no longer talk with, or good memories I miss.
      Exactly! God’s plan for us involves a future & a hope, not a continual state of being stuck in our own pasts. 🙂 Trips down memory lane can be nice, but they have to be just that – a trip, where we return back and not a move-in!

      Welcome! 🙂 Yes! Definitely important! I think it’s easiest to, when you have a family that’s close, take family for granted, because you know they’ll “always be there”, so we instead invest time into other friendships to try and keep them around… but family will “always be there” until they’re not. And while regretting lost time with just a friend stings, regretting lost time with a family member aches much more deeply.

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  4. A strange thing seems to have happened to me with regards to regret, in my life. I think that I now have fewer regrets than I once did. And I think it’s because…some of the things I did were stupid, and selfish. Mind-blowingly selfish, really. But the worst things I’ve done in my life, it seems, all had to happen the way that they did. (Except maybe the concussion. There was no way that needed to happen. XD).

    Without me being a selfish jerk in high school, one of my living friends might be dead. Another one wouldn’t really know me very well. Without me doing something out of hatred and misery in middle school, I wouldn’t even be the same person— I might even be a worse person. Because, in that Reality, I would never understand the consequences of my actions. I also would never have connected with someone that I later fell in love with.

    “You just have to live with it. If you get too caught up asking “what if… ?” and wasting time and effort imagining a past that could have been and never was, you’re going to miss the present. You’re going to unintentionally take what you have now for granted, and before you know it, your present may become another regret in your past.”

    …And maybe even accept it. Whether we like it or not, we will all sin in the sight of God. And for some of us, those very horrible things we did will drive us to God in the first place. That means that, in essence, our sinning was a part of God’s plan for our lives. We have a lot less control than we think, and while we have the free will to choose…I think that The Grand Game between white and black is a lot more complicated than we realize. And I think without omnipotence, we sometimes wouldn’t like what we would see. The best we can hope for is to trust, and let that trust override our fear and regret.

    And repentance for the way we acted to do the rest.

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    1. “Because, in that Reality, I would never understand the consequences of my actions.” < Yup! But, instead of getting caught up dwelling on what you did and what you couldn't do and all the "what if" versions playing out in your head, you let it shape you into a better person and you grew from it! 🙂

      "Whether we like it or not, we will all sin in the sight of God." Indeed. If any one of us were sinless, well, we'd be on the same scale as Jesus… and that will never happen because we are all born into sin. In some cases, we pursue that sin and push God away (knowingly or unknowingly). While we may not regret things at the time, we may later feel crushed with regrets…. pursuing Christ can lead to a different kind of regret, brought on by sins we actively choose and regret pursuing or doing. However, either way, how we DEAL with those regrets will play a huge factor in our futures. Like I said, getting too caught up in them means your focus will lie on things you cannot change, leading you to miss chances to improve things because you're not paying attention to your current situations. By the same token, completely trying to ignore/deny all regret can lead you to make the same mistake over and over because you haven't learned from past regrets.

      "The best we can hope for is to trust, and let that trust override our fear and regret. And repentance for the way we acted to do the rest." Mhm! "But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair"~Be My Escape by Relient K. Without Christ, those sins that lead us to regrets should lead us to an eternity apart from God… because of Christ, we can fall back into his trust and let it wash away fears & regrets, then repent and move on from there! Very much NOT fair, but VERY good in our case as it works in our favor! 🙂

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