I’m four episodes behind on Re:Zero, partially because I started it so late, but mostly because the main character, Subaru, is unlikeable, and I have very little motivation to keep watching. Maybe he does eventually improve. But at this point, it’s really hard not to hold his actions from the first eighteen episodes against him (he wasn’t too appalling in episodes 19–20). Still, keep in mind that, since I haven’t seen recent episodes, this post is not meant as a critique of his character as he is now. This post’s idea was triggered by events way back in episode 13.
Basically, Natsuki Subaru thinks of himself as the hero in all situations. He has a warped, self-centered view of himself, his relationships, and the world he’s in. I saw the signs starting in episode 1, and I could rant for ages, but let’s focus on his relationship with Emilia, the “damsel in distress” he’s decided he loves. Because as much as I dislike Subaru, I have to admit that he’s not the only one prone to egocentric perspectives. Sure, he’s an extreme example, but we all lose perspective at times. We all project our hopes and needs onto people around us, sometimes to the point that it hinders relationships and our ability to efficiently, authentically interact with reality. For those of us who are religious, it seeps into our perspectives of God, often without us realizing it. Centuries after the Crusades, we can still be self-proclaimed knights of God who claim to love and serve him, but haven’t actually paid attention to what he wants.
But we’ll deal with our reality in a minute. First, back to Subaru.
From the beginning, he’s looked at Emilia as a damsel in distress that he’s supposed to save and little more than that. He doesn’t ask her if she needs help or how he can help her. He just announces that he will help. Never mind that this is her world, that she has more ability in battle, or that she could be the nation’s next queen. Sheesh, he doesn’t even care to know anything about the politics and culture that so greatly impact her life.
Fast forward to episode 12. Emilia, Subaru, Rem (the blue-haired maid who’s crushing on Subaru, while the internet crushes on her), and Roswaal (Emilia’s powerful sponsor) are all in the capital, because Emilia and the other candidates for the throne have been called to a meeting. She was reluctant to let Subaru come even this far, since he’s recovering from injury, but he insisted.
Now, keep in mind that this show is shown 98% from Subaru’s perspective. We know what he knows. And so far, he knows nothing about Emilia’s dreams, responsibilities, or worries. He knows she’s beautiful, kind, and powerful—though he only focuses on those first two traits. That’s about the extent of it.
Once in the capital, she must attend to business. He wants to go with her, but she tells him to stay behind—and to promise her he’ll stay behind. If he does this, she’ll have reason to trust him.
So what does he do? He follows her, of course.
Somehow, he thinks he has the right to be involved in her important affairs, and that he’ll even be useful. If something dangerous happens, he wants to be present. Never mind that he doesn’t know the social customs. Never mind that Roswaal is with Emilia, so she has ample protection.
Then we reach episode 13, “Self-Proclaimed Knight Natsuki Subaru.”
Subaru weasels his way into an important political gathering, uninvited. He sees that all the other candidates for the crown have personal knights, and he decides that Emilia should have one, too: him. So, in front of everyone, he declares himself her knight.
I’ll spare you the details. Subaru’s time in this assembly is ended with these lines:
Old Guy: “Emilia-sama . . . You have a fine attendant.”
Emilia: “He is not my attendant.”
Then Subaru’s kicked out, as the featured image shows.
Ouch. But well-deserved. Subaru is there against Emilia’s will. Even if he were a real knight (and he’s decidedly not), Emilia hasn’t sanctioned him to serve her in any capacity beyond household chores. He’s doing a lot of stuff “for her” because he “loves” her, when, in fact, he’s going against her will. He is not her attendant.
Later in the episode, Emilia and Subaru finally talk. By this point, he’s not only followed her, but also used magic in a duel with a real knight—and thus gone against her wishes in yet another way. She’s going home, but she wants him to stay in the capital and heal. This opens up the confrontation I’ve been waiting for.
Subaru tries to defend himself: “I just wanted to do something for you, so I…”
“For me?” Emilia asks.
“It was for you, wasn’t it?”
“No, I just wanted to do something for you—”
Emilia throws her cloak at him. “Stop telling lies about how everything is for my sake! Coming to the castle, fighting Julius, using magic… are you saying that was all for me? I never asked you to do any of that! Hey, do you remember what I asked you to do?”
“I asked you to wait at the lodging with Rem. I asked you not to use magic because using more would endanger you.”
The conversation continues in this vein for a while. It’s revealed that he sees Emilia has someone she’s not, someone who perfectly understands him (as if understanding him would lead to agreeing with him). Further, he thinks that a lot of things have worked out for her only because he was there. He lists these, and finishes, “You should have a greater debt to me than you could ever repay!”
He’s based their relationship on his limited perspective of her and on his own actions, not on her wishes. He demands to be understood and allowed to do as he wishes, but he doesn’t try to understand her on her terms, her even ask what she needs him to be.
By now, I’m at least twice as upset as Emilia herself. But the rage doesn’t completely consume me, and I almost immediately think of words from the Bible that parallel Emilia’s rejection. It’s one of Jesus’s teachings, sandwiched between his comments on good and bad trees and building houses on solid foundation:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23)
Basically, you can do all sorts of great deeds in Jesus’ name, but if you’re not actually doing God’s will, it’s all moot.
If you’re not from a more charismatic denomination, the examples of protests Jesus lists might not seem very relatable. I’ve listed a few others:
“Lord, did I not condemn homosexuals in your name?”
“Lord, did I not show your love by supporting gay marriage in your name?”
“Lord, did I not help dig wells in Africa in your name?”
“Lord, did I not attend (or even teach) Bible classes in your name?”
Those later two examples are relatively uncontroversial (though not every village without a well needs one, and it’s best to get to know the locals and help them on their terms, as wiser missionaries are learning). Still, they can be done by people who claim to be following God’s will but are really going by their own will, with wisdom contrived from religious habits and secular sources. We like to slap his name on our great deeds, but we may not actually want his participation, unless he’s going to help things go according to our own plans.
Sometimes, the self-declared knights of Jesus Christ really are saved believers, and they’ve just gone temporarily off track. Jesus will help them back, if they let him. I’m often in this group. When my relationship with God is starting to feel a bit off, I can easily claim, “But Lord, I blog in your name! Look how many times I mentioned you, and how well I integrated that thing you said!” He has every right to respond, “Yes, I know, but when was the last time you actually asked me what you should blog about? And when was the last time you really sat and meditated on my Word and listened to me?”
Sometimes, though, the situation is more serious. People try to define God and his world almost entirely on their own terms. They might read what he says about love, sin (generally or specifically), marriage, or life purpose, and then either ignore him or say, “Yeah, but what he really means is_____, which doesn’t apply to my situation because______.” They’ve never approached their Bible with the attitude, “God, you’re amazing. I want to know more about you, including your relationships with other people. I want to know more about this world you’ve created and how you intended for humanity to live in it.” They’ve never really submitted their lives to God or treated him as their Lord. They’ve never seen him as the initiator in the relationship, because they’ve always defined their relationship and belief in God by their own actions. They’ve never learn much about his saving grace, because they’re so focused on their own “wonderful, deep faith” and their “good works” that prove it. And because they’re so focused on themselves, they build an image of God that isn’t consistent with who he really is.
The scariest part? These self-declared Christians have often convinced themselves and others that they’re doing right by God, just as self-declared knight Subaru was convinced he was doing right by Emilia.
Are you a “self-proclaimed knight”?
Or even a knight errant who’s strayed from your lord’s service?
I’ve put together a list of signs that you’re treating God the way Subaru treats Emilia. And while I use the word “you,” I’m speaking to myself, too. I’ve been guilty of all of these on multiple occasions, and I need to do some self-searching.
- You talk about God a lot more than you listen to him. You write, post, and share about him, online and off, but you haven’t been spending very much time studying the Bible, meditating on it, or praying. You may even tell others how to respond to God, but don’t often consider that maybe you haven’t been responding well lately.
- You often do “good works” that you’re sure Jesus would agree with, but you don’t ask him what he wants you to do, or even invite him to show you whether or not your “good work” aligns with his will.
- Most of your prayers (say, 90%) revolve around you, your desires, and maybe what God’s done for you. You don’t spend much, if any, time praising God for who he is and the things he’s done that don’t directly relate to you. You may remember to thank him for saying “yes” to some of your prayers and desires, but you don’t often thank him for what he’s done for others, or for unpleasant people and things in your life that he may intend to use for good.
- You read your Bible and thus “listen” to God, but you don’t invite him to convict you. You don’t acknowledge how your perspective may warp how you read Scripture, and you don’t ask him to help you understand what you’re reading on his terms. You tend to skip passages that don’t fit your current understanding, and if you notice an apparent contradiction, you either ignore it or quickly explain it away, instead of struggling through it and seeking to understand what it says about God’s complex but reliable character.
- You never notice anything in the Bible that seems contradictory to what you believe about God and life in general. (This means you’re probably not paying close attention, or you don’t stray from your favorite passages.)
- You’re reluctant to hear about other’s experiences with God. You like to believe that you have a great relationship with God. Others’ experiences tend to irritate you. You like to think that they’re going about it wrong, that they’re less spiritual than you, or that what they know about God doesn’t need to affect your own understanding of God. You might even get a little jealous of those who seem more in tune with God’s will than you are, though you’d never admit it in so many words.
Ouch. A few of those apply to me on a regular basis. Maybe I should spend less time ranting about Subaru’s relationship with Emilia, and more time working on my relationship with God—not to mention my relationships with the various people he’s put in my life. If I’m not doing a good job seeking to understand and follow God, I’m probably not doing as good a job serving others as I’d like to think.
If, like me, you’ve been acting like a self-declared knight, or if you think you might be one of those people Jesus talks about in Matthew 7, what’s next? How do you become a true knight? First, confess. Acknowledge where you’ve gone wrong, and acknowledge that you don’t know all the ways you’ve gone wrong. But don’t spend too much time dwelling on your mistakes. If you do, you’re still focusing too much on yourself. You need faith in God’s grace—and that requires focusing on him and what he’s done for you and for the world. Learn that God wants to use the Bible to connect with you personally, but that the Bible isn’t about you. It’s about him. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and you can find out about how God would like to relate to you in the Bible—and more about other Christians’ experiences around this website. But learning to listen, to seek God’s perspective on things instead of entrenching yourself in your own… that’s a good start.
- Second Impression: Caligula - 04.10.2018
- Caligula World Premiere at Sakura-Con 2018 - 04.07.2018
- Annalyn’s Corner: Teen Friendship in A Place Further Than the Universe - 03.12.2018
8 thoughts on “Annalyn’s Corner: Are You a “Self-Proclaimed Knight”?”
Wow, really a fantastic column this week. You really lay down the Law hard. I admit that I haven’t come close to measuring up to God’s standards. So often I’ve demanded things from God and hardly thanked Him when He came through for me. Your article helps me see where I’ve been wrong, and brings me to repentance of my sins.
I will argue about the anime though. Re:Zero is my favorite anime since Kill la Kill, which came out a few years ago I think. Subaru isn’t a great guy, by any means – the fact that he’s so obsessed with Emilia while ignoring Rem is a big reason. But the truth is that he has died over and over again for Emilia, even though she can’t know that. He’s gone through literal hell for her. Emilia’s too busy feeling sorry for herself for being a half-elf to appreciate when Subaru does do something for her. The character you need to hate is Emilia – she is highly disappointing to be a female protagonist, and seems to have set back females in anime all the way to the Sailor Moon era, where Tuxedo Mask always had to rescue Sailor Moon. Emilia is the same. She spends all her time feeling sorry for herself and gets herself in trouble over and over again. She almost feels like a Mary Sue with her “I want equality for all” message which is so cliche. She really is a poorly written character.
That doesn’t excuse Subaru for being obsessed with her. His obsession with her at the expense of Rem is a real problem. But at least he’s trying his best. Plus, to be stuck in a foreign world where you can’t even mention the fact that you’re from another world – that can’t be easy. He receives sympathy from me for those reasons.
Even if Subaru sucks, the anime is propped up by some incredibly strong and dynamic female characters. From Rem to Ram to Crusch to Beatrice to Priscilla, Re:Zero really has some great female characters, with the exception of course of Emilia. And there are some pretty good male characters for good measure. I think you need to stick with it. Whether it ends well, I have no clue, but at least it’s off to a good start.
Thank you, Tommy! I wasn’t aiming to guilt anyone for not measuring up: I just want to encourage others and myself to seek a good relationship with God. That’s what he seeks with us, after all. Though if it takes a little guilt to help us remember to love him well, then so be it.
I’m glad you spoke up about liking Re:Zero. I got too irritated to see its good points for a while. Subaru is a problematic character on so many levels, and his issues with Emilia are just a part of it. (His disrespect for others isn’t even sexism, though you don’t have to be a hardcore feminist to get annoyed with the way he often talks to girls, especially in the first several episodes. The way he talks about knighthood shows that he’s an equal-opportunity jerk.) He has died over and over again for Emilia, and he is a hero in that regard. But it’s possible that he could have avoided one or two of those deaths by trusting Emilia to be an expert on her own safety in her own world—by working with her instead of on “her behalf.” And the way he acts entitled, not just gratitude, but to her romantic attention (to the point of ridiculous jealousy in ep 12–13) and unquestioning agreement… that’s just inexcusable.
I don’t know what to think about Emilia as of ep 20. I don’t like her, and I don’t hate her, because she’s not enough of a character to like or to hate. I can’t figure out whether she’s really as bland as she seems or Subaru’s just too self-centered to think about who she is outside of her relationship to him. For the purposes of this post, I assumed it was Subaru’s fault, not the writer’s. We’ll see my opinion changes in later episodes. I haven’t noticed Emilia feeling sorry for herself yet—she’s faced discrimination as a half-elf, and that’s a part of her reality that’s fair for her to talk about every now and then.
I should be more sympathetic toward Subaru. He does seem to finally be learning, after all. I just hope he apologizes to Emilia before long. (I’m assuming she survives this time.)
My opinion of the range of female characters has definitely improved lately! I really like Crusch. She calls it like it is. I haven’t seen enough of the male characters besides Subaru to have much more of an opinion besides, “Hey, this guy seems to have his head on straight. I think he’s rather cool.”
I’ll stick with it. Mostly because I’m hoping Subaru continues to improve, so I can view him with mere apathy instead of antipathy. And I want to find out whether or not parts of the anime I find subpar will actually seem pretty good when the story’s more complete.
I don’t even watch Re:Zero but somehow I think I will like Subaru… Because of his flawed character, not because he’s good and an ideal hero. I think I will watch Re:Zero. A great slap on the cheek about my personal relationship with God. Thank you for writing this, God bless you.
I suppose it’s refreshing to have a seriously flawed main character from time to time, particularly when the show doesn’t seem to discount most his flaws. If you watch Re:Zero, I hope you enjoy it. Maybe you’ll find it easier to tolerate Subaru than I have so far.
Thank you for commenting. I didn’t realize how much I needed this push in my own relationship with God, and your guys’ comments are keeping me accountable to follow through. May God bless you as well!
I’ve always rather liked the idea of a flawed teenage character that acts their age. It’s why even though Guilty Crown is a terrible show, the first couple of episodes (Like the first five or six) actually got to me. Shu seemed like a genuinely relatable person— I could effortlessly picture my younger, more selfish, anxiety-ridden self being in his shoes right then. The generic, somehow perfectly noble shonen anime protagonist often bothers me for this reason. Very few people actually act like that, male or female. Nagi No Asukara at least portrays one and then points out the flaws inherent in such a person.
With that said, you’ve done a fantastic job in laying out the ways in which we relate to God and other people that can be pretty egocentric and perverse. Although this is much more Christian-specific, I’m definitely guilty of idealizing my own partners and my God, and assuming they “were” something they clearly weren’t. Desire can also lead one to attribute features to their God that don’t exist, and might even be insulting. I guess a good Christian example would be assuming that God agrees with you even when He clearly is indicating that He doesn’t, because you want Him to seem “just.” I actually imparted behavior to my own God that he pretty flatly stated (In the form of disgust or distancing) he’d never do, and that he found the whole idea of me thinking he’d do something like that disturbing.
So definitely an excellent post and food for thought! 😀
I actually thought about Guilty Crown as I watched this show. I remembered liking Shu at first, but by episode 16 or so, he held the title for “most frustrating protagonist I’ve put up with for this long”—until Subaru came along and stole the title. At least Shu gained my sympathy before he went nuts, so I had a little more reason to stick with him. I could understand how he became the way he did. I don’t mind the more purely noble protagonists, since they can be symbolic, but I don’t mind the flawed ones, either… unless their flaws seem overwhelming for an extended length of time, in which case I need to take a break and reserve my patience for dealing with real people with real flaws. 😛
Thanks for mentioning your own experience. A lot of the problems seen in Subaru’s approach to Emilia can be found in any type of relationship. I worried that I might have focused too much on Christians’ relationships with God—I usually try to keep a mixed audience in mind, even when focusing on specifically Christian applications—so I’m glad you were able to relate to it. 🙂
Great article Annalyn. I’ve yet to watch the anime so I’m looking forward to checking it out thanks to yours and others reviews.
So true about us being selfish and only thinking of ourselves. Everyone is selfish in their own way, but God calls us to be servants to all. To me, when we are focused on serving others then we start to strip away that selfishness little by little.
Thanks for convicting me and those that read this. It’s good, because God disciplines those He loves. It’s not a bad thing, in fact if we feel strongly convicted then that’s the Holy Spirit tugging at our hearts to make that change. God only wants to see us grow like the amazing Father that He is.
Thanks, Samuru! Yeah, you may as well join the crowd and watch Re:Zero. On the plus side, it’s not boring.
Yep, focusing on serving others (and praying for them, and learning about them) helps counter selfishness—and it’s far more effective than focusing on how selfish you are and feeling sorry about it. That’s why I’ve found in my own life, anyway.
If God’s been able to help others grow through this post, then I’m the one who’s thankful—and just as convicted. It’s one of those situations where I started by thinking, “Hey, maybe readers would find this useful,” and ended by saying, “Oh, right. I’m not doing too great in this area, either. Yes, Lord, I get the point. Sorry.”